Lost in Translation

Well it's my last day in Beijing - I start the long haul home tomorrow ... Beijing - Heathrow, Heathrow - Edinburgh, overnight in Edinburgh then Edinburgh - Kirkwall and HOME to Mill Cottage and our first Christmas on Orkney - can't wait.

Anyway, thought I would tell you a bit more about Beijing. It's a strange city in many ways, a far cry from most other big cities which never seem to sleep or calm down. Two nights ago I was invited, together with a small group, to go to a restaurant in central Beijing. Our hotel here is on the Olympic Park ... we can see the Birds Nest Stadium and the Cube from some of the windows - and that is quite a way outside the centre. Anyway, this particular restaurant was very close to Tianamen Square. So taxis were required. The journey took about 40 minutes because the traffic was very heavy, and cost just under £4.00 (yes, the decimal point is in the right place - just under four pounds!). And here in China tipping is a nono. so that was the price.

The journey had gone through a number of different districts - the commercial area, with all the banks lit up, various malls covered in bright lights and advertisements flashing away, including a number with massive video screens showing pictures of (presumably) desirable commodities, and massive hotels with trees covered in tiny lights outside. Tianamen Square itself was amazing, with lights all over the buildings and the Great Hall of the People outlined with lights, so it almost seemed like daylight.

By contrast, inside the very posh restaurant the lighting was dim and torches were needed to read the menu! The food was delicious - as often the case they were a bit heavy handed with the garlic, but I am fortunate in that I quite like it like that.

Then, at 10 pm the manager politely but firmly presented the bill (not to me fortunately) and suggested we should leave as they were closing. So ... off to find a couple of taxis we went. And now we got home in 15 minutes because there was NO traffic. Admittedly the person sitting in the front nearly put his foot through the passenger footwell trying to brake and we in the back clung on for dear life ... the seat belts are there but so is a protective seat cover which means you can't plug them in ! Because it was "so late" ... i.e. after 10 pm the cost to get back in 15 minutes was only just 20p less than the cost to get there in 40 minutes.

And all the unnecessary lights across the city had been turned off. All of them. All the adverts, the Christmas lights, the lights wound round the trees, the bank signs. Only the street lights and the traffic lights remained. The city slept. And it doesn't really wake up until about 8 when the traffic starts to build up again.

The same last night when the President took all the staff to his favourite restaurant in Beijing, specialising in Peking Duck where we all made pigs of ourselves and had a fantastic evening. Until the inevitable bell tolled at 10 pm and we were sent on our way.

So why "lost in translation" ? Well it seems the Chinese are not great on asking for assistance from English speakers when naming or describing things, so I thought I would share with you a few of the strange things I have spotted. :Like the Hotel that rejoiced in the name: Hav Pik Kwow Hom Fook Bei Jing - a nice snappy name to tell your taxi driver when you want to find it. Or the sign we saw yesterday "The Enjoy Dental Surgery" ... I wonder if we called our Dental Surgery "Enjoy" whether it would encourage people to go ? There are the many inevitably signs that entertain us English of course - Fook Yoo is a popular restaurant name it seems and there are many other such examples.

I am still entertained daily by the names put beside the buffet to guide as as to what is in the often strange looking dishes : "boiled fried jellyfish in black vinegar" doesn't sound very appetising does it ? I have tried jellyfish twice now. Both times it was .... not to my taste shall we say! Then there is "glutinous lotus root" which is - as described - lotus root, slightly sweet with the texture of sweet potato and not too bad. "Chicken boiled in milk curd" is actually chicken in a white sauce and not too bad though very underseasoned. But I passed on "boiled fish with fish grit" nor can I see the attraction of "cow hoof in jelly glue". On examination though, fired green vegetables and sweet corn in bile" turned out to be a reasonable stir fry and once you got past the name was actually quite tasty.

But I will be glad to get back to menus with things like "cheese toastie" or "baked tattie with prawns in marie rose sauce" ... it will be a while before I want to eat chinese food again I fear!

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