Our first week has flown by, and when our true reason for being in Beijing arrives on Wednesday, the rest will be a blur. Monday brings walk thrus, followed by a trip to the Drum and Bell Tower. Both constructed for ceremonial time-keeping, the bell sounds at night, the drums in the day.
Each tower contains an impressively steep staircase and provides what would be an incredible vista of the city- if it wasn't for the smog. We willingly fall prey to the tourist-trap tea house on the bottom level. The tea ceremony includes four kinds of tea (each delicious) and a ceramic figurine of a boy that pees when hot water is poured over his head. We left the gift shop with plenty of tea and a peeing boy apiece.
Our time in the towers is followed by an excellent local restaurant discovery and a walk through another fantastic hutong. Back just in time for meetings and wishful thinking about a dumpling dinner. Too short on time, we end up sticking close to the hotel with pizza and french fries at Mississippi in between calls to upgrade our seats on the return flight home. Later on, an elaborate prank phone call keeps us laughing for the rest of the trip.
The following day, we convince the rest of our team to join us for a closer look at the local restaurant - the most gastronomically threatening meal yet. Probably the largest group of westerners to ever drop in for lunch- our presence does not go unnoticed. K has a long chat with the woman behind the counter, who insists that we will not like the food, which seems intestinally focused.
A large steamer of dumplings huddled in the corner looks like a viable option along with a local noodle dish served cold. Our standing in the dining room seems threatening, so we are banished to the upstairs, where we eat our choices with a little trepidation. We spend more time strolling the hutongs while monitoring our vital signs for the next several hours.
One final stop at the Confucious temple and college, where we stroll through serenely shaded courtyards filled with little open air temples housing large dragons. We return with just enough time for a foot massage before our meeting, my best one yet. Indulgence continues with another round at Duck de Chine -less people, more duck and a party bus for transportation make for a perfect conclusion to what will be our last duck in Beijing.
Game day arrives, a mornig trip to Yashow for yet another visit to Wendy. A guilty lunch at TGI Fridays for the best hamburger I have ever eaten. Seating charts, diagrams and then out to the site of this evening's Georgetown/China basketball game. Tension, access issues ridiculous security - just a taste of what the next few days will bring. We leave at half time, Georgetown up.
Although I wish I could share in excruciating detail the challenges we face for the rest of the visit, I won't. We'll save the specifics for storytelling over several drinks...
By Friday, things are slowing down. We spend dinner across Ritan park for a meal at what we have dubbed "famous Chinese restaurant." Sweet and sour pork, caramelized eggplant and fried rice taste familiar - a new selection: braised chicken, brings with it a startling array of parts, feet and heads.
Dinner is followed by dancing at the less than subtle bar/brothel, "Maggie's" around the south side of the park. The girls all wear name tags, the clientele is largely old, white and western and the Filipino cover band is something else.
Saturday finds us eating pizza with the ambassador's family at an authentic pizza place - much better than Mississippi's tostino's-style offerings - then waving goodbye from the tarmac as the plane flies on to Chengdu. Wheels up in Sanlitun, drinks and Thai food followed inevitably by more dancing at Maggie's until early Sunday morning.
One final Din Tai Fung and we're fighting traffic to the airport in motor pool vehicles now stuffed with our additional luggage. Now an overly-air conditioned airplane cabin and thirteen hours of flight time to make sense of a half of a month spent on the other side of the world.