Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's in Beijing

While those in the U.S. sleep after seeing the New Year's arrival at 12;00 a.m., people in Beijing are out in droves, enjoying New Year's Day. On New Year's eve, we watched some of the New Year's Eve celebrations on TV but went to bed at our usual time. We left at 11:00 a.m to meet Alina, a Chinese friend, who invited us to a famous Beijing restaurant for lunch. It was a very long way to that location and the subway was really packed. We had to change to the third line to reach our destination. We thought many young people would be staying home, not feeling so good after late night celebrations, but we were wrong. Every train was packed. In the station, you could hardly walk for the crowd of people. Sometimes, we had to wait for the second train because all of the people could not pack on the train. It was what we would say in America "packed like sardines." It was actually tighter than that. You didn't need to worry about falling because when the train started, there was no where to go, not even down. When we got off, I said my hands were cold. Ron said, "well, you could have stuck them in anyone's pocket."

I now know my way around all of the subway lines, which direction to go, etc. It was helpful learning the subway in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, while we lived there. Ron used to take the subways in New York many years ago. I could find my way back to the apartment on the subway now. Ron's chances for losing me in Beijing are over! Since the Olympics, English words are posted and stops are announced in both Chinese and English. This is also true in most trains and buses. The most difficult is trying to explain to a taxi driver where you want to go. The city is so large, many of them do not know the entire city very well. Most of the drivers do not understand or speak English. You need to have your destination written in Chinese for taxi drivers. It's also helpful if you have a Chinese friend you can call and get them to talk to the taxi driver to tell him where to go.

The signs on the subways say the seats are reserved for the elderly, handicapped and those with babies. To tell the truth, I've only seen a few babies, very few elderly but no handicapped people. The crowd is mostly young people under 30 years of age. I do know why. Changing from one line to the next involves going up hundreds or steps, walking for a very long distance and then going down hundreds of more steps. You have to be in good physical shape to do all of the walking and taking the steps. Not to mention, being able to hold on to your place and not let them push or shove you. On the subway, there's no courtesy. One young man smiled at us today when we were packed in the middle of the train. We, older Americans, stand out like a "sore thumb" on the subway. I find it a lot of fun to observe people observing us. The many billboards around the city of Beijing have Americans advertising almost everything, but when it comes to seeing a real live American, it's almost like a panda bear suddenly appeared at the subway station.

I find it interesting to observe people, but I try not to make it obvious. Many young Chinese women are now curling their hair and changing the color. I saw a young Chinese boy with very blond hair today. He was a cute guy so it really looked good. A few young men wear their hair in punt rock styles, but not too many. In Beijing, where fashion trends are probably ahead of most Chinese cities, many young women have hair in many shades of brown and red. Some are quite pretty. The pictures in the windows of beauty shops show various shades of hair from brown to red hair and mostly curly. With a better economy than in the past, young professional women can afford to have their hair done.

The jean trend is toward jeans with many built-in wrinkles around the knee section and sometimes all down the leg. These are not small wrinkles, they are almost folds which means if the leg of the jean was spread out, there would be an extra foot of material in each leg. Actually, they are quite cute on most of the girls and look better than the straight tight-legged jeans that fit like a second skin. The duck down coats and letter boots are most popular.

The lunch was delicious and we had a leisurely and nice time with Alena. She's a very lovely and kind girl. She works in finance in Beijing and has a high degree and special license in this field of work.

We first had a spicy dish with vegetables and frogs. They were small frogs, not frog legs, but whole frogs. I think I ate three of them because they were very delicious. Ron could not eat this dish because it was too hot, but he would have otherwise have thought it delicious. We also had two green vegatables; one was cabbage cooked a special way. Then, there was a fish soup with a large, whole fish cooked into tender pieces, which Ron enjoyed. We had fried sesame balls filled with sweet bean paste and finally a platter of fruit for dessert. If, like Alena said, having good food on New Year's Day sets the trend for a good and prosperous New Year, we are off to a good start.

In the U.S., for years, Ron wanted to clean out the basement on New Year's Day, because we didn't have time the rest of the year. I always dreaded New Year's Day for that reason and the years we didn't have a basement were quite nice. He said last night, "We don't have a basement to clean out tomorrow." I told him if he insisted on working, I guess he would have to scrub the cracks in the tile floors because there's not much else to do in an apartment. Actually, neither of us are feeling very well. We both came down with a cold early in the week. Ron's has moved to his chest and he's got a lot of congestion. We will take it easy the rest of this week and hope to feel better soon.

We wish all of our friends and family a very HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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