Living in a country provides a distinct advantage over being a tourist, it takes away the urgency and rush to see it all and affords the luxury of slowing down to see the small things, the everyday things that make up our lives. Melinda had a work project in Beijing this past week so I took the “Harmony” bullet train up with her.
Sunday was a good air day, we dropped our bags at the hotel and headed out to search for the Dongyue Temple, walk the Sanlitun District, home to many international embassies, and locate the Sanlitun Yashow Clothing Market for some shopping. Walking from the Westin Hotel in the North Chaoyang District, we headed south past a concentration of foreign embassies and a smattering of grocery stores and a generous number of wine and liquor shops catering to the population of foreign diplomats. Judging from the number of bars and liquor establishments drinking is the number one activity among this crowd.
The first thing we noticed during our walk in search of the temple is that the temperatures in Beijing were significantly colder than those in Shanghai. At -4 ° C this was the first real cold of the winter, Shanghai being mostly no worse than chilly. The second thing we noticed was the lack of scale to the map we were using to get around Beijing. Literally, there was no distance scale on the map, as a result the walk to the temple was much farther and took much longer than we’d anticipated and we got there after close. We didn’t have time, on this trip, to return, so we will save it for another trip.
We took a different route back toward the hotel, not wanting to see what we’d already seen, and headed north, avoiding main thoroughfares. Despite the below freezing temps lots of people were out in the parks playing table tennis and basketball in the fading light. We even saw Minnie Mouse handing out flyers for a massage parlor. We got a reprieve from the dark and cold when we stumbled upon the Yashow Clothing Market, five crowded floors of t-shirt, outerwear, shoe, and silk vendors and an entire floor of tailors making custom shirts, suits and dresses. Melinda did her usual “stubborn mule” bargaining and picked up a few gifts that we’ll mail when we get back to the States, next month. –-Mailing packages from China is, like everything else in China, more complicated than it should be. You can’t bring a sealed package to the post office or they will make you unpack it, once the contents have been inspected, you then have to buy the packaging material from the post office and package it on the spot–while everyone waits in line behind you– then the package will be wrapped in more layers of cello-tape than imaginable and finally the exterior will be covered rows upon rows of stamps, because God forbid you should just print a single label with all the postage on it. And once the package leaves your sight there is no telling where it goes, or what happens to it.–
After shopping we walked over the frozen canal and back to the Westin for dinner. Monday would be a busy day, Melinda had seven store sites to visit and I was planning a trip to the ancient wall and southeast guard tower below Tiananmen Square and a hutong neighborhood that the map said was somewhere southwest of the square.