Today we are laying low after two days of heavy site seeing. Yesterday was the Summer Palace, which was quite remarkable and which the kids loved. Since arriving in China, Chinese scientists are coming out of the woodwork to show us around. What this turned out to mean yesterday was that they sent a lovely female graduate student who knows a lot about remote sensing and climate change and who spoke almost no English, had come to Beijing from inner Mongolia three months ago, and had been to the Summer Palace once. However, Rebecca fell completely in love with her and we had a lovely day. She got a huge kick out of taking a picture of herself with what she called “my three children.” When we initially arrived at the palace, we were immediately spotted by a Chinese tourist group each of whom wanted to take their pictures with the kids. The kids are for the most part being good sports about this picture taking business, and Eli is turning it into a game. By next week he will be charging them. There are very few Westerners around at this point.
The kids turned into climbing machines and especially like climbing to the top of the Buddha of 1000 arms, who they said ought to be called the Buddha of 1000 steps. I decided that I wouldn’t mind being an empress for a while. I especially liked the idea of incarcerating people you don’t like only while you are there. In other words while the Empress Cixi was not at the summer palace her enemies roamed free but when she was there she locked them up. I could think of various people whom that might work for. Manuel found a translation he repeated incessantly, “Temple of the Buddha’s body odor.”
Until about a week ago my knowledge of China until about a week ago came almost entirely from seventeenth century Italian Chinese artifacts and Judith Zeitlan’s wonderful work on 16th century Chinese courtesans. I’m learning a tremendous amount. So far this particular niche has proven useful, as many of the sites we have seen are 16th and 17th century oriented. Kircher’s China Illustra a 1667 encyclopedia of China is a classic. He shared with my children a fascination with Chinese Dragons that is completely grounded in Western Fantasy.
We got a little too brave at dinner and tried to find some restaurant my cousin recommended, which involved a subway ride and a two block walk. Beijing blocks turn out to be about 1/2 a mile. We then had to walk through a shopping mall that looked pretty much like an upscale mall here; Sephora, Guess, Nike, etc. Eli promptly fell asleep SITTING up. Apparently when he said he was tired he meant it. We put him on the couch that served as a dining room chair, which seemed fine until he fell off and hit his head on the ground making a large noise that made everyone jump and scoff. The waitress had already decided she hated us. Jonathan fell asleep a few seconds later and Rebecca stayed bubbly trying a bunch of new foods and looking forward to the shaved ice desert. My idea of an m and m for every new food tried has made her a culinary explorer. Jonathan woke up at the end of dinner wondering where the food was. It turns out also that getting places here is the easy part. Getting home involved flagging a cab, getting in, having the cab driver yell at us in what sounded like "wtf is wrong with you crazy Americans with all your dam kids and there is no way in hell I’m driving to your hotel in in that back alley" We called the hotel from our cell phone to try to get them to negotiate with the driver and the end result was us getting tossed out of the cab with THREE sleeping kids. The next driver, however, while also thinking us lunatics, drove us all the way up our hutong (narrow alley not meant for cars). Today we are exploring the hotel courtyards and washing the children who have become hazardous waste zones themselves.
My least favorite part of being here is my utter ignorance of the language. I’ve almost never been in a place where I’ve done no language study and it does not feel good. In addition, with Chinese’s being a tonal language, we can’t even tell when people are pleased with or threatening us.