Beijing Travel Blog› entry 19 of 20 › view all entries
Definately my favourite city so far in China, despite the building work on the roads that seems to be going on everywhere - there was a massive ditch on the outside of our hostel. We were quite tired when we got in from the sleeper, so we got showers and had the best breakfast so far on the whole trip. Afterwards we had a stroll around Tiananmen square. The square contains two monuments to 'the people' and then Chairman Mao's mosaleum, with the forbidden city at the opposite end. When you're in it, it doesn't feel like you're in one of the biggest public squares in the world. I had learned all about the massacre and the government crackdown in 1989 at uni and then to be in the place where it happened was bizzare. When I was campaigning for human rights for China in my 3rd year, I never thought I'd be in the place where one of the major events occured.
A lot of people wanted pictures of us in the square, and I'm sure people took photos of us while we weren't looking. That's what you got to expect when you're in Asia and you have light coloured hair I guess. We met up with Anne and Camilla, who we had hung out with in Vietnam in the hostel and it was really cool to catch up with them.
In Beijing, we did loads of stuff. On my birthday we went to see Chairman Mao's Mosaleum. We had to queue for about 2 hours in the baking heat to see him. It was one of the strangest experiences of my life as the chinese people we so excited to see him - they kept on trying to push in front of us but we held our ground as best we could. At the entrance to where his perserved body was held little old chinese ladies were sprinting up the steps to get there before any one else. You only really get a few seconds to gaze on his body (which was very orange, for some unknown reason!) before you are hurried through by security guard. It seems odd to us why they revere a man who caused the country so much hardship. We had a quick look around the olympic stadium in the afternoon, which is a lot smaller than it looks on TV and in the evening we went out for a rather un satisfying meal - but the company was great!
We also saw the Llama Temple. This is the finest example of a Tibetan temple outside Tibet and it had some very impressive statues and good explanations of what things were. Tibetan buddhism is influenced by folk belifs I think - so spirits and gods are everywhere and in everything - especially in the land. I think this might be reflected in the number of statues of what look to me like demonic forms - but I'm drawing on very sketchy A level knowledge here. Afterwards we completed the epic journey to Summer Palace, which was really pretty - and would have been even better if the sun had been shining. We arrived to late to get the all exclusive ticket, so we got the boat across the lake and wandered around the grounds.
Of course, we went to see the two big hitters in Beijing - the great wall and the forbidden city. As I really like the disney film Mulan - it was really cool to see both of these as it was just like in the film (minus the hoardes of Chinese tourists.) The forbidden city was huge and the architecture was very beatiful. It was quite hard to get a sense of life inside the palace walls, as they are not really any displays or a whole lot to see inside of the buildings. When there is something to see you have to battle your way through somewhat vicious chinese grandmas in order to get a look in! One of my favourite things was the clock musuem (I know, how nerdy) but they did have some amazing clocks. They were so ornate and probably cost more than a townhouse in London.
We went to the Mutinanyu section of the great wall, about 2 hours from Beijing. A lot of our friends raved about the Secret Wall tour run by Leo's hostel but because of my dodgy knee I didn't want to risk the walking. The good thing about Mutinanyu is that it has been fully restored, so you can see all the guard houses. You just have to ignore the cable car (which makes the walk up a whole lot easier), the toboggan, and the sellers on the way down to have an authentic experience. Also, watch out for the Camel! If you do visit the great wall, don't get pressured into a tour if you don't want to - just stick to the instructions in Lonely Planet - and get off at the very last stop on the public bus at the bus station - no matter what 'helpful' advice you get a long the way. I think it is now possible to get a bus all the way from Beijing to the wall - but you would need to check it out.
One of the best things about Beijing is the people - 365 Inn near the Qiamen subway is really great place to stay.