Emeryville Amy

This blog will be a combination of my favorite places in the Bay Area and abroad, memoirs, recipes, restaurant reviews and travel experiences.

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Location: Emeryville, San Francisco Bay Area, CA, United States

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Greetings from China!

Hello friends!

I am in China for a few weeks visiting my brother Thomas and my sister-in-law Gretchen who are teaching English here for two years. I realized that I would really regret it if I passed up the opportunity to visit them while they were here so I bought a plane ticket, went to the Chinese consulate in San Francisco for a visa and hopped on a plane to Beijing.

Thomas and Gretchen took the train up from Anshun to meet me there. They have been amazing tour guides even though this was their first visit to Beijing. We stayed at a hotel not too far from Tiananmen Square. It was pretty bare bones but clean and easy access to a lot of places. The beds were rock hard and the pillows must have weighed at least 20 pounds and seemed to be filled with some kind of beans but were surprisingly comfortable. After being awake for about 30 hours I didn't have any trouble sleeping.

The next morning we got up and strolled out to the farmers' market set up near our hotel. We bought a pizza -like item that was topped with a savory ground pork that was hot from the oven and some dumplings filled with spinach and egg. They were really good and we made it a habit to stop by the pizza stand almost every time we went past it.

We rode the bus to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square was immense and flat and reminded me of the mall in Washington DC. The sky was a hazy white color as were the stones of the plaza and the monument in the middle. The only noticeable colors were the red flags flying in front of the Monument to the People's Heroes and the baseball caps topping the heads of the tour groups as they followed in color-coordinating flocks behind their guides. The weather feels like spring but the few trees here are completely bare making for a rather stark and bleak Beijing. I was expecting cherry blossoms but I guess it is a bit too early for that.

The Forbidden City beckoned us with its brightly painted red roofs and blue, green and gold designs. Oh, and of course there is the huge picture of Mao welcoming us inside. We joined the throngs of people and headed into the outer courtyards, the inner courtyards and all of the other palaces with names like Eternal Spring, Supreme Harmony and Earthly Tranquility. With all of the people shoving and jostling it was a bit difficult to conjure up the peace and tranquility until we wandered off into the side palaces and then found ourselves practically alone.

Later that day Gretchen and I wandered through the old one story houses that are being destroyed in order to freshen Beijing up for the Olympics. These date back to the Ming Dynasty and once were the homes for wealthy families. Now they are decayed and house 20-30 families in the space that used to be for one family. Most of the remaining ones are located in the neighborhood by our hotel and these are being rebuilt and restored. The dirt "streets" through these dwellings are about 5 feet wide and are not for cars, only bikes and pedestrians. After winding through this area for awhile we stumbled upon a little cafe that had great lattes and a french menu. We went back later for dinner and had a delicious meal of lamb chops, duck and lasagna. We met a Chinese guy there who had grown up in Boston and spent a few years living in San Francisco and working in Berkeley. He has moved back to China for the time being and when we asked him if he missed anything from the Bay Area he answered,"Acme bread and the Cheeseboard, especially their pizza." Thomas and Gretchen and I all shouted , "The Cheeseboard! That is our favorite place!" It certainly felt like a small world to us that night.

After dinner we went to an amazing acrobatics show reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil. All that and more in our first day in Beijing.

I hope you are all doing well.