39°54’16.80″N 116°24’29.51″E

Friday, May 14, 2010

It’s my free day today. I am overwhelmed by all the possibilities. Should I:
– explore hutongs
– explore the embassy district

or,
– visit the Beijing Zoo or the Heavenly Temple

As I was eager to glimpse a bit of the expat life in Beijing, I decided on option #1. My strategy was thus: buy a map, take a stroll down a hutong en route to the subway station. In search of my map, I found myself at Wu-Mart, a multi-level department store that resides between two other department stores, one of which is bracketed on one end by a Papa John’s pizza place. It was eerily reminiscent of Wal-Mart – it even had a KFC inside.
I made my way to the general goods area downstairs and was toting my water bottle when I was abruptly waived back by the small lady guarding the downstairs entrance – apparently I was not allowed to bring my water inside. There were a series of lockers in which to stow belongings, but I had no idea how to get them to open (they were not the coin operated contraptions we usually see in the U.S.). I looked at her helplessly and employed the helpful shoulder shrug-upturned palms-confused look and I think that amused more than annoyed her. She obligingly came over, promptly pushed a white button, after which a small receipt issued forth and the door of my assigned locker sprang open (a similar exchange took place on my way out – apparently you are supposed to scan the receipt in order to open your locker). I could not find a map with pinyin, but what I did purchase was a fashion magazine and I did so for two reasons, first I was curious about concepts of beauty and fashion as marketed to this side of the world, and second, it was a change to see mostly Asian models in the publication instead of the caucasian dominant pages of many magazines one finds in the States.
By midday, I was just leaving Xicheng for the embassy district…

My subway route to the embassies:
Line 2 to Line 5 (3 stops, switch @Yonghegong)
Line 5 to Line 10 (3 stops, switch @Beituchengdonglu)
Line 10 (5 stops, exit @Tuanjiehu)
I almost missed it, having turned right instead of left coming out of Tuanjihu station. Luckily, I doubled back, referred to my bevy of navigation tools (pdf’s of maps saved to my laptop, China book, and a map loaned to me by the friendly girl at Sleepy Inn). Thus properly oriented, I turned left and shortly came upon a Starbucks – I had a feeling I was going in the right direction.
Walking north on Sanlitun Rd., I passed the embassies of Morocco, Spain, Quatar, Ghana, Iran, Belgium…all were fenced-off by barbed-wire fence and guarded by stern young Chinese men who did not want me to take pictures.

4:30 p.m.
Temperature:
Cool, slightly muggy. Overcast and smog, the air sits lightly on the skin. Sometimes there are raindrops. Tiny little cotton puffs float and drift, alight on the slightest breeze.

Later in the evening:
The character for ‘kebob’ looks just like a kebob.

Walking back to the Sleepy Inn, I pass a woman cooking dinner over a small [charcoal?] fire. She is squatting on the dirt floor of the small room that also houses bunk-bed like structures that are pressed against the three walls of the room. The space is dimly lit by a single light-bulb.

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