Friday, February 15, 2013

Beijing: Quintessentials

Monday, February 11, 2013. 8:00am

Finally having gotten a full 8 hours sleep, I awoke for my final day of China. I had a number of things still left on my list of "Must Do", and was determined to enjoy a full day of Chinese exploration, no matter how tired I was.
When I very first arrived at the hostel on Saturday, one of my roommates told me that the Forbidden City was closed that day due to Chinese New Year, and that it closes Monday afternoons for maintenance. So, that left me a window of about 3 hours on Monday morning in which to hit the Forbidden City. Despite having gotten "plenty" of sleep that night, I was still reluctant to jump out of bed when my alarm went off. But, I knew what had to be done!

I got ready and ate a mediocre breakfast at the hostel restaurant ("American Breakfast" aka eggs, bacon, toast, hash-browns, and coffee). I wasn't exactly sure how I wanted to handle the day, but I had a vague map in my head of where things were located, so I just started walking. Below is my route from the entire day (of course, I went through the Forbidden City, not around it!)

It's hard to tell exactly what all I saw along the way, but that's okay because I'm about to tell you!

I walked up to my nearest subway station (Qianmen) and went through it (in Exit B, out Exit A). I had to put my bag through security just to go through the subway... crazy. Anyway, this is at location "A" on the map. From there, I went through some more security to enter what I consider "greater" Tiananmen Square. 

First along the way was Zhengyang Gate. 

Directly in front of this gate (which I'm sure the name means something like "Gate of Everlasting Peace" ...), was Chairman Mao's Mausoleum. I suppose it wasn't open that day, because I'd read that the lines are usually very long. I didn't see anyone waiting in line, but loads of people taking photos in front of it. At the time, I wasn't exactly sure what it was, but it looked important, and since I had to go thru security to get within 100 yards of the place. 

Unimpressed by another brown building (albeit one surrounded by mega security), I meandered on.

Not too far along, I came to the "Monument to the People's Heroes". It kind of reminded me of Trafalger Square, but not nearly as pretty. Just a large column surrounded by a concrete square. Again, lots of people taking photos. On the far side was a museum, but I just snapped a photo and moved on.

I took a panoramic 360° photo, and it looks a bit lacking laid flat, but on my iPhone you can scroll around the whole scene and it looks better.

excuse the blurry person who rudely moved while I was panning...
True to what I read about it, Tiananmen Square was not too exciting. Lots of people wanting to charge you for taking a photo (how do they make ANY money, with digital cameras and phones?!). It's kind of incredible the security measures they take. There are guards and police literally everywhere, and they empty the entire square (which is not exactly small) every night. As I was considering this fact, I decided I should get a pic of one of said "guards". I felt awkward just taking a photo of one (were they like the British Palace guards who just stand there regardless?), so I decided to pretend to take a photo of something else and get one in the photo.

Well, of course, as I'm trying to be sneaky, I get CALLED OUT. This guy holds up a hand to me and says "No photo!" I put on my best innocent-face and point to the portrait of Mao behind him. He grunted, put his hand down, and looked away with a look of superiority. *Rude!*

I walked closer to the barricade before the street and took some more photos!

This was the end of the square, but I needed to keep going North to get to the Forbidden City, so went under the road through an underpass and came up next to the Mao Portrait. I basically just followed the crowd through that gate. I'm really not sure what exactly that area was, but it led to the Forbidden City entrance so I just kept straight.

I eventually came upon the Palace Museum entrance, which is the same as the entrance for the Forbidden City grounds (I guess). I was confused for a bit, since I didn't want to go in a museum, but eventually figured all these masses of people were probably not going in a "museum" either. And, GoogleMaps on my phone said I was literally just outside the Forbidden City. I paid 40Yuan (around $7) entrance ticket, but passed on the audio-guide, as it was an additional 40Yuan. Ultimately, I probably should have splurged on it, since I was kind of overwhelmed and baffled once I entered the grounds.

Obviously, there were loads of people. By the time I went into the Forbidden City, it was around 1130am, so I think they left it open even though it was Monday afternoon, probably because of the holiday. I wandered around, looking at the architecture. You can't really go in the buildings, just walk up and peek inside. The more I think about it, I really should have gotten the audio-guide, since I really just looked at stuff and didn't learn much. But, oh well. It would have taken a good 3 hours to go around the entire property if I had gotten the audio-guide, and I had more to do so I walked through...

This was the royal "gardens" ... HA! 

As I walked through, I tried to take it all in, but it was quite overwhelming and extremely crowded. Even the "gardens" offered no sanctuary from the stress, as they were just a bunch of petrified trees and rocks. Not exactly scenic. Plus, there were kids climbing all over everything. Literally, I should have taken a photo but I saw a kid crawling right past a sign that clearly said "Do Not Climb - Tumble Rocks" ....  o.O At least the idiots doing this were actually not Americans!

I did take advantage of the benches strategically spread throughout the grounds, and did some people watching. Ironically, most of the people I watched were watching me... in fact, I had no less than 3 requests for photos. Celebrity status, heeeyyy!

I came out the North side of the Forbidden City. There were throngs of people offering tours of the hutongs on their rickshaws, but I had read about the park just across the street (Jingshan Park) and headed in that direction. It was only 2Yuan to get in ($0.30), and it had refreshingly few people. Mostly only people in tour groups, so I headed up the path to the center of the park, which is on a hill and offers a bird's eye view of the Forbidden City.

After all the stair climbing at the Great Wall, the steps up to the pavilion at the top of the hill was really not much, but my muscles were protesting. I reached the top and there were more people up there but still it was manageable. I had a rest on the "North/South Axis of Beijing" (photo below). 

Walking around the other side of the pavilion, I got that great view I had labored up the hill for. Although the smog was quite hindering, I was still in awe of the view. It really is a huge complex.

Selfie on my iPhone (hence the poor quality)
Panoramic view
By this time, I was getting a bit tired. I climbed down the hill and walked around the park to find an exit on the northeast side. From there, checking my GoogleMaps, I saw I was about a mile from the hutongs I wanted to check out for some shopping. I followed some side streets (totally ugly) and listened to some music. Eventually I found the area I was looking for: Nanluoguxiang.

This area is full of shops with various wares for sale. I mostly wanted to just poke around and see what I could see. I was only really on a mission for 1 souvenir, and I was confident I would come across it at some point. Sure enough, I found what I was looking for: chops. Chops are traditional Chinese seals that are used as signatures on documents and contracts. It's basically a name carved in a block of jade, with this awesome ink that does not dry out (as it doesn't have water in it).

I got 2 made: one for myself and one for my father. I chose some blocks that were based on the Chinese zodiac: horse for me, cow for my dad (although that sounded wrong, their sign had the years listed out and I went off that...) I wrote our names on paper and said them to the guy, enunciating as clearly as possible. He wrote down the Chinese characters, and I asked someone else in the shop if the characters meant anything bad or dirty (wouldn't want to be stamping "Dirty American" on anything!). The man carved out the characters with amazing skill.

After getting these made, I continued to poke about the many shops, getting a couple little things but nothing of significance. I needed a break and a bite to eat, so when I saw a cupcake shop I headed straight there.

I took a rest and advantage of the cafe's WiFi to upload some photos to Instagram, as well as figure out how to get back to my hostel from here. Apparently, I had walked 6km straight North. Rather than walk the entire way back, I walked an additional 1km to get the subway. Totally exhausted, I got back to my hostel at 4pm. I still had lots of day left, so I got some noodles with my roommate.

My last thing on my China to-do list was: get a massage. I have heard that these rather hurt, but I'd been needing one for at least a month and with all the walking and lugging around of a backpack all over Beijing, I felt like it wasn't optional.

I went to a place across from my hostel and opted for the combo 90min foot and body massage. I spent all but my last 3Yuan (the massage was 118Y, just less than $20). It was an interesting experience; not terribly painful, but not totally relaxing either. With my twisted ankle, the foot massage certainly had some tender moments, and the body massage was utilitarian rather than soothing. But, it worked out most of my knots, so I'm not complaining. There was a few awkward moments, especially when the masseuse (a man) started to massage my inner thigh... I think I jumped about 6 inches off the table and squealed. Overall, though, it was a good experience and despite the thigh-moment, there was nothing inappropriate going on (despite the stereotype of Asian massages). 

Around 7pm, I crawled in bed and read my book for a while. While I loved getting to see the city and taking advantage of the limited time I had in China, it was wonderful to just have a few hours to relax and read and not feel pressured to see something, do something, make the most of every minute!

I had some hot chocolate (with Bailey's) with my roomie, who spotted me the cash. Thankfully I was going to get my deposit for the room and for the towels I rented back in the morning, so I could repay her and have something to get me to the airport.

Around 11pm, my third day in China came to close. Once again exhausted, I closed my eyes and found myself dreaming of Korea....


  1. What a wonderful tale you are telling of Beijing! I wonder what happens on your last day? Looking forward to your next entry....

  2. I agree with anonymous. It's like a "chapter book" the grade school kids read. Every night a chapter and you look forward to the next chapter to see what is going to happen with Chelsea today, but you must wait.

  3. How wonderful that you are able to see so many of the world`s sights.Your grandmother shares your adventures with me and I truly enjoy them and look forward to them.Life is short so do all you can and enjoy it.



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