Posted by on Apr 20, 2011 | 3 comments

Yuan in Courtyard

Brian in Courtyard

Courtyard Statue

Sidewalk Outside Building

On Sunday morning I woke up very early.  It was still dark.  I looked at the time: it was 4:45am.  I was wide awake, though, and I felt that I had to get up.  I looked over and to my surprise, Yuan was awake as well.  We stretched and talked about what we wanted to do today.  I wanted to get out and explore the city in the early morning hours, but I was running on about 5 hours sleep over the past two days, so I felt like it wouldn’t be long before I would crash and want to go back to sleep.  Nevertheless we decided to make our way over to the Temple of Heaven this morning.

We watched the sun rise through the big floor-to-ceiling living room window.  Here in Beijing the sun rises really early, at around 5:30.  They don’t have daylight savings time here.  We wanted to get out early and find a place to have breakfast, so we ate a banana, showered, and got ready to go.

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Courtyard Stones 2

Courtyard Stones

Courtyard Stones 3

When we left the house there was a cool breeze blowing, but the sun was shining brightly.  Wandering around the courtyard of Yuan’s building, I was drawn to the interesting inlaid patterns of stones along the sidewalk.  This was something I was to see a lot more of throughout the city:  sidewalks that make you want to look down and admire their beauty.  That is something that is exceedingly rare in the U.S., and virtually nonexistent in American cities.

On the sidewalk outside the apartment complex, another side of the city can be seen:  piles of rubble around a construction area.  This is a city that is constantly tearing down and rebuilding itself.

Breakfast Vendor

Breakfast Vendors

On the way to the bus we passed by a street vendor who was making what they called “Beijing Breakfast”.  We decided to give it a try.  It was basically a savory sandwich with hand-made bread formed into a pouch, filled with scrambled eggs, veggies and some kind of sauce.  Not bad as fast food goes.

Digging Crew

At the Park

Lantern Wall

Wall Opening

View Through Wall

Morning Warmups

Morning Workout

Guangqumen Bridge

Crossing Bridge

Roadside Garden

Bus Stop Under Bridge

Tour Bus

Near Temple of Heaven

Another Bus

Sidewalk Tiles

Hong Qiao Pearl Market

Another Hong Qiao Market

Crowd Control

Waiting For Runners

Closing the Street

There was a park across the street where people were doing their morning exercise routines, and a group of women construction workers were doing some digging.  One thing that really caught my attention as being very beautiful and typically Chinese was a structure with windows that created a feeling of looking out onto another world.

The buses run amazingly often and very efficiently.  If you miss a bus, the next one is there 5 minutes later.  And this was on a Sunday.  Most U.S. bus services these day seem to always be slashing their budgets, running fewer and fewer buses, and cutting Sunday service altogether.

There was an attendant on the bus who took our money, and kept a constant watch on everyone to make sure they payed the proper fare.  This is an example of something I have been seeing everywhere in Beijing:  human beings doing jobs that elsewhere have long since been taken over by machines, or otherwise automated or eliminated altogether.

We got off the bus outside the Temple of Heaven, and there were a lot of people in uniforms standing around everywhere up and down the street, looking like they were waiting for something.  We asked someone what was going on, and they said there was some kind of running event that was going to be coming through here, and they were going to close down the street for a while.

Before going into the Temple of Heaven, we wanted to find some breakfast, and equally importantly, some coffee.  The breakfast sandwich that Yuan and I had split earlier wasn’t going last, and we were already hungry again.  The problem was that all the places that served food were on the other side of the street, and we didn’t want to get stuck over there when they closed down the road.  We couldn’t see any places nearby that served breakfast either.  One place that looked promising advertised themselves as a coffee place, but they weren’t open.  The Chinese are a bit clueless when it comes to breakfast.  How can a place whose mission is to serve coffee not be open at the one time of day when people most need coffee?

Having very little time to think about it, we finally settled on going to a KFC.  I was very reluctant to stoop to this level.  This is an establishment that I would never set foot in on U.S. soil, and here I was half-way around the world and this is the best we could do for breakfast?  The sad truth is that KFC is an extremely popular brand here. There must be a KFC on almost every block in the city.

This particular KFC was every bit as lame as I had feared.  For the price they charged for a cup of coffee, they basically throw in a breakfast sandwich for free.  And this was the really disgusting kind of sandwich, with the English muffin, egg, slice of rubbery American cheese, and mayonnaise (ugh).  We also got the porridge, which at least is something authentically Chinese.  It is basically a savory rice porridge with bits of preserved egg and a few other odds and ends thrown in.  Not bad, actually, though it will never rank high on my list of breakfast foods.  Yuan has made this for me before, and for her it is comfort food that reminds her of home.  As I said, the Chinese are clueless about breakfast.

Along with the porridge came a stick of fried dough.  Completely plain white bread with no flavor, only empty calories.  I couldn’t finish it.  At least the coffee was decent.  But I was starting to feel weak from the total lack of nutrition I had consumed so far today.  We decided then and there that from now on we would be making our breakfast at home before going out for the day.

I had to check out the restroom facilities before we left.  It was a real shock.  Here we were, in the middle of a huge, ultra-modern city, and the place has no toilets.  Or rather, I should say, the toilets have no seats.  That’s right folks, you get to squat over a porcelain hole in the floor to do your business here.  Then when you are done, you can wash your hands in the high-tech sink with the infrared sensor, and dry them with the hands-free automatic air dryer.  Everything is ultra-modern except for the most important thing of all.  What planet are these people from?

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