Each day this week has been absolutely jam-packed with events. Grandma’s arrived, and we have been exploring Zhengzhou --- but let me start from the beginning.
I took the train to Beijing last Wednesday evening, departing at 10:15. Mercifully, I had a sleeper ticket, so I at least could stretch out for the 9-hour ride. I didn’t sleep much owing to the bumpy and noisy clunk-cla-clunk of the wheels on the track.
I arrived in Beijing at about 6:30am. After making it through the insane asylum that is Beijing West Train Station, I caught a taxi which brought me to Grandma’s hotel on Wang Fu Jin Avenue, which is the famous shopping district adjacent to Tiananmen Square.
I had a quick shower at the hotel, then we set out together in search of some breakfast. Beijing’s most commonly eaten food is without a doubt dumplings, and that is what we had for our meal: fried dumplings and steamed dumplings at a small shop on the way to Tiananmen Square.
Grandma has decided there are two things she will remember China for: their obsession with food, and their road conditions. Of course, as of this writing, she hasn’t seen anything yet. We’re planning on going to Tai Shan this weekend, which sports the worst roads (and drivers) I’ve ever experienced in my life. Anyways, I didn’t think Beijing’s drivers were all that bad. Their food is unbelievable though; man, if only my stomach weren’t restricted to a certain volume of material at any one time…
We toured Tiananmen Square, saw the Forbidden City, then walked a distance away from the main stretch and found ourselves in the middle of Beijing’s Hu Tong. The Hu Tong is what’s left of old Beijing; the one-storey grey buildings that are probably the most authentic part of the capital city. We hired a bike taxi while in there, asking him to bring us to the nearest teahouse. The nearest one happened to be about 15 minutes off, so after a wonderful tour of most of the Hu Tong, we arrived at our destination. We paid the driver his 10 Yuan (1.5 Canadian), then entered the building.
After the teahouse, where we drank buckets of jasmine tea while listening to the caged songbirds chirping in the corners, we went in search of a restaurant that served Peking Duck. Just about every restaurant in Beijing can whip up that meal, so it wasn’t a difficult task to find one. And once we found one, of course the meal was delicious. I don’t think I’ve ever had a meal that wasn’t delicious in China. Except maybe the dog I tried last year. That’s another story though.
The afternoon found us walking through the Ground of the Temple of Heaven (Tian Tan), then back to the hotel for a rest.
That evening Grandma and I went to an upscale mall to browse around and find some dinner. Guess what we found? Heaven on Earth is what we found. Grandma compared it to a dream. It was in a vast section of the mall called “Gourmet Street,” a veritable endless line of restaurants of every variety you can imagine, and truly gourmet quality – the kind of food that costs 60-80 dollars per person in Canada. Sushi bars with their conveyor belts laden with fresh seaweed, vegetables and fish, Thai cuisine, Korean barbeque, European pastries….everything you can possibly think of. Grandma and I ate for 60 Yuan for the two of us, which is roughly ten Canadian dollars. We went back the next night, of course. You’d need a month to sample everything there, and I hope to attempt it one day. It was ridiculously, wonderfully, decadent.
The next day – Friday – we again did an enormous amount of walking. We were hobbling by the time we boarded the train to Zhengzhou that evening. The sights we saw on Friday included Bei Hai Park, more amazing restaurants, the Beijing Zoo, and some side street markets off Wang Fu Jin Avenue. We headed over to Beijing West Train Station at about 8pm, laden with our bags and enlarged stomachs.
The train station was as insane as when I’d arrived; train is the main form of long-distance transport in China. We sat on newspapers in the hallway for a short time because the waiting area was literally impossible to enter owing to a wall of people packed like sardines….no exaggeration. Grandma suddenly realized, however, that she’d bought soft sleeper tickets, which entitled us to sit in the VIP lounge. So we scrambled up and away from the spit-covered ground where we’d been sitting on and made our way to the air conditioned and quieter leather chairs of VIP land.
We arrived in Zhengzhou the next morning at 7am. We were greeted by several employees at the school who gave Grandma several gifts, including flowers. It was a very nice gesture.
We were driven to my apartment where we washed up, then hurried to the school where I taught my first class at 9am. The school had Grandma teach a class that afternoon, much to her initial discomfort. I think she enjoyed it in the end, though. The day went quickly owing to my numerous classes, as did Sunday.
Yesterday we toured the antique market I’d visited last month, and Grandma enjoyed browsing the expensive items as much as I did.
Today Grandma’s gone to Kaifeng with Nancy, another teacher at the school. I’ll be heading in to work in a couple hours.
Now my fingers hurt, so that’s all for now!