Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Letter from a Friend

Today was our first full day in Beijing. Following a brief heated argument on the street that attracted a few stares from passers-by interested in getting a close look at the Asian/American incongruent English-speaking couple, we started the day eating difficult-to-pronounce breakfast food comprising of "sticky" rice, fried twisted dough sticks, and steamed dumplings (all of which I have become very familiar with), and then headed over to probably the largest foliage-free flat space I have ever seen: Tian'anamen Square. Because my head cold was getting worse, the humid heat was unbearably rising, and the "poisonous" sun (as they say in Chinese) was--although the haziness prevented its full force--so intensely blinding, we decided to postpone our planned visit to the adjacent Forbidden City, which is, judging by the maps I've studied, quite a bit larger in area than the massive Square that also doubles as the final resting ground of Chairman Mao, the father of Communist China. The sun on the other side of the world, it seems, cannot possibly be the same sun that I've grown up with. I now know why the large majority of the cars here have the blackest available tint wrapped around their glass and why the Asian races have evolved a tightly-stretched protective eyelid. I probably would have been a bit more withstanding of the unbelievable brightness (God, what must a sunny and non-hazy day be like in Beijing?) had I not left behind my sunglasses on the 22nd floor of a hotel in Hong Kong that was beautifully surrounded by mountains that cascaded varying heights of skyrises like a three dimensional, full-color architectural pie chart. No guide book photographs could prepare one for the sights of that city--nor the unsuspecting torrential downpours. The sunglasses, actually, are to be mailed back to me in New York. This type of luck (or fortune, as my Chinese cohorts would call it) continually revisits me. The day prior to the hotel receptionist telling me over the phone that, "Yehz Meeshter Booroshkee, howzkeepeeng dahz haav yower sahnglahseez," we got back our lost digital camera after returning to a Shanghai Dairy Queen following a full day of photography-less sightseeing and shopping after a quick stop for a chocolate brownie mudslide. The kind ice cream server stubbornly refused a 20RMB tip (approximately $2.50, but probably more than an hour's pay) in exchange for her honesty. This kind of truthfulness, I've learned, is not only common, but unavoidable with these people. Also in Shanghai, a man flashing magazine photographs of designer handbags and whisper-shouting watch, Rolex, watch, purse escorted us through streets and alleys, through a hallway and a kitchen, and into a secret room in an apartment, where a slightly-cooler-than-hot-air-blowing air condition was kicked on and flickering fluorescent lights strained to illuminate the shelves of Louis Vatton and Emporio Armani, Todds and Hugo Boss, all fakes and exactly identical to the originals to the untrained and unaided eye. Two days later we found our way back to the hidden-from-the-Communists shop to return a less-than-perfect condition knockoff-of-a-Gucci watch. We had to run to keep up with the Chinese black market watch salesman, the fastest four foot man I've ever met, as he took us to a hidden chest full of watches that belonged to another vendor located in the center of a street market. We were gladly given a brand new, non-scarred, and better model fake Gucci as an exchange. As we negotiated our way back to the main shopping street, the owner of the small stand we were led to chased after us, returning our forgotten shopping bag, containing more value than the watch we had switched out, and offered a smile. I doubt he even thought of keeping it to turn over a profit. Ultimately, though, if a possible theme here of me being a bit forgetful is at all apparent, dismiss the notion completely.

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