One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest


This lovely Sunday morning, Peter, Jacob, Andreas and me have decided to go up early to see if we can catch some Tai Chi in one of the parks. So at six am we take the subway to Tiantan park (the one with the Temple of Heaven). There’s a 15 yuan entry fee but it turns out to be well spent money…

At first the park seems to be a bit empty but soon enough people come running by. And how they run! It’s like they don’t know how to run properly! They lean backward, they hardly bend their knees, some don’t move their arms, each one we meet is weirder than the previous. We happen upon a guy standing by himself doing what can only be described as a repeated Hitler salute. Suddenly we hear someone shouting and down the path comes a guy jogging leisurely while shouting at different heights. First one level for a couple of seconds, then down low, up high etc. It’s like we’ve climbed right into the Cucoo’s Nest! =D

We press on and are passed by even more hilariously running people. To our right we see a guy practicing the Diavolo, but not just any Diavolo. He’s using three meter long fiberglass sticks to control it (in contrast to the usual half meter sticks). Then we find some guys playing badminton, the first normal activity really. But to offset that there is a guy right next to them, repeatedly hitting a tree with his palms (and not in a forceful martial artsy way).

Then we hear what appears to be rock music but turns out to be, horribly distorted, regular Chinese wailing music. Listening to it is a bunch of women doing, not Tai Chi, but regular morning gymnastics. Moving on we find some guys playing some badminton-esque game but with beach tennis paddles and a rubber feather ball. Seems quite fun and we buy a set from a lady and try it out..

There’s also a couple of guys throwing a ring back and forth between them. The ring is made of cloth but still heavy enough to throw. He wants Peter to catch the rings around his neck and he obliges. Upon catching them all the guy wants to take pictures and us to thread our heads into the rings with them. Weirdo. There are also some seniors nearby kicking something that looks like a hacky sack between them. Closer inspection reveals that it’s another, more heavily weighted, type of feather ball, that’s really easy to kick back and forth. I buy one of those as well.

Further in we hear some more wailing and this time there’s a guy singing, accompanied by his friend on traditional Chinese instruments. Sounds awful, but he has a crowd of obviously appreciative onlookers so I guess it’s just us. Nearby is a guy in his seventies shaking like Shakira to no obvious rhythm and a bit further away another guy walks around clapping his hands (he’s not the first though, lots of people were walking around clapping various body parts, it’s supposed to be soothing or something).

At this point Andreas and I go back to the hotel for some breakfast, but Peter and Jacob stay and, among other things, reported seeing a large group of people dancing the Tango.

Back at the hotel I latch on to Anna and Karina to go to Ya Shong market (more or less like Pearl market). We split up to do our separate shopping, but Anna and I make loose lunch plans. I’m hopeless at haggling, so I pay much more than I need to but end up buying lots of stuff anyway. For example a pair of dress pants and nice shoes to wear at the mausoleum in Pyongyang (they have a very strict dress code there), a camera battery, some jeans, regular shoes and a lot more. I run into Anna a few times and she helps me haggle a bit. After a while we decide it’s time for lunch and go to the top floor restaurant/food court. We’re met by a girl who shows us a table and brings over a couple of plates with sample food, nice! We order some of it and after a long wait, no less than seven plates descend upon us! We do our best but still leave more than half. Upon paying we’re in for a bit of a shock, the meal costs 170 yuan, excluding beer! At least I get a compliment from the waitress about my beautiful wife =D Anna insists she’s my mother though…

After some more shopping Anna decided to get eyelash extensions; for 180 yuan they glue individual eyelashes to your existing ones, one by one. It looks great and they stay on for a month or so but the process takes a little over an hour. I decide to tag along for a foot massage (30 yuan for 30 minutes) and it’s a good decision. A pretty little girl wearing a breathing mask thoroughly rubs my feet and calves in every conceivable way for the next half hour, niiice…

Some even more shopping later we decide we’re done with Ya Shong and head back. Anna still has a couple of errands to run and I go with her to Pearl Market. Anna knows this place there where they almost have fixed prices and it’s so nice not having to haggle that I end up buying some underwear and a sweater as well.

We rush back to the hotel to have time to freshen up before the planned sort of goodbye dinner (last one with the entire group together) before splitting up. Anna and Karina have arranged for a traditional Hotpot meal at a nearby restaurant. A hotpot is the Chinese equivalent of Swedish “Pytt i panna” really, you get a pot of stock and a bunch of plates with different meats and vegetables. Then you put whatever you like into the pot and boil it for a while, when you’re satisfied you fish it out, dip it into sauce and eat it. Boiled veggies (or boiled anything really) isn’t my cup of tea though, but it’s nice to have tried it.

Anna and Karina ask the staff if we can get any dessert as well. At first they’re very distressed but then they get an idea and in comes the strangest dessert I’ve ever seen, tasted or even heard about. It’s like a bowl of snow with some sort of snow tower in the middle. Over the snow is a cover of brown beans and to top it off it’s drenched in sugar as well. It tastes about as bad as you’d imagine but it sure was fun eating! =P

After dinner we move on to a tiny little bar across the street from the hotel. It’s barely large enough to fit us all and they probably sell more that evening than they normally do in a month. I try their entire selection of umbrella drinks (not too many) and Jacob treats me to his own recipe; a sewage pipe (recipe pending, but it has Bailey’s and Blue Curacao). Looks horrible but tastes nice. In the wee hours one of the staff announces that she’s making meat- and celery dumplings for us – what a place! They’re delicious and the perfect late night snack before heading home.

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