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September 19, 2001
Beijing Day 3: quite an adventure

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The boys in our Beijing hotel room

By the third day in Beijing, Russell had learned a few key Mandarin phrases from Kitty:

While these were enough to make him dangerous among the crowds, they weren't enough for the day's adventures.

On September 19, we had the morning to ourselves to pack, check out, and explore.  Unfortunately, Gail's stomach ache had reached the point where she was curled up in a little ball in bed.  Russell was given the assignment to find some medicine.  The first task was to find a store that sold medicine.  Fortunately, there was a large multi-story shopping mall down the street from the hotel (near the KFC).  Unfortunately, in China a "shopping mall" is a department store.  No medicine.

Russell wandered down the road, poking his head into various shops that didn't speak English, until he came to a sign with a familiar-looking green cross.  It was indeed a pharmacy, but everything was in Chinese.  The clerks were amused as Russell held his stomach and made "owee" noises.  They held their own stomachs and made "owee" noises.  Russell pantomimed eating, then held his stomach again.  The clerks then brought over their most experienced pantomimist, who held her upper abdomen and then her lower abdomen in turn.  A communications breakthrough!  After confirming that it was stomach ache and not heartburn, the clerk produced the appropriate medicine.  She then began counting on her fingers, "one, two, three."  Russell did the same.  The clerk repeated the gesture.  After several exchanges, Russell figured out that they were asking him how many he wanted.

The medicine (a variant of Alka Seltzer that tasted like flat cola) did the trick for Gail, and we were able to get packed and checked out just at the noon deadline.  The next task was lunch, and the boys voted for the local McDonalds.  As with the KFC, everything was in Chinese.  We were discussing how to pantomime a hamburger when we discovered a wonderful tool at the counter: a card with full-color pictures of everything on the menu.  All we had to do was point.

The "point and smile" method worked well as we went shopping after lunch, looking at postcards, pins, and baby clothes.  Joss picked up a stuffed panda bear that he named "Rolly."  Our last task was to get some food for the train.  At a very chaotic indoor food market, we got some fruit and bread -- however, we were not able to find anything to put on the bread.

We met Kitty at the 2:00 deadline in order to go see the Temple of Heaven.  But Kitty had bad news: the train arrangements had been changed.  Instead of leaving on a 5:00 train, we would have to leave on a 3:00 train.  That left us just enough time to go directly to the train station.  (Kitty and Mr. Zuo, the driver, had actually come to the hotel at 12:30 in hopes of catching us earlier.  They had been waiting for us for the last hour and a half.)

At Beijing's Western Train Station (the largest in China), we said goodbye to Kitty and Mr. Zuo.  Our train accommodations were a private compartment with four berths.  With a great deal of effort, we stuffed our five suitcases, four backpacks, medicine duffel, and camera bag into the tiny compartment with us.  We supplemented our food with some noodle bowls on board the train.  (By now, we were simply fanning our money at them and letting them pick out what they needed.)  The toilet down at one end of the car was a hole in the floor (very difficult for women wearing pants), and the washroom at the other end had no towels.  We spent the afternoon trying to get the boys to do some home schooling, but they were having more fun jumping back and forth between the two upper berths.

As we sat and watched the rain and cornfields go by outside, we reflected on how much we were able to accomplish on our own without being able to speak Chinese.  Gail smiled and remarked that we'd had "quite an adventure."  Because we left Beijing early, we will arrive two hours earlier in Xi'an: 5:00 AM instead of 7:00 AM.  We wondered if we would get any sleep amid the lights (the curtains didn't cover the window completely), noise, movement, people spitting outside, and smells of cigarette smoke... and set the alarm for 4:00 AM.

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On board the train


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