Published: January 9th 2009September 20th 2008
one of the cat's perched on the ledge at the Alley Cafe on the Sha Tan hutong
Weary of the hotel restaurant, we awoke on our first morning in Beijing
and decided to try the little café at the end of our hutong which we passed by on our walk the previous night. The Alley Café is set in a traditional courtyard house- the inner section of the house is completely out of doors. Painted bright red with lots of open windows and big comfy chairs, Shane and I knew we had found our local hangout for the week- especially because the place was crawling with cats; 13 cats in total who live there we were later told by the waitress.
After filling ourselves up on pancakes and orange juice for the equivalent of only $4 Canadian, we hit the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square for our first day of sightseeing.
We decided to make the long walk to Tianenemen Square from the hutong which looks deceptively closer to the hotel on a map then it really is. Still, it was a manageable 45 minute walk along the streets lining the Forbidden City’s walls which provided many opportunities for photos.
The sun was blazing by the time we made it to Tianenmen and the crowds
were out in full force. We were expecting to run into a lot of single travelers like us, but everywhere we looked it just seemed to be hordes of mostly Chinese tour groups, no doubt on vacation leading up to China’s National Day. So much for eavesdropping in on any English-speaking tour groups.
In the heart of Tiananemen Square is the People’s Monument and Mao’s Mausoleum. Seeing the embalmed corpse of Mao appealed to mine and Shane’s sense of absurdity- we can’t go all the way to Beijing and NOT line up with the masses to pay our respects to Mao.
After checking our bags and camera at the obligatory coat check, we lined up with the rest of the Chiense tourists- we were pretty much the only Westerners in line at the time which resulted in a lot of stares. I’m sure the locals were questioning whether we had wandered into the wrong queue for the bathrooms.
After what seemed like ages, we were finally in the presence of Mao in his big crystal coffin which rises up on display every morning with the sun, before returning back to the chilled underground tomb where he spends
his evenings. Talking was strictly verboten so Shane and I could only exchange knowing glances. As soon as we were out of the watchful eye of the armed guards, we turned to each other and said, “That’s not a real Mao.” There has been debate that the “body” of Mao on display is really a wax double. Arguably, the embalmed body of someone who has been dead for more than 30 years could be waxy, but what was on display wasn’t even up to the caliber of a Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.
The next stop was the Forbidden City which is so immense and intricate that it would take days to properly see all the different areas that are open to tourists. Everything is painted a poppy red colour which seemed to intensify the heat and sun. having been to see similar Asian temples in Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong, I was expecting the buildings to be a little more in shape, but they were still impressive, nonetheless. Since this trip was Shane’s first visit to Asia he was thoroughly impressed by the whole complex.
Here we reveled in the fact that we weren’t part of the many
tour groups being ushered through the City at breakneck speed, clutching on to every word of a guide before hurrying off to the next site on the list. We were armed with only our guidebook and a map of the City to guide ourselves through which suited us just fine, stopping to look at everything that interested us and taking hundreds of pictures.
We were able to wander off the main drag, away from all the tour groups and had some quiet moments to ourselves and explore the areas where there were very few people. The heat was so intense and pared with the jet lag, I had to take a few time outs to sit and relax.
We were thoroughly exhausted hours later when we finally emerged at the north gate, a block away from the hotel.
After dinner on the hutong, we decided to go back to Wangfujing to find the snack street. We both really enjoyed teh area we were staying in, but the options for nightlife were lacking, aside from the cafes and few restaurants. There wasn't much to explore outside of those options. Wangfujing was only a 15 minute walk away so
we found ourselves going back several times over the course of our stay in Beijing as there was always something to do.
There are more photos below