Published: May 3rd 2012May 3rd 2012
For the may break the plan is to spend 6 days in Beijing, whilst applying for a Mongolian visa, then finish off with 1 or hopefully 2 days in Xi'an.
Day 1 - Sat Apr 28
I flew to Beijing on Saturday morning. I appreciated how the beijing terminals are walking distance away so it eliminates the need of a time-consuming shuttle unlike recently visited megacities: Shanghai and Manila.
I caught the airport express train to the city for 25 yuan. Upon arriving, I broke out my trusty compass and map and navigated myself to my hostel which was tucked away in a hutong (alley) some distance away. I got settled and figured out my course of action. I decided on visiting the Summer Palace in the outskirts of the city.
I walked along to the nearby metro station and transfered a few times to the Summer Palace. It was very reminiscent of Shanghai. There was an obvious older line, and many new lines. I got off at the station, bought some cobbed corn from a vendor and headed to the entrance. I paid for my ticket and then headed in. I went down into a little
alley/waterway (ala Venice) and walked around, the various tourist shops alongside the water. Afterwards I headed into the main section of the grounds and up to the top of the hill where a large buddhist temple stood. After fighting with the throngs of Chinese for a spot in one of the few good picture locations I headed down the other side to the water. I walked along the lakeside for about 30 minutes (the lake was quite large) until I reached the little islet with a small temple on it. There wasn't much to see on the islet itself.
I walked around the rest of the vast lake, over a various number of high-arched stone bridges and through little temple groves, before arriving back on the main grounds.
I headed back out to the metro and back to the hotel for a short while before setting back out to wander the streets at night. I headed along Dongzhimen street for a ways, passing by many outlets and stores before diverting down a hutong that was filled with roaming people past many stores and snack/drink stops. I walked to the end having dinner along the way at a couple
of these stops. 10 yuan for 3 long skewers of char (bbq) plus a few other things at different locations. I got to the end and headed back to Dongzhimen. I walked to the end of the street which curved by the Drum and Bell Tower. I walked along another street but it ended up dying out so I backtracked towards where I knew there was a lake and many restaurants/bars. I navigated along a long narrow street (big traffic jam with the big buses unable to pass each other) and finally found a street going towards where the lake was supposed to be. It was. I walked along one side for a while before coming onto the brightly lit restaurant/bar section. There were more bars than people willing to go in them, resulting in many empty bars. Not particularly desiring to pay for overpriced beers in an empty bar, I kept walking and eventually found another hutong which led me out back near the Drum and Bell tower. I headed back to the hotel for the night.
Day 2 - Sun Apr 29
Having gone on 4-6 hours sleep for most days for the last 2 weeks
I decided to sleep in a bit. When I finally left it was about 10:30. I took a bike (1 gear with basket) and navigated my way through hutongs near my hostel to a major road. All the major roads downtown have designated lanes for bicycles that are largely separated from the main traffic. Throughout the day I was weaving past other cyclist and many scooters, weaving through oncoming traffic across the main streets. Even with the separated lanes, I had to keep my wits about me as I snuck through traffic.
I headed south for several km to the Temple of Heaven located in a large park in the southern end of downtown. I parked my bike outside, paid the fee and headed in. It was a large groomed park surrounding the main temples. I wandered along the outskirts before jumping into the temple area. There were a bunch of Chinese families having a picnic.
I passed under a large stone arc signifying that I had entered the main area. I spotted a structure surrounded by people but it wasn't much more than an entrance into a big of a gathering space - garden beyond. There was
one group playing music with middle aged Chinese singing and clapping along blissfully. One older man was even doing a little joyful dance (much in contrast to the normal seriousness). Farther down were two seperate groups dancing to music. One was 4 middle aged women doing a typical chinese dance that is mostly slow graceful and coordinated. Another troop of younger men were off on another side doing their dance. Even further in was a little clearing where a number of duos were playing classical chinese instruments and each strumming their own song in a cacophony of noise.
I headed towards the large temple which loomed out of the tree-tops. Similar to the Summer palace, the inside was opened to see but not enter. The temple itself is apparently the largest wooden round temple in China (granted that's a bit of a specific list). I headed down a 1 km stone ramp to a nearby smaller temple. I entered in snapped the obligatory pictures and moved onto a stone circular mound.
Eventually I headed back to my bike and biked along back the way I came, stopping first at the Pearl Market. I ended up buying some tea,
some gifts, a mouse to leave at school and a hockey jersey of Trevor Linden (which I had tried to buy in Shanghai exactly a year ago, but was mistakenly given Bure). I even managed to successfully bargain down quite a bit, some by 30% and some by 80%. I've been atrocious at it, but I'm learning apparently.
I headed onwards detouring along a Ming Dynasty wall left mostly intact that runs a couple of km in the city. I rode along and took a few 'effect' pictures - wasn't that photogenic in it of itself.
Once done I headed back towards the marquee tourist location: Tian'anmen square and the Forbidden City. I parked my bike inside some gated area beside the square. I crossed into the square passing through a security check. Shortly at the square I was approached my two Chinese women who tried to chat me up, before dropping the "Let's go to a bar for a drink" line. At first I thought they ere trying to sell me something but after the bar line I knew they were going to try to scam me somehow by me buying a 200 yuan beer at their
friend/employer's establishment. I obviously refused and moved on. I tried to see the Mauseleum but like in Hanoi, Mao's body was only on view for specific hours in the morning. After looking at the disembodied gate I headed back to the square that was full of random groups - many tour groups with the guides holding flags. I walked pass the Monument of the People's Heroes and onto the Forbidden City.
I had to go back underground and up to get into the palace (basically a palace so large it started to invoke 'city' status.) In general the architecture, while impressive was more or less the same all throughout. The initial gate was the largest with the iconic picture of Mao hanging up. After passing through and walking for a while I arrived at the gated entrance to the palace. I paid my 60 yuan and headed inside, walking along the main 'path' of the main 'palaces'. They called any building inside a palace.
The first courtyard had a stream running through it with small arched bridges over. Then up to the first 'palace' which like everything else, you could see in but not enter (even though clearly
they used to allow entry). Police and national guards were everywhere, as were many men probably in the service but not uniformed. The first palace had a few statues out in front, namely some lions, one 'playing soccer'. I headed into the second courtyard, which was basically large and empty. It was used to mass congregations presumably. Past this palace and into the third courtyard which was not as long with a long engraved stairway down. Going even further past a couple more courtyards with their adjecent palaces was an imperial garden with a couple of undoubtedly famous trees and a little stone artificial mountain with a shrine on top.
I headed back towards the main entrance along the side which was another series of side-by-side 'palaces'. Most looked about the same and were the homes of various people belonging to the palace. As my knowledge of Chinese history was quite limited there were numerous names I didn't know or barely recognized, but were probably of some significance to my fellow Chinese tourists.
I headed back out, on the way, approached by yet another two Chinese women, asking the identical questions as the initial two, although they offered
a coffee instead. Given the shy and generally conservative nature of Chinese women, being aggressive and forceful like this is basically unheard of (except in cases like this where in all liklihood it is a scam). When I told them how long I had been in China, they didn't pick-up that I wouldn't likely fall prey to their scheme but nonetheless they tried. Once I said no, they picked up pretty quick that I could not be convinced otherwise, no matter how flattering they were (and they were quite flattering).
I headed back to my bike which was now behind a 1.5 meter fence. Instead of having to deal with the nearby guards, I reached over the fence and in one go lifted my bike up and over the fence. This was by no means a spectacular feat by Canadian standards, but by Chinese standards I wowed the nearby spectators with the show of (relative) strength.
I biked back to my hotel but decided to weave my way through the city's many hutong, around the many Beijing citizens continuing their daily life. I had forgotten my towel so I made a detour to a clothing market out to
the side, but couldn't find anything until I stopped in "Wu-mart" (resemble anything familiar?) and managed to find a reasonable priced towel. I biked back to the hostel for a break before heading back out for dinner. But instead of heading back I fell asleep and was woken up by the rather rythmic rockings of the bunk above me, and heavy breathing. I need say any more.
It took an unfortunately long time to get back to sleep.
Day 3 - Mon Apr 30
I woke up relatively early, and noticed my extra bunk-mate snoring above me, still there. I took off walking to Yonghegong Lama Temple which was a large Tibetan Buddhist temple. The architecture was definitely Chinese of origin, whilst the statues inside were more reminiscent of Indian and South Asian figures. While Buddhism has its principes and driving concepts, it only really has one figure and as far as I can perceive, the added characters in this Tibetan temple were added in from another religion, most likely Hinduism. It was a bit strange. I'll have to look up my observations and deductions to see how accurate they are.
The temple itself was a
series of temple courtyard with the main one at the end that had one main temple adjoined by a walking bridge a few meters high on each side to the adjecent smaller temples. Inside the main temple was a huge statue of Buddha. Two temples contained a bit of an art museum of collected statues, and the rest were for worshipping with the 2m statues on thrones. Many were Buddha but most were other characters with animal heads.
I headed back out and to the metro to go to the Olympics park. I got out at the sourthern station near the empty and rather bland stadium. I walked past northward to the main area, passing by a materinity clinic literally attached to the stadium. An odd place. I walked north over the main road to the National Stadium, Beijing's iconic Olympics Stadium. I walked around it snapping a few photos. On the other side the crowds started to pick up. There was a wall that had all of the medal winners of the Olympic and Paraolympic Summer 2008 games and their respective countries as well as the important speeches at the beginning and end engraved in. I exited the
stadium area into a large courtyard full of milling people. I walked around to the Swimming centre, and then northward to an underground mall full of people but not stores. Mostly boarded up 'to-be' stores. I exited on the other side, snapped a photo of the large semisphere of the Science & Tech museum and headed back to my hotel for a break.
At night I took a gander at the restaurant/bar district surrounding one of the lakes and ate an overpriced meal. The prices for alcohol were exorbanant (at least on the foreigner menu - I cannot imagine that the 1000's of Chinese drinking at one of the 40+ bars were paying that much).
Tues May 1
Today I woke up to go to the great wall. I read online that you could take a public bus (#867) to Mutianyu. I wanted to go to Simatai but apparently it was closed. Mutianyu is the #2 location (in popularity) but much less crowded and apparently more beautiful than the #1 Badaling. **For more on the great wall see my separate blog entitled May Break 2012: Great Wall; Mutianyu and the Wild Wall.**
I got back
into Beijing just as the sun was going down. I showered all the dust, grime and sweat off and headed out for some dinner.
Wed May 2
We finally arrived to the focal point of the Beijing trip (although not an exciting part): getting the Mongolian visa. I woke up and took the metro to the embassy area and walked by the American embassy which had up to three layers of walls. At the same time the diplomatic conflict between the US and the Middle-Kingdom was in full throttle, and it was likely that the blind activist (unnamed so as to no set off censors) was in the embassy at the time. The Mongolian embassy was right beside so I went up and waited in line for the 2 hour window to do visa applications.
Once through the line I was ushered to another waiting room. It was just one man filing processes. It seemed like just a matter of beauracracy and not security. He gave me a slip of paper to go to the bank to pay the fees. Ended up being 505 RMB - almost $100. I was to pick up the visa at 4pm
the next day.
Once done I left the embassy area and headed into the silk market quoted as 'the most visited market by foreigners in China'. I ate breakfast, wandered around a bit, picking up a few souvenirs. Afterwards I left, needing to figure out a way to get to Xi'an.
I went to the train station, waited in line for 30 minutes (being told to go to this line by a security guard), and then was told to go to another station. While waiting (ended up being almost 2 hours) I had mostly deciphered the rolling availability chart and each type of seat. I had figured out that there were only the really expensive seats left and the cheapest uncomfortable seats (hard seats for a 12 hour trip). I also calculated that it would be difficult to do much of an excursion to the many sights around Xian if I arrived at 12pm. So I made a tactical decision to head back to hostel to book a flight online.
Once I got my ticket sorted I stayed at the hostel for a while. At night I headed out to Oriental Plaza to see a movie. Ended
up that the only thing on (in English) was Battleship. Weak story and they had to use many weak justifications for the various plot holes. It felt more like a couple of guys decided it would be really cool to see US warships fight alien ships in a even pitched battle, and everything in the movie was just a set-up or justification towards that.
I walked home. Taxi drivers were trying to gauge me about 10x the normal price. Ended up that I never once used a taxi or similar chartered vehicle in Beijing. Only train, foot and cycle.
Thurday May 3
It was time to check out and finish off the miscellaneous stuff. First off was Chairman Mao's mauseleum adjacent to Tian'anmen square. I took the train there. No bags or photograph capable devices allowed so you had to pay a fair bit to rent a locker for 20 minutes. The line was quite line but moved quickly. They checked ID (passport was at embassy but driver's licence worked), and then went through another metal detector (already went through one to enter the square). Then we filled in to separate lines up into the building and
Mao's sarcophagus was laying out in a glass coffin. The guards were constantly ushering people to move faster (even they they were already moving quicky). Total time spent in the room was about 15 seconds. .
Next was to find a replacement for the USB battery that I had dropped off the great wall. I went back to the place with the best selection of electronics I had seen thus far: Pearl Market. I entered and found one right away. I bargained hard for it and a similar but solar-powered version and got him to accept the price after some complaining on his part. I bought a few more souvenirs including a couple of silk paintings. I have to say that after 2 years living overseas and being horrific at bargaining, it suddenly has come to me. Prior I would have considered getting 10% off the asking price a success and so I largely just avoided buying from places where you had to bargain, instead choosing places with fixed prices, that were lower than the asking prices of bargaining, but higher than I would imagine the lowest they would go. Now I was getting up to 90% off the
Once done I headed back to the hostel to grab my things before heading to the Mongolian embassy to pick up the visa and then off to the airport to fly to Xi'an.
There are more photos below