I expected to battle blizzards and icy sidewalks. Instead, Beijing greets us with sunshine. (I'm really glad I didn't bring the body sock!) Our new friends Becca and Elijah tell us the weather is very unusual for this time of year.
Of course, the first order of business is finding the most delicious meals a new city has to offer. After throwing our bags into our hotel rooms, we begin our search. For some reason, each cab driver drops us off relatively close to our destination, but never right in front of it. That would be much too easy. We search for a restaurant Dia discovered on her last trip to Beijing. Her friend who introduced her to the place, emailed her the Chinese word of what Dia assumes is the name of the restaurant. We walk up to a dozen or so people in the streets, point to the Chinese characters on Dia's iPhone, and hope for a nod in the right direction. Every single person shakes their head and waves around at what seems to be nothing and everything at the same time.
Luckily, we decide to interrupt some teenagers playing a game of hacky-sack. Dia shows them her iPhone. One of the girls speaks a bit of English. She tells us the characters on Dia's phone mean: dumplings. There must be at least thirty or forty dumpling houses on the street where we stand. No wonder the people we interrupted had such a difficult time understanding us.
Somehow, just before we give up, Dia spots the white sign with the red writing. (That description was the only other qualifier to help us find the dumpling house.) The feast of dumplings we eat are delicious and well worth the effort. I would volunteer to be lost all over again just to eat those tomato and egg dumplings, sweet potato noodles, and chrysanthemum tea with sugar crystals. We order eight or nine different dishes by pointing at pictures on the menu. Our waiter asks us questions in Chinese about our choices. We nod to each question and hope that we don't accidentally order snake's head soup or chicken feet stew. Tomato is a common flavor in China. They add it to many dishes where you wouldn't think it would go well, but it does. Also, I find it interesting that there is usually steamed broccoli with every meal, although they cook their broccoli with curious spices that Dia and I can't quite place. We enjoy a feast fit for kings which costs us a grand total of $8.00 each. Boo-yah!
After lunch we visit The Forbidden City. Once again, our cab driver drops us off about half a mile from the entrance. It takes us forty minutes of wandering around to find the entrance gates of The Forbidden City. My favorite part of The Forbidden City is called: The Hall Of Overwhelming Glory, mainly because it is called The Hall Of Overwhelming Glory. All of us admire the architecture and say we wish we had done a bit of history research beforehand. We have so many questions. Why is the city forbidden? Who was the mysterious king that sat upon all these thrones of golden stone and marble staircases? So many mysteries, so little google time.
A few groups of Chinese people stop us on the sidewalk to take pictures with us. I don't think they know who Dia is. I think they want pictures because we look different. I've noticed that all of the restaurants we have eaten proudly adorn their walls with photos of random travelers with white skin and blonde hair like they are all celebrities. If Nick was with us, they would have a heyday taken pictures with him!
After we leave The Forbidden City, we drive to The Silk Market. We find some gifts to bring back to our loved ones back home: a tiny, stuffed tiger made with a doily-print fabric for Matt's girlfriend, a delicate fan with Leslie's name hand-painted right in front of us for Carlo's lady. Dia purchases a painting of a small boy playing cat's cradle, painted by a local artist. I can't find anything suitable for Nick. I am waiting for the perfect gift. Plenty of time to search before this trip is over.
Exhausted from our action-packed day, we catch another cab and return to our hotel. Several of Dia's fans greet us at the entrance, clutching their cameras and asking with wide grins and bright eyes if they might have a photo with her. One guy, standing a back in the crowd looks back at me, nods toward her and says in an adorable accent, "look, it's Dia!" I nod and think, "yup. I'm aware of who she is." I'm in her band. I'm her sister. We sing in perfect harmony together. (Well, we try to at least;)
I'm looking forward to doing a bit of that tomorrow!