Meeting Megan, her old roommate Mia (a local), and Nicki in Beijing was a blast. Although we were a party of four for only a day and a half, nice bonds were formed, the kind of bonds that can only be formed over two-plus hours with a magic majhong board.
Highlight reel, complete with photos
Mia’s boss got us a deal at the hotel we were staying at because he knows the owner, and my second night in town they took the three of us out to Peking duck. The ground floor with it’s large round tables wasn’t good enough for our group, so we were taken upstairs to a private VIP room. We three girls picked out a couple of dishes, and then the men took the menu and added at least another five dishes for the table on top of the duck, which would make its appearance at the end of the meal. Quick and mumbled Chinese left me largely in the dark conversation-wise, and I relied on Megan to translate when it seemed important. Mostly I just ate, and ate, and ate. Our table for ten was so full the wait staff was struggling to set down the dishes that kept coming. The men, joined by a third friend who commended me for wielding my chopsticks with my left hand, hardly touched the food. Mia explained it was something to do with treating guests as they’d want to be treated. It was really their loss, as everything was quite tasty. I was sad to leave my spot at the table despite my stuffed belly.
Saturday evening, Nicki joined our party, and the four of us wandered around Houhai, a trendy lakeside area where every door leads into a different bar and strains of live music hang in the air. When our first round in Houhai left us wanting, Mia led us to Nanluoguxiang, another row of bars and hip shops tucked into an old hutong. We got an upstairs table at 16mm Bar and shared wonderful conversation.
Pancake breakfast on Easter Sunday—Mia’s first time having pancakes! She ordered banana pancakes for Jack Johnson, but Jack never sang about pouring syrup on his pancakes, so instead Mia drizzled ketchup on hers.
Walking around Tiananmen Square with Nicki, discussing China-Taiwan relations and why Colin and I chose Taiwan over China.
Going to a sketchy-looking Xinjiang (Uighur) restaurant behind a hotel and having some of the best food I’d had since, well, the Peking duck night. Fried spicy bread, sticky-sweet eggplant, bits of soft bread in a tomato sauce of some sort, spicy chicken skewers, and yogurt to balance it all.
Hours of majhong (like Gin Rummy, but with 16 tiles instead of seven cards) in a 24-hour, all-you-can-drink tea house with a mechanical table that was fantastic fun until it hiccupped and sent out mixed-up tiles.
Catching up with Nicki and drinking Bailey’s hot chocolate while it rained outside. (What country am I in, again?)
Translating while Nicki bargained Thai-style (laughing all the while) with a woman for an Olympic-themed kite.
Paying slightly bewildered respects to the father of the Communist Party amid a crowd of decidedly less bewildered Chinese visitors.
Nicki and I took our books to the Temple of Heaven to just hang out and read in the sunshine (I’m reading Megan’s copy of The Elegance of the Hedgehog), but we were interrupted. A baby was belly-crawling toward us, stopping every few feet to check us out. Apparently he decided we were more interesting than we were threatening, and he went right up to Nicki and offered her some freshly yanked grass. All the while he examined us with a slightly furrowed brow. We noticed his parents chuckling and snapping photos from about 20 yards away.
Successfully asking for directions, bus stops, closing times, a different table, and just a little black pepper on my pizza—all in Chinese.