We took the train to Beijing Friday night after work, a 12-hour overnight ride that was quite pleasant. We got in around 7:30 and met Eli for brunch at a great Western spot (French toast and eggs all around) and then headed to the hotel to check in. Eli had reserved us a room right across the street from his house at Bei Shi Da (Beijing Normal University) which was large, comfortable and affordable. After getting settled, Eli’s roommate Kro drove us all to his pizzaria, where we enjoyed a fine slice of pie and a pint. Kro, whose real name is Ulaf Kristoff, also has a very large German shepherd named Bakka.
The pizza polished off, we left Kro to tend to his business and headed off to Bei Hai, the North Lake, which is a nice public park. There we saw some nice ladies singing opera and dancing around for fun, and also an old man painting calligraphy with water on the pavement.
The park got boring after 20 minutes so we left and went to Nan Luo Gu Xiang, a hutong (old alley) that has a lot of little cafés where we could sit down, drink coffee, and pass out for a little while.
At this point our old friend Jeff Crosby turned up. Jeff was Eli’s roommate in Kunming, which is where we first him when we moved to that city in early 2003. Jeff is a scholar of the Chinese language and has worked as a translator and interpreter since we’ve known him; he now is a project manager for a tea company and recently led a troupe of minority performers back to the US where they performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and other places. We had a round of White Russians to celebrate our reunion (and the fact that we would be bowling later – a little hat tip to the Big Lebowski).
From the café, we all went to dinner on Gui Jie (Ghost St.), which is full of restaurants, and chose a place specializing in suan tang yu (sour soup fish) which is served in a boiling pot of sour broth. This type of meal is typical in China, where diners can dump in raw meat and vegetables to be cooked in the communal broth, and later picked out with chopsticks and spoons and dunked into personal bowls of sauce. But unfortunately, it is a cuisine in which Shanghai comes up short, and so it was a great treat for she and I to once again enjoy a meal of its character and calibre.
Joining us at dinner were Da Hai and Dave, another old buddy from Kunming, who happened to be in town for two days interviewing for a job. Dave works for a foundation currently and is looking for a similar job with a better salary (which means leaving Kunming).
Next it was time for Baijiu Bowling. It’s just like regular bowling, except those rolling gutterballs have to do a shot of China’s infamous “white liquor”, and those who roll strikes can force others to drink. Guaranteed good times.
When the game was through, and we were all getting pretty buzzed, we split up: She left with Da Hai and another photographer friend they had brought along, to sing karaoke. The rest of us went out to a bar called the Hidden Tree. Except Dave, who wisely went to bed to prepare for his interview (he still woke up smelling like baijiu, never really a good idea when going job-hunting but more power to him!)
Kro and Annie, another friend on the scene, had joined us for the bowling and now we all piled into Kro’s jeep and went out for some real drinking. We hit two bars and ordered a pizza somewhere, which was funny because Eli was outside talking on his cell phone (typical) when the pizza arrived and we ate it all before he came back and then told him that it hadn’t arrived yet. He was asking a waitress where the pizza was and she was like, “I just brought it over here” and we all started laughing. To see how Eli felt about it, view this picture. Later on, we were trying to cheer him up, but it wasn’t really working.
The next day we visited Tiananmen Square for some classic pictures with the Mao portrait, which is, by the way, one of the worst pictures they could have chosen to display. Mao has bags under his eyes and looks like he hasn’t slept for days. It is a fitting picture of a man who for most of his rule was paranoid about people usurping his power.
The weekend was over as quickly as it had begun. It was a whirlwind, but well worth the journey.