We tumbled off the train and our group met together sharing our stories of a "night on the train" before following the crowd to the exit and the waiting tour guide of Beijing, Ming, (Mind you we are rather obvious in this place, being the only westerners seen so it wasn't too much trouble to spot us.)
Our group split for breakfast some preferring the safe taste of McDonald's but four of us ate some delicious street food, warm tofu with savoury pieces and a rolled pastry, cooked on a burner with a fried egg and meat. Delicious.
We checked in to our five star hotel. I am pretty excited - how often does one get 5star? It's all a bit luxurious but what set this place apart from anywhere else was the "Wait a minute" button located conveniently next to the toilet. I am not sure whom you want to alert via a lighted sign. And if any one in the room needed to know where you were they could just look in through the large window ....
What was good was the laundry powder and bathtub and pretty soon the room looked like a Chinese laundry which has completely spoilt any 5 star pretension!
John and I set off for a walk and found a park. Green with trees, little hills, pergodas, and water with a horizon of skyscrapers all around blending into the grey mist of pollution. I can't actually see the sun, it's a white ball beyond the grey. It's hot - 32 degrees so walking is slow. Old people sit and watch. Two elderly men, their faces crinkled with time are playing cards with gusto, slapping the cards down loudly. One keeps going off to hawk up flem before lighting another cigarette.
I see a man trying to fly a bright red bird kite but after it lands in the trees for a third time he just stands there. We follow music and find a group of Chinese people dancing ball room style. A girl has her arms stretched out, long dress swirling, dancing with her imaginary man. Another girl in a saucy skirt and high heels dances confidently disco style. Other couples are very formally dancing together, children are playing around. Gardeners sit on the grass hand digging out weeds, their barrows close by. Signs everywhere telling people how to act. My favourite was a random exhortation not to use cell phones in a thunderstorm. Just in case you were in the middle of the park with no shelter around and decided to make a phone call.
As we were walking we heard English voices and sat for an hour with backpackers who were volunteering their services on English speaking camps here. They were young and delightful loving their experiences here willing to share all sorts of information - "need cheap electronics? Well go out this north gate then turn left....." He has to check his belt compass to work out north - we are all confused without our seeing the sun actually rising east and setting west.
Going back to the hotel we walked some blocks, suspecting we are in an upmarket neighbourhood, turns out the Russian and North Korean (?) embassy are nearby - which explains the large amount of fur coat shops around, and possibly the numbers of salespeople trying to lure us in for a hot stone massage. Hmmm massage Russian style? Yikes!!
A brief time in our room to facetime Josiah (Julia where were you?!!!) before we gathered in a local restaurant for some delicious Chinese food. The fun part of being with a group is hearing what they did - comparing of course to ones own doings! We spent the evening at an acrobatic show, circus soleil style. We, along with the mainly Chinese audience gasped and oohhhhh in awe at the outstanding performances, umbrellas dancing, climbing up to the high theatre ceiling on balanced chairs, juggling hats with flair and a mighty ending with eight lit up motor cyclists zooming around inside a huge metal ball. I was quite relieved to have them all come out alive!
The night is ending with a blog & photo catch up listening to the echoing sounds of thunder rolling in over Beijing, rain smashing against the 8th floor windows and lightning making the smog light up in patches. China is never boring.