So, about 4 am Anna and Mia rolled out of bed (literally since they were both sleeping on the floor). We had prepared for that likelihood preparing them with a DVD player and a laptop so they could watch a movie while others continued to rest. Perhaps it was that they knew there was a movie waiting for them that was enough to rouse them. Anyway, I was not sleeping well either so I got them set up. Then I was really awake. After getting ready I went ahead and wrote the first blog and by then Anna and Megan were ready for the day,too. Mia had gone back to sleep. So Megan, Anna and I went down for breakfast. We were surprised to find our friends from Hong Kong, the Saunders, entering the hall at the very same moment. Kathleen, Kayla and Mia came down right as we were finishing.
We met our guide Vivie around 10 am and headed out for the day. Traffic is worse than it was the first time we were in Beijing. I’ve heard that they are adding thousands of new drivers a day in China and it’s showing up on the roads. We learned yesterday that every driver has to take one day off from driving each weekday. I wondered how they police that, but it turns out they go by your license tag numbers. If your tag numbers end in 0 or 5, you can’t be on the roads on Mondays. 1 and 6 are off the roads on Tuesdays, and so on. Vivie said the worst day to be on the roads during the work week is Fridays because the numbers are 4 and 9 and, surprisingly, you get to choose what your last number is and 4 is considered an unlucky number, so fewer people choose to have that as the last number on their tags. Ironically, 9 is a very lucky number (ying and yang?), so that is the number Vivie wanted. Regardless, there are fewer drivers having to take off from driving on Fridays, so the roads are a bit more congested. On the weekend, everyone can drive and it’s a bit of a madhouse.
We marvel at how the driving mimics waterflow. Cars, motorcycles, bikers, and people walking about all flow around each other almost effortlessly. Where in the U.S. we might get miffed if someone pulls in front of us or walks in front of us, here they simply swerve around the offender thus setting off a ripple in the traffic that everyone just adjusts to as needed. Even so, there is a lot of horn honking. I wonder why they honk. Perhaps down deep they are upset and it doesn’t show up in their language (“Riffing rackin’ ruffer rapper!” ). In many cases I think it’s just an “I’m here” call out to help minimize accidents.
So we headed to our first stop of the day – the Temple of Heaven. Interestingly, that was also the first place we went when we came to Beijing the first time. This time it cost 300 RMB or Yuan to get in for all 9 of us (Staleys and Saunders). That’s about $60.
The area is broken into several sections. We started in a park area where they had small groups gathered around some singers, large groups of people dancing, different people performing Tai Chi, and a lot of people playing a Chinese version of hackeysack. Their version has the equivalent of flat metal coins around a small post with feathers sticking out the top. At the bottom of the post is a flat rubber stopper that you can kick to keep the “shuttlecock-like” thing in the air. Unbeknownst to us, we were drawn into joining a small group only to have them try and sell us one of them. We bought one for about 90 cents.
Moving along, we came across a woman who had two paddles and a weighted “birdie/shuttlecock”. Anna really enjoyed that and so we soon owned a set.
Further along we were bombarded with sales pitches for hats, bags, and Rolex watches. Fortunately none of my children took a liking to any of them and so we won’t be bringing any of them home.
We did learn that it appears I’m the sucker in the family. They all approach me and will not stop asking. Maybe I’m not rude enough. They walk alongside me and keep dropping the price. They must sense my keen desire to get a good deal. The Rolex guy almost got me when he dropped the cost per watch from 150 RMB to about 20 RMB (just over $3). That almost got me. But the fear that I might get metal poisoning from a cheap, defective watch with hands that fall off before we get home got the best of me.
We continued on and actually did get to see the main attraction, which was the Temple of Heaven. It was a large beautiful building made entirely of wood that has stood for a very, very long time. You can’t go in, but you can go up to it and look in. There were a number of additional buildings housing similar ancient furniture to see.
Moving along, we decided to take a break and play some“hackey-bird” on our own. We found a quiet place in the grass. Lydia lives in Hong Kong and doesn’t get to play in the grass much and jumped at the opportunity. It was fun because we were approached by two Chinese adults with children who wanted to join our game.
Once we moved further into the park, we kept coming across opportunities to stop and “play” and in the end we felt those were the parts that the children (and adults) would remember best.
After leaving the park, we jumped back in the van and went to the Panjiayuan Market. It is a market with a large number of shops that are open all week, but where on the weekends an even larger number of sellers gather to sell what they claim to be “antiques”. We were told that maybe 2% of what we would see would be real antiques and that we should expect to pay around 20% of the asking price. It was a great opportunity for Lydia, whose Girl Scout troop is currently working on price negotiation. I don’t think they actually get a “haggling” badge.
I ended up picking up a couple of very interesting items. One is a set of metal weights that you could use to hold down the ends of a scroll of paper while you write calligraphy. They claimed that they were brass, but I doubt that. Decoratively engraved into them are the Chinese characters for a phrase that speaks to the importance of diligence when it comes to education. I really liked that thought. I haggled aggressively and walked away only to be chased down many booths later where the price came down to my liking.
The second item I purchased was a Chinese padlock in the form of a fish. It came with two very ornate keys and an interesting mechanism. To open the lock, first you have to move a side fin to reveal the hidden hole for the key. Then when you place the key in the hole and turn, you have to press the fish’s eye on the back side to make the turning work. It is very heavy and covered in a really nice patina. They started at 450 RMB ($70). I bargained hard and walked away. About a block later the woman had chased me down and dropped the price to a point where it was more reasonable to bargain more. I kept pushing and ended up getting it for 100 RMB ($15). Our guide was impressed and then asked if I understood the actions the vendor was making as we were talking. She was slashing her throat and I thought it meant she was at rock bottom on price. Vivie said she was saying, “If I have to go any lower, I will kill myself.” I guess that was the point where I made her go lower, but the good news is she did not proceed with her threat.
We bought a number of other smaller items and headed back to the hotel where we enjoyed a wonderful happy hour with tasty hors dhorves and free Tsingtao beer for the dads and pop for the kids.
Then we hit the other highlight of the day for the kids – the pool! After the pool we took a stroll in the neighborhood, bought a Subway sandwich for a couple of us whowere hungry and then toured a local grocery store – probably one of the most interesting spots for me when I’ve traveled to Asia. The store didn’t disappoint offering a number of unusual items including some bread under the “Bimbo” brand.
We grabbed a large amount of bottled water and headed home for the night.
All in all, the first real day was a big success.
And now, a word from Anna:
The first day we flew all day, and Kayla realized that we flew 24 hours. It was the longest time ever!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The best thing I did was sleep and kick my mom in the head. Also I liked NOT BEING ON A PLANE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The two airlines that we flew on were Frontier and Hanien. I liked Hanien best, because they had options on there TV’s. The second day we went to The Temple of Heven. It was very interesting to learndifferent things. We also got to learn about different games. One of the games was hakky sack, and I liked that best. Another game we learned about was a game where you hit something back and forth.