Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Nee-how, Ya’ll!

After 18 hours of traveling, I think I can say with some certainty that I have the Best Little Boy in the Whole Wide World. Zach handled the airport and the flight like a champ, finding a friend to play with and then sleeping for at least 6 of the 12 1/2 hours on the ride over. The rest of the time he played with the friend, watched cartoons on Dan's iPod (thank you, Apple and Kennedy-Marshall!), and played with his new "China toys." Zach even took customs in stride. By the time of our 45-minute van ride to the hotel, he finally lost it - but at that point no one could really blame him...

Landing in China was actually pretty cool as we were on, perhaps, the very first Air China flight to arrive at Terminal 3 - the new, dragon-shaped terminal built for the Beijing Olympics, which opened just 10 days before we got here. My first impression, upon entering the huge and immaculate building was, "My God, it's full of stars..." The lighting is designed in such a way that the ceiling appears to be a concave swath of stars across a bright sky. Pretty gorgeous. Everyone was taking pictures - even the pilots.

We got to our hotel at around 6:30 - 7 am. Zach was asleep and Dan was knackered, so the tour guide and I decided to go get breakfast together (the "tour" is currently just Peggy from LA and us. Everyone else will meet up at 21:00). When Melissa pointed to the 60 yuan Western breakfast being served in the hotel, I smiled as sweetly as possible and insisted that I had no interest in "white food for white people," so she happily marched me across the street, where a couple were cooking food over ramshackle stoves set up on the sidewalk in front of a small restaurant. Melissa ordered us huge, steaming bowls of wonton soup and what can best be described as savory bengeits or sugarless churros, and we went inside to devour our meal. YUM. I am very disappointed to admit that I cannot remember a single Mandarin word for any part of that meal.

Later in the day, showered and napped, we set off to figure out this city of 15 million people. Zach had been insisting we get him lemon cake since I so ungraciously offered his 3-hours-old treat to the stewardess in preparation for landing, so we stumbled our way through a pretty fun bakery experience and on to lunch (yes, Zach got cake before lunch. We're traveling. Whatever). Editor's note: When traveling to a country where the locals do not speak anything you have every studied, and cannot fall back on Latin derivatives or previous experience, do not leave your phrasebook in the hotel. I'm pretty sure we had lamb, but there are no guarantees. At one point I feebly tried to make a "baa" sound and then wrinkled my forehead, obviously asking, "Does the animal we're eating make this sound?" but no one in the crowd of 6+ servers that immediately gathered around our table had any idea what the clearly crazy American was on about. But the garlic-scallion dumplings, (crisp and hot, brought steaming to the table), were out of this world. The best part? One of the tables was actually a fish tank! There were two dozen or so goldfish happily swimming around underneath someone's lunch of, likely, fish. Kinda cool. Zach, of course, LOVED it. Meals have averaged about $2.50 per person.

We spent the rest of the day at the Lama Temple (as in "Dalai Lama" which, considering China/Tibet relations such as they are, continues to perplex me). So beautiful, with reds and turquoise and golds that I've never seen on buildings before. Everything is ornamented and carved, and the air is thick with several different kinds of incense. I probably could've spent the entire day there. As much as I marveled at the statues and the architecture, the locals seemed to be equally transfixed with the golden-haired boy who bowed to the Buddhas and gleefully shouted "Nee-how" to the smiling people. He has stood up quite well to being petted and photographed by strangers. Rock on, Little Camper.

I still can't believe we're here. Everything is covered in dust, the drivers are all on a mission to run over us, and the weather is pretty cold. But I absolutely cannot get enough.

The rest of the night continues to be on our own, and then we begin the tour in earnest, starting at 8:30am (5pm? LA time).

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