Sights, Smells and Sounds

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What a whirlwind trip we are having! I can’t believe it’s Wednesday already, with only 2 full days of travel left! We haven’t seen the Great Wall yet, but we’ve seen the “Great Firewall!” Yes, many webpages, blogs, Facebook and YouTube are blocked in China. I guess the government doesn’t like the content, so they have somehow blocked all people from accessing these pages anywhere in China (we, of course, have a way around it). Don’t tell anyone, k? :)

So, we couldn’t go to the Great Wall the other day because the highway we wanted to take to get to that section of the Wall was closed, due to limited visibility due to “fog.” This is what people call the smog, because it makes them feel better. But, it didn’t seem like the air was moist, like it is with fog, but with a healthy temperature inversion, the pollution was staying close to the ground and bringing the visibility down. I would say the visibility was about a mile for a couple of days, maybe a little less (and have I mentioned I have training in weather observation?). So, we went to a tailor on Saturday instead, and ordered some clothing to be made — I am very excited! I am having a Chinese dress made, and a shirt, and Darren is getting a shirt and a “zoot suit.” Zoot suits are what serious swing-dancers wear — it is going to be great! Yesterday we went for our first fitting of the clothing, and saw some beautiful dress coats made of wool and cashmere, so we decided to order coats as well! Somewhere, there is a small group of ladies sewing madly for us, so we can pick it all up on Friday. I have to go back tomorrow for a second fitting, but Darren should be good to go. What an opportunity for us to have hand-made tailored clothes, really great quality, made by a friend of a friend! :)

What else have we done? We went to the Ancient Observatory, which was neat. It was a collection of metal instruments on top of a huge stone structure, which was actually a part of the original city wall, and some stone and metal sundials on the ground, in a little park. There were some indoor displays, which we enjoyed thoroughly due to them being inside heated buildings! It was a cold day, and we were starting to be pretty chilled. It’s been quite cool here (-6 C to +17 C on the hottest day) and if I don’t wear my long johns, it’s pretty chilly — especially now, since the inversion is gone, it’s clear and cool (but the cleaner air is worth it).

Beijing is a funny place, in many ways! Some areas are completely modern, western, and familiar: Starbucks, McDonald’s, KFC, shopping centres with all the typical stores (although I don’t necessarily recognize the chains, as many are European), shiny glass buildings, skyscrapers, subways, cars, buses, etc. I saw a double-decker transit bus yesterday — pretty crazy! I’ve been squeezed into subway cars, when I thought it was full and then 6 more people got on! It’s crowded a lot in places like subways and busy streets with shopping nearby, but I’ve also walked down quiet back streets with very few people. There are taxis everywhere! I don’t think we’ve ever waited more than 5 minutes to catch one. The taxi drivers are not very talkative, but some say “bye bye” when we get out. Darren can speak a bit of Chinese, enough to hold a simple conversation, give the taxi driver directions, or talk to the seamstress or whatever. The traffic here is nuts (it reminds me of Montreal, only worse!) and the taxi drivers are right in there making it worse! Gads. Lanes are a suggestion, and for some drivers, speed limits a dare. Pedestrians are everywhere, crossing against the light all the time, standing between lanes, dodging cars, leaping in front or behind, it’s madness! One time, we went through a tunnel of people, standing 3 or 4 deep along both sides of the curved lane we were turning left in, leaning in to see when the traffic would end and they could continue across. It’s tricky to stay together, yet it’s dangerous to hold hands in case one person needs to leap out of the way!

I promised to tell you about the toilets. Sheesh! Most are not “sit-down” toilets like we are used to. They are squatting toilets, which means a shallow ceramic bowl set into the floor, which you put one foot on each side of and then squat down and do what you have to do. I don’t like them. I can do it if I can’t find a sitting toilet, but I don’t like it. The bathrooms are pretty smelly too, especially the men’s (which I can smell when I walk by) — I guess they can’t aim very well! (They have ordinary urinals as well as the squatting toilets.) The only good thing is that no skin touches anything.

That’s all for now… Sorry for the picture-less blogs, I’ll do some photo blogs once I get home. I’ll write more later, when I have time!

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