Saturday, October 01, 2005

Beijingers start celebrating National Day today by taking off for the suburbs or other cities, and Chinese from elsewhere flood into the capital. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are non-working days for most; some people take the whole week off.

Had lunch at the West Beijing home of my Dad's old classmate. Understood maybe 50% of what they were saying, but that was with them trying to speak slowly and simply for me. Delicious meal including homemade tofu skin and "ping yu" or fried flat fish. But was so brain dead afterwards I could barely cope with trying to buy a second set of bed sheets. No drying machine nor laundry rack: can't wash and dry my sheets in one day. I know winter, thick and inexpensive but not cotton, lambswool and cashier.

Met a few classmates for dinner the other day at a place in Sanlitun called the Den. It's a dive, popular with foreigners. I walked in with a bike helmet and my Martha's Vineyard T-shirt and they asked if I wanted a table for one. I said in Chinese that I was looking for my friends and decided to wait at at the bar. I told the waitress that she could speak Mandarin to me slowly and I could probably understand her, but she just kept repeating in English: "Half price. Happy Hour. Tsingtao."

When another Chinese-American TLI student arrived, wearing nice clothes, modest makeup and shiny lip gloss, the staff wouldn't let her in. In much better Mandarin, she also said she was meeting friends. But the staff insisted, "No!" Finally, she announced she was going in anyway, pushed past them and found me at the bar.

As we moved to sit outside, a friend of hers arrived, also of Chinese descent. She wore a sleeveless top, bold jewelry, makeup. As we tried to find a table, the staff seemed even more agitated. Then the friend opened her mouth and spoke in a strong French accent. It took awhile, but when the staff finally realized we were just foreigners instead of hookers, they finally started smiling.