A Tronkie Travellogue
Day 1: Beijing, China
ETA, 10:15 BST Thu 22 Jun 2006 - This is the view from the balcony of my uncle's neighbor, whose house overlooks the greenway of City Golf Greenery in the Fourth Ring.
Taken 14 Jun 2006. Click image to enlarge.
14:00 China Standard Time (henceforth BST for Beijing Standard Time): We're on the ground in Dadu (the Great Capital), capital of China since Kublai Khan, first emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, made it so in the 13th century. As the plane landed, my mother told me that it's the first time she or my dad have set foot in mainland China in 57 years.
Beijing International feels very much like Seoul, Taipei, or any of a handful of other Asian airports, for all that it will be an Olympic gateway in a little over two years and is already one of the most heavily-traveled waypoints in the world. The first thing we see is a Tiger Woods ad. After a restroom break, we go through customs and fill out the obligatory declarations form, including one for bird flu. I am able to read the signs for the "Chinese people" and "foreigners" queues, but that's about all. Of course, there are English subtitles, so even that is not necessary.
As we exit customs, I spy a Starbucks and a KFC Select. The only giveaway, besides the ocean of dark-haired heads that I can still see over (despite leaps in nutrition in the past 20 years), is the cacophony. The Xenophobe's Guide to the Chinese explains that we Chinese people have a general tolerance for ambient noise that is at least 10dB higher than that of the average European or North American. Re4 Nao4, or "bustle" (literally, "heat and noise"), is a good, enjoyable thing to us. Fortunate indeed, for a country that has a population of 1.3 billion and is still slowly growing despite the One Child Per Family policy that is on the books.
My aunt Shen-Ling is at the outer gate, waiting near the many drivers holding placards. I see a couple of groups of student visitors, too, conspicuous by their light hair and relative height. My aunt's driver piles our luggage into his black Nissan, and Banadad and I immediately start hunting for our seat belts. "You really value your lives, eh?" laughs my aunt, as we start catching up. We are the first of the families to arrive; four of my uncle's six older siblings are coming, along with their children and their partners, for a total of 20 people.
15:15 BST: Beijing has the kind of uncontrolled and wasteful urban sprawl I've seen in Acapulco and read about in Houston and Atlanta, but it's also got some sleek and happening places like London, and it has a surprisingly nice road and highway system that is more modern than I was led to believe. In general, though, it most resembles Washington, D.C. among U.S. cities. The city is arranged in arrondissements much as Paris is, though Beijing has just five major rings. The Central Business District is clustered around the Second Ring, and my uncle's family lives on the fourth.
20:00 BST: We arrive at my uncle's house, greet my grandmother and uncle, and start unpacking; I get my notebook out and am immediately able to detect
TPLINK, my uncle's 802.11b router. I hop into Trillian and IRC and people are, naturally, surprised to see me.
My uncle's house is quite opulent, not least of all because building materials here cost about a third of what they do in the States, and labor costs something less, perhaps as little as a tenth, even with building contractors. Watching the development of the city, you really get the impression that this is About To Change.
I love what my uncle has done with the interior decor. The melange of North American, European, and Asian styles is really a tour de force. This is at least as much to his credit as to his designer's. I start studying and taking notes from his basement and the lovely little sitting room he has in the back.
After a wonderful home-cooked dinner, we continue unpacking. My cousins go out to play with Buddy and JJ, their ultra-cute golden retriever pups. Let's just say that these little fellows are so hyper that they fit right into our family.
21:00 - 22:30 BST: I take a nap in the basement bedroom and wake up to the sound of everyone talking upstairs. By now I've adjusted entirely to the time difference. (The secret to beating trans-Pacific jet lag: expose yourself to daylight during every moment that it is light out at your destination, and vice versa; when your savvy fellow travellers have the shades drawn, it's nighttime where you are going. Human diurnal rhythms are not as strongly photo-regulated as plants', but we do respond to light.)
I go upstairs and help myself to a couple of the six of Baskin Robbins' 31 flavors of ice cream that they have out. Of course, there is also Green tea, an Asian standard. After another hour of chatting with the family.