Sunday, April 10, 2005

Day 10 - Beijing.

Today I decided to go through Tianamen square and up through the Forbidden City..

I took the subway down to Tianamen and then saw the line to get in to pay respects to Chairman Mao. I got into line. I was approached by a young guy wearing a smart suit who seemingly was directing the people traffic all around. He pointed at my bag and said 'no bags'. He then gestured for me to follow him, which I did. Half running he led me to the Checkroom where I depositted my bag. On the way back he tried to get me back into line where I had left it, but failing that he asked for money. Apparently he was not a staff member. I gave him 10 kwai and sent him on his way.

I got back into line at the end and walked slowly towards the tomb. The line was tricky whereby only the tail of it was visible, while after walking through the gates of the tomb the line truly revealed itself. Many people, many seemingly peasants from the countryside came to pay their respects. For those that had forgotten how one does this, there was a conveniently placed flower shop right inside the gate of the tomb where one may procure flowers to place at the chairman's side. After walking for a while I got to the entrance of the tomb. The strange thing was that the tomb smelled like salami. I don't know whether the staff had a salami sandwich for breakfast or whether the chairman had by this time become edible, but the smell was there nontheless. At the entrance to the interior part of the tomb sits a huge statue of the chairman who sits there looking down at the people filing through his tomb. At the feet of the statue there is a cart on wheels that receives the flowers that had been bought about 100 feet away at the flower shop. The wheels would suggest that the return trip is made once the cart is full. This seems pretty capitalist of them...

In any case after the outer hall where the statue sits the line proceeds to the inner hall where what looks like a porcelain statue of the chairman sits encased in glass. 2 soldiers are standing guard next to him. After filing through this room one is led ito a large room full of stalls selling various kinds of memorabilia. This ranges from watches where the Chairman's hand moves every second to lighters that look like the little red book to various kinds of jewelry with the chairman's face on it. The worst of all was a yellow shiny medallion in the shape of a heart with the chairman's face engraved on it. Thats the one I bought.

After walking out of the mausoleum, the shopping mall proceeds with many more watches, lighters, medallions, and various other crap.. I didn't notice this, but I would not be surprised if the chairman's body was slowly turning over in his glass casket.

After leaving Mao's tomb I proceeded up to the Forbidden City. Now for all its grandeur, the Forbidden City consists of a couple of dozen fairly consistently outfitted rooms which look like many Chinese restaraunts in the states. The interior is also relatively sparsely decorated. Although the complex is very large, the fact that the buildings are almost identical makes it a bit boring in the end. I walked around for a couple of hours and the most entertaining aspect was not inherently a part of the complex. The Chinese are apparently repairing the structures and roads in preparation for the 2008 Olympics influx. Now, in order to make the roads more appealing, they set the concrete black bricks down and then they have a large group of people sitting down with hammers and putting notches into each brick so as to make it looks sorta whitish. I showed a picture of this event to some people and they had initially guessed that what the people were doing was tai-chi...

After leaving the Forbidden City I entered a temple complex which was more interesting because it rises up over the city and allows one to get a pretty good view over an otherwise pretty flat city. The temple buildings themselves looked similar to the buildings in the Forbidden City.

After this I was trying to get to a pub which was recommended by the Lonely Planet, but got lost in the part of Beijing called the Hutong. These are small one-story single extended family houses built hundreds of years ago using a set design with inner and outer courtyards. There are many of them and they have since been communalized with many families being assigned to live in each one. In any case thee are very much run-down and the roads and not marked. In addition to these many of these roads/alleys are not displayed in the Lonely Planet map of Beijing, which is of limited use due to the small size of the map and the large size of the city.

I eventually stumbled onto the backpacker part of this neighborhood with several cafes, restaraunts, pubs and hostels in the area. I sat down in a couch of a cafeterria of one of these hostels and ordered a 3 kwai tsingtao beer. Across the table was seated a guy from Germany. He was joined by a German woman and a British guy. After several beers I joined their conversation and when they went to get dinner along with the niece of the German woman I went with them.. I was taken to a nice restaraunt/pub with just one minor defect. There was no internal bathroom. In order to relieve oneself one had to go across the street to a public toilet. In any case the menu of the evening was what was explained to me to be 'beijing cuisine'. This included dumplings which looked and tasted like Russian pelmeni, and some very nice non-spicy beef with cashew nuts served with rice. After the meal I took the taxi back to the hotel and tried to get soem sleep because the next day I had signed up to do a 9km hike on the Great wall.

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