1. Men-watching In Beijing
By and large, Beijing men were darn good-looking. Abu's Angels made this delightful discovery during their recent China jaunt, an observation even head honcho Abu himself was hard put to deny. Not that he did, for he knew the score, with three starstruck women by his side.
Ann and Awwa just couldn't stop ogling: "Ooooh look at that guy, Ma! Hensemnya!" The skull-capped youngster serving our dishes, the ramrod straight Red Guard in front of Mao Tze Tung's mausoleum, the hotel concierge, the very 'cun' waiter at Ley Mo Cafe, the lean and trim chap swinging by in his leather jacket, stylish muffler and knee-length boots, even the street peddlar who offloaded some pictorial books on China on me, just outside the Forbidden City walls. My tired 55 year-old eyes were revitalised at such delectable eye candies!
They were taller and trimmer than the average Malaysian Chinese. Five days, and I didn't see a single obese Beijinger. Their features were sharper and well-defined (such beautiful upturned noses!), their eyes bigger. Add those rosy cheeks, high cheekbones and alabaster skin, and they had my girls oohing and aahing from the word 'go'. Eat your heart out, Tommy!
2. 'Hothouse' Hotel
The girl at the hotel's front office couldn't believe her ears. She understood English alright, but had to ask Lu Qiang the guide for reaffirmation.
A flurry of Mandarin flowed between the two. She explained, laughing. He listened intently, then turned to us, asking: "You say your room is too hot? You want your room colder??"
I could guess what was running through his mind: "Are these folks for real? It's freezing my nuts out there and these two crazy Malaysians are asking for their cosy, comfy heating to be turned down!"
I jumped in: "Yes Mr Lu, our room is too hot. Last night we slept on the bed cover and with the toilet door ajar to let the draught in. I know the room temperature is centrally-controlled; can you please ask them to make our room cooler?"
More rapidfire Mandarin. Finally the girl, still smiling broadly, turned to us and said: "Ok, we send our man to make your room cooler, yes?" "Thank you, thank you!" Darn, I couldn't sleep a wink, the room was like a furnace....
3. Along the Weewee Trail
Winter is cold and cold induces weewee; nothing could be further from the truth. Only that Beijing wasn't just cold, it was freezing. Gloveless for five minutes, and your fingers numbed over. Thus, our five-day trip was like a worn script:
- before stepping into the van at the hotel: "Oi! You guys better go toilet first.."
- upon arriving at any destination: "Where's the toilet?" (This especially applies to Pak Abu, the undisputed holder of the "Weewee Cup")
- before leaving any destination: "Wait, wait.. I go toilet first."
- while walking around or shopping: "Eh, where's [fill in the blank]"? The standard chorus: "Gone for a wee..."
- in the van, enroute: "Isyy, wanna wee laa...sejuukk!"
Recommended remedy: Bring lots of Baby Wipes/Wet Ones. Washrooms were generally clean (perhaps because it was winter.. less tourist usage) but there was no water for washing up, only for flushing.
Weewee anecdote: Enroute to The Great Wall, as our van crawled along:-
Awwa: Maaa! I saw a guy peeing in the snow by the roadside! Brrr, how can 'it' 'tahan'? It's soo cold! Hahaha!
Me: "Poor fellow. Must be one of the stranded motorists la tu. Where, where?"
Abu the Weewee Cup champion, piping in: "Alah, I'd do just the same if need be. You can't see anything anyway, with snow falling so hard... hehehe.."
4. Fat, Fat, Fat
The herbal centre guide took pains to expound the virtues of bian stone therapy. Speaking in both English and Bahasa Indonesia, she called upon each of us to participate in a demonstration, to prove her point.
Our cuticle was duly smeared with some cream and placed under a microscope. The resulting image was then flashed onto a big screen. Good results all around.... until my turn.
She hemmed and hawed."Uuuu, you see here? All these spots? Fat, fat, fat. You see here also? Fat, Fat, fat. Here? This part? Fat, fat, fat. This one? Fat, fat, fat. Madam, you have many, many fat!"
Thank you very much Miss, for pointing out the obvious! (sighhh...)
5. I Want My Change!
One cardinal rule: Have lots of small denominations on you at all times, especially when visiting tourist spots. And be prepared to be accosted by street peddlars, some very aggressive. And if you buy anything from them, give exact change, or risk not getting your change back.
I had just purchased three pictorial books on China when I saw Pak Abu unsuccessfully trying to ward off the attention of a middle-aged woman peddling leftover souvenirs from the 2008 Beijing Olympic.
Each time he walked away, she followed. She trailed and pestered him for at least 20 metres, half running and all the time repeating, "Cheap cheap! Cheap cheap! Ten yuan, ten yuan!"
Defeated, he decided to buy the keychain collection of the Olympic mascots, just to shake her off. He groped into all his pockets but could not find any small change, only bills of 100 yuan. So I offered him my 20 yuan bill.
Guess what? The woman snatched the bill from my hand, pushed a few more items into his palm and quickly walked away without turning back! Hoi! I don't want all these crap! Gimme back my change! Not a chance, buddy...
6. Klutz Takes A Holiday
What's a winter holiday if someone didn't slip or fall, at least once, in the snow or on ice? Under normal circumstances, I would be the family resident klutz, the one who could be counted on to provide comic relief for family entertainment. The only thing bruised usually was my ego, nothing more.
However, this klutz's luck held in China. No walking into doors, glass walls, furniture or people, no spilling of hot beverages (especially on other people's lap), not even an accidental breaking of wind. It was father and daughter who took up the klutzy mantle on my behalf.
We were walking towards the van after dinner when we heard an almighty thud followed by cries of 'Owwwww!' We turned around; there was Pak Abu splayed and sprawled in the snow, being helped up by the guide, Lu Qiang.Thankfully, he was alright.
Not to be outdone, our last Beijing dinner the following evening ended with a painful 'Arrrgghhhh!'; Ann had choked on a fishbone. It took munching on a whole slice of bread and throwing everything up again, for the bone to be dislodged. Poor Ann had to turn in early while we went on our final walkabout (where Awwa avenged Ann's absence by haggling a cashmere scarf from 280 yuan to 50 yuan).
7. Cameraless In KL
The trusty Panasonic Lumix camera served us well, then it decided it had served us enough. The last night in Beijing, it dropped itself (with my unsolicited help, naturally) face down under the restaurant's dining table. It isn't quite RIP yet I think. A trip to the repair shop is forthcoming..