30th June 2012
The rickety device made it’s way down Ring Road towards Jinsong. It looked like it was originally a bicycle, but a fitted seat and a few nuts and bolts here and there, and voila, a rickshaw. The sky had been overcast, and it soon started pouring on Sanlitun road. We’d originally wanted a cab, saying no to all the tin box rickshaws that passed us by. But it was a late weekday night and once the clouds kicked in, we settled with a rickshaw. This was no ordinary bicycle. The moment we got on, the driver ducked under his seat and we were surprised to hear the sound of an engine starting up. As the bicycle-turned-motorbike whirred, we slowly meandered our way through the traffic. At first moving at snail speed, we were skeptical that the flimsy looking motor would be able to carry the three of us. But we were mistaken. As the vehicle gained momentum, we quickly started zooming past everything. As the rain became heavier, the driver turned around and said something that sounded like “brace yourself. It was then that the real thrill began. The driver pulled a sheet of translucent plastic, and covered us to protect us from the rain. So with blobs of diffracted lights for a view, we hoped that we would get to our destination in one piece. About 20 minutes later we were there, overcharged but exhilarated with yet another China adventure.
Bejing was an experience. Every day if we were not trying out new foods, we were exploring some part of the city. The architecture was amazing, especially the famous CCTV tower building. Of course, we also had work, the main purpose of our trip to China. For the most part, it involved teaching workshops & preparation on all things Model UN, while filming anecdotes about our MUN experience. We helped with footage for a WEmovie, with short films focused on our individual universities and scholastic MUN presentations on research, paper writing, public speaking and lobbying and negotiation.
Earlier in the week, we visited 798 road, a center of art galleries in Beijing. There was a wide range of art from a little Transformers showcase from the DPRK (North Korea), to patriotic showcases representing the Chinese proletariat to even KFC & McDonalds inspired art pieces. Later in the week we went to Nanluoguxiang, a collection of streets and allies with little postcards, porcelain tea pots, hand painted umbrellas, tiny hello kitty key chains, and even cigars and pipes. I had heard that Chinese food might take me by surprise at times. In my few days here, I saw whole ducks hanging on a line, and skinned frogs.
In Nanluoguxiang, as I tried a beautiful lilac taro icecream cone, others were more adventurous.We spotted chrysalis, stinky tofu and scorpions. Two from our group bravely tried scorpions on a skewer. They were “salty and crunchy”, I was told. Others came back with meat sticks, which resembled standard grilled kebabs, probably Xinjiang cuisine.
Real Chinese food is very different from Pakistani-Chinese and American-Chinese cuisine. While some dishes like Kung Pao chicken seem to reflect the flavors we’re used to, most dishes are a lot healthier than other versions. While I’m still hazy on the pronunciations of a lot of things I’ve been eating, generally everything here is served with boiled rice. Vegetables are soupy, with a lot of flavor, and squash, courgettes and green beans are very common. Of course, pork is even more common than any vegetable, and is ubiquitous. Luckily for me, the Chinese are very generous hosts and over-order here. For five people, there will be at least 8 dishes, and the food keeps coming. We were at a Szechuan cuisine restaurant with our Chinese hosts, and literally there wasn’t a type of food that wasn’t there, so all dietary concerns fully catered to.
Of course, while food is amazing, conventional medicines are considered poison. Unless you’re on the verge of death, the general rule is to avoid pain killers and boiled water with herbal remedies is considered to be a better cure. Visiting Beijing’s Tian tian Hospital was an experience. My Latina friend kept being asked for a picture, even though the poor girl was in agony because of a broken ankle. Beijing is really populated, so hospitals are a long wait, but the bureaucracy was more interesting. For a routine fracture, it took us nearly 3 hours because our host had to run from one counter to the other to make sure all the paper work was accurate.
Everything’s an experience when you’re travelling, and as I type away in a bullet train en route to Shanghai, I hope I’m taking away some Bejing spirit of Patriotism, Innovation, Inclusiveness and Virtue.