On July 17, my two best friends Andy and Salley (not pictured above) came to visit me from the United States. It was the culmination of a plot we hatched back at Johns Hopkins University, where the three of us started our Freshman years in 1996. I don’t remember this exactly, but Andy reminded me about the first time we met. Apparently, I stopped by his open doorway with, now get this, a plate of brownies which my Mother had baked. Needless to say, I never did succeed in developing that ‘bad boy’ mystique which worked so well for many of my male classmates. Then again, neither did Andy. I suppose that’s why we hit it off right away.
Over the course of about a week, the three of us hit many of the most classic sites in Beijing: the Acrobatics theater, the famous Peking Duck restaurant Quanjude (全聚德), the Summer Palace, the antique market Panjiayuan, the Night Market in Wangfujing, and the Great Wall. By night, we frequented places with a more contemporary orientation: acoustic night at the Wudakou club D-22 (featured in a previous blog), my favorite dumpling spot near Beijing Normal University, and one of the first bars to border Beijing’s Houhai (introduced to us by my old Columbia classmate Benno Weiner, who is also in town on research). For me, however, the highlight had to be throwing the baseball around on the campus of Peking University. With the exception of the attention it drew us – those unwavering, unabashed stares which one almost grows accustomed to in China, but not quite – it brought back memories of New York, when Andy and I would sometimes steal off to either Columbia or Central Park for a toss.
For the first few days, we were joined by Salley’s brother Matt and his long-time girlfriend Kim, who have been teaching English in the coastal city of Dalian for the past half year. On those afternoons when I had to work – or when I was exhausted from the heat – the four of them set off on their own, bicycling the Hutongs of Beijing, circumambulating Tiananmen Square, and touring the Forbidden City (where Andy coined my new favorite umbrella term for imperial Beijing structures, “Hall of the Supreme Something or Other”).
Amazing to think that, in seven short days, the three of us were able to realize a daydream nearly a decade old. As I get ready to do some traveling of my own – heading to Dali (Yunnan), Chengdu (Sichuan), and Guiyang (Guizhou) tomorrow for a conference, beers with Professor Matthew Sommer, and the archives, respectively – I keep thinking: where to next? Before they departed Beijing, we started bouncing around some ideas. Italy, perhaps? Alaska? Amsterdam? All I know is that, whenever I hang out with Andy and Salley, it always one supreme something after another.