At the end of July, my dear friend, Andrea, from Mill Valley, by way of Chicago, came to Beijing with her friend Ann, who still lives in Chicago. My living here was the impetus for the trip but they decided to do an all-inclusive tour package of China including Xi’an (the Terra Cotta Warriors), Guilin (“Heaven on Earth”/etching on back of 20RMB), Shanghai and Hong Kong. The former two are places I will be visiting when Sophie and Nancy arrive at the end of October. Because they were part of an organized tour, I would only see Andrea and Ann for the two days they were staying in Beijing. They were billeted at a Doubletree (Hilton) reasonably close to where I live, so I met them the night they arrived. You may recall that I live next door to a Holiday Inn and I described it as the most luxurious HI I have ever seen. That goes “double” (sorry) for the DT. As Doubletree’s go, it was sumptuous. They upgraded to the Concierge Level and we enjoyed a nice happy hour repast with refreshing cocktails, the next day after our very extensive tour of Beijing.
In a rare flash in inspiration, the previous day before getting together, I thought to myself, “rather than the three of us bumbling around Beijing, language challenged, struggling to explain to some poor taxi-driver where we want to go, why not enlist a student at EF to join us for the day.” That really was a “duh, of course” moment that only occurred to me at the last minute. Said student would get to practice English all day with other native speakers, get some free meals and we would get around far more easily and Andrea and Ann could actually engage with a native rather than only speaking with a tour guide. So after beating the bushes, so to speak, I was able to press Spencer, an intermediate student, into our service, for the upcoming day (see picture and of course, then say: “Spencer’s a girl?”)
After meeting in Tienanmen Square, we had lunch which would have been far more complicated without Spencer doing the ordering. We then went to the Forbidden City to buy tickets for the museum but it was too late in the day as they were all sold out. While walking around outside the forbidden zone, we engaged a taxi driver who offered to take us to the Summer Palace (quite a distance from Tienanmen), wait there while we toured and then drive us all back to the Doubletree Inn; price: $60. It was a drizzly, somewhat gloomy day but at least it wasn’t raining when we got to the Summer Palace. It’s a vast ensemble of lakes, gardens and palaces. Well worth a visit if you come to Beijing. I will definitely take Nancy and Sophie there. As I mentioned previously, we all went back to the hotel for food and drinks courtesy of Doubletree.
The next day, after their visit to the Great Wall, Andrea took a cab to my apartment to meet me for dinner. Bear in mind, she was still seriously jet-lagged, had toured the previous day with us as well as her tour group and spent all that day at the Wall. Kudos to her for agreeing to meeting me for dinner despite how utterly wiped out she was. We took the short walk to my office (which was torture for her given the condition she was in) and while showing her my office, I rounded up some fellow teachers and we all went downstairs to the mall to eat at a hotpot restaurant which is somewhat of an essential if you visit Beijing (along with going to a Peking Duck restaurant, which I have yet to do.) The only other hotpot I had was at a Mongolian hotpot in SF a few months before my departure. So far, I have yet to be swept off my feet with the cuisine. However, Belle assures me before she leaves that I will have a hotpot meal worthy of the popularity of the cuisine. Oh yes, I am also down for trying a donkey burger which is quite popular, evidently. “Sophie, don’t diss me. But when in Rome, as they say…”
After dinner, Andrea was way past her “best if used by date” and we put her in a cab back to the hotel. She plans to visit me next year and stay with me. By then I’ll really be up to speed on the best places to eat, play and take in culture, in this city.
Stay tuned for my next post where I will discuss one of my first cultural outings to UCCA/Art District, where I spent the day taking in some well known artists.