Sunset reflected off a building in Beijing
Back in Beijing, there were some business matters to attend to in the late afternoon. First was to get some clothes cleaned. Found a place around the corner from the hotel that did laundry and dropped the bag off there with a promise of pick up tomorrow. At least I hoped that was what was communicated through our language barrier. Also noted there was a place to get a haircut right next door, but I had to get to the bank before it closed so that would wait until tomorrow.
My stash of dollars was dwindling and I had heard from folks that dollars were the travellers best friend in Mongolia and Russia (apart from the local currency of course).
Flowers along a street in Beijing
I had brought a small amount of travellers check's in case of emergency, but had otherwise relied entirely on the ATM card for access to money in my bank accounts. But I was warned that ATMs in Ulaan Bataar were a bit dodgy at best and I also felt it was smart to have some hard currency on hand just in case it became necessary. So it was off to a branch of the Bank of China a few blocks from the hotel. Went in and after a short wait was directed to a teller who spoke a bit of English. Cashed the travellers checks and converted some of my remaining Yuan back into dollars without any difficulty at all. After about 15 minutes I exited with my dollar supply replenished ready for more adventures.
Which leads me to one other comment mentioned briefly above.
Qianmen - the main gate and portion of the old Beijing city wall.
It's somewhat simply amazing that I had very little difficulty in using my ATM anywhere on the trip. Thailand - no problem. Nepal - other than finding an ATM that had power or concerns about the power going out to the ATM machine with my card inside I had no problem getting Rupees. China and Hong Kong - no problem at multiple locations. Mongolia - see mention above, I would not use a ATM there. And Russia - I would have no problem there in the coming weeks. I had contacted my bank previous to leaving the country with my itinerary and had no problems with being denied or closed off from my funds the entire trip.
From the bank it was a trip to the supermarket for some food for the train and a stop for dinner.
Me on Tiananmen Square
Some more internet time and then back to the hotel for the rest of the evening.
Aha, finally time to visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City (Imperial Palace). We took the subway up to near Tiananmen Square. First stop was the Qianmen gate which is a small part of the Beijing City Walls protecting the Inner City of Beijing. Behind the gate lies Tiananmen Square itself. The square is huge (the largest in the world) and in the century lies the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao. The lines to visit the Mausoleum were already exceedingly long and I wasn't hugely interested in seeing the moldering Chairman so that was that. Instead I wandered over to the Monument to the People's Heroes. The square was crowded and busy but not packed.
Monument to the People's Heroes
The tall, generally fair complected foreigner was also gaining his fair share of attention again. Multiple times people would tap my arm or shoulder and ask to have a picture taken. It was a bit weird but at the same time their friendliness is so infectious you can't help but smile. I found myself exchanging names with many people and haltingly some would ask "Where are you from?" or some variation. I would answer "American" to hear them repeat it and tell me a city or province they were from and I would mangle it as I tried to say it back to them.
We slowly migrated to the north end of the square and used the tunnel to cross under Chang'an street and approach the Tiananmen Gate (Gate of Heavenly Peace). This is the Gate with the well known portrait of Chairman Mao on it.
Passing through the Meridian Gate of the Forbidden City
This is the ticketed entrance to the Forbidden City but in actuality is the entrance to the Imperial City with the Meridian Gate being the true entrance to the Forbidden City. And the Meridian Gate was next. We passed through the Meridian Gate and into the Forbidden City proper. From here we branched over to the western side of the plaza as we approached the Hall of Supreme Harmony. It was a little less crowded over there and we still had decent views of the large halls that made up the Outer Court. At the Hall of Preserving Harmony we fought the crowds to get close to the entrance to view the Imperial throne inside. It was both an ornate throne but with al elegant simplicity as well.
As we walked down the Western Wall of the Outer Court there were several small rooms that held various items of historical note.
Hall of Supreme Harmony
We took some time in many of the rooms seeing some of these pieces and reading about the history of the various Chinese dynasties that called the Forbidden City home. But once past the Hall of Preserving Harmony we entered the Inner Court of the Forbidden City. Here was the residential quarters of the Emperor, his family, his concubines, and assorted other imperial personages. We wandered through several of the halls and buildings of the Court but to see everything in the Forbidden City would take multiple days of visits. After 2 hours or so of exploration we ended at the Imperial Gardens at the northern end of the City, and passed through the Gate of Divine Might, leaving the Imperial Palace behind.
It was around lunch so we walked around looking for a place to eat.
Imperial Throne in the Hall of Preserving Harmony (it was a struggle through the crowds to get these photos - lots of elbows)
Took some time to enjoy the meal and then decided what to do. A few of us decided to head back towards the hotel, but in so doing we decided to wander through some of the random hutongs (alleys) and see a little bit behind the facade of Beijing. We saw lots of small shops and stores, people collecting and carrying objects (one cart carrying a load of glass bottles) and the local Beijing-ers going about the day to day activities of life.
Eventually we popped out on a main road near the subway line and grabbed that back to the hotel. I didn't head straight in though as it was time to brave the hair cut. Went down the street behind the hotel to the place I had found yesterday. A lady was in the process of cutting a guy's hair and gestured me inside to the small couch to wait.
Various sights in the Inner Palace
She finished up about 15 minutes later and now it was my turn. It was immediately obvious that she didn't know any English so this was going to be interesting. I gestured to the razor and a guard and put up 2 fingers hoping that they used a numbering system for the guards like they did at home. Then I gestured to scissor cut the top. Well it could have been worse. The razor trim on the backs and sides took almost everything on its first pass but she didn't take the razor over the top and completely shave me bald. It was just a really, really short haircut. And at 20 Yuan (a bit under $3) I wasn't complaining.
Next stop was to pick up my laundry next door which was done and take back to my room. Sort out some stuff for tomorrow's departure.
Hall of Imperial Peace
Jon showed up at some point and we prepped to go see the Kung Fu show with Heidi. See the accompanying review for more details on that experience. After the show we met up with Efrat and Carlie up at the 12SQM bar for some drinks and a late dinner at a rooftop restaurant nearby. It was amazing how quickly time passed as it was soon 10:30 or so and we had a 7:45 AM departure time for our train tomorrow morning, meaning heading for the station shortly after 7:00. So we piled into a couple of taxis to head back to the hotel, finish packing, and try to get a little sleep.
Beijing Nightlife & Entertainment review
The smallest bar in Beijing - maybe not anymore
Had this little (and emphasis on the word little) place recommended to us as a place to stop for some drinks. Hit the location after the Kung Fu show… read entire review