Beijing Breakfast Letter March 2, 2011

Eating lunch on campus is a great deal.  About $1 gets you three dishes like a big bowl of spicy fish stew, shredded potatoes and sliced tofu, and a steamed ear of indigestible corn on the cob. My co-worker Yue took charge of me today after I spent the morning proofreading a giant manuscript that will be their English version Centennial book.  Tsinghua University is celebrating its centennial next month.  Fortunately, I dodn't have to move to another campus hotel as we had thought, so we celebrate by having lunch together  in the student canteen.  Afterwards, Yue takes me to a bicycle repair shop on campus which also sells new and used bicycles.  They fix me up with a used bike that is basically all there, add a basket to the front and a good lock.  The seat is too low but is rusted tight.  The proprietor, a woman and her young son, try to loosen it.  The boy applies a solvent that takes several days to work.  I'll have to come back to have it adjusted.  On the way back to my office I discover the brakes also need adjustment!  All in all a good deal for 80Y or $30.  My thighs are burning on the way back to Jiasuo!

Now I have a bicycle, zixingche, its a short ride to the shopping area on campus to get necessities.  Tonight I am enjoying happy hour in my room with CCTV news on the television, an open China Daily newspaper spread on the bed, mango juice from Thailand, tasty peanut brittle made here in Beijing, seasoned millet wafers a little like Chex, doesn't say where they are made, and pistachio nuts, likewise no origin.

Yesterday I picked up a few books at an English language bookstore.  For some reason unkown to me I am attracted to a slim volume titled China's Political System.

The Central Committee is currently meeting in the National People's Congress--their members are elected for a term of five years--March 3 to March 15.  For the first time, media spokespersons have been appointed to hold press conferences and disseminate information to the public regarding these important meetings.

After dinner, I bundle up and head out for a salutary brisk walk under misty starlight.  At 43-degrees F it feels pleasantly chilly.  Walking toward the Qing palace (president's office), there are people out in the early evening, as I am, enjoying the evening or hurrying home.  Somewhere in the dark, a man is practicing laughing loudly, then singing.  Turning down the side of the ancient walled garden pierced by ornamental windows, I can see the ghostly outlines of little trees, barren of leaves, waiting for spring just around the corner.  The frozen pond glimmers in the pale night light as I stand on a stone platform jutting into the dark, standing where court ladies and gentlemen once stood, overlooking the frozen pond.

Coming back around toward the hotel, I come face to face with the laughing singer, a handsome gentleman casually whistling, and I remember hearing about someone who practices Chinese opera, singing here in the park.  Can you imagine this?