A beautiful day in the neighborhood

I was expecting to suffer serious jetlag – but arriving at night after 24 hours of travelling beat me up. I melted into my bed and woke around 9 am. After mulling around, I made it out to the hotel’s courtyard for breakfast where I ordered a Beijing style Full English – complete with fried egg, biscuit, mushrooms, tomato, and bacon. Kicking the day off with a fried egg seemed to be an impossible thing to top – but the food only got better.

Joel, the owner of the hotel, wrote out directions to a lunch place and included the list of dishes to order. We feasted on over 7 Chinese dishes of spicy pork, sausage, tripe and cold beef in peanut sauce, bitter mellon, eggplant, scrambled egg with shrimp, and noodles. There was enough food for five people, and we barely made a dent in it. Normally, I’d feel bad, but it only set us back 135 yuan – roughly $21.

C is the only smart one who had her camera in her carry on luggage (and our suitcases are stored at the airport), so she has been our resident photographer. She snapped this great photo of the bitter mellon dish. Pretty, albeit my least favorite.

The entire day wasn’t spent eating – quite a bit of exploring and wandering and people watching was done. The hotel is near the Drum and Bell Tower and we decided around noon to wander towards it for a tour. As we approached the site, lots of police were bustling us in a different direction. There was a big fuss and we weren’t sure why so we crawled through alley ways and around hutongs to reach the other side of the Towers, hoping to find another entrance.

At that point there was Chinese military and police everywhere – and more noticeably: tall white men in suits. C and I were confused as to what was going on, and when we looked away D went up and talked to one of the white men. Before long we were chatting up Tom, a white house staffer (secret service – guessing by the ear piece).  Turns out VP Biden would be dining around the corner and they were securing the area. Tom was hoping to get us a handshake or hello – but we didn’t have the correct lapel pins to identify us as safe so the Chinese police shoved us into the noodle place next door as Biden’s motorcade arrived. Black suburbans barreled down the narrow hutong streets at high speeds – but we never got a glimpse of Biden. y.

The rest of the day was uneventful, in the most relaxing and perfect way. In the evening we found a whisky bar near our hotel and grabbed a drink. Exhausted, we wandered back to the hotel for snooze. I feel like a part of the neighborhood – I can’t wait to see what the hutong is buzzing about today.

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Good Morning, China

The plane from Seattle to Beijing was disorienting. I slept in bits and pieces and the 12 hour trip slowly added up. Delta Flight 129 touched down in Peking Airport about 30 minutes early and the first stop was Customs. I had expectations of my things getting riffled through and inspected but it was as easy as showing my passport and walking past a few stern faced men and women.

Making it through customs, converting currency, stowing luggage and getting a taxi took an hour – which was twice as fast as I would have expected, and much easier than it would have been to do in LaGuardia or LAX – despite the language barrier.

The cab ride was interesting. Random selection left us with the fastest cab driver in Beijing – who dipped/dodged/ducked his way between other slow moving taxis, and barreled straight into oncoming traffic to get us to our destination. The cab driver spoke no English but delivered us to the correct location – a seeming miracle. He used gestures to get us out of his cab and point us in the direction of our hotel, a quick walk down an alley. The ride, with a generous tip was $16 US for the 30 minute trek.

C and I shared a relaxing Garden Room. Complete with a King size mattress and day bed.

The hotel, more hidden fort, settled back in a hutong was still bumping as the owner welcomed us in at midnight. We settled in with a strong and delicious local brew, made 2 meters away, while our rooms were prepared. Despite being one of the largest cities in the world, the hutong was quiet and we settled in for a shower and a snooze.

It’s 10 am so I need to get moving for the day. But I’m sure tonight will leave me with many stories to tell about Day 1 of exploration in China.


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The first update from CN

Passing through the Des Moines “International” Airport and not running into a single person I know (other than C, who is a travel companion and does not count) – is impressive. Not that I am a celebrity, but having grown up in Des Moines -  it’s almost impossible to leave DSM without running into at least one person I know.

The first stop was Minneapolis. Barely having touched the ground, it was off to the next gate and back on a flight to Seattle where C and I met up with D and shared a row with a cute old woman en route to Hawaii. With her adorable pixie haircut (although missing the Jet Black dye job) and vibrant makeup I wanted to ask if she was any relation to Liza Manelli. Someday when I’m a member of the geriatric set – I hope I’m travelling on my own to someplace tropical and jesting with young folks.

Finally, after a 3 hour layover in Seattle, it was back on a plane and off to Beijing. Since climbing on board they’ve shoved a meal, liquids and entertainment down us. Right now there is a Paul Giamatti film on about wrestling (Iowa appropriate) and I’m couting down the existing 9 hours on board.

I’ve got 5 hours of battery life left on my computer, no Internet, and nothing inspirational to say except “don’t take a 13 hour flight” – I’ll call round one of death by air travel blogging quits and catch you after checking into the hotel.

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China, not Chinatown.

I’m going to China. Chongqing to be exact. For 5 months. To live. To study. To eat. I will be constantly surrounded by noise, pollution, people and hopefully be able to boil it all down into a few good stories.

I don’t leave for forty some days, but I’m nesting and feel the need to do an inventory of what I know. Really, it is very little:  China holds mountains of American debt, they built one of the world’s greatest tourist attractions/ giant walls 200 years BC, and despite their one child policy they are one of the most populous nations on earth.


According to Google Maps it would take 147 days to walk from Des Moines to Chongqing and includes tollways, ferries, and long routes without sidewalks (Pacific Ocean?). Lucky for me it’s only an entire day of traveling, by plane, assuming everything runs on schedule and customs doesn’t detain me for questioning about the homeopathic remedies my mom shoved in my suitcase.

I am most nervous about making sure I’ve packed all the necessities into my suitcase. What are your travel must-haves?

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Some musician have a signature soundcheck bit. My favorites are those who drop the same guitar solo they’ve been shredding since 8th grade to impress the ladies (always signaled by a “thanks” afterwards) OR the band funny man who is trying to sell the same bad joke to Des Moines that failed in Cleveland.

I have no solos or jokes for you, so this “soundcheck” may fall short of your expectations. Really, this post is to “tune up” (kick-crash-boom) my wordpress experiment. Ignore it. Seriously. I even tagged it Irrelevant.

Well, since it is a soundcheck, go grab yourself another cocktail before I begin. (Try a Sazerac)

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