In continuing from my last post, more notes from Beijing:
9:30 a.m. Arrive in Beijing and follow the masses out of Beijing central station. Go to a ticket office to see about buying tickets for our next train to Pingyao. All the booths have Chinese signs, hoping for a “Foreigners” window. No lucky break. In China, the trains sell out quick, so you’re best advised to buy your tickets as soon as possible – unless you want a “Standing seat” for 10+ hours.
To hell with this, on to the hostel, Red Lantern House. Directions say to take the metro to a stop (name escapes) and walk south for 15 minutes until you see the McDonald’s on the left, then turn at the nearby Dairy Queen (which seem quite popular in Beijing and Shanghai). Turn around a couple times (my fault), but eventually find our courtyard hostel in the middle of an old neighbourhood or “hutong” as they call them here.
Exhausted, a little grumpy. Food arrives – French toast and watermelon – life flows again. Shower, clean, new Darcy in somewhat clean clothes. Tomorrow will be laundry, today is Tiannanmen Square.
Take the subway to the city centre and approach the square. Security everywhere. Bag detectors, cops, badges, soldiers, rows of riot shields to the side, and every lightpost has camers in every direction. Wow.
Walking, walking, walking and there he is: The Chairman. There’s so many tourists around taking photos of him, of us. It’s a super impressive square – so large, very symbolic.
We walk past Mao’s gaze near the entrance of the Forbidden City. It’s getting later in the afternoon and Chinese tourists are everywhere because it’s a national holiday. The Forbidden City will have to wait. Instead, we walk outside its walls along the moat.
I know there’s a night market nearby that opens at 3, according to my good friends at Lonely Planet. We search and search, walk down gross alleys that smell of garbage and old meat. Yuck. Give up, find some sort of street fair. Stop for a beer. Keep walking. Enter a mall that looks like it just opened yesterday – so shiny and new.
We look through a few stores and decide to head back. There it is! The market we looked for, alive and kicking. An exotic display to eat: beef, lamb, pork, squid, shrimp, scorpian, dog(?), cat(?), centipede, silkworm, shark, and other bugs. Sara went with the squid, none for me today. We are not adventurous travellers.
A long hike and busy subway back to our hostel where a feast awaits to celebrate the holiday – pork, beef, fish, and Peking duck of course. A fine end to our first day in Beijing.
* * *
Up early and feel fresh, noodle and chicken soup and off to the Forbidden City. Pass the eyes of Mao once again and through the old city walls into the immense courtyard of this ancient sacred ground. We take some photos together and set a meeting point in case we get lost. I stroll down to the courtyard for more photos, turn around, and I’ve lost Sara for the next 45 minutes.
As I walked through the temples of different levels of harmony (supreme, middle, etc.), she found an art gallery of old calligraphy that she eagerly shows me once we meet at our meeting place.
The Forbidden City is an essential stop in Beijing for an obvious reason. It’s just amazing, but enormous. After a full morning touring, we leave with much undiscovered.
From here we head due north to a hutong about 25 minute walk away. It’s full of trendy stores, teashops, restaurants. We rest our feet at a rooftop patio with peppercorn beef, onions, and rice.
After wandering these streets for an hour or so, back on the metro and off to Olympic glory or past glory I suppose at the Olympic centre. The Bird’s Nest and Water Cube were pretty neat to see especially since these games are what first got Sara and I talking about going to China.
Long busy subway back, rest, Internet trouble booking our next hostel, and the day finishes with meat skewers at a Muslim Chinese restaurant nearby.
* * *
Sleep in until about nine and slowly start the day. Breakfast (more noodle soup) and off to the Summer Palace stopping briefly for an ice cream sundae at Dairy Queen.
The Summer Palace would have to be one of my favourite places in Beijing. Lakes, gardens, ponds, flowers, old Chinese buildings. I plan to build my own upon returning to Canada.
We both love it and spend a delightful afternoon here. Fantastic.
A long day of walking calls for more skewers of meat from the same restaurant as the previous night, but language poses difficulties ordering and comical confusion on both sides.
We rest up a bit and chat with our new roomate then off to find a cheap foot massage place listed in my friend Lonely Planet.
Rather than actually having a foot massage, we decide to punish our feet further by walking up and down the street in the dark looking for the place. The buildings do not seem to have any numbers, which complicates matters immensly. We ask at a fancy hotel with a parking lot full of dark tinted party official vehicles and luxury brands. They point us in a new unsuccessful direction and we give up. We find a restaurant with hilarious English translations for food items such as “fertilizing intestines,” “fungas,” “flesh” and “drunk fish of grandma.” Oh China.
Our short stroll for a foot massage place had turned out to be a long walk and we missed the last metro. Hail a cab. The driver looks at our hostel directions (written in Chinese), asks us something that we have no idea, and gives up and kicks us out.
Similar confusion from our next cab driver, but we stay in the car and he grumbles as he successfully drives us “home.”
We tread softly in our room with a flashlight so we don’t wake the two other people sleeping in the bunk across. Very nice people. One an Italian guy (name escapes) who just returned from a week in North Korea. He said it was a cool experience, spending five days of propaganda for 1000 euros. Showed us some of his propaganda material he was able to bring home full of smiling children and happy people. North Korea will be a future trip.
The other roomate was an art student from Poland who just arrived and was in Beijing for research. Very friendly.
Hopefully we didn’t wake them because an uncomfortable sleep lay ahead.