There is an avenue that somehow runs the whole of the sixty or so miles from our house all the way to Nanshan Ski Village, the largest ski resort in the Beijing area. We did not know this, unfortunately, and took another route, the one recommended by the map posted on the ski village’s website, which would have been faster if we hadn’t had to stop to ask directions each time the map and the world failed to cohere. We accidentally used the direct route to return home, and it was a little slow because of the traffic, but there was no need to stop for directions, and the avenue led through downtown Miyun, which has a large selection of bridges.
More on that in a moment.
First: the resort. It has a total of two chairlifts and eight runs. Seven of the runs range in difficulty from Beginner to Beginner, which is appropriate, as most of the people at Nanshan Ski Village appear to have put on skis for the very first time only moments ago. (I mean this in a kindly way, of course.) The eighth run is steep and narrow and mogully, and is often polka-dotted with beginners in bright rented ski-suits who have ended up there by mistake, and are frustrated and weeping and sliding down the hill on their bottoms, their lost skis already trapped in the netting several hundred yards below.
The weather was beautiful—cold and dry, sunny one day and partly sunny the next. The snow, though man-made, was pleasantly skiable. Our rooms at the Shirton Inn Villa were fine, and they overlooked Rimbaud Pond, also man-made and pleasingly rectangular. The prices were of course ridiculous and the food less than good and the lift operators less than competent, but once one has accepted the fact that the point of “Skiing in China” is not so much the “Skiing” part as the “in China” part, Nanshan Ski Village is a very easy place to have a good time, and we did.
In addition to the eight ski runs there is also the Toboggan Run, wherein one sits on a small lugelike vehicle on wheels, tucks one’s toddler between one’s legs, and shoots down a very long, very steep, very curvy stainless steel half-pipe; the car has a hand brake, and to scare the hell out of one’s toddler one needs only not use it. Additionally there is a sizable inner-tube run, and a hang-glider on cables, and a little-umbrella-thing on cables, and kiddie snowmobiles, and a Korean sledge; the inner-tube run was expensive and fun, and the other things were expensive and looked fun but we didn’t try them, except for the Korean sledge which was expensive and we never quite figured out what it was or saw anyone going on it. Best of all was a small steep hill off to one side. This hill was free, because there was nothing on it to charge for, and several times I carried Chloe up to the top, and we slid down together, and there were great waves of snow-spray and much amusement on the part of a large group of Cuban tourists and much gnashing of teeth on the part of Chloe’s mother, and we could not possibly have enjoyed it more.
No matter where one goes in the resort, one is never out of hearing range of the fifteen persons with whistles and megaphones who are in charge of standing at the bottom of each run and issuing warnings and threats to anyone who does anything at any time, or of the chairlift-mounted loudspeakers that blast (interspersed with snippets of music composed but not performed by the Gypsy Kings, Rick James, and the Backstreet Boys) lengthy reminders of one’s responsibilities as a skier and guest and human being. For example, if one so much as observes a collision between two other skiers, one is required by law to give one’s identification numbers and contact information to the police. In this sense I am an outlaw.
We went into Miyun twice. The first evening we did not see much of the town, as it was dark and we were just looking for a restaurant, which we found, and it had a goldfish pond in the lobby, and a massive dining room off to the right, and a long corridor leading to private rooms off to the left, and a large number of waiters wearing turquoise waistcoats. Because the hostess’s instincts were very good, we were led directly to one of the private rooms, and it had a couch and a television and two tables and lots of room to run around and was therefore perfect. However, the menu was only in Chinese, and did not have pictures. Usually this is not a problem: we give general guidelines in terms of the desired types of meat and vegetables, and entreat the waiter to choose the actual dishes on our behalf. Unfortunately, in this instance our waiter did not wish to be responsible for possibly displeasing us, so after backing and forthing for a few minutes I led him up the corridor, with the intention of casually glancing over the tables of other diners and surreptitiously pointing out the dishes I thought we wanted.
This was not possible. There was to be no surreptitiousness, because by the time I arrived at the massive dining area, there was a total of seven turquoise-waistcoated waiters following me close behind. I do not know why. Regardless, instead of strolling casually among unsuspecting dinner guests, I stood dorklike in the middle of the room as all conversation in the room halted. The diners stared at me. I squinted. I gestured, vaguely. Then I nodded to each diner in turn, and walked from table to table. The seven waiters in turquoise walked behind me. At the largest table, eleven of the guests shifted in their seats, and the twelfth, a middle-aged woman, stood up, introduced herself formally to me, and asked if there was any way she could be of service. I said that I needed to inspect her food. She said that I was most welcome to do so. She remained standing as I summoned our waiter up close, pointed, and said, “That one, that one, and that one.” Then, gravely, I thanked the woman. I thanked her fellow diners. I thanked each of the seven waiters for their unwavering support. I went back to the private room where my wife was trying to turn on the television and Adela was trying to open a large bottle of Coke and my children were rubbing rice in each other’s hair. The food came quickly, and two dishes out of three were excellent; the third might actually have been whale, and I doubt we will ever know for sure.
The second time we went into Miyun was in the course of finding our way home, and along the main avenue—the one that, sixty miles later, ends at our house—we observed some quite striking (hallucinogenic, really) contemporary architecture. At one point the avenue paralleled a river, and crossing the river was a series of bridges, all of them smallish but nonetheless serviceable copies of famous bridges from elsewhere: the Golden Gate Bridge, and a Parisian bridge whose name I should remember, and a Venetian bridge whose name I don’t remember either, and several others including one very swoopy modern bridge that I’ve never seen before but surely must come from somewhere with a great deal of architectural humor and confidence such as Japan or Denmark or Mars. We marveled at the bridges. We sipped our coffee. We leaned back in our seats, those of us who were still awake, and thought that there was not exactly anywhere we would rather be.