Day 29: Beijing
Beijing Travel Blog› entry 32 of 34 › view all entries
Well, there was some good news and some bad news. The good news was that it would not have mattered if we had gone to the Great Wall today, because the fog was still just as dense. The bad news was that the fog was still just as dense.
Today we went to see the heart of Beijing: Tianenmen Square and the Forbidden City.
Tianenmen square is the largest square in the world, originally built during the Ming dynasty in the 15th century, but enlarged and cemented as Mao's answer to the Red Square in Moscow in 1958. In 1989 the square became world news during the student protests and subsequent massacre.
The square, I must say, is not a nice place. Unlike the Red Square, which breathes history and culture, the Tianenmen square is just a slab of concrete, with big government buildings aligned and a huge tomb for Mao smack in the middle.
We briefly considered visiting Mao's mausoleum - I figured it would be a morbid kind of fun to see the embalmed bodies of both Lenin and Mao within just one month - but seeing the queues made us decide otherwise. There was a huge queue, all around the block, and neither of us felt much for an hour's wait.
Instead we moved northwards to another site which has long been on my list of must see's all thanks to the movies: The Forbidden City. I remember seeing 'The Last Emperor' and thinking "I gotta go there some day". And here I was, really walking around in what looked like a striking combination of a movie set and a Chinese restaurant. The entrance was fantastic, you walk up these huge walkways, surrounded literally by thousands of tourists (mostly Chinese) and you come to this open court where you see the main buildings (or one of the main buildings at least) with the orange tiled roof, and the dragon ornaments and the everything.
And it was such a let down really. Seriously... near where I live there is a huge Chinese hotel/restaurant, and it's not particularly known for its good quality, if you know what I mean, and that place is basically a replica of a forbidden city building and seeing the real thing, which had just been restored for the upcoming Olympics, it was just as if I was visiting that Chinese restaurant, really.
As said, the entrance is really, really cool, but there are over 900 buildings in the forbidden city and they all look *exactly* the same, and they all look like that frigging restaurant just down the road from where I live. It was just so hard to enjoy it for what it was... I felt a bit guilty actually... here I was, walking down a remarkable piece of history and I couldn't really enjoy it because I am driving past a replica of said piece of history on my way to work every day.
For lunch we went to that other Beijing institute: Peking Duck! Obviously there are plenty of restaurants specialising in the city's most famous delicacy, but we went for the most famous of duck restaurants: Quanjude. The place holds the dubious place of having served both Fidel Castro and George Bush (though not at the same time, apparently) as well as numerous other celebrities.
The place is actually so big and successful, it has three huge branches in the city, each having at least 5 floors or restaurant space. This isn't a restaurant, it's a factory! Yet the dining rooms were surprisingly nice and cosy, to tell you the truth. Once inside you don't realise it is such a huge place serving thousands of people each day.
The duck was delicious and well worth the considerable amount of cash we'd had to fork out for it.
The Quanjude branch we'd lunched in was on Wang Fu Jing road, which is basically 5th Avenue of Beijing; the main shopping street. The main shopping street seems to try and look as western possible, with all the usual Western brands available in big, western style department stores. Quite boring, really. Tucked in an alley just off Wang Fu Jing we found a little gem though, lines of small souvenir stalls selling all kinds of junk. I really have a weakness for these kind of places and had to control myself not to buy loads and loads of junk I don't really need. I restricted myself to just buying the two things I try to buy in each country I go to: a little rock statue (traditional Chinese warrior) and the cheesiest fridge magnet I could find.
We took the subway east to the famous Silk Market. Well, market, it is basically a huge department store with about 8 floors filled with little stalls, selling anything from tea to souvenirs to jewellery to clothes. After we'd wandered around for two hours without buying anything we realised that we wouldn't have enough time to see the whole place today, let alone do some proper shopping, so we decided to try and go back here tomorrow.
In the evening we met up with Maciek, the Polish guy who we had travelled through Russia and Mongolia with. He had carried on to Beijing two weeks ago, when we went on the tour to the White Lake, and he was staying with his aunt here in Beijing. It was great catching up with him, as we'd had so much fun in the two weeks we'd travelled together.
His younger sister had come over to join him for a couple of weeks as well, and it was fun to go out with the four of us; two brothers and two sisters, travelling together.
We didn't really have any ideas for dinners, so in the end we decided to take Maciek and his sister to that nameless place where we'd eaten on our first night in Beijing, that wok restaurant. Once again the food was delicious.
After dinner we went to grab a couple of drinks in the HÃºtong near our hostel. There are plenty of little bars in this area, many with a rooftop terrace, which is great for a warm night like this (had I mentioned yet that as soon as the rain had stopped the heat was back on? And to think that this is only spring... you really don't want to be here in summer, I think.
Once Maciek and his sister left to catch the last bus back home Robbel and I spent a few more hours just sitting outside, sipping beers and reminiscing on the great journey we'd had. Last day tomorrow, hard to think of it really. When we got back from the Gobi two weeks ago we felt like we'd been going for ages and still had so much time left on our trip, but now all of a sudden it felt as if it had gone by so quickly.