Thursday, August 21, 2008

June & the chocolate cheese...

Chocolate cheese (i.e. pudding) anyone?

Monday, August 18, 2008

An Olympic Adventure…

It was a special Friday – 8-8-08. The excitement had built up for years and months and the D-day has finally arrived. As you’ve probably heard from several sources, 8-8-08 is very special to the Chinese as they consider 8 to be a lucky number. Peter and I decided to send a few postcards to family and friends that would be stamped on that day. This was a last minute decision and the previous evening we went over to the largest Olympic store at Wangfujing to purchase some special Olympic postcards. Friday morning we decided to take a short break from work and dart over to the Post Office right across the street that Peter had located.

I was exhilarated to be out on the street. No one in Beijing could miss the buzz in the air and the Chinese/Olympic flags that people sported were conspicuous. Olympic volunteers who had been sporting their uniforms for days and those with the privileged yellow badges ensured that they were noticed. Many organizations and stores were closed, although we could never figure out which ones would close down and their timings.

The streets were empty, except for great masses of people heading towards the Bird’s Nest and other tourist areas. Living close to the Bird’s Nest, the nucleus of all activity, offers great vistas of the opening ceremony. However, the package comes along with greater security, implying blocked roads and fewer options for travel and transportation. We did hear the military helicopters that morning but the enormous fortification was still a surprise.

Before noon most of the roads and footpaths leading up to the Bird’s Nest were closed and we weren’t allowed to cross the 4th Ring Road. It was warm but with the Olympic fever rising we decided that it was well worth it. After all, how often do you get to send postcards stamped 8-8-08 on the day of the Olympics opening ceremony? So we walked around to go over to the post office and soon we discovered that the other side was also blocked.
Peter recollected that there was a post office on Tsinghua campus, his undergrad school, and we decided to go there. It was a long walk from the main entrance to the campus post office. We finally made it there but to our surprise it was closed. Luckily, we found a helpline number that we could call. The lady informed us that only 5 post offices around the city were open that day. So the next stop in our expedition was the Summer Palace Post Office. It was teeming with enthusiasts. There were long lines for everything, from purchasing stamps and envelopes to using the glue for pasting them. I was chatting with some person who was clearly a pro at this. He had come in really early in the morning to purchase first day covers, which were sold out within hours of their release. Peter and I seemed to have the fewest postcards. People ahead of us had several hundred postcards each, waiting in line to get special stampings done with the bird’s nest and the water cube.

The cash registers of China Post were ringing and the employees had no place to stash away all the money that was being collected. Finally, 4 hours after we embarked on our mission we achieved our dream – our post cards were stamped and mailed on 8-8-08! We were done for the day.

Or so I thought. We decided to take the bus home rather than a cab. After all, buses in Beijing always have special privileges. We changed buses near Tsinghua, but only to realize later, that the bus stop near our home had been ‘cancelled’. So the bus would either halt 3 stops before our apartment or further beyond that. The rumors on the bus were that even the driver wasn’t certain where he could stop. It was a tough call but since three stops before was around an hour walk from home, we decided to take the risk and get off later. We ended up getting down at a stop past the Bird’s Nest. Our reasoning - we live near the Bird’s Nest, surely if people with tickets can walk around in that area, we should be allowed to get back home. That worked well with a couple of cops, as they allowed us to pass through but not with others further along the road. We ended up taking a cab and a circuitous route back home. However, it seems that the round trips were well worth it. The tight security did make it a comforting sojourn and overall an incident free and safe day. We entered home about 6 hours after we had departed and it was undoubtedly one of the most amazing days of my life.

In retrospect, this was easily avoidable by leaving home earlier but we never intended this to be a major project. It was just supposed to be a short break from work and something for fun. The experiences were simply fantastic, just as the rest of this summer has been. They were just not about the postcards but they involved navigating through unforeseen circumstances in a foreign land on such a momentous occasion.

Going by the sheer number of postcards at the Post Office, I would be surprised if our postcards actually reach their destination but if they do I hope the recipients cherish them as much as we treasure the experiences associated with them….

Art in Beijing

This piece is called "Water Cube," by Aishwarya and June. It is an innovative modern art piece drawn using June's new drawing tablet (it knows Chinese too!). -Aishwarya and June