China 1999

Written by Al Wong (Write to me)

This is my experience in Beijing, China in the Summer of 1999. If you came to this webpage first, it's better if you start from the beginning of the story.

Friday, July 9th
Hutong Visit, Hong Qiao Market,
NASA Dance Club

They are finally going to fix my leaking toilet. Will wonders never cease?

Actually, I'm a bit angry. It seems a workman started to fix my toilet. Then in the middle of it, this person leaves his tools in the bathroom and leaves my room, evidently going to lunch. But he left my room door wide open! How careless! I have my laptop computer lying on the table in plain sight along with several other souvenirs. I know I locked my door before going to class. While I pretty much trust the people in my group, there are other people living on our floor. I complained to the front desk about this and got an apology.

Today's activities include:

  • Class Session. Today we went over exchanging money and buying things from the Post Office (stamps, envelopes, postcards) with some useful vocabulary. We also talked about the differences between Beijing and Los Angeles. It was a good session.

    It is curious that the Chinese term Liu Lao Shi gave for the Internet, shang wan, is different than the term given by another teacher and by the person at the cyber cafe! Hmmm...

  • Hutong Visit. A hutong is an older neighborhood in Beijing. They are remnants of how the people used to traditionally live. We visited an organized hutong neighborhood which presents a typical hutong house for tourists.

    We went to a hutong belonging to a grandmother. She was very friendly and was very willing to explain how she lived here. A hutong house typically surrounds central courtyard which gives each house more privacy and some sunlight, weather permitting. This house was no exception. Actually, it reminds me of my grandparents house when I was a little kid.

    You could see her hutong was part of a grander house in the past. There were a few carved wooden panels and a few large wooden posts which is evidence to this.

    Then we visited a hutong preschool. After about 5 minutes, I got sort of bored with this. Yep, it's a preschool and there are cute little kids inside. OK, let's move on.

    [Hong Qiao Business Card]

  • Hong Qiao Market. It was still early when we left the hutong, about 4pm. I wanted to visited the Hong Qiao Market again. Cathy mentioned that Hong Qiao was quite close by here and, if I wanted to go, I should go now rather than wait to get back to the language academy. So I made a fast decision and left the minibus. I thought that was very nice of Cathy and the driver, Zhang shi fu, for letting me do this.

    I caught a taxi cab but the driver said it's better if I cross the street to take a cab as she was unwilling to make a U turn. I could see why. Traffic was very heavy at this time. So I crossed the street, a 6-8 lane highway, depending on how you count them, taking my life into my own hands.

    I caught another taxi cab on the other side of the street and, during the trip, the driver started talking to me. He was complaining about Chinese drivers and what they do. And he pointed out several examples on the road. Drivers cutting us off. Drivers moving at a slow crawl. Drivers driving on the wrong side of the street! It was pretty funny. It turns out Hong Qiao is also close to Tiananmen Square as we past it on our way.

    The driver left me on the other side of the street to Hong Qiao Market. This is a very busy intersection. I think it's a 5-6 way intersection. Again, taking my life into my own hands, I bravely crossed this street. OK, I really had 3-4 bicycles play interference for me while I crossed.

    Hong Qiao was great! Since I arrived at 4:30pm, I thought I had 1.5 hours. Cathy told me this market closes at 6pm. In reality, the market closes at 7pm! I went directly to the fourth floor and bought several strands of pearls very inexpensively. I also bought some more jade and a Chinese combination lock. I also bought a fake Rolex for laughs.

    After this, I still had time so I thought I'd check out the lower floors. I didn't stay too long on the second floor because I thought they were closing. I went to the first floor and bargained for a fake Rolex. It was there I discovered they close at 7pm! So I started walking around. I'm glad I did because I found several stalls that had watch batteries for sale and I needed a replacement.

    The cab ride back to the language academy was an adventure in itself! First, we got caught in heavy traffic. The driver said he knew where I wanted to go but got us lost. He had to ask for directions three separate times! At last, he drove through this long and narrow dirt trail with huge potholes and rocks. I thought he was going to break something driving through this dirt trail! It turns out this trail leads almost directly to the language academy! I asked for a receipt and his cab was able to automatically print one out! The cab ride back took 45 minutes and cost me $31.00RMB!

    As I was walking up the road, I saw our minibus ready to leave and people were boarding! I ran up to my room to leave my stuff and came back down because we were going to the...

  • NASA Disco Club. We got there a little after 8pm and they don't start the music on the dance floor until 9pm. So they led our group into a karaoke room. This was kind of fun! I got to sing a few times.

    Then around 9pm, I getting impatient and checked out the dance floor with Li Lao Shi. The music was on but no one was dancing. So we started dancing! Afterwards, everyone else came to dance. I think most people had a good time. My bud, Andrew Chang, did some break dancing with glow-in-the-dark sticks and that drew a lot of attention from everyone. He is a constant source of little surprises to me.

    Andrew was getting other people to use his glow sticks while they danced. He got one of the dancing girls to use them. She was dancing on top of a table in the DJ area with the glow sticks. This was pretty funny. While she was dancing with them, I had an amusing idea. I asked (in Chinese) if Andrew could dance with her! They wouldn't let the dancers dance with the customers since they are working but they would let Andrew dance on the table by himself. Andrew went for it. This was a key Kodak Moment in the trip and I didn't have my camera!

    I think Andrew missed an opportunity here too. He could have made a fortune tonight selling glow sticks! I'm giving long odds someone else will start to sell them in the dance club within a week!

  • Later That Night. There were two mosquitoes and two houseflies in my room tonight. I killed one housefly and turned on the RAID hot plate. After 20 minutes, I saw 2 dead mosquitoes and no sign of the other housefly. I thought it was safe so I unplugged the RAID hot plate. As I was sleeping, I heard that familiar high pitched buzzing. Another mosquito made a little bite on the tip of my finger and one under my chin. The RAID hot plate is now plugged in again.

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Last updated : November 8, 1999
Copyright 1999 Al Wong, Los Angeles, California, USA
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