With so much Asian influence, Honolulu was the perfect buffer back to the 48 great, but not as great as Hawaii, states. The best example of the apparent culture blend was right outside our hotel; there was an Udon noodle bar on one side of the street and a Taco Bell on the other. Especially with my being known to eat the Bell three times in one day, it shocked me that I’d chosen a bowl of noodles over the long-deprived Crunch Wrap Supreme. In all of Asia, we’d seen McDonald’s, Burger King, Arby’s and even Dairy Queen, but we did not see a single Taco Bell. That Great Wall has sure kept some gems out of the area.
Anyways, I realize it’s been two weeks since I’ve last posted and, considering this blog serves as my digital diary, I thought a gap in my records would run my memory awry for future nostalgia.
So I’ll write some things about our last stop in Asia, Beijing.
To get around this massive metropolis, the newly paved metro is your most efficient bet. You can quite easily navigate and conquer sprawling Beijing, although you must be willing to forgo all personal space with China’s inescapable crowd pollution that plagues even its underground roads. The trains are so overflown they make the morning 6 train to Wall Street seem spacious, and, though I hoped it was always just Greg, I must have been ass-grabbed several times in said overflow.
Regardless, we used the metro often, hopping from one sight to the next, as we rounded up China in its capitol city.
We started with Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City, the latter being more to our liking. Tianamen is neat but nothing, other than it being the largest public square, we haven’t seen before. The Forbidden City is undeniably more distinctive with it being the palace for Chinese emperors during the country’s millennia-old dynasty history. Now, after the cultural revolution in the mid-1900′s, the palace is no longer forbidden (though it continues to bear the name otherwise), and it swarms with tourists of all nationalities. We rented audio guides that used GPS to signal the automated English voice of where we were and what we needed described. It’s a great concept, but it’s hardly mastered. I would be standing at the entrance of the Palace of Heaven and the guide would start giving me a lesson on the Imperial Garden out back. I was completely confused, but managed to grasp one overarching theme: the palace grounds had a specific room for everything. One room was used to receive documents, another was to read the documents, another was to ponder them in, a fourth was to pray on them and then a fifth room served to sign the documents. I felt it somewhat unnecessary but then I thought, it only took a half a century to build each room, so what’s the harm in that?
We also visited the Summer Palace, another complex beside a breezy lake where royalty would go to be spoiled by serenity. Of all the sights in China, the Summer Palace was the most beautiful to me. And I do include the Great Wall in that call. Though the lengthy barricade slithered through a gorgeous mountainside, I was still left slightly unmoved. Perhaps I’ve seen it overplayed through media, or perhaps the unwelcome overcast clouded its full potential, but the experience didn’t engulf me like seeing the Taj Mahal in India or the ultra-futuristic shopping malls in Hong Kong. It also could have been the blazing humidity or severe incline (sure to dissuade many an intruder) that stifled my thoughts. Whatever the case, I wasn’t completely unsatisfied; I was still impressed at the feat of such an edifice of defense. Put all the gratuitous gates around Beverly Hills homes to shame.
Like the last few destinations, Beijing tourists all have the Olympic park on their agenda as well. We were most roused by the national stadium, the bird’s nest as it is called in slang. Concerning present architecture, I’ve never seen anything like it. The outside layer of the stadium looked like a maze of steel and it made little sense how the puzzle pieces flowed together to support the structure. The other buildings were pretty ratty and offensively rundown considering they only have three years of living under their belts. Restorations of B.C. architecture looked to be more maintained and fresh than some buildings in the toddler-aged park. There were also silly misspellings that made us question how much effort was put into the details of the 2008 Olympics on the Chinese’s part. If you’re going to host one of the largest international events, you might want to hire a non-dyslexic translator so that the word “squat” to proceed the word “toilet” isn’t misspelled as “spuat” on all the bathroom stall labels. Anyways, they know for the next time the Olympics come to town.
The very last experience to note in Beijing was the Pearl Market. From electronics to perfumes, beads to clay tea pots, this three-story, tourist-entrapping house of shopping really sucked Greg and I in. Three times. The first time, we ran into a busload of MBA students from Greg’s undergrad alma mater, Babson College in Boston. It’s always a fun coincidence to run into traces of back home when you are so far from it, so we became distracted from shopping until the joint closed to relate with the students. On our second try, we came across some awesome gadgets- including these computer mouses shaped like a woman’s body, with the left click button looking like a large left breast, and the right click button looking like the large right one. We called it a tit mouse, which is actually a type of animal, and definitely bought one. We snagged enough goodies to overstuff our backpacks (figuring that it was the end of our trip, it was okay to wastefully purchase inessential, sure-to-break-upon-returning-home trinkets, by the hundreds). The third and final trip we made was because I’d decided to go back and buy my dad a pair of the headphones I’d bought for myself. He’s the biggest fan of Pandora, though he refuses to pay to eliminate the commercials, so I figured he could use them to accessorize his hobby. Plus, they are those hip, rad Dr. Dre Beats kind, and my nearing 60-year-old dad totally rides the trendy wave.
Anyways, we flew from Beijing to Hawaii, stayed there for 5 days and just now flew back to mainland America. This two-month trip sped by faster than that Maglev train in Shanghai (again, that’s about 270 miles per hour) and I can’t believe, nor do I want to, that it’s all over. My collective thoughts would get lost in the length of this post, so I’ll have to compile them and save it for another day. Until then, I’ll be enjoying an In-And-Out burger in San Francisco and figuring out what in the world is next.
PS. Dad- I know you turn only 59 next week (and happy almost birthday), but you are the closest you’ll ever get to that 60 number when all the birthday cards start to have large font and dirty old man jokes…It’s my duty, and my pleasure, to help keep your image looking younger than reality. Love ya!