Entry #22: Great Wall, Not So Great Duck

Yesterday I went to the Forbidden City, where the Lambda: the Forbidden Dance was invented. And what was I shocked to find right smack in the middle of Communist China? Starbucks. No, I'm not kidding. In the center of the Forbidden City, in the heart of Beijing is a Starbucks, as you can see in this picture. And all this time I thought Starbucks originated in Seattle--I had no idea that they prepared coffee for the Emperors of China since 1400!

Beijing is like DC, but with a whole lot more Asians and better Chinese food.

Seriously--Beijing is a cool city with lots to see and do over 4-5 days, including the Great Wall of China. The pollution, however, here rivals Lima, Peru. You will see in my pictures an ever present mist or fog. This is actually smoke from all the coal burning stoves people use to heat their houses. (The temperature is similar to Boston right now- you'll see the leaves are changing colors too.) The smoke is so thick you can't see further than 1/4 mile, maybe even less! Even when you drive 2 hours away from the city to the Great Wall, there’s no difference in the visibility!

I've met more Americans here than I have anywhere else on my trip, and all of them are devastated about the election results. But more importantly, I met 3 different Yankees fans on the Great Wall who are still mourning the Red Sox win of the ALCS. Upon seeing me in my Sox hat, they each screamed, "Oh my God! I can't even get away from it here!" It felt good to rub it in.

Yesterday, I went to the Temple of Heaven and visited the "Hall of Abstinence," which seems to sum up my trip rather succinctly. Unknowingly, I've been preparing myself to become an emperor.

I had Peking Duck at the famous restaurant that invented the dish back in 1864. In fact, I had the 115,064,397th Peking Duck that they have served since opening. At first I thought, "Have they really been counting each duck they served?" Then I remembered that the Chinese invented the calculator. I wonder if they invented it to count how many ducks they served.

Anyway, I'm not sure if the idea of 115 million dead ducks spoiled my dinner but I've had better duck at home. You can skip it if you come to Beijing. There are plenty of other great places to eat in Beijing.

I'm slowly picking up some Chinese. Most people here are interested in me when I walk by--you can watch for one of three reactions. First, is curiosity—lots of stares in the kind of the way you might stare at someone with a big tattoo on their face. The second reaction is to look at you as though you are a walking wallet—someone will run up to you and try to sell you anything they might have in their little booth. Sometimes they know English, but like any good capitalist, they don't take "No" for an answer. The third and final reaction is recognition that you are a potential form of entertainment. I'm not sure if they are mocking me (or Westerners in general) or just truly entertained by our looks and speech. Often people stop, look at me and say, "Hello" in a bad DJ type of voice then wait for a response. If you say "Hello" back, they giggle like school children with all their friends. If you say "Ni how" (Chinese for "Hello"), they will try to see how many words you know in Chinese. In my case, that’s about it, so they try to teach you a few more. The attention makes me feel a little like a rock star...actually more like an NBA basketball player, because I'm towering over everyone.

I went to the Great Wall today, and like Machu Picchu and Easter Island, this is another ruin that has been "fixed." In addition to restoring the wall to its original splendor, the tourist board has brought back the Gondola, the trinket stalls and a toboggan ride that was fun for the whole family back in 1400. It was the Disney of the Dark Ages.

I’m visiting a few more parts of the Wall tomorrow and I hope to camp out in one of the guard towers. But I might bail if the weather gets too cold (it might drop to freezing). More soon!

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