As we finished breakfast, host Mark approached our table. We had booked to have a car and driver take us to The Great Wall at Mu Tian Yu, which was supposed to be far less crowded and more spectacular than the nearer sight Badaling because, well, it takes a car and driver to get to Mu Tian Yu.
“You like to share car today?” he asked, sheepishly.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Two American ladies want to go but don’t want to pay so much. You share with them, you pay half.”
“Yeah, sure, happy to…” we agreed, nodding enthusiastically. Certainly I was happy to save the dough, but also I get a bit uncomfortable with private tours, so was delighted to have some company. I promise to talk that through with my counsellor next month and report back as appropriate, but there it is. Continue reading 04. Great Walls of Ire→
It would be difficult to survive five days in Beijing without eating duck, which is both omnipresent and excellent, so it is a mystery to me why anyone would want to. Saturday evening our host suggested a local restaurant named Hui Feng which specialised in roast duckling. We ordered up a storm, about six dishes, one being an entire duck’s worth of Peking Duck. Marvellous! The ducks are big, here, too, so we had enough food for a family of ten.
In preparation for dining in Beijing, I had learned two important Chinese phrases phonetically: “May I have some hot chili sauce?” and “Where’s the toilet?” The staff was puzzled, and perhaps a bit offended, when, confusing the two phrases, I pointed to a plate of dumplings while demanding to know the locale of the toilet. Some of the other diners were entertained by our enormous appetites and creative chopstick techniques. We were entertained by the bug zapper over the door from the kitchen which intermittently sent insects to a cracking, fiery demise; very American. The whole banquet came in under $50.
Early to bed and early to rise, Sunday morning we headed out before breakfast, dangerously coffeeless, to see Chairman Mao arisen from his wintry tomb. It had rained overnight, which oddly enough did not clear the smog, but added mist and fog to the haze. Continue reading 03. Great Men and Spoilt Brats→
In the morning, over the simple breakfast on offer, Frank Lee had the same question. “Ah, how ever DID you find this place?”
“You said you wanted to stay in a hutong, and this is a hutong, and it was cheap.”
“I said I wanted to SEE a hutong, not STAY in one.”
“Oh.” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hutong)
There was no questioning the authenticity of the place. It was an ancient home of eight rooms, each with ornate wooden carved windows and doors nestled around a covered courtyard, with a grand tree thrusting out of its tiled floor and exploding through the glass ceiling. Our room was small, but clean, with a decently firm bed. Our host Mark, with whom we had corresponded by email, spoke English well. He and the two other staff were friendly, responsive and helpful. How much could one expect for $95 a night?
There was free wifi, but neither of could get on Facebook or Google. After much cursing we surmised that this was not a failure of the hotel, but the intention of the wary government. I was shocked to discover that without Google and Facebook I was an antisocial imbecile. Most problematic, Google Maps was unavailable, as was any site that USED Google Maps – which is just about every site there is. We would spend much time in the next few days relying on “maps” (colourful folding pieces of paper with diagrams, remember them?), and even worse, Yahoo!, which I’m quite certain nobody remembers. Did they get bought by the Party? Continue reading 02. Authentic Beijing→