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National Day floral display in Beijing

China’s National Day, commemorating the beginning of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, is celebrated annually on October 1st. National Day is the beginning of a week-long national holiday called a “Golden Week.” There are two Golden Week’s a year, the other accompanies Chinese New Year. We were fortunate to spend our holiday together in Beijing.

I had hoped we might get to see a parade or fireworks display celebrating the holiday. We didn’t. Not that there weren’t any to be seen, I suppose, just that none occurred in our little sphere of existence. And we purposely avoided the major tourist attractions because we knew they would be busy. So, no visit to Tian’anmen Square or the Forbidden City.

Businesses and public spaces were decorated with flower displays–small ones at the entrances to businesses, and large ones sometimes with sculpted topiary features in public areas–using mostly red and yellow flowers in pots, and often a certain small shrub with purple flower.

We spent our vacation in search of the Western food that we were all missing and shopping. After leisurely sleeping in on Saturday (the girls much-delayed flight from Hohhot finally arrived at 4 a.m.) we started our week off with lunch at Hooters–the first time ever for Maggie and me. Afterwards we browsed at the swanky Sanlitun Village overrun with Western stores–the world’s largest Adidas store, Apple, Swatch, Esprit, Coldstone Creamery, and many more.

Later in the day we took off on foot to find a Western grocery someone had shown me the week before. We walked past embassy buildings each with a Chinese guard stiffly posed in a glass box and occasional Western restaurants. Most everyone we passed in this part of Beijing was a foreigner–not Chinese, but German, Italian, Algerian, British, and yes, American.

It seems we have all been starved for English conversation in the two months we’ve been here. Although my roommate speaks English pretty well, the girls are very isolated in Hohhot. Our first few days together we had so much to say. The words tumbled out rapidly, boisterously, each phrase overrunning the one before. I remember the delightful effusion of conversation as we walked to the grocery, Jenny Lou’s.

It was a little farther than I had remembered it–I’d been leisurely walking with a congenial group the week before. The girls and I were delighted to find real cheese, cheese sticks, macaroni and cheese, cookies, ice cream, fresh milk, Dr. Pepper, popcorn and Cheetos! We purchased supplies for the next few days–forgetting, I think, that we would have to carry our purchases home, getting lost on the way (a portent of the rest of the week). Finally seeing a familiar landmark, we navigated back to our lodging for the week. Tired from the walk, we feasted on our booty from the grocery.

….To be continued

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