Monday, March 09, 2009

Seeing The Summer Palace Through New Eyes

One of the real highlights of the trip to Shanhaiguan was, of course, our incredible walk on the wild wall. As we have mentioned before, that expedition would not have been possible without the timely assistance of Andreas, a German rail engineer who is currently spending nine weeks working in Shanhaiguan and who, with his Chinese companions, encouraged us to join in on their hike to the top of Jiao Shan.

And so it was very happily that we got the news that, just days after our return to Beijing, Andreas was coming down to our hometown for some sightseeing. We suggested that one day he come on out to our place, tour the Summer Palace with us, and then enjoy some food in one of the neighborhood restaurants.

From the start of this beautiful day (the warmest in Beijing in quite a while), we had a thoroughly fantastic time. Even though we were walking on ground that we have tread countless times, it was like being in a new place, as we strolled with Andreas, acted as his pseudo-tour guides, and took note of his reactions to things we have come to take for granted.

For some reason, explaining to Andreas that we are the only foreigners living in the neighborhood made us feel like we were standing out from the crowd, even though we normally get the impression that we have pretty much been assimilated into the community. We seemed to be generating a far greater number of stares than we have in a long while. Was this actually the case? Were we just imagining things? Or was it, alternatively, because Julie's hair was out in full force for the first time in a while?

At the Summer Palace itself, we were delighted at the chance to pass along some of the knowledge we have accumulated to someone so willing to hear stories of last emperors and yingfa (those dreaded Anglo-French forces). Speaking Chinese with people we bumped into along the way also seemed to take on a new feeling, as we were thrust into the role of translating for Andreas what was being talked about.

Finally, sitting at one of our favorite little restaurants gave us a chance to show off some of the great local cuisine that has been such an everyday part of our lives. Watching Andreas go take pictures of the turtle and frog before they were cooked up and eaten (no, not by us!) gave us one final visual of just how much of China we don't even notice anymore.

Thanks Andreas! Hopefully we can open each others' eyes again somewhere down the road!

~Steve

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