|I'm writing this in a big Chinese internet cafe, and I think I'm on a dumb terminal with no USB drive, so I'll try to do pictures later at the hotel. This is much cheaper for writing time, though! (photos added later in Mongolia!)
Got to Beijing on my overnight train, and found my hotel with a couple of Metro rides from the train station where I came in. That overnight train was much newer than the ones Ruth and I were on. There was a TV screen, and complementary slippers and water, and it was non-stop, so no stops to wake me up.
I dropped my bags at the hotel and headed out to explore until I could check in. I think it was one of the hottest days so far...35 C, which is above 90. I used my umbrella for shade! I got a request for a photo even without Ruth! I had volunteered to take a family picture, and they wanted one with me as well. The area I was in south of Tienanmen Square ended up to be pretty touristy, so I was glad to get back to the hotel and cool off! The tour meeting was at 6:00, and I am the only American in a group of Australians, a couple of New Zealanders, and the leader is a young British guy. I'm the one that talks funny in this group! They are all very nice.
Monday we went to Forbidden City and Tienanmin with a local guide, so that was a bit of a repeat of what Ruth and I did, but a few different stories and exhibits. Fortunately it cooled off a bit and there was some wind to cool us down Afterwards we went for a lunch of assorted dumplings--like gyoza or pot-stickers, but not fried. They were very good, and we were very full for about $2.50. Several of us went on a tour of a Hutong in the afternoon, which was very interesting, in that we got to see another part of the city and see more traditional housing, both a 'common' family and a 'rich' family. Originally they were extended family homes around a courtyard, but they have evolved to be multi-family, with some built up in the center of the courtyard. With the growth of the city, most living quarters are quite small. The area was near a river, so was quite pleasant, and the most fun part was riding in a rickshaw (bicycle). After getting back to the hotel, I dropped laundry at a washing shop, and then we went to an acrobatic show. There were some real nail-biter moments--very impressive! Afterwards we went to the night market. I was tame with a barbqued meat skewer, but there were many strange things on sticks to choose from. One guy in the group actually tried the scorpions (crunch!). The skewer of fresh pineapple was more my speed.
After collapsing in bed last night, we headed for the Great Wall this morning. It was another nice day. The trees that were blooming when Ruth and I were here were leafed out, so it was quite green. There was a Chinese company outing--must have been 500 people in matching company shirts and red hats. They added a note of color to the day. At one point I had a red hat on my head and was in a group picture! The steps were quite steep, and I had someone offer to take my arm!
Back to the city for lunch and some shopping before picking up my laundry and going to the post office to mail home a couple of things (China guide book, and my 'I climbed the great wall t-shirt). After this posting, I'm heading to the grocery store to stock up on train food for the 36 hour ride that starts tomorrow morning north into Mongolia.
Note on the last picture: There were not heated toilet seats in China, but they do have air conditioned designs for infants and toddlers...witness the picture. It is very common to see children up toddler age with these split-crotch garments, open to the wind. At first I thought it was just for those in the midst of toilet training, but I saw infants with these--I didn't offer to hold any of them!
I'm not sure of the availability of internet for the next few weeks, but I'll try to get a note posted once in a while. Sounds like the volcano has settled down, so hopefully the last part of my itinerary won't be affected.