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Published: April 12th 2007
At 7:30 pm Bekah and I met at Ke Ji Square and rushed into a cab on our way to Huo Che Zhan (Railway station). I say, we couldn't have picked a better one at that. The cab driver raised our spirits and built up our anxieties about the trip even more. Laughing and joking, we talked about the weather, our appropriate dress, and we requested he drive us to Beijing instead of us taking the train. He said it depended on the (rubbing his fingers together), the qian, the money. I offered him 200 yuan but sadly he wouldn't take it. But we offered him a drinking round if he ever saw us in Dalian again.
With that we parted to find our station. A Chinese boy pointed us in the right direction and we followed the crowd to the train, boarded our car and passed beds in compartments of six - 3 lining each side of the compartment. We found our beds and put up our baggage. Not too shabby. The train took off at 8:24 pm, lights off at 10:00 pm. A light sleeper, I was startled to open my eyes to see one of the
train workers mess with Bekah's bag above her head and then quickly leave. I sat up and woke up Bekah, "Bekah, where is your purse?" I ask. She sleepily moves her arms around her. "I don't know, it was right here above my head." She says. I get up and move around the cabin, trying to find an attendant. None. I go back to our compartment. "You sure it's not around here anywhere?" "I don't see it." She says. I look down under the bed of the lady on the lowest bunk. I find Bekah's purse. "Ah, ok. She just moved it." (I don't think the attendents thought it was safe to keep purses hanging on the window.) The lights came back on at 6:00 am, and we arrived at Beijing Zhan. Exiting the station we were hoarded with hotel enthusiasts, trip tours, taxi drivers,...all wanting to help us. We had to get away. So we crossed the oversection and walked. I, thinking this American restaurant was nearby, decided a good first would be to find it. So we walked, I looked at the map, we walked, looked at the map, asked for directions, walked more, looked at the map,
and so on for about 2 hours. When we turned the corner and saw the sign "Grandma's Kitchen - 20% off breakfast before 11 am." it was treasure. We hauled our baggage into the small, homey, southern American restaurant. The food and the unlimited coffee was delightful.
We got into a cab and he found us our hostel located in the midst of the hutongs. We checked into the Beijing Lotus hotel and admired its quiet, peaceful, and traditional atmosphere. Our room was very clean and sweet. No towels, but all the hot water we could want. After waking up from our nap, Bekah and I wanted to see Beijing, and what better way could we get to see it than from a bicycle? We had loads of fun weaving in and out of people, crossing dangerous streets, pissing off cars and pedestrians....We literally crossed town on our bikes. We stopped at a foreign language bookstore, where we decided $8.00 was way too much to pay for a book, especially when we had just bought books each for 10 yuan from a lady under an overpass. We made our way to Makye Ame's, where we parked our bikes and
went inside. We didn't have any reservations, but luckily they had a small table at the front for us to sit at. Makye Ame's is an amazing restaurant! It's worth making the reservation to go there. Anyone could understand my timidness for not making a reservation as a restaurant in China, right? The restaurant is a model of Tibetan lifestyle, the decor to the workers to the food. The host told us about Tibet (tour guide), and the usual greeting for Tibetans "Tashi Delek" (wishes the receiver great luck) while the food we ordered was set out in front of us. The traditional, most popular tea of the Tibetans is Yak butter tea. I believe it is tea mixed with Yak's milk.... Bekah and I each tried it twice and the second time we decided not to drink any more. The tsampa is a Tibetan type of bread pastry, very very rich and kind of plain. I think they make that with Yak butter too. The best was the Yak vegetable rolls; Yak meat rolled around vegetables and dipped into a cocktail-like sauce. It was very good. It getting very dark, we decided we had a long way to go
back on our bikes and left before the traditional music began. I, relying on my keen sense of direction, led us in the opposite direction of the hostel for about an hour before I realized we were lost and I started to stop and ask for directions. Every person we asked told us our hostel's street was very far away, but I naively understood that they didn't realize our speed when we are on our bikes.
After asking a sweet old woman, a female English student, a cop, a taxi driver, and an artist (who almost desperately pleaded with us to see his exhibit....hahaha), we got to the main highway in Beijing and I decided to take the long but known route this time. Tiananmen Square is a beautiful sight when it is deserted at 10:30 pm. Four hours after we left Makye Ame's we stopped for water, ice cream, and rest two blocks from our hostel. In the silence of the street, outside the only open cigarette and refreshment stop, Bekah and I let out a long sigh. We saw a LOT of Beijing....
Next Day: Summer Palace
We left our bikes at the hostel this
day. Our assets did not care for the seats. We walked down to Xidan Street. I got a hold of Tom. Our cheap and available tour guide. Haha, okay just a good friend who offered to take us to the Summer Palace. Tom was to meet us outside Xidan subway station. When I had chatted with Tom before Beijing, he said he had bought a scooter. I had been teasing him about driving through the traffic of Beijing on his shiny red scooter while his batman cape fluttered in the wind. But I thought we had came to an agreement that I could be Robin when he let me drive his scooter. However, when we met his outside the subway, his cape and scooter were not visible. His boss suggested he get some kind of driver's license before he drove it into Beijing.
As soon as I saw Tom without his scooter, that superhero image was fading away, until less than a minute later when he excused himself away from us. He ran across the sidewalk and helped an old lady up who had looked to have tripped and fell over the raised concrete on the sidewalks. As her female
caretaker and the elderly woman genuinely thanked Tom, we followed the superhero into the depths of the subway station. Two stations and a taxi ride later, we arrived at The Summer Palace: the Emperor's Retreat from the Forbidden City in Beijing. What can I say, it is a beautiful palace: a large lake surrounded by extensively detailed and bright Chinese architecture. We arrived at the Summer Palace at the right time of the year. I was sure from a distance that the flowers on the trees were fake.
As soon as we had entered the palace gates, Tom thought we should play a game. Whoever gets into the most pictures wins. With cameras flashing everywhere by tourists at the entrance, Tom used his superpowers to jump in front of each flash. Every stranger gave him a confused but "umm..ok" look as he shouldered them as if they were buddies. "How many points if I get a picture with the red hat tour group?" He asked.
"Thirty!" I said. He took a red hat off a Chinese mans head, shouldered him, and I snapped a picture of Tom and the Redhats.
After unsuccessfully trying to sneak through ticketed entries, we did
manage to make it to the near top and take a picture of the (unknown to me) religious figure at the top with the "No Pictures" sign. You have to get away with at least one thing as a tourist.
We left the Summer Palace to try and find a Peking Duck Restaurant I had written down on my "Places to Go". After asking a girl if she knew where it was, she said there was an original just down the street. I gave in. We walked down the street a ways, I matched up the characters she wrote for me with one of the most high-class looking, humongous, restaurants on the bottom floor of a ritzy hotel. Preferring the small, dirty and cheap restaurants, we just found a place near by it and sat down. Soon after, we walked out of there too. Nothing looked appetizing. As we got in the taxi the waitress who had only began to wait on us, ran toward us, waving Bekah's purse. I was in astonishment, as Bekah had told me only moments earlier that she had over 1,000 yuan with her. It's a good thing most of the Chinese we meet
Tom took us to a really good Peking duck restaurant. (I don't know why he didn't say anything before.) And then he showed us around the main bar and club street in Beijing. We passed loads of beggars and street vendors and bar welcomers. (Come in! Come in! Best club!). We passed a frightening looking group of about 5-6 children. I mean frightening as in I was scared of these 8-10 year olds. They were pushing each other around as if they were in a gang. The leader, he looked like the dominant one to me, pulled a cigarette out of his dirty face and threw it to the ground. (He looked no older than 10!) We met a few of Tom's friends in a very nice bar called The Tree Bar. It has very good pizza. They make it right in front of you and throw it into a large stove. Best pizza in Beijing is what I've heard.
Leaving there, we stopped in a DVD shop. Huge, and almost everything you could ever be looking for. Except for episodes of "Cheers". Just outside, I bargained really really hard so Bekah and I could walk away
with 11 English books. (160 Yuan) As I was leaving, the boy who was smoking earlier came right up to me, rubbed his stomach, and said he was hungry. The vendor that sold us our books threw his head back and laughed. I told the boy that I would come back and bring him food. We escaped. I was scared of a little boy. He was like a dirty cheating man in a small boy's body.
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