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31/05/07 - The Beijing Upside Down Fish

Ross and Rich, a couple of friends from Oxford, came to stay in Beijing last week, hence your week off e-essays from China. Chinese people often struggle to pronounce words beginning with “r” which meant introducing the boys to my Chinese friends and colleagues proved entertaining.

They stayed in my apartment and slept in my bed, which meant I relocated to the possibly more comfortable tile floor. The week was really busy as they tried to tick all Beijing’s important boxes. Unfortunately, having told them that “it never rains in Beijing”, right on cue, we had a couple of days of heavy rain, which mucked up a few of the plans.

Needless to say, we still had a lot of fun, especially as my university pounced on the news that the number of foreigners in Daxing was tripling and laid on various events for us.

The First Ever Foreign Visitors

One day they invited us on a trip to a newly opened “forest and hill” park, complete with ambient music blasting out of speakers, poorly disguised as rocks. It turned out that we were the first foreign visitors to the park, so the park officials asked if they could take photos of us for their “propaganda”. Obviously we obliged.

Afterwards, Mr Zhang, one of the institute’s directors, took us out for dinner and introduced Ross and Rich to genuine Peking Duck. In return, he received an education in colloquial English of the most extreme variety, as Ross spent the meal referring to tea refills as “Toppy U’s” (top ups), which took a bit of explaining to Mr Zhang.

Common Misconceptions

I was happy to find that Rich and Ross hadn’t arrived with any stereotypes as every time they saw a dog through the week, they said “ah, breakfast” or “here comes lunch”. Just to clear this up, Chinese people rarely eat dog meat in Beijing. It’s more common in the south of China, in places such as Canton, however, even with this information, the joke was dragged out for the full week.

The Beijing Teahouse Scam

While I was teaching, the boys head into town to see the sites, which I was slightly concerned about seeing as at the start of the week, they could only count up to five in Chinese and the bus they needed to catch was the 968. However, the week past with no major incidents, well, apart from a rather expensive encounter with two friendly Chinese girls.

Ross and Rich were approached by the girls in the main shopping street in Beijing on Tuesday while they were waiting for the rain to die down. They asked if they could “practice their English” with the boys and suggested they go to a tea house round the corner. Seeing as they had nothing else to do, they agreed and enjoyed drinking tea and chatting with the girls. That was until the bill arrived and for four cups of tea and a few nibbles it came to £40, expensive even compared with London prices.

Luckily they managed to get the girls to pay some of the bill and only ended up parting with £25, however, this was more than they had spent altogether in the previous three days in Beijing. Ross wasn’t happy. The only consolation was that that evening, I came into town after my classes had finished and we all went to a bar, where we met another Englishman. While exchanging Beijing tales, we were amazed to hear that the same thing had happened to him the day before, apart from the fact that he ended up paying 2000 RMB (£130!). It would seem there is quite a lot money to be made from unsuspecting Brits abroad.

Eating Fish in Restaurants

The quote of the week came when Ross quipped that, “it wouldn’t be a Beijing restaurant without at least one upside down fish”. This might not seem that funny if you haven’t been to Beijing and visited restaurants here, but myself and Bob, who was eating with us at the time, found it ball bouncingly funny (to quote Hugh Laurie in Black Adder goes Forth).

Most of Beijing’s restaurants have fish tanks in their entrances, so the customers can view the fish, turtles and sometimes even toads they are about to feast on. Quite often there is at least one dead fish to greet you on entry, which is floating upside down in a tank. However don’t worry, when you order fish from the menu, the waiter will always bring a live fish to your table in a bag for your approval. I rarely order fish.

Chengde

Finally, over the weekend, we escaped Beijing and head to a place called Chengde, which is about 4 hours by train north east of the city. We went with my Australian friend and a couple of others, who had booked us into a hotel where you slept in Mongolian style tents. It turned out that they were Mongolian style from the outside, however, inside they were en-suite, air-conditioned and had televisions.

It was a whistle stop tour of Chengde, but it was nice to get out of Beijing and see some of China’s countryside. We explored the old emperor’s summer retreat complex and researched genuine Chinese beer in some of the city’s bars, before racing back to Beijing to pick up the suit Rich was having tailor made and get the boys to the airport.

All in all, it was a great week, even if I am still suffering from sleep depravation.

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See also Lao Beijing Blog


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