It’s a Wrap: Winding Down in Beijing

It is a calm day for me, less so for Phil and the crew. My only official duty on camera is to eat dinner. Now there is a hardship assignment if I ever heard of one. I expect an outpouring of pity from all of my readers! The nonsense I have to put up with to make engaging television! I awoke with a start at 6:27 a.m. I was hearing traffic sounds and I pushed aside the curtains to close the window. I discovered the sky was fairly light. I was certain I had slept through my alarm clock. At this hour in Lanzhou the sky is still quite dark. Then I remembered we just flown eastward by roughly the distance from Denver to Philadelphia without resetting our watches. The entire country is on a single time zone, so naturally local times are out of kilter. It is not for nothing that time zones were invented.

I came downstairs to a fine breakfast. There is no hot Tang at the Xiyuan Hotel. This 55 year-old hotel is quite elegant and satisfactory in nearly every way – no water rushing across the floor during a shower, no using precious (and I do mean precious!) toilet paper as Kleenex, no wondering how to dry hair without a hair dryer. Nice hotel indeed. And convenient.  From my 18th floor aerie I look down on the roof of the 7-story building of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, the repository of fossils ranging from Peking Man to Anchiornis huxleyi, one of the latest feathered dinosaurs to be reported just a few weeks ago. At the IVPP we were warmly received by Xu Xing in his 6th floor office which is crammed with the sorts of fossils that make paleontologists drool. During our lengthy and interesting conversation with the gentle and engaging Xu, Dong Zhiming dropped in. He is one of the greatest fossil collectors who has ever lived and also the most genial of men. He is now in his 70s but still active. I have known him for 20 years. He was Hailu’s Chinese mentor, and I enjoy the esteem of being Hailu’s American mentor. Between the two of them, Xu and Dong have described nearly 10% of all dinosaurs recognized today!  Having the two of them together provided a great photo-op. When filming began I retreated across the street to the hotel for some much needed calm time. I rejoined the gang for lunch at the nearby Korean barbeque. Afterwards Phil and I purloined about 15 minutes for a whirlwind tour of the IVPP Museum, which includes an interesting fossil by the name of Magnirostris dodsoni, named by Hailu and Dong in 2003.

Later in the afternoon I got the call to come down and join Phil for some taxi shots—hailing a cab, getting in, getting out, driving around, etc. By our designated taxi stop along the street my eye was drawn to some ladies’ dainties drying in a window grate just by the gritty sidewalk. Drying laundry perfumed by the fragrances of Beijing air is a common enough sight. Next to that was a massage parlor featuring blind masseuses. Phil and I thought nasty thoughts, but apparently this is a very legitimate operation. Massage is not an uncommon Chinese practice. No haircut is complete without a massage of scalp, neck and shoulders, a rich sensual experience. No wonder the Chinese generally keep their hair short and trim! I think how disappointed our Chinese colleagues must be the first time they have their hair cut in Philadelphia! Taxi shots over, daylight fading, and dinner filming looming, Phil had to make an emergency run to a camera store to buy a sturdy box for transporting the fossil feather. This foray took me to a Beijing that I had never seen, of tall modern buildings and bright pulsating lights. It looked like the Ginza in Tokyo. We entered the electronics department store that was our goal and it was perfectly amazing: 10 floors of up-to-the-minute computers, cameras and electronic gadgets. It was absolutely stunning. I have never seen the likes of it. As we so well know, many if not most of these products are now manufactured in China. They are also sold here, and the size and magnificence of the building are testimony to the growing affluence of the rising middle class in China. They are getting to look more and more like Westerners in so many ways. I found it very embarrassing to be cleaning up pools of drool as Phil moved from one camera display case to the next! One could have dropped serious money there at prices that were more or less equivalent to full retail in the U.S.

Next we dashed off to our “ Peter welcomes Phil to China” dinner in Ho Hai. We successfully avoided being running over by a bus in a street scene then settled in for a dinner in a quaint little restaurant as I welcomed Phil and told him the treats that were in store for him. I felt terrible that the crew had to watch us eat. Phil only picked at his food. He has a tender tummy and wanted no culinary adventures the day before his long flight home. So I had to pick up the slack. Dodson yet again takes one for the team in the gastronomic department. I avoided soiling my shirt on camera, which I consider a signal accomplishment, perhaps my  finest in China! Pip declared a wrap at 8:15, the crew let out a whoop and a cheer, and the cameras were put to a well deserved rest. What I did not know was that an elegant dinner was planned for everyone. Our next destination was yet another Beijing I did not know, the elegant red lantern district of Guijie, the food street. Red lanterns were everywhere, truly colorful and inviting. Our restaurant was a vast warren of intimate rooms connected by exquisite oriental gardens with little fish ponds and quietly bubbling fountains. Even the bathrooms were elegant, with pots of green plants growing in the stalls, something I had never seen before.

Surprisingly, the food was not as exquisite as the setting, but the Peking duck was the best I had ever tasted. We did not settle down to eat until 10 p.m., so I knew this was not going to be an early night. I was not disappointed. After the food was cleared away and much pijiu consumed, it was decided that we should sample some baijiu. This wound was self-inflicted. This was a crew party, not one inflicted on us by Chinese hosts. It came in a pretty blue bottle with dainty flowers. This indicated that it was a better grade of paint stripper, but still paint stripper. But among good friends it is sometimes right to share the communion of paint stripper. We actually consumed two bottles of the stuff. The bottles were small, the group was large (nine), the glasses tiny. I don’t think that it was really enough to do lasting damage to the central nervous system. It was raucous, emotional and deeply satisfying, quite a lovely ending to a brilliant enterprise. When I got back to my hotel at 2:30 a.m., I passed on my blogging chores. I beg your forgiveness, dear reader.

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1 Comment

  1. Hillary I. said,

    October 29, 2009 at 8:41 am

    Thank you for your vivid descriptions. While I may never escape from suburban soccer mom life long enough to take a trip like this, at least I’ve enjoyed reading about it! 🙂


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