Lost in Beijing

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November 19th 2007
Published: November 19th 2007
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Main Street in the HutongsMain Street in the HutongsMain Street in the Hutongs

This is just around the corner from our hostel. We were down a much narrower and less built up laneway.
There is nothing like a long weekend! We decided we were ready to try a few more adventures. We hopped on a bus Friday night and headed to Beijing.

Our First Time on the Bus

We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the bus. There were even seatbelts!!! They don't sell more tickets than they have seats, so nobody was standing. And, they showed us Chinese action movies the whole way there. Action movies are great because you really don't need to be following the dialogue to figure out who the good guys are vs the bad guys. Lots of martial arts, lots of explosions, lots of people dying...easy enough to follow.

Friday Night Adventures - aka Wondering where our Hostel is!

We had booked ourselves into a hostel online. We had printed out the instructions for the taxi cab which were only in Chinese characters and not translated for us (so that we would know what we were asking the cab to do). As a result, the first taxi driver started saying a lot in Chinese, waving his arms etc. After a bit, he made it clear we should find another taxi.
Shanglin HostelShanglin HostelShanglin Hostel

Here is the inner courtyard of the hostel. Our room is on the 2nd floor.
This is when we started to worry.

The next taxi was much more patient. Through charades and our limited mandarin we discovered he could get us close but not right to the door. The road was too narrow. Ok...fine. So he takes us there and drops us off at this really narrow laneway entering the hutongs. Not at the touristy end of the hutongs by the way. Its dark out but heh, the taxi was gone and we had not too much choice. We ventured down.

The laneway was awesome actually. We walked between old men gambling, past hanging laundry, by restaurants full of people winding down on a Friday night with a good meal and a bottle of Tsingtao. We obviously felt pretty conspicuous, but Chinese people are kind and curious. They kept directing us on. Finally after a five minute walk we found our hostel - the Shanglin. It didn't look like much from the outside, but we were there. We opened the door and were amazed!

It was as described, an old courtyard complex, 310 years old. Our room was on the second floor and it was great. It had a private bath and
Tian'anmen Square StatuesTian'anmen Square StatuesTian'anmen Square Statues

This statue and its brother are on either side of Chairman Mao's mausoleum. The students of the revolution.
a clean bed. For 10 dollars canadian what more can you want. The atmosphere was awesome and the staff were really kind...so fellow travellors in China, I give it a thumbs up.

We ventured out for dinner. Our lane way ended at a wider street (still no car traffic) and this one was truly alive with little businesses. Endless shops, stalls and restaurants. Definitely more touristy than our little laneway. We found a Chinese restaurant and loaded up on tasty food. It was late, so we weren't up for much, we crashed pretty quickly.

Saturday Adventures aka... getting lost trying to find our way into the Forbidden City

Saturday morning was cool. We found our breakfast out on the streets. I had the classic (featured on a previous blog) the crepe and egg stuffed with some veggies, hoisin sauce and hot sauce. So good....so cheap.

We ventured along and there were a lot of foreigners milling about. Now, please don't take offense my fellow travellors, but in general I was dissapointed at how little effort was being made to use Mandarin. "Hello, how much is that, thank you" frankly, look em up in your
Olympics Countdown ClockOlympics Countdown ClockOlympics Countdown Clock

Viewed from Tian'anmen Square, keep track of how many more minutes until the Olympics start.
phrase book! If you aren't interested in learning the basic words for the fun of it, or for the "when in Rome" of it, then do it because you will get better treatment. Chinese people LOVE IT when you try to speak Chinese, they are sweet, they might giggle and laugh, but its all in good fun and not mean spirited. They will give you better prices in the stalls that barter, good advice on where to eat...its endless. At the very least start with "ni hao", end with "xie xie". Ok, I'll move on.

We were a fifteen minute walk from Tian'anmen Square. The security is imposing, they check bags entering the square, guards everywhere. Its just huge, you can't even see the other end of it! We just walked around for a long while, weaving between tour groups and trying to follow in our guide book the meaning behind the various sculptures and buildings.

Next we went to the Forbidden city....or tried to. First we realized we didn't have enough Kuai on us, so we ended up having to walk back to the other end Tian'anmen Square to find an ATM...so 30 minutes later we were
Looks like the Forbidden CityLooks like the Forbidden CityLooks like the Forbidden City

But its not. Its a temple conveniently located for the emperor's use.
back at the front entrance of the Forbidden City. We saw where the massive crowd was entering, but were tempted by a lesser entrance. A few people were strolling through, maybe this would be faster??? Well, when we purchased our ticket and it was only 2 rmb each, we knew we were not entering the Forbidden City. Its actually a temple from the same era, separate but sharing the same wall. It was quiet and peaceful and we enjoyed our time in there. We were a little bemused by the "oven for burning sacrifical offerings", we hoped it was paper, but then we found the other oven for burning "sacrificial offerings of silk and paper", so we have no idea what was burnt there. It wasn't too big so ... well I just don't know...its a mystery that maybe someone out there in cyberland can fill me in on. We also found the world's largest set of chimes ever played.

Anyway, the temple was a fantastic choice, because at the rear end you could actually cross over to enter the Forbidden City so getting turned around worked out. Admittedly it was still confusing to choose the right ticket booth and proper entrance, but we figured it out with the help of a lady selling tourist books, so we bought a picture book of the Forbidden City. A lucky thing as our camera took its last breath within these walls.

Sadly, much of the Forbidden City was under renovation. It was still impressive, and we were able to visit a number of interesting exhibits. Once again, our favourite emperor, Qianlong was prominently featured (see back to Chengde for more information). I especially enjoyed the exhibit on scientific instruments from his court. There were astrolabs, collapsable sundials etc. An exhibit on calligraphy featured several books written in gold ink. The throne rooms were more of a challenge to see. There was a throng of people vying for the doorway (you coudn't go in, just peer inside), and I swear at one point my feet left the ground and I was carried by the crowd. You've heard me speak about how much I enjoy the Chinese, I truly do, but they have survival instincts when it comes to crowds and line-ups (understandable with a population of 1.3 billion), so its elbows out and each person looking out for themselves. I understand that store line-ups have much improved just in the past five years...but its still frequent to have people try to just push their cart in front of yours at the grocery store because you left a 10 cm gap. I'll get back on track.

Next we headed to Silk Street. Silk Street has been moved into an indoor shopping mall. Apparently its lost a lot of its original character, but its lively nonetheless. We enjoyed sandwiches and coffee at the umpteen western restaurants in the building. For the record, 2 sandwiches and 2 coffees cost MORE than all of our other meals on this trip combined. Western food is expensive here.

We enjoyed 1-2 hours of haggling. I'm getting better. I've learned to make them lower their price twice before I give my counter offer. I have also learned that if I REALLY like it, I should walk away, and I will usually get my price. NOW in general, I stink at this and pay too much I'm sure, but its hard to care when the money is so little in Canadian terms and so much for them. Anyway, we bought our knock-offs (supposedly these have been weeded
Finally Inside!Finally Inside!Finally Inside!

Here we are finally entering the Forbidden City. Crossing one of the bridges.
out, but I don't think so) and carried on.

We shared a taxi back to Tian'anmen with a man from Egypt who asked us for help communicating with his taxi driver. This fellow lives in Dubai and works for Nestle. He had actually been out in Teda on his trip. We had a great conversation and I really should have gotten his business card, hindsight is 20-20.

On the way back we decided to head down another alley in the Hutongs and weave our way back to the hostel. This turned out to be far more complicated and we were fairly lost for a while. Nonetheless it was awesome as we saw the genuine living conditions of many citizens of Beijing. The hutongs are a lively community, ancient walls holding in innumerable people. They are being torn down in the name of progress, which is a shame because they vibrate with life. They have survived hundreds of years of history, and are now being sacrificed to quickly built highrises for the Olympics. In Teda, highrises barely 10 years old are being torn down and rebuilt already. These new buildings do not stand the test of time. At any
Craig in the Forbidden CityCraig in the Forbidden CityCraig in the Forbidden City

Craig is in the middle of the square with his arms up.
rate, on our way back, we passed a little office space jam packed with 40 people singing. It was amazing and we just stopped and listened, and absorbed the experience. We uttered mental curses towards our Sony Cybershot that refused to turn on and record this once in a lifetime random experience.

That night we went to an Acrobatics Show. The stunts were very impressive. They need to clean up the music (they didn't fade in or out - and they used the theme song for AirWolfe at one point), and maybe their synchronization. Nonetheless, call me easy, but when some guy hanging upside down jumps off of one swinging rope, onto another swinging rope, flipping himself 1.5 times in midair and catches the other rope with only his legs to land upside down again, I'm impressed.

The meal Saturday night was UNBELIEVABLE! We went to a little restaurant in the Hutongs with Xinjiang flavoured food. Xinjiang is on the Western most side of China and has a strong Middle-Eastern influence. We had kebob, lamb and onions, and sprouts and chives. It was so flavourful and tasty. Our stomachs were content...it was fabulous.

Sunday Adventures -

aka Once again getting lost and circling around Beijing for hours and hours and...

Sunday morning Craig wanted to go so Chairman Mao. His mausoleum is in Tian'anmen Square and everyday his body is raised from refrigeration for public viewing. It was one of the most odd experiences of my life, which I wouldn't have done if my husband didn't have a morbid interest.

You were not allowed to bring anything inside the Mausoleum. On overhead speakers, a voice broadcasts over the bottom portion of Tian'anmen Square. The English voice is a calm, clear female voice. "Water bottles, cellular phones and cameras are not allowed. You must line up. The line up must keep moving. You may not linger. All hats must be removed. There is no talking inside the building." So we lined up and sure enough, 4x4 we all shuffled probably 1/2 a km to enter the Mausoleum. At one point you could purchase flowers.

When you enter the mausoleum you are first confronted with a marbled statue of Chairman Mao seated. He is surrounded by Bonzai Trees. Behind him is the most impressive needlepoint I have ever seen. Covering the entire wall, it
Inside the Inner PalaceInside the Inner PalaceInside the Inner Palace

The Inner Palace had lots of trees and odd rock formations. I liked this one mostly for its sign. See the next picture.
features a beautiful mountainous background. In this room, people can drop off their flowers. It was only 9am, and the floor was already 20% covered in flowers. I wonder what they do with all the flowers at the end of the day, or when the room is full.

They split the line up in 2, half (2 people) veer to the right, and 2 to the left. You enter the next room and this way proceed around the glass cabinet that holds Chairman Mao's body. He looks not unlike a wax figure. You can't stop moving, so its hard to examine him closely, it was definitely one of the oddest things I've ever willingly seen.

Blinking you emerge back into the bright and sunny Tian'anmen Square with a big "What's Next?" lingering in your mind. We headed back to the hostel.

Well, we ended up meeting up with the rest of the Humanities department on Wanfujing Street for a book buying frenzy. Its time to buy resources. I was impressed with the Foreign Languages Bookstore. I wouldn't have thought I could find so much here. I bought too many books.

Then, as always, our bus driver
Sign accompanying rocksSign accompanying rocksSign accompanying rocks

Speaks for itself.
managed to get us severely lost in Beijing, we arrived home 4 hours later than planned. If you toggle back through our adventures, you'll find we have bad luck in terms of drivers knowing their way around.

We were very lucky! Luke, a Chinese Staff Member who came along to translate and negotiate discounts for buying the books, his wife had twins only 3 days later!!! Can you imagine???

Information to keep you all up to speed on our lives.

Our camera died on this trip, so pictures will be few while we try to get a new camera. We continue with our Chinese Lessons and now regularly ask taxi cab drivers, masseuses or anyone else who is stuck in the same room/space as us, their name, age, how many people are in their family, what their father does for work etc. This might seem rude unless you know China. They are very curious and don't hesitate to ask your income or how much you pay in rent, so they think this is great fun.

Heating season is here so my classroom and apartment are sitting at about 30 degrees, I can't adjust the heat.
Yellow GlazeYellow GlazeYellow Glaze

I just love the glazed pavillion roofs.
So you bundle up right before you head out. I also figured out last night that our hot water heater was set to the lowest setting, so now we can have hot showers, instead of luke warm ones so that is nice.

Craig and I have reached a turning point where we prefer eating non-western food 80% of the time. Western food, besides being expensive, makes us feel ill. We are fairly surprised. When I'm back in the camera business, perhaps I'll do a blog on some of our favourite dishes.

Keep sending messages and comments. They make our day.


Additional photos below
Photos: 14, Displayed: 14


Self-Heating MealsSelf-Heating Meals
Self-Heating Meals

As tempting as it was to enjoy such a meal inside the Forbidden City we decided to wait for Silk Street :)

20th November 2007

Loved it! Great photography. I really loved the videos. Keep safe and have fun guys.

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