I flew from Honolulu to Narita Airport in Japan. My sister Felice met me there from San Diego. It just so happened that we had the same flight from Japan to Beijing. Our dad took us on a month long trip throughout china in 1992. I spent 2 months in Beijing in 2002. This is not the same Beijing I remember.
The airport is much more modern. On the way out, there was a display that read "free lighters". I went to take a closer look. There was a big plastic tub full of perfectly good lighters. My guess is that since there are so many smokers, many forget to leave their lighters at home before going through security. And Chinese people don't like wasting things. So, free lighters.
Our dad and stepmom were waiting for us at the hotel. Well, it's not really a hotel. It's a state guesthouse. President Nixon stayed here when he visited China. You won't find this place at hotels.com. It was very late by the time we got there, but all the villas were lit like the crown jewels. I felt like I was inside a really fancy popup book.
Here you get red carpet treatment. There is a man who is more or less our butler. He takes care of things tout de suite. The decor is not unlike a museum. There are displays of vases from dynasties of old, chandeliers in just about every room, and ceiling designs I can't even describe.
September 16 Morning, Afternoon
Breakfast is a big deal in China, so you're supposed to eat a lot. I don't think you can count our dishes as courses, but if you did, there would be more than 5. The cuisine was a mix of both Chinese and Western styles. There was stuff I don't even know the names of, congi, eggs, bacon, toast, buns, orange slices, watermelon slices (just the sweet part), yogurt, and all the fresh-squeezed orange juice you can handle. The wait staff does everything but chew your food. As soon as you've licked your plate, they've whisked it away and placed the next dish in front of you.
In 2009, Beijing opened its doors to the National Center for Performing Arts (NCPA). There was a poster with pictures of the birds nest and water cube made famous from the 2008 olympics and the NCPA. I'm assuming it was part of the same large project. Beijing's own MAPS project, but on the scale of a few billion dollars.
It's a wonderful dome-shaped building with a moat. The entrance is almost hidden underground. Once you're inside, if you look up, you realize you're not quite in the dome part, because you can see that on the other side of the glass above your head is the water that makes up the moat.
Inside the dome are several auditoriums of different sizes and purposes. There's a few smaller theaters, and by small I mean about 2/3 of the Civic Center. There's a stage specifically for music performances and is designed in Shakespearian style where the audience surrounds the stage. And there's the main stage where we weren't allowed to see because there was a rehearsal for the show that night.
We decided to have lunch at their fancy restaurant. Fancy schmancy. Everything on the table is designer. And the food is clearly of a 5 star caliber. I'm not sure how anybody affords it, but now I know what kind of people come to the opera.
September 16 Evening -- The Dinner Banquet
The big day. This is the original reason why we are here. A birthday dinner of a lifetime.
We all dressed up like we were going to a wedding (or a night out to the opera, as it were). The descent of the red carpet staircase felt like the entrance of a royal family. Our wait staff for the evening was already standing at their posts waiting to cater to us.
As we entered the villa, a clock and a candlestick bowed and gracefully gestured for us to go into a large room that was to be the setting of our social hour as guests arrived. This room could comfortably accommodate 150, but would suffice for us 12 or so. There were chairs lining the perimeter of the room and were arranged in such a way that would make it suitable for heads of states to chitchat.
My step-mom was discreetly informed that dinner was ready. She made eye contact with me and discreetly flicked her head twice in succession, one up towards me to signal and another in the direction of the dining room. I was to go into the room first and film our entrance as well as the beautiful large flower arrangement.
The knights' round table was grandly decorated. There was a large, colorful floral arrangement centerpiece. Almost every inch of the table's real estate was meticulously laid out. The silverware were the over-privileged type who sleep in cherry wood boxes lined in velvet. The plates were no less complex. In front of each person's seat were a row of museum quality china (made in Germany, I'm sure) cascading in size.
Each place also had a personalized name card and menu of courses -- Chinese on the left, English on the right. The list was long.
Each course was brought out and placed delicately in front of us on top of the presentation plate with a padded layer so as to eliminate the clanking noises of serving. Each masterfully prepared dish was served at the perfect temperature. Nobody drank fast enough to see the bottom of their beverage glasses.
Eventually it was time for the cake to be wheeled out. The three tiers were wobbling, threatening to collapse as it rolled to our table. It survived with all candles lit. We sang happy birthday -- Chinese on the left, English on the right.
The banquet was over. We adjourned to the social room for party pics. We said goodbye to our guests. But before I retired to bed, I took a stroll around the grounds in a bit of rain to see the beautiful villas lit at night.
Unfortunately, this hotel still has a lot to learn in the service policies department. We really stayed here for it's reputation. But suffice it to say, for the price, we would never stay there again. The policy of no taxis allowed even near the grounds is a little too much security if you ask me. So we had to walk to their "general public" hotel to get a cab.
Tonight we take an overnight train. When we wake up, we'll be in Shanghai.