Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Beijing

Yes it has been a long time since I last posted. I apologize for my lack of diligence over the last couple weeks updating the site as I have been to a number of places since writing about my first day in Beijing including Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, New York, Barcelona, and now I currently sit in a hotel room across from the Museo del Prado in the heart of Madrid. The tank is near empty as you can imagine. So back to the story...

The weather continued to be as cooperative as one could ask for with clear blue skies taking hold throughout the heart of Beijing. The agenda on that Monday (December 6th) of my one week stay in the capital of the People's Republic of China was to see the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and Wángfǔjǐng Street.

Following an early wake-up, my Chinese national friend and I walked to the train to take us to the heart of Beijing where we would find the aforementioned attractions of the day. It did not take long before the two of us were walking by the famous Beijing Concert hall located in close proximity to Tiananmen Square. It really struck a chord with me as we reached Tiananman as it holds the famous portrait of Mao Zedong where there has always been a painting of the Communist since 1949. Regarded as the most important painting in China, it was at this point that it really hit me that I was in China, a euphoric moment indeed.

Before entering the world's largest surviving palace complex, I noticed on the way that two girls about the same age as myself (who I later found out were both very nice people from Australia) were taking pictures of this little Asian girl. It appeared she was the daughter of two individuals from another part of China who were touring the palace, as well. The two Australians then approached the Chinese couple and asked to take a picture with their daughter. Now I have nothing against Australians and while I do consider myself a backpacker I am in some ways a tourist so I do get thrown into this statement in some respects, too. I really don't appreciate seeing things of this nature in which tourists treat children of the country they are visiting like props. It left a foul taste in my mouth as I watched this scene play itself out before my eyes. I'm not saying I am perfect, nor the ideal tourist, but respect for wherever one may visit should be obliged by all visitors (or at the least the effort would be a nice gesture).

We headed into the Forbidden City to see the many ancient Chinese structures of this former palace for a number of dynasties that held rule in this country. Putting the masses of tourists aside, I saw massive open spaces before impressive Chinese structures full of color and unique designs to anything I have seen in the Western world. Inside many of these buildings were places where the emperors prayed, held court, and resided along with their family. Let me interrupt myself for a moment by saying yes, I am wearing the same Communist hat in this photo as at the Great Wall of China. It was very funny because of the reception I got wearing it in both China and Vietnam (quite supportive as you can fathom) plus it was really cold and windy and it was most suitable for the job. Back to my line of thought: this complex was huge! At times we got lost jumping from one hall to another palace to a corner tower while getting harassed at times by shopkeepers trying to sell us paintings or Chinese flags and such. People kept coming up to me asking if I needed a tour guide and we just would tell them that my Chinese friend was filling that role to make them go away and even then they wouldn't leave so easily. The funniest part about calling my friend a tour guide was that he had not been to the Forbidden City in what I remember him saying was at least ten years if not more. Funny how that works since it is only a ten minute train ride from his house, then again when was the last time I went to the top of the Empire State building? (three years ago). To those in Singapore, "same same but different," to those not, read the first definition here

After navigating through the open plazas, ancient buildings, and flocks of tourists for a couple hours, we left the Forbidden City to see the famous and open spaces of Tiananmen Square. Remember back to my last post that I made ages ago when I said the city of Beijing is structured in a ring system? Well I also mentioned that this ring system is centered around what has become the largest city square in the world, Tiananmen Square. It holds various monuments, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, and museums about numerous elements of China's history. While many people were in the square at the time the two of us chose to walk around, the area is so spacious it is barely noticeable. It even gave perspective on the Forbidden City as we walked across Tiananman Square. When I turned back, you could still see the portrait of Mao staring back at us with the same expressionless look on his face knowing that behind that very gate stood an enormous, magnificent, and elaborate palace that had occupied our entire morning. With all this open space, it is estimated that it can accommodate up to 600,000 people, surpassing even what Mao had hoped for during his existence.

It was following some quality time spent in the exact center of Beijing that my friend and I decided to walk down the road to the well-known Wángfǔjǐng Street. The site of various shops and food stalls is heavily traveled by both locals and foreigners, alike. En route to this destination, two girls, both probably a couples years older than me, approached us to try and make conversation for a bit. We played along with their charade for a bit, but it became very clear that they were looking to lure us to a coffee shop that had hired them to bring in unsuspecting tourists. So after much conversation, my friend clearly stated we weren't going to any coffee shop and had no interest in being scammed. The girls got the picture and left us alone from that point forward. It is something I had read about as a possible scam I may run into in China and my friend knew all too well as a local. We even got them to believe that he was from Chinatown in New York City even though they thought "[he] looks like a local." When it was all said and done, the joke was on them.

We walked through this tiny street and had many local delicacies like mutton kebabs and the not so popular sheep's stomach. In general, one could say that any living organism ever to walk this planet could be found on a stick here. This includes scorpions, spiders, sea horses, starfish, and many different types of insects. I hope I didn't ruin your appetite. The most disgusting thing I did end up trying was stir-fried liver. Fortunately, we didn't have to pay for it as my Chinese friend taught these two guys running a stall how to say the foods they were selling in English in exchange for a free dish. Without hesitation, I will say they got the better end of the deal. They can now attract not just local customers but foreigners as well, meanwhile I simply regret trying such a gross delicacy. Otherwise, I enjoyed some great dishes and saw even better displays of fruits, pastries, and meat assortments.

Let me remind all of you that this was only my second day in Beijing we are talking about. Another day with non-stop sightseeing from start to finish, seeing some of the most incredible attractions China and planet Earth has to offer. To cap off the day, I had been joking with my friend about being crammed in the Beijing subway during rush hour for a couple days; well I got what I asked for.
As you can see here, there was no personal space to be found on the way back to my friend's apartment, not even the tiniest bit. Based on what I have heard, I don't even want to know what it is like riding mass transportation in Tokyo. At least it was a relatively clean and efficient system.

More to come about the last couple days in Beijing!

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