Sushu's Travel Journal

July 20, 2009

Beijing Day 1 and 2 — (Mis)Adventures

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 11:00 pm

Note: Images here are stolen from the internets because haven’t uploaded mine yet.

We got into Beijing by overnight train on Monday morning. The person who reserved our train tickets for us did it wrong, and we were placed in bottom bunks in different rooms, so we had to do some mild ticket trading. But otherwise the train ride was pleasant and uneventful. I took lots of pictures of Northern villages and industrial stuff. It was really interesting that the crummiest houses would still have satellite dishes. For a country with state-controlled media, Chinese people sure like their media. There’s also fewer bathroom tile houses and more shabby brick.

So we got to our hostel after navigating the subway system. I’d gotten fairly familiar with the subway system during my stay last year, but at the time, I had this magic pass that allowed me free onto all public transit, so this was the first time I had to buy tickets. The system was really confusing because it was obviously designed to charge variable rates depending on distance travelled (you’re prompted for your destination station), but really, all subway tickets are just 2 rmb.

We went to the hostel, and they said “come back at noon to check in”. So at 10am we stowed our luggage and headed to the Forbidden City. I wanted to go in from the front for the maximum effect, but the taxi driver could only drop us off at the east gate, so a lot of walking happened. Then we had to stand in line for half an hour to get tickets. (There were many ticket scalpers, and under normal circumstances I’d gladly pay an extra 10rmb for the effort of waiting in long lines in the sun, but I was afraid that they’re used tickets or otherwise invalid. Man, I’m so distrustful in China)

Anyways, we get into the Forbidden City. It’s ginormous, which is good because there were like 1300 people milling around us at any given time. I saw at least 40 different tour groups.

This picture is from October, but accurately represents the 人山人海

Things were going well — I would send Jono ahead to peer into hallowed halls and meet him at the right corner of the next hall in the row. But after 3 halls of this, just as we were about to enter the second half of the Forbidden City (the first half is the public, guest-receiving, pompous part where you have 8-10 beastie buildings, the second half is slightly less pompous and has actual living areas), I lost Jono!!

We were rounding this corner and headed for these stairs that went down into a big square type thing. I was following Jono, but then I realized that it wasn’t Jono, just some other guy. So I went to the balcony and looked out for a while, trying to be conspicuous, and also trying to find him. Failing that, I figured that he was probably ahead somewhere because I was hobbling and he didn’t realize that I wasn’t following directly behind, so I went ahead through the rest of the Palace, following the crowds, and loitering at every sign post (Jono likes reading Signs) and every right corner of a building. I waited for him for a while around the exit, but he wasn’t showing up, and I was getting anxious.

The offending balcony area

Meanwhile, Jono had apparently left me to take a picture on the balcony, and when he discovered that I wasn’t there anymore, he decided to go back to the earlier meeting point, figuring that I would go there since I’m not good at walking. (This was when I was looking all over the balcony for him). Then he went up and down the balcony area looking for me (this was when I’d moved on). He loitered in that area for a while, and then decided to head for the exit, hoping I’d be there.

At this point, I’d noticed that there’s an announcement/paging system that was audible in the rear of the palace, and had found out that the broadcasting room was all the way near where we had separated. So I was making my slow way back towards the front.

So the broadcasting room as this service window that they open, and you can fill out a form with relevant information, and they’d broadcast the information, like “XXX from YYY, please go to ZZZ to meet up”
So I was like, “Hey, can you broadcast in English?”
Dude: “English? Who did you lose?”
Me: “His name is Jonathan DiCarlo” (Figured to go with the familiar oldie-but-goodie instead of Xia Zhong Nuo)
Dude: ::makes a face:: “Okay… show me your ID card”
Me: ::digs out USA passport::
Dude: ::sighs, rolls eyes in the ‘omg what is up with this girl?’ way:: “Fine, fill out this form.”
Me: (while filling out the form) “Um.. I don’t remember properly how to write 殿…”
Dude: ::sighs as he writes it for me:: “You could have just written a homophone… this form is perfunctory anyway.”
And then he lets me into the broadcasting room because he doesn’t speak English. I think he sighed/rolled his eyes again when he saw my hobbling ways.

So anyways, I did the broadcast, and then went to the meeting place and sat down to wait. After about 10 minutes Jono showed up! He had gone to the exit and had turned back when he heard the announcement, and so he rushed over. So after some quiet rejoicing and calming of nerves, we walked to the exit and left the park. By this time it’s 2pm and I’d walked the length of the Forbidden City 3 times. :( My foot was none-too-happy

So we skipped the Coal Hill and went back to the hostel.

At around dinner time, we packed an overnight bag and headed out again. Here’s the deal: I’d reserved one night’s stay at an expensive SiHeYuan courtyard that’s supposed to be all traditional and homey and cool. It was 780rmb per night, versus the 200rmb at the hostel. So we stopped at a Meat On a Stick place nearby that was kind of Med-like in the wall scribbles (“In an attempt to stem X’s shopping addiction we ate from Y street all the way here. Next up, the bars of Z!” “Here on Valentines’ Day after a big fight with my husband.” “Food is Zen”. “X is extorting me for food again.” “Best of luck to me getting into U of Sydney!”). It was kinda expensive, though, 80rmb.

After dinner, we got a taxi to the SiHeYuan place. It was down this hutong (in contrast to Shanghai’s Longtang), and we found this tiny metal door. We were like, “ummm?” But then a guy came up and was like, “Are you Sushu?” And he opened the door to a tiny narrow alleyway. At the end of the alley was a small courtyard with a tree and a long table off to the side. In the shade of the tree was a large goldfish basin. The courtyard floor was soft gray stone tiles. The four sides of the courtyard were different rooms. It was very quiet and peaceful in the courtyard. We paid the money, and settled down in our room. The room was pretty awesome, a mix of classy old-timey decor and modern amenities (air conditioning, CFLs everywhere, and a ginormous shower area with one of those super big shower heads). We had a very quiet night there, working on our respective comics.

They had the cutest dog ever

The next morning, the hostess made us a really yummy western style breakfast, and then after some more loitering about, we headed by subway and then by taxi to 圆明园, the old Summer Palace which was destroyed by various foreign peoples first in the Anglo-French war of 1860 and then during the 8-Alliance occupation in the 1890s.

It was much bigger than we expected! We walked past a whole lotus festival thing. And then we rode on a boat through one of the 20 lily lakes there, and then we went to see the Western Building Remnants. On the way back to the exit we got lost among the network of islands and bridges and lakes. But we eventually found our way out, snagging some Meat On a Stick on the way out. We also bought a cup of 酸梅汤, which is this cool sweet and tart plum drink popular here in the summer. But it turned out to be watered-down vinegar. D:

My foot was not feeling that great after the second successive day of walking for 4 hours, so we caught a taxi all the way back. Except that the taxi driver got lost. 3 times. :(

I think we missed some major sights in Yuanmingyuan because I was too tired to walk by the end. There were signs saying that the 12 bronze zodiacs were on display somewhere in the park, but I didn’t look very hard. We also didn’t go into the maze. :(

On the other hand, we didn’t lose each other!

Then in the evening, even though my foot was really feeling it, we managed to meet up with some of my friends from Shanghai and then we watched HP6!

That brings us to today, where Jono headed off to work, and I forced myself to stay in bed all day to rest my foot. Much lolling on the internet and napping happened.

Next posts:
- Things I learn from Beijing Taxi Drivers
- Quick HP6 reaction.

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