Outside Tian'anmen Square
Yesterday I made up for my taking it easy the day prior and covered some pretty decent ground for one day. I started at Tian'anmen Square, which I fully expected not to care for, and which I felt pretty "meh" about in person. It's just a massive concrete square followed by a massive concrete square followed by -- you guessed it -- a massive concrete square. Very barren and ugly and bleak and I don't care for what it stands for in the least. I bolted through it about as quickly as I could, trying not to think about the tens of thousands of Chinese screaming and shoving and paying homage to their great leaders and nation, which would only get me riled up and wanting to scream at them.
From Tian'anmen Square you're dumped directly into the "Palace Museum," or Forbidden City as the rest of us know it.
The Forbidden City is pretty cool. It's got nothing on the Summer Palace -- that place has the Forbidden City spanked and then some. But coming from Tian'anmen, it's a welcome change. It stretches on forever, literally your life passes by your eyes as you move from one hall or chamber or whatever to the next, and you begin to think you may never leave. Also, there are something like FIVE MILLION Chinese people milling about, pushing and screaming and smoking and spitting (despite the "rigorously enforced" no smoking or spitting rules; I didn't see anyone enforcing squat, and there was smoking and spitting all over the place) and more shoving and screaming for good measure. Also, they all stand DIRECTLY IN FRONT of whatever it is you're trying to take a picture of at that moment.
All of them. Even if you're say, three feet away and clearly in the process of taking said photo. "Oh you want a picture of that? Here, let me stand in the way." It's one of these Chinese phenomenons that drives me crazy, and not in a good way. That being said, yesterday I sort of "embraced the suck" as it were and took pictures of everything, thousands of people between me and my subject included. I did this specially for Pun, who has requested to see the "mass of humanity" that I've been describing. I'm not sure I'd call it anything near humanity; barn animals is more like it. But in any event, the photos are pretty mobbed with people, so you should be able to get a feel for what I deal with on a daily basis.
From the Forbidden City I fought the urge to punch the dozen or so rickshaw drivers that harassed me to take a ride in their dumpy little wagons and walked across town to Wangfujing, which is a big pedestrian street mall. I was expecting a shopping arcade packed with local vendors, but really it's the strip that has all the designer boutiques on it: Chanel and similar. The guidebook recommended a "less touristy" peking duck restaurant just off Wangfujing, and seeing as I've decided to put the vegetarianism aside for certain key cultural dishes along the way, I figured peking duck should be at the top of the list. Ideally, I would have liked to have done the duck thing with others, so I could try a few bites and then go about my business eating as usual, but it just didn't work out that way.
And I really, really wish it had. Because the duck was good, but not out of this world, and the bill made up for what the duck lacked in the "out of this world" department. The service was atrocious, and then I got nailed with a 15% service charge (my first in all my travels) for being served in a "private room." I didn't request any such treatment! I walked in the door and they whisked the foreigner out of sight and into a little cubby of her own, lest her funny looks spoil the appetite of the darling locals receiving all sorts of special treatment out in the main room. Basically, I was completely ignored, had to ask for water twice and then finally beg before getting a little teacup full without any hope of a refill, and sat there for nearly an hour before I was served.
People came and went in that time period; I know it wasn't a slow restaurant on the whole. They were turning tables and making the most of their little cash cow. (Cash duck?) I know the Chinese are god's chosen people and the sun rises and sets on them and I could never hope to be a fraction as amazing as they are and all, but I'm getting a little tired of being shit on all the time.
Struggling to digest the duck, which then sat in my stomach like a fatty mass all day, I made my way to the subway and shot up to the northern part of the city and checked out the Lama Temple. I think it's China's first/only/something or another Tibetan temple. It's different than the standard Chinese temples. I'm sure there are a whole manner of details that differ, but to an uninformed observer, the main difference was with the idols that were housed internally (and like always not permitted to be photographed); the outer structures seemed pretty similar to me.
This isn't meant as a slight to either Chinese or Tibetan temples; I think they're both pretty neat. And I really wish they would allow photos. The culmination at the end, after walking through at least a dozen temples, is the biggest temple housing a massive buddha. Massive. Apparently makes the world record for largest buddha carved out of a single piece of wood. The temple is four stories high just to accommodate this thing. Really, really big. Very cool. Liked the Lama Temple quite a bit.
I then came home and developed the world's worst sore throat. Awesome.
Woke up with an even worse sore throat, if that is even possible, and something else that has me seething: theft. Last night, I came in from the shower, folded my clothes while talking to the other people that share my room, put them on top of my shoes, and went to bed.
This morning I woke up and they're gone. Gone. Who the fuck steals clothes?? I mean, seriously. Last night I shared the room with two dudes and a girl. One dude flew to India today, and he was around all week and I'm pretty sure he didn't touch my stuff. And frankly, while the other boy is a total douchebag, I really don't see what he would gain from my clothes. As for the girl, she's about twice my size, so again, not entirely certain what good my extra small shirt is going to do her. But I'm fucking pissed. I have three short sleeved shirts. THREE. And that was my main one! The white one that I layer under everything. And my new cardigan? I just bought that a few weeks ago in Busan.
You're really going to steal my cheaply made Asian cardigan?? Come ON. And before the comments explode, yes I realize it's not the end of the world or costly to replace them. But still. It's a pain in the ass. I don't do or purchase things randomly; I think long and hard about what I need and act accordingly. I brought that shirt along specifically, just as I deliberately sought out a very lightweight cotton cardigan that wasn't so much for warmth as it was for covering shoulders and providing layering and such. And some shithead is running around wearing my clothes? I know I have to keep the laptop and passport locked up, but clothes? Give me a fucking break. Bitch has another thing coming when she gets back from her Great Wall excursion today.
I tell you what.
Having started the day out on the right foot and feeling like crap, I stuck to my plan to make the most of my last day in Beijing
and suited up and headed out. First stop was lunch down the street at the restaurant that makes to die for vegetarian dumplings. Skipped the dumplings in favor of trying something new, and had tasty (albeit completely saturated with salt & oil) eggplant instead. Was pretty yummy. From lunch I did another "let's see how many subways I can ride in one day" and went to the Temple of Heaven. Sprawled out across acres and acres of land, the Temple of Heaven is not nearly as massive or impressive as temples typically are.
(But still was pretty nice, esp to stroll around the green.) It consists of three main structures: a temple to pray for good harvests, a temple for who knows what (hey, I don't feel well, back off), and a raised altar. The altar is just a big circular marble slab that has three different segments, and made me feel all sorts of queasy imagining all the "sacrifices" that were burning in the various ovens scattered about. The Chinese people, however, were loving it, and running all over this altar. I'm sorry, did you guys miss this sign here that delicately tiptoes around what (read: who) exactly they were burning in an offering to the gods? Oh that's right, you're just here to shove and scream and obstruct photos. My mistake, slipped my mind.
Did the hot/cold thing all day, wandering around the grounds in a short sleeved shirt while everyone else is bundled up in parkas and looking at me like I've lost my mind. (Come to think of it, that's the standard look I get on any given day. Lots of pointing and gaping and staring. Am I REALLY that strange looking?) Going through Kleenex like they're going out of style. Have a couple hours to mellow out before my train, but had to check out this morning so unfortunately can't nap. Plan to drug myself silly once I board that thing. Xi'an, here I come.