|We met our tour group: a motley assortment of people from Britain, Ireland,
New Zealand, and Australia. I guess we're the token Americans. This is
a "budget" tour, that means we get an Australian guide who doesn't speak
Chinese. Hmmm. Since it's too late to back out, we follow our Australian
guide, Bruce, to the Great Wall and find it without a hitch. No great
accomplishment since the Wall is thousands of miles long and would be
hard to miss. Nonetheless, we gained confidence in Bruce's guiding skills.
As for the Great Wall, we're not experts, but we could tell it's not just
another wall. That evening, Bruce led us through the Beijing backstreets
to find a little-known restaurant. In the tight and twisting alleyways,
Bruce had us lost in under five minutes. We wander past a lot of barber
shops (fronts for brothels), open markets, and neighborhood bathrooms
(some neighborhoods, hutongs, have communal bathrooms -- scary places)
before getting directions from an amused shopkeeper. In defense of Bruce's
restaurant-finding ability, I admit this restaurant was tucked in a dark
alleyway. I could see why the place was little-known since no tourist
would ever go inside unless at gunpoint because of its grimy exterior.
However, the chef cooked excellent food.