hazy beijing recollections, part one

china2009 travel


That’s the first thing you notice when you deplane in Beijing.
Everything in China is big. Sorry Texas.

The airport is huge, sleek, and modern. Frankfurt always seemed
pretty swell to me, but Beijing is a serious contender.

And if you don’t get the hint in the airport itself, the huge
eight-lane highways should quickly clue you in.


That’s the second thing you notice about Beijing. It’s (mostly)
immaculate. Litter is quickly scooped up by workers riding
garbage-bikes, tricked out three-wheeled bicycles with a large
metal container in the rear to hold the rubbish.

Unfortunately, “clean” only holds true if you don’t consider air
to be very important. The pervasive haze is horrifying and
amazing. I’m not a pilot or otherwise qualified to have an
opinion on visibility, but I do have a blog which is almost as
good. My claim is that visibility is somewhere between 1 and 2
miles if you’re lucky. The sun is a suggestive ambient light
source, and I get the feeling that Beijing parents talk to their
children about clouds the way that American parents will one day
talk to our children about glaciers and polar bears.

But let’s not get picky, ok?

This trip has been quite the learning experience. For example,
I’m learning what it’s like to be an older, established-person

From what I can tell, it mostly consists of waking up at 6am,
setting your watch to the regularity of the meals, complaining
about said meals, and spending highly regimented blocks of time
at every possible attraction in a given 100km radius. It’s not
all bad though; you get a free bottle of water every day.

On our first whirlwind day, our cougar-bait guide Eric, who is
over six feet tall and has a beautiful jet-black mane with golden
highlights interspersed just so, led us around the Forbidden
City, Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, and possibly 6 or
maybe 34789 other sights. To be honest, my brain melted after the
three hours, because quite frankly, although all that old stuff
is cool I guess, after a while, they all start looking the same.

Add in the fact that I was working pretty hard to translate
everything he was saying, and let’s just say that I’m pretty sure
I never need to see another ancient Chinese ruin. At least not
while following around the Beijing Fabio.

I would have been perfectly content to wander around by myself
and follow my folly, but that earns scoldings galore in a Chinese
tour group.

I’m amazed at how much Chinese people can eat. Our group is an
eating machine. We’re about the size of a platoon, but would
require a support column of a division.

Normally I’d be having a field day because I love nom, but it’s a
little discouraging when every restaurant has an armada of giant
tour buses parked outside and you get the same mediocre dishes
that everyone else gets. Thus far, nothing fancy to blog home

I will say that I love the social aspect of this type of dining,
but I think that deserves an entire entry of its own, so I’ll
save it for now.

I’m amazed at how much energy my mom, the super-tourist, has.
After 15 hours of non-stop touristing, we got back to the hotel
and she asks what else we wanted to do that night.

She was a bit surprised and disappointed to hear “absolutely
nothing”. It’s pretty cool when your mom thinks that you’re a

I tried explaining that my ideal trip is seeing one thing in the
morning, maybe another thing in the evening, and calling it good.
Maybe occasionally climbing a 5000m peak or humping a 40lb. pack for
10 miles, but nothing hard like getting herded relentlessly for
hours on end.

In comparison, climbing Cotopaxi was like grabbing a steak out of
the freezer.