Almost Famous

August 26-31

Sunday afternoon in Beihai Park

Passing through the infrared body temperature sensors at the airport, I glanced back at Ryan with an enormous, loopy grin. The State Department emails I had been receiving for weeks that warned of potential quarantine in frightening Chinese sick houses, families separated, children shown no mercy; had melted away. We were in China, and moreover, we were in the center of the Chinese universe: Beijing.

The day had begun auspiciously enough. After a series of miscalculations that had led to too late of a start out of Osaka, we made our international flight by minutes. The three of us, hot and stinking more powerfully than a high school track team, collapsed in our seats and counted our blessings that we had the foresight to arrange for a taxi to meet us at baggage upon our arrival in China.

Beginning with our ride home, Beijing presented itself as a city of enormous contrast. Here the vestiges of thousand-year old Chinese dynasties shared real estate with Mao’s legacy. Inside the hutongs (narrow alley ways that were constantly plied by bicycles and moto-rickshaws) numerous southern-facing (good feng-shui) courtyard homes that were several hundred years old brushed elbows with shopping malls and Bank of China branches. In the past 30 years, absolutely everything had been retrofitted to accommodate the country’s opening and move toward free market economics.

We musn't pinch our fingers in the prayer wheels...

We spent our first day walking from our courtyard to the (in)famous Tiananmen Square. Xidan Beidajie began a small tree-lined street that was dotted left and right with hutong and dumpling houses. But approaching the Square, it haphazardly gave way to a massive shopping complex, replete with aerial catwalks, escalators, Sephoras and H&Ms. Oceans of young Beijingers poured out of the shopping mall high rises, flashing knock-off Ray Ban’s and Christina Aguilera tee shirts. The buildings could have either been 30 years or thrown up yesterday. The cheap construction materials, tacky facades and countless discount bridal boutiques conjured images of Flatbush Avenue or downtown Santa Ana.

As the Chairman’s face came into view lording over the Gates of Heavenly Peace, a small child tottered up to Oliver in his stroller. Perhaps he was a Beijinger out for a stroll with his parents, but more likely he was from an outlying province and had made the pilgrimage to the capital for the first time with his parents. As he babbled nonsensically back and forth with our son, a crowd of passersby gathered around us, with Ollie at the epicenter. Cameras flashed, and person after person stooped to have their picture taken with our son. Someone thrust a small Chinese flag in Ollie’s hands and the crowd roared with delight. Older women wanted to pick him up and have their photo op taken cheek to cheek. Middle aged men wanted to be slapped five. Young women with their babies clustered around and, one after another, they pushed their own toddlers forward to stand next to Oliver. Most of the children stood a good head and shoulders shorter than Ollie, and they screamed in terror when he stooped down to good-naturedly shout “NIIIIIHAO!” in their faces.

This scenario played out identically nearly everywhere we went in Beijing. At the Lama Temple, there was a crowd of 50 or more. We clung to the outskirts of the Summer Palace, visiting the furthest outlying temples in an effort to hide from the hordes stamping around Lake Kunming. In Beihai Park, we were quick to board a battery-powered boat where we enjoyed our Sunday afternoon peacefully from the middle of the lake. And in the Forbidden City, a kind young woman from Guangdong explained to me in her best English that he was “so lovely” with his “gold hair and blue eyes”. Throughout it all, Ryan and I were given less than a second of airtime, and we resolved ourselves to patiently mind our places in Oliver’s long shadow.

Footsteps into the Forbidden City

Here are a few more highlights from our memorable week in Beijing:

-Ollie dropping a deuce in his pants five minutes into a three hour bus ride on the way home from scaling the Great Wall (the entire bus stank like a Chinese squat toilet).
Cooking class with Candice Lee!!! One of my best friend’s from college younger sister is teaching a wonderful English-speaking Chinese cooking class. It was here that I discovered my love for Sichuan pepper in broad bean paste.
-Restraining Oliver throughout an entire Chinese acrobat performance. As he was shouting and doing his best to squirm his way out of my grip, I had visions of dozens of whirling plates crashing to the ground.
-Enduring an eleven-hour overnight train ride from Beijing to Shanghai and attempting to sleep between Oliver, who flopped around like a mackerel, and a heavy-set Chinese gentleman who could have blown the roof off the train with his snoring.
-Scraping dark brown boogers out of our nose every night and knowing that the air quality and sands blown down from the Gobi were taking their toll. Time to get moving!


  1. Ahhh, Ollie blessing the CHinese with his duece. Gotta love it. Wish your golden haired child was here! Miss you guys more than you know……

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