A Tronkie Travellogue
Day 4: Park-n-Shop Superstore, Beijing
06:55: Rise and shine! Or not. Banamum is still asleep, and my computer is in her room, so I go up to behold the Yellow Face and have a spot of breakfast, my preciouss. Ach. Ss.
07:05 - 08:10: If having more breakfast than a glass of milk is unnatural for me, watching the morning news is a rarity fit to print. I watch a few minutes of a World Cup replay with Banadad and discuss Germany's victory over Costa Rica with him. So far, only my Fifth Aunt and mother's mother have arrived, so it's a very sparse breakfast group.
I spend an hour talking with Banadad about state, religion, and multiculturalism. It's a fascinating discussion, brought on as much by his impressions of China as by the news of the gay marriage ban bill failing in Congress.
08:15 - 10:30: I head downstairs just in time to miss sui_degeneris in IRC. Even in China! I laugh at the irony of it all for a while and start composing a synopsis of last night's performance at the Great Hall of the People, for posting later.
10:35 - 12:30: I save my work and get ready for the day. Lunch is at home and consists partly of leftovers from the restaurants and partly of new things.
13:00 - 15:45: I putter about the house, drinking Sprite (n. - the brand name of a non-caffeinated soft drink) for the first time in ages, and taking pictures of odd things. I chat with folks on IRC and IM, and take notes for my forthcoming travellogue.
Remember how I told you that it's dry here? I wasn't kidding. My uncle's house is filled with cacti. Drinking water is bottled, as Beijing has very hard water and even softened water is only suitable for making soup or washing dishes. The city still has occasional sandstorms during certain seasons, and there's a generally Tatooinesque or Arrakeen grime to the place. Dishes left in the cupboard for a week will have a sheen of dust on them, and even after stepping out of my slippers twice, I've got brown spots on the soles of my socks.
15:45 - 18:00: We go off to the Park-n-Shop shopping centre in Beijing. That's just what it sounds like: a North American-style mall, complete with drugstores, furniture stores, lots of clothing stores and ice cream stands, etc. The only difference is that the chain restaurant is an Ajisen Ramen instead of an Applebee's. The mall aquarium has many bright tropical fish, and I photograph half a dozen anemones (here are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6).
My cousin Cynthia has a plan to hold a party for everyone who's coming, and has me enumerate the family members who are expected. We come up with a horrendous Burtonesque menu straight out of Beetlejuice or The Nightmare Before Christmas.
The Beijing economy is fairly exploding. I spot everything from Bud Light to Wrigley's Extra on the convenience store shelves, right next to the bulk rice and millet. They even have Celestial Seasonings herbal tea, though I have to convince Cynthia that coming to China to drink tea from Colorado is just too weird. We sit on the leather and palmwood sofas at a Pacific Green store and marvel at the amount of crystal, marble, leather and fur products that everyone here is snapping up. City life stands in extremely stark contrast to rural life, though. My uncle confirms that the salary of a rural farm worker is still under 10 renminbi (RMB) a day, or $1.25 at the current exchange rate of 8 RMB to the US dollar.
God created Beijing to train the faithful. Ya hya chouhada, or should I say, wu3 shi4 wan4 sui4?
18:00 - 19:30: Dinner is at a chain noodle restaurant.
Cucumber and chili pickles
Pork rib ramen
Beef ramen in hot and spicy chili broth
Kinchee ramen with shiitake mushrooms
Deep fried chicken gristle
Miso soup with tofu, seaweed, and green onions
Volcano of Italian ice with ambrosia salad
Japanese-style chilled strawberries in ice cream
"It's just ramen," they said, and I believed them. That'll teach me.
You would think that I'd have learned from miyeko to say RAH-men instead of RAY-men, but no. That was embarrassing, and no mistake. Well, I shan't make the same mistake again: I know now that ramen is la1 mien4.