Monday, October 30, 2006

Here we go. Lets see how often I get release my mind. I'm going to copy and paste my old emails for those of you who missed out.


Monday, October 09, 2006

The Life and Times of Redderick Milla Volume 3 (2)

Monday Oct. 9th, 2006

Now where did I leave off? Let’s see on the train heading down to Beijing. Woke up to a sunny day and the Beijing skyline coming up quick. I had an interesting conversation the night before with a Korean couple that were studying in China. I was trying to figure out where to go once we got to the station and Sungku was sleeping so with and interesting combo of Chinese and Korean I managed to talk a bit with them and they got the guy across from us (who they were shocked was some big Chinese film director) to help me figure it out. Just a quick subway 5 stops then a short taxi, perfect.

Leaving the station I got the expected nagging of old ladies wanting to sell me their tour maps, hotels, taxis, etc. and even a college aged guy who wanted to get a picture with me. Being in Beijing, a land of many foreigners I wasn’t expecting the whole, hello how are you? Where are you from? How old are you? Do you know Yao Ming? Can I get a picture with you routine but I suppose he just got off the train from somewhere else like me. So, on the subway we go looking for our stop. Very much like the Korean subway but not as massive in magnitude…the Beijing subway is just a circle around the first ring road with another line running horizontal through the other from East to West. Beijing was developed like a circle with the downtown in the middle and new growth expanding outwards. There are three main roads that divide the sectors of the city, 1st ring, 2nd ring and 3rd ring road and you can easily find our hotel by saying it is just passed the 2nd ring road south of Chang An Ave. Anyways, so after walking for 20 mins and a food stop we continue to walk towards where we believe our hotel should be. Eventually gave up and called a taxi and showed him the hotel name that Youjia (Scotts gf) gave us back in Harbin. The guy didn’t recognize it but CB’d some guys who ‘thought they knew where it was’. In we get and we’re off…if you’ve even been in a taxi with me (most people in Canada haven’t as we always drive) you’d know that I despise taxi drivers and am always worried about being cheated or taken the long way around. So the whole ride I’m watchin’ the meter go up and up and taking us nowhere close to where I thought we should go. Luckily the CB friends were right and we got to the hotel in 35 rmb (more than the 10 rmb I am used to in Harbin, but less than the 50 or 100 I have heard about in Beijing). Hotel was reasonable, not super clean, but well located and after Harbin and my brothers house a little dirt is the least of my worries.

Headed right downtown that night and took some photos (most of which didn’t turn out) around the main hall and Tiannamen. We got there just as the hall closed but got a nice sunset over the Forbidden Palace and the square. As we’re walking by some other huge building I don’t know the name of this bicycle guy with a pull seat (similar to a rickshaw) came by and asked to go on a tour with him. I said, no thanks, boo yaow, no thanks and another boo yaow (no want) but he just kept peddling beside and asking. Alright I ask him, “How much buddy?” He says 3 money…I’m like ok, san kwai (3 rmb in Chinese) he says yes, yes. I double check and say ‘wo gay ni san kwai?’ (I give you three rmb) and he agrees. We jump in and at the first light just 30 feet up he jumps off and another guy jumps on the bike...the other guy shows his legs are stronger than his so he is better. Thought it a little odd, but hey that’s nothing compared to other things I’ve seen in China. So he takes us around the area for about 10 minutes and back through some old houses and stops back behind them before we get back to civilized areas. Pulls out his plastic card and points to guided tour…300 kwai! WTF! Ummm, ‘ni panyo shwa san kwai’ (your friend said 3 rmb). He just keeps pointing and pointing at his card and I’m thinking, really, what was I thinking getting into this buggy right downtown on our first day. So I tell him I’ll give him 20 rmb and leave it at that. Course by then there’s another 2 Chinese guys around us listening as any time there’s an argument or fight people will get surrounded by passerby’s who have nothing better to do than listen to other peoples troubles. After about 10 minutes I just drop 30 kwai on his buggy seat and Sungku and me walk away. Together we only had 50 kwai that night and we still needed to have cash in case we got lost and needed a taxi home. Managed to find the hotel on foot and grabbed a handful of beers to celebrate our first night in the Red Capital. All’s well that ends well…well meaning with beer in hand in China.

The other events and sights of Beijing are in random order as I took no journal and there’s been a lot of blur since the trip. So, we went back another day to Tiannamen and the Forbidden City to check it out in daylight. Tiannamen was ok, nothing too spectacular, more just the history that made it special. The Forbidden City on the other hand is an enormous monstrosity of a palace in the middle of Beijing. It took a solid 3 or 4 hours to walk around, and that was at my fast pace and not taking many rests. The main building was being remodeled for the ’08 Olympics so instead of seeing the big awe-inspiring centerpiece of the palace we saw a great green blanket (construction sheet that is used all over China and Korea to protect from falling debris) with a painted picture of the main hall on it. Grrr, disappointing, but nothing to lose sleep over. The back of the palace had a great little garden with really old trees and was a very peaceful atmosphere even with the tourists running around; it was my favourite part of the palace. I enjoyed looking at the stories of the concubines and was amused at the chart that said ‘The path to Royalty,’ or something of the like, which showed how women went from nothing to being concubines of officials and then to royalty and then if lucky enough to the emperors. Just amused at how well sleeping around can do for you status in life. Wonder where they’d get today? On another note, you get a cool electronic tour guide that has the palace map and shows where you have been and where you haven’t. When you get close to a building or location a GPS (or of the like) will activate the audio file and tell you about what you are seeing. They were great as they had one in English and in Korean so we both knew what was going on as we wandered around the old buildings.

The Tiannamen gate was nice as we got to go up to the front of the palace and oversee the entire square just across Chang An Ave. Took some pictures of some traditional Chinese garb and just chilled out in the shade for a good part of the day. We checked out the Drum Tower later on, which is east of the Palace and found it gave a really good view of the last major area of Hutongs (architecturally traditional Chinese homes) and the hustle bustle of rickshaws fighting for the next tours just in front of them. Right across the square was the Bell Tower, it was looked the same as the Drum Tower but instead of the big drums there was one big bell at the top. We watched a drum performance, which was OK, but nothing to amazing. The best part was the Tower was the old drums from the turn of the last millennium and the odd little time keeping devices and old machines that the Chinese invented long ago.

Just south east of the Drum Tower is Beihei Park. I know it had all kinds of history but I’m not gonna go into it on my email. I’d research it if you’re planning a trip to Beijing though as it adds a lot more feeling to the walk around it. It was really nice and had lots of pubs and cafes through the first half of it directed towards the tourists while having old officials homes and temples through the lower end. There was a calm feeling walking through there and it seemed hard to believe we were in the middle of Beijing where only a few blocks away the hustle bustle of commies and tourists were a plenty. At the south side of the park there was a little square where a few old men where having a little Beijing opera jam session (If I can call it that) with some traditional Chinese instruments and men screaming notes and distorting their face to the sound of the instruments. Stayed there for a solid hour or two (although it was hard to keep my beer flow going as there was few side markets around to get it) but it was one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip for me.

We went to Xidan market as there was supposedly lots of stuff to look at and buy there but we where very disappointed with the indoor supermarket like setup and abundance of foreign goods (although Sungku found herself some good coffee there...good being instant Maxwell!). Did prove interesting as I was walking buy some lady cleaning some dudes shoes, came near to check out what was going on, and out of nowhere, boom, another lady bounces over and before I know it she’s rubbing down my right foot and cleaning my shoe. I was wearing these white Filas I’d had for almost a year so they were pretty much black already. I was very surprised at how well it worked as I thought they would never come clean. I bought a couple boxes and had her clean the rest of the shoes (cant go around with just one side cleaned now can I?) Course the fronts of the shoes didn’t clean so well as Dereks fire the year before pretty much burnt all the leather off them, but all in all I think it was a good purchase (I have some brand new white Etnies that are already blackened by the Seoul streets to test it out again on). I went to Xidan first because I had just finished reading about the Xidan Democracy Wall as it was the place where the first posters (dazibao) against the Communist regime and where the first verbal and written disagreements with the Cultural Revolution could be found. Course I looked for the actual wall but never found it as I don’t think the gov’t would want to keep that site on the tourist maps. Found what could have been the wall, but just gave up on it eventually. All in all Xidan wasn’t what I expected. Day ended well with more Chinese BBQ and lots of more beer. All ends well that day with chuar (BBQ) and beer.

If your like me at all, you’ve either stopped reading already or are getting antsy to get to your next e-mail, so I’ll cut it off here. Hope everyone is well. I just finished a week Thanksgiving holiday and am relaxed and feeling great.

Early evening one day we decided to try and find Silk Alley, as it is one of the more famous destinations and I know Sungku could do with some more shopping. Wasn’t too hard to find, but was nothing as I expected. Maybe in the past it was actually an alley, but today it is just a big building many thousands of stalls like you would find in Harbin or Seoul. We bought a little bit but the good memories were more from the bargaining and having fun with the younger aged store clerks. Sungku and I were having contests to see who could get the biggest discount from the original price. A normal go would be them asking like 300 rmb for it and us eventually paying like 30. Got a bed cover down from 2500 to 650 but still didn’t buy it as we would have had to ship it back to Korea and didn’t want to deal with that. Sungku was by far a better bargainer than me, dunno if it’s a women thing, a shopping thing (is that the same thing? Heheh), or that my face can be easily read by sellers. After dropping a few hundred rmb we figured we had better call it a night…back to the hotel, got some more beer, prepared the 2nd half of our tour and called it a night.

If you are like me, you have either stopped reading by now, started skipping sentences/paragraphs or are at least antsy to get onto your next e-mail. I’ll leave it at that and send more in a couple days. I’m doing well here in Korea, just came off a week vacation for their Thanksgiving and feel well rested. Hope everyone is well,

Peace, love and cheese,