Monday, December 26, 2005

A first sightseeing venture in Beijing

What a fantastic day in Beijing. The sun was shining, the birds were signing and the people were out and about doing their thing.
Last night was pretty mellow, talked with my folks, got on the web cam with the brothers, called my aunt, this and that… this laptop has served as quite the lifeline since I left Canada, don't know what I'd do without it! I was surprised however to hear my room's phone ring last night, when I answered, I was offered a massage in very broken English, which I didn't understand at first until she said "I come to your room" and I said "No thank you". What's up with the Chinese Massage girls??? Are the Chinese THAT good at doing massages? Not only to I get bugged walking home from work in Japan, but now they're calling me in my room in China? WTF? Maybe I should take Alex's route to get rid of them… first ask if it's free, then say you'll only pay if they take it in the back door… he says they never bother him after that conversation…. Lol

So this morning, my first order of business was to head out to Xinhua Tours' office and pay for my Xian trip later this week. I had the hotel staff write down the address for me and off I went into the streets of Beijing to find a cab. I've learned a bit more about them now; they fall into a few categories. Each cab has a red sticker on the back window stating the starting and per km charge. There are different classes of cabs, and I've settled for the little ugly red Citroens driven by maniacs… they're the cheapest… lol Driving (and walking) the streets of Beijing is quite entertaining, especially after leaving civilized "We stop at most red lights and wait for the signal to cross the streets" Japan. Here, there are barely any traffic lights, but there are designated areas here for pedestrian crossings and this is where people dash across the streets. I've survived thus far, doing pretty good. So I got out there and hailed a cab, gave him my address, and he said he didn't know where it was. When the same thing happened to the next 8 cabs I pulled over in rush hour traffic, I turned around went back to the hotel and had them call Xinhua and get more info. First cab I hopped in took me to this massive complex of office building and pointed at it… I paid and got out. Problem is the buildings are all brand new, practically no markings on the outside so I found a security guard and asked for help. They eventually tracked down which tower I wanted and the supervisor escorted me to the 20th floor… quite pleasing fellow, didn't speak any English though… but a great help. Quick side note here, I said the building was new, but apparently the building boom in Beijing must have caused a shortage of building materials… only sections of the building are finished and it looks like the elevators were torn out of another building and slapped into this one… lol But they did the job, I got up there and met up with Reina and did my thing. I even caved on my refusal to go to touristy Badaling and signed up for a tour tomorrow with them to the Ming Tombs and the Great Wall at Badaling. I wanted to visit Simatai, but it's apparently covered in snow and ice and quite unsafe at this time of year.

Following the paperwork for the tours, I headed out to the Temple of Heaven for a couple of hours strolling through the park.

Upon entering the gates, I was immediately attacked by a group of people selling stuff, they got quite annoying, especially after I bought some postcards from one of them. The most amusing guy was the one pictured here, who just wouldn't take no for an answer for these Rolex watches he was trying to pawn off on me. He went from his high of 300Y down to 150Y before I told him I would only pay 10 and he walked away… I was then approached by the shrewd feller seen in the background here and I picked up a nice one for 40Y, less than 6$... Woohoo!

The Temple of Heaven is the place where the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties went to pray for good crops. Built in the early 1400s, this Temple complex runs more than a few kilometres in length and covers over 240 hectares of Beijing. This is the Circular Mound Altar, where a ritual was held during the Winter solstice, it is built mathematically to include the number 9 (as in the 9 layers of heaven) into as many aspects as possible. Quite interesting.

Here I be on the top of the alter, with the Imperial Vault of Heaven behind me. The weather was quite nice today, hovering around 1 degree or so, I didn't put my liner in my coat, but I did have it in my bag just in case.

This is the Imperial Vault of Heaven.

This is the last stretch of the path leading to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, which is the centerpiece of this park.

Unfortunately for me, and anyone else visiting Beijing from April of 2005 to May of 2006, the Hall is currently undergoing renovations and is draped in scaffolding. No biggie though, it is still quite an impressive building, and I did get to see it from the other side.

Another of the large building complexes in the park is the Fasting Palace, where the Emperor would live in abstinence (no meat, drink, music or women) in preparation before the ceremonies at the Temple of Heaven.

This is an ancient firefighting vat which held water to be used in the case of fire. The building in the background is where the Emperor stayed before the rituals. In the winter, small coal fires would be built under the vats to prevent the water from freezing.

The grounds are covered in trees and filled with birds… it's quite nice to see something flying other than an ugly black crow. I got a glimpse of the (mostly) un-scaffolded Hall through the trees here.

After finishing my hike around the TOH, I headed out to Tienanmen Square near the Forbidden City. In all honesty, were it not for the historical significance of this place, I'm not sure I would have visited. In 1989, the People Liberation Army crushed a student demonstration here using heavy force, up to and including tanks, against the unarmed protesters. Estimates vary, the death toll has been pegged anywhere from a few hundred to 7000 dead, including both civilian and military casualties. The heavy handed measure were severely condemned by nations around the world at the time, not that it did much to change things.

This is the Monument to the People's Heroes, the last stand of protested in 1989. This is one of only two shots I got which included a PLA soldier. I was asked (politely) not to take pictures of various other gates\buildings\streets because of the presence of soldiers doing their thing.

This is the Gate of Heavenly Peace, complete with a picture of Chairman Mao who declared the founding of the People's Republic here in 1949.

As I was walking around snapping pictures, this group of 4 Chinese youth approached me and through hand gestures asked if they could have their picture taken with me… WOW! Celebrity status once again!!! lol The quick photo session made them quite happy and they thanked me profusely as they ran away giggling… quite amusing.

I was also approached by a few more people, though I am getting weary about it. Scott mentioned some will engage you in conversation only to try and lead you to some store of art exhibition or something. I did have a nice chat with a couple though, which was nice. Then this older gentleman approached me and started talking, walking along with me. At some point I noticed someone behind me and took my bag off my back to make sure nothing was taken… I don't know if it was some gang or something but this time I listened to my instincts. We parted ways when I crossed the street, and he did give me the proper direction to where I was going… but I had an odd feeling. This feeling was renewed when he approached me again after I exited a store and started talking again… we'd walked about a kilometre from where we'd first met at this point. He did finally leave when I went into the roast duck restaurant for lunch.

This is World Famous (yes it actually is) Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant, where I had the most delectable bird of my life served to me for lunch.

The chef come to the table with the duck and proceeds to carve it for you and places it onto smaller plates.

You then place the duck and onions onto these thin pancakes and enjoy… man was that some good shit… expensive as all hell… but good! Service was amazing, though a bit too much for my tastes, she was practically spoon feeding me… lol

After lunch, I cracked open the old Lonely Planet Guidebook to Beijing and followed one of the suggested walking tours through the old Foreign Legation (Embassy) quarters. It was quite interesting with a mix of architecture from all over the world. Unfortunately, most of the buildings are now used by the Chinese government, which means soldiers standing guard outside, which means no pictures… but it was a nice walk nonetheless. Here are some carts used by street cleaners here in town… I guess with the over population here, why bother spending money on machines when you can just send hundreds of these guys out for pennies a day?

Also saw this interesting innovation of having cars parked on the sidewalk. There are lines and everything, and even a parking attendant monitoring the block and guiding people in and out of spots.

One of the more eclectic sights of the day was this leftover from when this was a French embassy area. This street was named "Rue Hart".

Another interesting first sight for me, a crossing only for bicycles. The street seems to be just too long to cross on foot, so only bikes are allowed to cross. There is a pedestrian underpass for people to use. Unfortunately, since I can't read Chinese, I entered the intersection when the light turned green and got whistled the hell out of by the 4 cops manning the intersection… they then pointed the way to the underpass for me… I still say I could have made it… lol

So that was the day, I hopped a cab and was actually able to follow our route through the streets and down to my hotel area. While he couldn't find my actual hotel, I spotted some landmarks I recognized and was able to find my way down on my own, though the taxi driver seemed very worried about leaving me out here on my own and followed me for some time before he believed I knew where I was going. I'm quite pleased I gave him a tip for his efforts, and that was before the following me to make sure I was ok thing. I am now totally ready to agree with Alex when he says that Chinese people rule!

So that's it for today. Tomorrow is the Great Wall and Ming Tombs, I'm being taken directly from my hotel so don't have to worry about finding my way. On Wednesday I think I will do the shopping thing before hopping the train for Xian. That's about it for now, time for some relaxing…

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

im sooooo glad to be able to join you thru your being there with you. looks like you havent had time to sit on your ass and chill out..i suggest some relax time in your hotel room with some nice company who may be good with the hands!


9:37 AM  

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