Whistle While You Talk

Beijing Travel Blog

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Tiananmen Square. The name evokes such tragic memories

So, I gotta say... it ain't easy to get around here. Unless you happen to speak Mandarin, that is.

Taxi drivers do not speak any English, and neither do most of the hotel & subway workers that I have met so far. Of course, why should they? This is CHINA, after all. Time to speak Chinese! The problem is, my mouth simply cannot make the sounds that seem to comprise the language - I just don't know how! It seems that it is not WHAT you say, as much as HOW you say it. From what I can tell, the secret to proper pronunciation is to shape your lips as if you are going to whistle - and then shout - all the while speaking backwards!

Example: I tried to buy a subway ticket to Qianmen station. Easy enough, right? Well, it took two people to translate that to the ticket person, who then started loudly CUSSING at me! It seemed she was VERY ANGRY with me.

Forbidden City beckons
However, I was told that she only wanted to know how many tickets? Well, it sure seemed like she was cussing at me!

While I was on the subway yesterday, I smelled something rather foul. I looked at the woman next to me, and thought to myself why she had such poor hygiene. Poor and can't afford a shower? I thought. She looked at me and gave me a bit of a look, as well. After she left, I smelled the odor again. Then it dawned on me. It wasn't the woman who smelled bad - it was ME! Actually, it was my sandals. They literally REEKED of sweat from the jungles of Thailand, etc. Dear god that was embarrassing! (And a great lesson on jumping to conclusions.)

Really sick!
Okay, this is gross.... but on my next subway trip, the guy next to me started vomiting. I am not wearing my sandals today, so it wasn't my fault - really! Now I am sure that this was very unusual, but it is certainly a unique memory of the Beijing subway.

PS: I don't make this stuff up. It really happened.

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The foo dog looks angry...

It is hard for me to believe that I am actually walking in Tiananmen Square! This square evokes so many very strong emotions for me - and for much of the world. What does Tiananmen Square make YOU think of?

I am reluctant to speak freely about the protests that happened here (and the bloody aftermath), because I know for a fact that Internet communications are heavily censored here in China. (Thanks in part, to American companies such as Yahoo and Cisco Systems, who have helped the Government limit information on the Chinese Internet servers.) I personally have had the distinction of being kicked OUT of China before, back when I attempted to join a protest immediately following the Tiananmen Square protests and killings of 1989. So I am biting my tongue on this visit.

The Square Today
But my biggest threat when walking Tiananmen Square today is NOT the government, it is street vendors! Like crouching tigers, they spring into action upon seeing a white face in the crowd - and they are relentless! "Hey Mr. where are you from" begins the sales pitch. Then comes the story of how they are a struggling artist, and how they will take me to see their special exhibition in a nearby building. Or maybe I'd like to buy a copy of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book?

No? Well, then, how about a watch with Mao's arms telling the time? Politely saying "no" won't help, as they will just grab you by the arm. I have never seen such aggressive hawking since Mano and I were in Istanbul years ago.

Growing infuriated, I finally started ignoring people or - worse - snapping at them. One woman - the 10th to approach me in as many minutes - said "excuse me Mr..." and I snapped at her - "NO!"

Then I looked at her sad face and saw that she was holding a camera. She simply wanted me to take her picture. I felt SO BAD! So of course I took her photo and she took mine. It is one of the better pics taken of me that day. That should teach me a lesson!

Tiananmen Square. The name evokes …
Tiananmen Square. The name evokes…
Forbidden City beckons
Forbidden City beckons
The foo dog looks angry...
The foo dog looks angry...
photo by: Eric