Published: October 22nd 2011October 19th 2011
Well, I’m back from Beijing, and it was simply wonderful. We left Thursday afternoon for the train station and were on our way by 6 that night. Soft sleepers are the best way to travel. Four passengers share a private room with a door so you can hide away from the other passengers if you want. We had quite a fun time with everyone hanging out in our room before we dispersed for the night to sleep. We were woken up by one of the train attendants an hour before we arrived. We took a subway to the hotel and dropped all our things off. I was rooming with Carey again, and yet again, we had a window into the bathroom. Well, not a window because this time, the whole wall was frosted glass. That was not helpful because you can still see everything going on in there. The bathroom was all one room, with no curtain or marked area for the shower, so when we took a shower, everything got wet. This made it hard to get ready as the floor was soaked, but the hotel kindly provided rubber slippers which helped immensely.
After freshening up, we left for
the Beijing zoo. I think it was pretty similar to American zoos, with animals from all regions of the world, noisy groups of children, and expensive souvenirs. I was a little disturbed by the reptile house: one tank held a sleeping snake and four cute, fluffy, baby chicks huddled together in a corner just waiting for the snake to wake up and eat one for breakfast. It seemed a little cruel to me; at least wait for the snake to be ready to eat before throwing in its food. The cat house was also a little depressing with each bare cage holding a lion or tiger. Many were sleeping on a bench facing away from the spectators; I think they get tired of being stared at. They must rotate the cats though, because some cats were in the outdoor areas which were the best looking habitats in the whole place.
Now you can’t go to the Beijing Zoo without seeing the pandas, so we of course did. We came just as they were leading the babies out to have their breakfast so we watched them eat. They were the cutest things ever! I just wanted to cuddle with one.
When they had finished their food but continued licking the bowls, the caretaker tried to take the bowls away. The babies were having none of it. They held the bowls and played a kind of tug-of-war with the lady. When they finally got the bowls, they were led out to the outdoor area, and we moved on. My favorite animals to see were the zebras. They came right up to the fence (most people throw food even though they’re not supposed to) and I got to touch one! It made me wonder, since they’re very much like horses, can people train zebras and ride them?
After the zoo, we went to the Summer Palace. This was a summer resort overlooking Kunming Lake used by the Empress Dowager Cixi in the Qing Dynasty. We hiked up the hill then returned to the hotel for dinner. The president of Central, his wife, and the new head of international affairs at Central flew in that night to have dinner and spend the rest of the trip with us. Dr. Putnam is going around to all the abroad programs to learn more about them, make new connections, and possibly grow the programs. After
dinner, we turned in early as we would be leaving early the next morning.
Saturday dawned, and we were off to Bei Hai park. This park is one of the oldest and largest imperial gardens in China. It was built according to a legend: it was said that there were three magic mountains east of China that contained a medicine that would make humans immortal. Emperors searched for these mountains, but when they couldn’t be found, emperors would dig a pool and build up three large hills to replicate the magic mountains. Bei Hai park is the result of one of these. On an island in the lake, atop a hill is the White Dagoba. This was built by an emperor to show his Buddhist beliefs and holds several Buddhist articles.
One thing I have noticed about the Chinese is that they know how to use their parks. We came before the buildings were open, but walking around, we saw so many people. Some groups were doing a slow form of gongfu (kungfu), others doing fan dances, others a Chinese form of hacky sack, and others singing Red songs. This is one of my favorite aspects of Chinese
culture. It’s so interesting to watch them at their enjoyments. I wish we had something like this in the US.
After Bei Hai, we went to lunch at a Muslim restaurant. Mubin really picks good restaurants because the food was delicious! Next, we were headed to Jing Shan park which has a pagoda overlooking the Forbidden City. Since we were short on time, Miss Li made us run up the hill to the pagoda. Like any other hill in China, the path was all stairs, so my legs were protesting by the time we reached the top. But the view was worth the pain. We got a quick group picture then went back down the hill to head to Tiananmen Square. Now I must comment on the weather. Mubin had told us that the pollution is very bad in Beijing, and they rarely see blue sky. However, the weather was perfect all weekend: clear blue skies with a few clouds every single day! It was the perfect temperature, made a little chilly by the constant wind, especially in an open area like Tiananmen. The square is huge! It’s bordered by the mausoleum of Mao Zedong, the National Museum of
China, and the Great Hall of the People, which is home of the National People’s Congress. The square is very heavily monitored with hundreds of cameras and several guards. I was amazed when we passed the guards because they were so tall! I think they were at least 6’4”, probably to be intimidating to the majority of shorter Chinese.
We walked across this to the Forbidden City entrance. We had spent more time than planned at Bei Hai park, so we only had an hour and a half to go through the Forbidden City before it closed for the day, so unfortunately we were kind of rushed. We saw the main buildings, but didn’t have time to leisurely explore every one. I guess I’ll have to come back someday. I did learn a little about the layout of the city. All but two of the roofs of buildings have yellow tiles, as yellow is the color of the Emperor. Each building has a line of statues on the ridge of roofs, depicting the status of the building; a lower status building has 3 to 5. The Hall of Supreme Harmony, the ceremonial building for the emperor, has 10, which
was the only building in China permitted to have this number.
After the Forbidden City, we went to Quan Ju De restaurant to have Peking roast duck. I must say that everyone needs to try Peking roast duck. It is the most delicious thing I have ever tasted. No joke. I don’t know how they do it, but it is amazing! We watched a show at the restaurant which included traditional Chinese instruments, a unicyclist/juggler, and jar/table leg juggler, shadow puppets, and a magician. After dinner, we walked around Houhai Lake. One side had bar after bar after bar with comfy couches set up outside and guitar playing singers inviting you in for a drink. Another area was all restaurants with cute patio areas overlooking the water and twinkly lights to set the mood.
Our plans for Sunday included two temples and some shopping. We first went to Guo Zi Jian, which was the Imperial College and where emperors made sacrifices to Confucius. Next we went to Yong He Gong, a Tibetan Buddhist temple. They said it is one of the largest ones in the world, and it most certainly is! There was courtyard after courtyard and temple
after temple, all containing different Buddhas. The last one held 26 meters tall Buddha. These were cool statues, but I had had my fill of them and I was hungry, so I was relieved when we left for lunch. We went to Xui Shui Jie for some shopping, although it wasn’t very fun because this street didn’t have any stores that you could bargain at and everything was so expensive. Carey and I did get a pair of clip on cat ears that we sported the rest of the trip. We left this street for Tian Tan, or the Temple of Heaven. This was built by the same emperor responsible for building the Forbidden City and was used for yearly prayer ceremonies for good harvest. There is a lot of interesting symbolism in the layout of this park. In ancient China, Heaven was represented by a circle and Earth by a square, so everything follows this pattern. The outer wall surrounding the complex has a semicircular northern end and a rectangular southern end, and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and the Circular Mound Altar are both round within square courtyards.
After leaving Tian Tan, we rushed off
to see a Gong Fu show. This was pretty spectacular. I was pretty impressed with the performers’ bodies—solid, lean muscle. It was awesome to see them performing their craft so well. We had a free evening after this, so we students went to a KTV. Our hotel had one attached to it, so we just went to that one, and it was quite sketchy. This KTV was not nice at all compared to the one the girls went to in Hangzhou. The paint was peeling, there was no air conditioning, the doors were missing door knobs, and Mubin said it looked like you could pay for a “friend” to stay with you in the room. Nevertheless, we had fun singing some songs, even trying out some Chinese tunes (although it was mainly Mubin singing these). The smoky air finally got to us and we called it quits and went to bed.
Monday, we had to be downstairs and checking out at 6:30 as we were going to the Great Wall and needed to get on the road before traffic blocked us in. It took two hours to reach the section of the wall, and halfway we stopped at a
“rest stop.” This was not really a rest stop, but a person’s home, and it wasn’t in the home, but in a shack behind their rubbish filled yard and past a chained up dog that the lady had to hold back with a piece of metal she found in the heap. We decided we could wait. We finally arrived at the Mu Tian Yu section of the Wall and start our climb. It’s on the top of a small mountain, so we needed to climb many stairs to get there. Mubin and I were the first ones to reach the top and were afforded a nice long rest waiting for the others to catch up.
Let me say that the Great Wall is just as amazing as people say it is. There is no unnecessary hype about it. It is amazing and you need to see it! At the top, you have an amazing view of the surrounding mountains and the snaking line of the Wall disappearing over the far hill. It is just breathtaking and incredible that such a structure was built so long ago without modern tools and is still here. The Wall follows the terrain, so
it climbs up a steep hill then falls back down the other side. Stairs are numerous and ill-spaced, so one step may only be 6 inches wide and another step a foot tall. In one of the towers, we had a shouting match with a group of Chinese men who had a device that measured how loud you were. We almost won (they said it was because we had too many girls). Our time on the Wall was now over, so we took a toboggan ride back down the mountain. I wanted to climb back up just to ride it again because it was so fun. We got to shop a little at the shops lining the path up to the stairs and this time we could bargain. I’m really going to miss this aspect of life because it’s so much more fun to haggle over the price than just accepting what they want. I bought a stuffed panda and Mubin christened it Taozi or peach because it is like a big round ball with little stubs of arms and legs sticking out. I immediately fell in love with Taozi and petted her the whole van ride back to Beijing.
Before you think this is too weird, I am used to having my cat or dog to cuddle with or pet, and I have not been able to do that at all here in China.
We stopped at an art district in Beijing that used to be a weapons manufacturing plant. It had a lot of galleries and little artsy shops to look through. There was one very powerful exhibit about a Chinese sex worker. The artist had taken 500 photos of her face throughout one day and included a diary of her day’s work. I couldn’t believe what she had to go through every single day; it was really moving. At another shop I found a book of photographs of Chinese people on the train. I had to laugh a little because I had seen a lot of the pictures in real life on our train ride back from Xi’an.
Our trip was winding to a close as we got on the van for the last time and headed to the subway station. Sitting on the subway next to Mubin, a man started talking to me and asking questions about why I was there. He started talking
to Mubin in Chinese, but we pretended that he didn’t speak Chinese, so I got to act as Mubin’s Chinese translator. It was quite fun, especially since we could consult in Spanish without the man understanding what we were saying. We got to the train station and started our journey back to Hangzhou. It was a quieter ride than the previous one since we were all so tired, and soon we were back on campus.
There are more photos below