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August 9th, 2008

Originally published at Andy Does Beijing. You can comment here or there.

We’re Freeeeeee!

Since nobody had any Olympic tickets for today, nor any lecture notes, today was a free day. The whole crew (at least, all of them that were awake by that hour) meandered down to breakfast and bummed around the hotel for the morning, watching the Olympics on TV or sleeping. I did my laundry! This whole hand-washing thing is a little overrated, but it gets the clothes clean … -ish. Around twelve, the whole crew (more of them were awake this time) hit lunch downstairs, where we had a change of scenery to the other half of the dining room and no rice. It was a sad story, but the food was still decent.

Back to the … Market

I teamed up with Mark and Lauren (Asian and Asian) and Anthony to head downtown for some shopping and massages! We caught a cab to the Hongqiao Pearl Market, which was a bit awkward; we didn’t know the name in Chinese nor the address, but Anthony had a photo of it from the highway on his camera. So, we told the cabby that it was near the Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) and showed him the picture and he figured it out. Yay, cabbies!

A nice little old lady I bought stuff from At the Hongqiao, we were slightly less overwhelmed this time, it being our second visit. Much savvier this time around, we cruised the lines up to the Exquisite Pearl floor, where Lauren sought pearls for herself and friends and Anthony got something for his sister. The boys played fashion consultants to Lauren’s jewelry exhibition; i.e., we helped her pick which pearls to buy =D The pearls are amazingly cheap around here: we pay 10 kuai (about $1.50) for a pair of single-pearl earrings with gold posts which would probably run us about USD $15 at home and 200 kuai (USD $30) for a single-strand pearl necklace. Hmm!

In addition to buying pearls, I mad rocked out the Communism today; at the market, Anthony and I picked up Mao Zedong / Communist propaganda posters and, at the other end of that floor, I bought a messenger bag with Mao Zedong’s face. We haggled! We probably could’ve haggled harder, but it was OK. There was also a variety of other cool things. (I had to resist the urge to buy all of the pretty counterfeit electronics. The pearls weren’t as tempting, though.)

This girl probably still overpriced the bag When I was haggling down the Mao Zedong bag a few bucks, the sales girl noticed the Olympic rings friendship bracelet I had on and asked if she could take it — with her hands, trying to take it off my wrist. Nuh uh, kiddo, I paid for this one and I want to keep it. Instead, I sat down, pulled out my embroidery string, and made her one then and there, which attracted a fair bit of attention from the other sales girls right there. We sat around and chatted about making bracelets; one of the girls said she made them in class all the time. (I still do.) After I worked on it for a little bit, the one girl I was making it for told me, “Oh, I can do that one, but I want you to do it too.” (It came off as more sweet than snotty.) I finished it a few minutes later and, voila, a Chinese staircase for her to put upon her wrist — using thread I had bought in China with a Tiffany clasp I had bought downstairs two weeks back =D

Mind the Gaps

Waiting for the train To get to our next destination, we decided to ride the subway (fun and new!) rather than walk (too humid) or take a cab (too expensive). There was a subway entrance right by the market and we had a picture of the map to the place, so we showed the map to a subway worker and she told us which lines to take. (Incidentally, we rode the #1 two stops and then transferred to the #2, which we rode for 5 stops. I figured this out entirely in Chinese.)

The new Beijing subway system, which was built for the Olympics, is superlative. It’s really clean: no graffiti, well-kempt, new materials, clear markings, nice wide areas (even inside the subway cars), fancy indicators indicating the current stop on the route, etc. Pretty cheap, too; a single fare is 2 kuai (30 cents USD) instead of the $2 you pay in New York. The cars were interestingly designed; in between cars, they had only a shifting plate, but no door, so around curves you could watch the whole way down 6 or 7 cars taking the turn. Groovy! And the Engrish in the subway area wasn’t too egregious, either. A very enjoyable experience, although not very crowded; we were confused, since we were riding about 5pm, which should be the top of rush hour. Odd.

That's hella sponsorship We had to take the pedestration walkway to the 13 line to put us closer to where we were going; as we walked into the line 13 station, we were bombarded by Coke ads eeeeeverywhere. Every billboard in the one hallway was Coke and, in the room upon which that hallway opened, all the columns showed Coca-Cola advertising. Daaaang.

Trying to come up to street level, we learned that some things are not as easy as straight-forward as familiar to us as the New York subway system. To leave the station, apparently you run your card through the ticket reader, which then opens the mini doors out. We just walked through two of them and then they denied the other two exit. Oopseeday!

Magical Massagery Tour

As we took the pictures, Lauren's masseur got up from reading the paper and walked inside A couple of the girls went to a good massage parlor a few days ago and they gave it a good recommendation, so we decided to hit it up too. We had an address, we had a map, … we had to ask six people how to get there. In the subway, we asked one of the workers how to get to the subway stop and then confirmed at the next station which line to transfer to; and a coupla people on the street, how to get to the road and the actual place. A college student who was standing around walked us over the block and helped us find it by asking a few other people, pretty nice of her.

When we walked in, the receptionist guy immediately pulled out a one-page sheet in English for us, the “VIP List.” There were four choices, including Chinese massage, oil massage, and the Tree of Life. We dickered over it for a while, then decided on the 60-minute Chinese massage, including a vertebral column massage. They took us downstairs through a labyrinthine set of stairwells and rooms to a pair of rooms with two beds each; Anthony and Mark split off into one room, Lauren and me to the other. Our masseur and masseuse came in and we had an awkward two minutes while we tried to determine whether or not we should take off our clothes in favor of tunics. No, no, clothes are fine.

Our tiny little massage room; but the door had a porthole The massage was glorious. Full-body, from face to crown to neck to shoulders to upper back to arms to hands to lower back to thighs to calves and back up to the back. Then we sat up and got some traditional upper-back massage sitting up. Oh yeah. And it ran a sweet 238 yuan: USD $35, holla holla!

We chatted a little bit, the masseur and the masseuse and I. Lauren doesn’t speak any Chinese (so she was kinda excluded), which was one of the topics of discussion. She’s half-Chinese, which I told them, and we were classmates here in Beijing for the Olympics, but only two of us spoke any Chinese. They were entertained. They also taught us a new word: tong (仝?)– to hurt. They asked “tong bu tong” — does that hurt? Since I didn’t know what the word meant, I asked. She pinched me. Oh. q_q Otherwise, they were very genial massage folk.

Hot-Pot Paradise … Lost

然后 (afterwards), we sought sustenance, for we saw a few restaurants and a little bakery while looking around for the massage parlor. We saw some chic-looking place, the Hot-Pot Paradise (real name!) and walked over to check it out. We looked in; it was pretty classy-looking, food in big pots at each table, about $15 out of our price range. Then, a bellboy opened the door to greet us and we realized it was about $20 out of our price range. Soooo … back down the street to the 30-kuai plate restaurant (which was still a little nicer than we wanted, but OK).

While the restaurant we ended up at was pretty straightforward, but when we asked for some water, he looked at me for a minute and then poured four tea-cups of hot water. Ummm … kay. Lukewarm, sure. Hot? Hmm. Could we have some tea? He brought over a drink list. Can’t read Chinese, dude! Well, I saw a bottle of water at the next table, so I asked for four bottles of water. More hot water in the tea cups. Whatever.

Since I really can’t read a lick of Chinese when it comes to food words (except for chicken, 肌肉 (jirou), we just looked through the menu and picked pictures that looked yummy. We ended up with a chicken plate (yummy) and a … seafood stew? Yup. Sea urchins, jellyfish bits, shrimp, tofu. Curious! Surprisingly tasty, too.

On the way out, Mark noticed a few Korean guys who walked in wearing blue baseball hats with “K” on the front. He’s been looking for some Koreans to translate “runner” (as in “a person who runs track”), because he wants to get it as a tattoo. (He’s adopted from S. Korea by two white parents, which confuses a lot of Chinese people around here.) So, we asked them to write it down for us. Yay internationals!

While you were out

We rather liked the architecture where we were (plus night had come while we ate), so we decided to catch a cab home and look out the window. We were apparently pretty close to home, I think on the west side of town, so it only ran us 25 kuai to get home.

When we got back to the market, we ran into about a dozen Delawareans chilling there and heard some crazy news: one American killed, American wounded, both related to the US volleyball coach; and the attacker (Chinese) killed himself afterwards. (An article online said that their Chinese tour guide was also wounded.) So, everybody was flipping a shit and the hotel staff came to fetch us from the market. Rich played the fool and sat watching the CCTV (Chinese Cable TV) news for half an hour, trying to hear anything about the attack. He seriously thought that he’d find that kind of news on the Chinese news during the Olympics. Communist fascist state with heavy censoring, anyone, anyone, has anyone here read 1984?

Anyway, we’re all OK, of course. I doubt anything will come of it; but for now, they’re keeping a close watch over us to make sure nothing happens and we’re not allowed to walk around the neighborhood alone. A little ridiculous, especially since if we have individual tickets for Olympic games, we’re responsible for getting ourselves there. Whatevs… on top of that, we’re supposed to avoid public transportation and big tourist groups.

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-- Andy

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