Saturday, May 1, 2010

Tour guide to the Taylors

BLOGGER'S NOTE: This is the first in a three-part series about the Beijing Blogger’s mom and brother’s recent visit to China.

I stood in the middle of Tiananmen Square as I had so many times before last summer. It had been months since I’d visited the public square. Having settled into my zhongguo shenghuo (life in China) I’ve cut back on the sightseeing.

But this time I wasn’t alone– my mom and brother were with me, taking pictures of every building, person and structure. It reminded me of myself last summer – always photography everything, less I forget.

My mom, Mary Ruth, and brother, Michael, arrived in Beijing April 1 and spent the next 10 days – their Spring Break vacation-- seeing the sights of Beijing, and, more importantly, visiting me. My dad would be visiting over the summer, currently preoccupied with an annual fundraising event back home.

It had been roughly seven months since I’d seen them in person and I was anxious to show them Beijing and all the excitement associated with the Chinese capital.

The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace and, of course, the Great Wall were atop our agenda of sights to see. The weather was less than cooperative during our touring – cool when we wore light jackets and warm when we bundled up – but at least there were no sandstorms common this time of year in Beijing.

While my mom was impressed with most of the sights, constantly stopping to take pictures of my brother and me in front of just about every building and monument, I couldn’t quite gauge my brother’s reaction to Beijing. Perhaps he didn’t realize the historical significance of Tiananmen Square or admire the grandeur of the Forbidden City as I had during my first visits. Mike’s not into history the way I am. But, without a doubt, I could tell he was awestruck by the Great Wall.

Having seen photos of my Great Wall adventure last summer – and taking special note of the treacherous terrain and damaged, ill-maintained wall – my mom requested we visit a different, tamer section. Mutianyu, a more “foreign friendly” and safe part of the wall, was more suitable.

As we approached the wall in the car we’d hired for the day, their cameras shot out. The Great Wall was barely visible on the mountaintops covered in a thick smoggy mist, yet they took photo after photo as I had when I first caught glance of the ancient wall during my July 2009 trip.

Mutianyu was split into two sections – a westward winding uphill path that led to a peak tower great for photos, and a calmer, gently rolling eastward path to a chairlift to the mountain’s base. Mike and I scaled the heights to the peak tower before meeting our mom and making the 1.4-mile walk to the section’s exit.

After we’d seen all the major sights, I decided it was time to introduce mom and Mike to Beijing’s bootleg shopping scene – the Silk Market. Earlier in the week, I took my brother to a local tailor to have a suit made, since I’d promised but failed to get him a fake Armani suit last summer. Having had a suit made for myself last fall, I decided a suit tailored for a Taylor was more appropriate. The price wasn’t bad either – 700 kuai (about $100).

Even so, Mike wanted to pick up a few other things – shoes, slacks and shirts to name a few.

He especially liked bargaining and the comments from the market vendors (“Hey sexy man, you want shirt? Jeans?”). After giving him a few bargaining pointers I set him free. While a bit slow, he eventually caught on and successfully bargained the price for two pairs of shoes down from 4500 kuai ($642) to about 350 ($50). He had the biggest grin on his face when the vendor agreed to his final price. He had played the bargaining game and won a really cool prize.

Mom wasn’t too keen on the bargaining process. “It’s too stressful. I’d rather just pay a set price,” she complained.

“You can pay set prices back home. This is why China is fun,” I said.

A few times I had to slap the calculator used during price negotiations out of my mom’s hands because her offer was close in price to what the vendors were asking. She, too, learned quickly.

Showing my mom and brother around brought back the excitement I’d felt during my first few months in China. I still enjoy living in Beijing, but I’ve grown so used to certain aspects of China that they all seem to mundane now. The visit from my mom and Mike renewed that joy, and brought the warm feelings I’ve always felt from being around my family.

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