Our first day in Beijing was adventure from start to finish. Folks that were well versed in visiting China encouraged us to take full advantage of the extensive breakfast buffet at our hotel. I had packed power bars, dried fruit and nuts to slip into our pockets while we were exploring the city (along with travel toilet paper, but we'll save that for another time) - but brunch? Brunch was ridiculous.
You had your traditional brunch stuff- pancakes, french toast, hash browns, omelette station. For the Europeans, they had charcuterie, and Muesli and for random folks that like this sort of thing- a big pot of baked beans. (?)
Then there were the dumplings. In the more traditional sense- they set up a noodle station- where they would create a bowl of noodle soup for you. Next to the soup was an enormous lazy susan of steam pots containing every kind of dumpling imaginable. Steamed shrimp dumplings. Pan fried pork dumplings. Lots of random dumplings that I have no idea what was in them, but tasted mighty fine. And there were little dipping bowls of chili sauce, soy sauce, vinegars etc. It was awesome.
It was also salty. Given this newfound breakfast of champions, it didn't look like my cankles were going to disappear anytime soon. By day 3, my rings hardly fit. I may swell like a puffer fish, but I like me some dumplings.
My husband was so concerned about where his next meal may come from, that he, (how shall I say this nicely?) completely over-did at our first breakfast. He ate more at one sitting than I've ever seen him eat. Seriously. I think the Chinese chefs became afraid that Homer Simpson had checked in, and I think I overheard them placing an emergency order of dumplings.
We decided to work off our extensive brunch that had manifested itself into lunch/dinner & potentially breakfast for the next day by visiting the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is the original court of the Emperor. Built in 1406, it's a vast series of buildings that make up the inner and outer court of imperial China. It is, without a doubt, the coolest thing I've ever seen.
We splurged and got the audio tour- since most of the historical signs were in Chinese. Roger Moore, Mr. James Bond, happened to be the narrator, and he really got into it. Anytime he mentioned the word "concubine" or "eunuch" James Bond would try to not giggle, and since Imperial China had a thing for concubines and castration, there was a lot of repressed laughing.
We spent hours looking at the architecture, taking pictures and people watching. Not a lot of Westerners were there that day. Since we were visiting so closely to the 60th anniversary of Communism, a lot of Chinese folks made the trek to Beijing to celebrate. Since I had gotten my highlights touched up in anticipation of the trip, yours truly stood out quite a bit. I didn't really notice anything until we left the last gate of the Forbidden City. Now standing directly in front of Tiananmen Square, I noticed a few local folks staring at me.
At first, I wondered if someone had told them how many dumplings we had consumed that morning. Then I slyly checked my fly. I looked behind me to see if they were potentially staring at something else. Nope. Just me. Finally, a young man in a black suit with a grey mock turtleneck (I hate mock turtlenecks- why mock one? Just wear a real one if you like turtles) approached me and in halting English asked if he could take a picture. I thought he wanted me to take a picture of him, so I smiled and nodded and reached for his camera.
He giggled (I promise! I did not say concubine!) and shook his head. He stood next to me and held the camera to his friend. I put my arm around his shoulder (not realizing that most local folk do not touch each other when taking a picture) and gave my best smile. I was about to offer him an autograph but we got caught up in a marching band of Communist soldiers that were heading across the square. My husband was wary at first- wondering the guy's intention and not appreciating it when I told him that clearly, the folks of Beijing understand real beauty. That clearly, the most literate society on Earth has a deep abiding affinity for swollen ankles. It made perfect sense.
Then, five minutes later, a group of 20 year old girls stopped and gestured that they would also like to take a picture with me. Without using language, we were somehow able to compliment each other on our shoes, discuss the plot line for the next "Sex In The City movie",swap makeup advice and extoll the virtues of eating a good dumpling breakfast. By the time we took the picture, we were fast friends...
to be continued...