Sunday, March 8, 2009

Duck Soup

Have you ever sat through a movie or a TV show when the heroine does something really stupid and then (bien sur) ends up dead...and you say to yourself , with more disdain than sympathy, "how could she have been so stupid as to do that?"... well, we had our CSI moment last night after dinner at the Big Duck.

As true foodies and social scientists, Sarah and I needed to know the difference between our favorite Big Duck and the one we had visited on our first night in town. Heretofore I had only been to the original big duck, off Tianemen and even brought a group of vegetarians there once-- it was quite the place and I have always adored it.

To get out the door on the proper foot, we go to the concierge desk to have a taxi card written in Chinese; me explaining we want the Tainemen branch these ducks are like rabbits, they multiply and after our so-so meal at Duck #1, we wanted the best duck money could buy or memory could serve.

Concierge looked it up on computer and wrote some chicken scratchings on the taxi card and then, as a good concierge, gave me a verbal run down of what to expect. From this description I knew we had a missed web connection. Sarah was able to produce a BORN TO SHOP guide from her handbag and then the concierge got it right. I won't make any comments here, you get my drift. I have been coming to Beijing regulalry over a period of 20 years. What about the next guy?

The taxi driver refused to take us to our written address because he swore this Big Duck had been torn down. It took 20 minutes of back and forth with doormen and concierge before he would depart. This sport really works up an appetite and we were glad the restruant was only about a mile away.

The taxi flag falls at 10y (about $1.40) and clicks slowly, so drivers make it a habit of exploring the new highways of Beijing for their personal wealth enhancement. Even when you know what's happening, what can you say! Although the restaurant was walking distance from the hotel, we went on two highways, came back around from the south and could have been in Xi'an before we got there. Then, the nerve of this guy, he drops us in the middle of a traffic circle and tells us to walk.

As pissed off as we were, I knew enough about where we were going to lead us in the approximate direction. Alas, every scrap of this perfectly nice slum had been destroyed and we faced a Disney perfect Main Street in 1800 China.
"Are we in time for the Electric Parade?" Sarah asked me.

The main street is made more aodrable by the fact that 98% of the storefronts are empty. Why trash them up with merchandise in a bad economy???

We ate our duck-- this duck was indeed better than the other. We agreed that the Big Duck although having been totally remodeled and turned clean and perfect still has a lot of charm. We accepted with pride the certificate of our duck's name and number-- has someone been to La Tour d' Argent lately? We noted that we were the only qweilos there for Sunday Duck Dinner. The family at the big round table next to us demanded their duck's carcass in a take away sack, which was quickly provided. I just wonder if that's called a duckie bag?

As we rolled out, fat and giggling, we noticed the LCD screens flashing messages in Chinese. This is a big trend in fashion and in advertising here so we could only suspect that all the live ducks in the basement of the building were texting out for help. We wondered what SOS was in Chinese.

With the new road barriers everwhere, it is impossible to get into the street to grab a taxi. In fact, it's clear why the chicken crossed the road here. We walked and walked while I lamented the loss of pedicabs in the area and wondered if Chinese unemployment figures registered the death of this trade. Then, from nowhere, like in an episode of Twight Zone, a lone pedicab appeared and beckoned us to join him. We gave him the taxi card for The Peninsula, agreed on a price, turned away from his alcohol drenched breath and hopped onboard.

We congratulated ourselves on a delicious end to the evening and that at least we didn't have a taxi driver to give us the run around or loop us all over extra Ring Roads. The moon was almost full, the air was mild, we were two very smart ducklings.

And then the driver took off, away from the main road and all civilization-- possibly searching for a Ring Road. We ended up in a back alley, wondering if our insurance policies paid double indemnity for kidnapping and death by pedicab. I left my phone at the hotel; Sarah's phone was dead. We did not know SOS in Chinese. We considered prayer. We wondered if Jerry Bruckheim would use our story in the Chinese CSI pilot.

And just as suddenly as we were in dnager, we were saved. With a huff and a puff, our wino said we were there and demanded his money. Sarah actually told me she didn't think we should pay him the whole thing since we weren't even half way home. I figured we were alive and the total sum he wanted was $5.

We crossed the street, hailed a cab and were soon safely back at The Pen. Why a duck, I asked myself as I fell asleep, Why a Duck?

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