Monday, July 8, 2013

Welcome to Beijing

The first thing I remember of landing in Beijing is that the air outside the large glass windows of the airport looked cloudy and orange, like a dusty fog. I hadn't slept in 14 hours, I was wearing an uncomfortably hot red sweatshirt, and my mouth tasted like vomit. It felt like a dirty dream, like waking up sweaty after tossing in your bedsheets all night. That first afternoon (which was night back in Indiana) was quite unpleasant, to say the least. I was on the verge of mental tears, afraid of the large foreign airport and instantly associating the taste of vomit with this new experience.

En route to the hotel, however, my stomach began to settle down, and the air outside was fresh and cool. I pressed my cheek to the window and started in with my picture taking. The sky was so hazy! Adding to the orange-tinted afternoon sky, funny-looking cars on the freeway made me feel like I had been plopped into a Star Wars film. Everything was so odd...and yet, so similar. On that first day (and still in my memory) China seemed to me like a foggy world behind a mirror. It was like living in the movie Inception...the basics were the same--people driving cars, passing on the sidewalk, stores and tall buildings galore--but the specifics were different, like the way these people dressed, the designs of the buildings and cars, and the fact that I couldn't read a single billboard or sign anywhere.

There was one thing, however, I had no trouble translating: "the Grand Hyatt" in Beijing definitely translates to L-U-X-U-R-Y. Oh, how I loved that sweet hotel. Even after their inability to stop my tears on that last night in Beijing (we'll get there), the hotel staff did a stand-up job, and the comforts offered by the aptly-named grand hotel were grander by far than anywhere else I've stayed. My roommate Jansen and I definitely delved into the luxuries of our bathroom, donning our complimentary plush white robes and matching slippers after every shower.

The first night, after exploring the hotel, napping, and making ourselves comfortable in our new rooms, the ten of us students went out for a night on the town and a bite to eat. We strolled down Wang Fu Jing shopping street near our hotel, enjoying the sights and smells of the night market there. Some of these smells were less appetizing than others, as they included scorpions, seahorses, and even starfish displayed on kebabs. The scorpions were still squirming...just thinking about that visual makes my back shiver.

We finally stopped and found a place that specialized in steamed pork buns (pork wrapped in gooey dough; I was doing the veggie thing at this time, so I opted for the kind with only vegetables...still delicious) and each got a plate with 9 of them. Nobody could finish their meals and we all left stuffed and satisfied. As the shops were beginning to close, we poked our heads into a few places and then headed home to our cozy beds at the Grand Hyatt. I indulged in the shower, dozed off in that comfy robe, and slept soundly. The next day would be a full one, and I wanted to be ready bright and early.
Our first stop? The Forbidden City.

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