Friday, October 17, 2008

Beijing


As per my pictures below, I'm just back from a weeks vacation, which took me to both Macau and Beijing. I've talked about Macau before, and suffice it to say that the pool was relaxing and the food was wonderful.

Beijing was an experience I'm hard pressed to sum up.

On the first day there we went for a walk to just get to know the city a bit. Looking at the map, we should have headed due east and hit the back of the Forbidden City. However, we very quickly ran in to a 12 foot high wall blocking our progress, forcing us North. This was repeated throughout our stay as there are countless walls all over the city preventing you from walking through certain areas. We did finally make our way to the back side of the Forbidden City, and then around two little lakes which were lined with bars before heading out into a residential bit at the suggestion of Lonely Planet for an easy walk to take us to the Olympic Stadium. 5 miles later we did make it to the Water Cube, I would encourage anyone else to take a taxi (and have yet to fully vent on the guide book).

This raises an interesting point - everyone in China drives like mad. Any surface that has been paved will be used by a car (it happened more than once that I was confronted with a car coming towards me on the sidewalk). Also, on a three lane highway, they will usually drive five across. Signaling is discouraged, honking is used to let someone know you're passing them, and I don't think they've been taught that there is a break peddle.

The second day took us into the Forbidden City. I think the pictures speak for themselves. It amazes me that this was a residential space until the 20th century, unlike some European castles that fell out of use long ago. We also walk through Tienanmen Square, and then headed south to the Temple of Heaven. This walk was remarkable, because apparently city planners have realized a lot of people follow that path, and wanted to ensure it's pleasant. As such, they've apparently razed the hu tong that was there, and are in the process of building a quaint shopping street. When we walked down it, we thought it was very nice, until realizing that all the shops are still vacant - master planning at its best.

Day three we hired a car through the hotel - for RMB800 he took us to the Great Wall. We went to the Mutianyu stretch, which is not the closest and not the farthest away from Beijing. Unlike the guidebook, I don't think you could get there with a taxi flagged down on the street. Both because of the less touristy aspect of this part, and because we were there early in the morning, there were stretches where we were the only people on the wall - an amazing feeling. The Wall has been the hardest part for me to digest: I've seen big old castles before in Europe, and understand that building a stone fortification a few hundred years ago was common, however this was built a millennia ago, runs thousands of miles, and is built on top of a mountain. There were parts we had to crawl up on hands and knees, and I can't imagine what it took to build it so long ago.

On our last day we went to a few of the markets. First the antique market, which was fairly mellow and worth the trip if you're looking for furniture, or an imitation antique record player. Then the Silk Market, where you can buy any counterfeit / surplus major brand of clothing. Both were fairly uneventful, however on the way back to the hotel we stumbled into the food market. We had gone looking for it the previous night without much success, but suddenly fried scorpions, battered moths, and crispy sea horses were surrounding us.

Here are the walks we did through Beijing:
- Day 1
- Day 2
- Day 4

Random thoughts:
- We arrived on the last day of a Golden Week, so all the factories had been shut down, and the pollution was not too bad - still remarkable to see this while landing.
- Eastern beliefes view it as bad to hold in evil spirits, and there is a constant burping and hacking sound accordingly.
- English will get you no where - we relied heavilly on a postcard with sights written out in English and Chinese and then had to point.
- Peking duck in Beijing was focused almost entirely on the skin, with the restaurant throwing out the meat.
- Yes, this was hanging over the urinal

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