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Near death

Beijing Travel Blog

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Tiannamen Square

We arrived in Xingang and our ride was waiting for us...yippee! Our scheduled transfer from the ship included a driver and an English-speaking guide. Our guide was Jessica (English name) a junior college student studying tourism at the university in Xingang. She was very sweet and excited to talk to us and practice her English. I was happy to be in the back seat with her, safely belted in, and able to talk to her for distraction because 3 minutes into the drive I was quite confident that we were going to die right there, in the middle of China, on that road, with no one to ever find our bodies or notify our families.

Driving in China reminds me of Aussie Rules Football. If you have ever seen the game you know that the name is an oxymoron. Aussie Rules Football actually has no rules and the object is essentially to kill the guy with the ball.

The countdown to the Olympics
Similarly, in China, there seem to be highway markers, signs, speed limits and lanes...but they are all completely ignored and all of the drivers move with impunity in any direction and speed that they choose. When we saw the third car turn completely around on the highway and begin driving toward us, against the traffic, going the wrong direction, without a care in the world or an attempt to avoid colliding with us...I squeezed Brian's shoulder and told him that I hoped we would end up in heaven together.

Passing on the highway is done by simply going around the car in front of you, with one honk of the horn and with the confidence that the oncoming cars will give you room to pass. If there is no room to pass in the oncoming lane, you simply go onto the shoulder to pass and assume that all of the bikes and pedestrians and ox carts will move out of your way.

Soldiers marching outside Tiannamen
After 20 minutes, I put my nose in my book and pretended that we were still on the ship reading by the pool. :)

We arrived at our hotel and much to my astonishment we were alive! We got checked in and went to drop our stuff in the room so we could get out there to see the city. Brian went into the bathroom first and I was changing into warmer clothes...it was chilly in Beijing. I heard Brian rattling the bathroom door and asked if he was ok, he said the door was stuck. I listened for another minute while he tried to get the door opened and then I went to see if I could help from my side. The door was completely jammed. I called housekeeping and explained that the door was stuck and they sent a very nice, very tiny woman to assist.

Sun setting over a temple
She tried the door knob and realized she needed someone stronger and called for help. Before long there were at least 6 hotel staff in our room trying to open the door. Two front desk people, two housekeeping women and two maintenance men with assorted tools all tried over and over to open the door. After a few minutes the front desk person called me over and using rudimentary sign language and basic words he explained that he wanted me to tell Brian to check that the bolt was turned the right way. I passed this info on to Brian and then passed Brian's message on to the staff using the same sign language. They kept trying to un-jam the door, using screw drivers and credit cards and pushing and shoving the door and it would not budge. I jokingly said "Bruce Lee" and then pantomimed a karate kick at the door.
The Underground City
They laughed for a second and then began to seriously consider that action. The front desk man called someone on the phone and before long a very official woman showed up to assess the situation. They again pantomimed to me that I should pass the credit card to Brian and explain that he needed to use it from the inside to compress the mechanism to try to get the door unstuck. Brian did as he was told to no avail. After 15 minutes of attempts they agreed with my plan and told me to tell Brian to get back, all the way back and they kicked in the door.

Once Brian was free, they promptly moved us to another room and before leaving us they checked the bathroom door seven or eight times. :) Brian and I could not stop laughing...especially when I saw how small the bathroom was and Brian told me that in order to get "way back" he actually had to hide in the shower.

An alley in Beijing
:)

Brian wanted to see the Police Museume before it closed at 4 p.m. and with our bathroom delay it was 2:30...so we decided to skip lunch and walk directly to the museum. It was a long walk...along the entire Forbidden Palace, along the entire Tianamen Square, and it was even longer because for awhile we walked in the wrong direction. We finally found the museum and we had 45 minutes to check it out.

The communist revolution in China occurred in 1949 when Mao took power. The police museum documented the history of law enforcement in China, particularly during the communist regime, and it was the most fascinating piece of propaganda. In describing the brutish, military police in China, the exhibits extolled the virtues of the police in "maintaining unification and harmony of the Chinese people." In discussing the brutal murder of protesting students in 1989 the exhibit said "the police successfully prevented the spread of traitors and other criminals." There were several exhibits documenting specific criminal investigations and I enjoyed seeing the labels on the photographs. The suspect was labled as "criminal" and the victim was labeled as "victim." Having experience in law enforcement I appreciated the Chinese ability to call a criminal a criminal. :)

After the police museum we walked over to Tianamen Square. The police and military presence was overhwelming. The square is blocked off except for an entrance on the side that is manned by police. They did not stop us but they were stopping all of the Chinese and searching their bags prior to entry. The square is quite large and is surrounded by monuments and museums. There are hawkers there, trying to sell Chairman Mao watches and other souvenirs. On the east side is a large countdown clock, marking the time remaining until the Beijing Olympics. As we walked around the square several contingents of soldiers would march past.

We had plans to meet our friends from the ship at 7 for dinner and it was only 4:30 so we decided to check out the Underground City. In the late 60's and 70's China was involved in escalating tensions with the Soviet Union and Chairman Mao decided to build an underground city that would enable the military to move about the city in safety and would also allow for the quick and safe evacuation of officials and soldiers in the case of a war. The Chinese carved out hundreds of miles of tunnels and rooms underneath Beijing and several other cities. Only a small portion of the original city is open for visitors and the portion of tunnels you walk through take you underneath the Forbidden City, Tianamen Square and several other sites in that area. The tour was very interesting, we had an English-speaking guide, and he had several funny anecdotes to share about the use of the various buildings and tunnels. It was a bit scary wandering around underground, it would be easy to get lost as the tunnels criss-cross back and forth and seem to go in circles. There were several tunnels that were blocked by steel doors and marked with no access signs and it made me wonder if some of the tunnels are still in use or still kept secret in case they are ever needed.

From the Underground City we walked over to Suzy and Tim's hotel, with the idea that we would have a drink or two before dinner. We managed to all meet up and we ate dinner at a Japanese restaurant that had an all you can eat and drink special. We confirmed ahead of time that they really meant "all you can drink" since we had Brian and the Aussies with us and we all knew that we would drink a lot. The hostess confirmed and we sat in our own room since we requested non-smoking. Everyone in Beijing smokes, all the time, even in completely inappropriate times and places, so in order to enjoy our dinner we knew that we needed to be away from the smoke.

The food was amazing. They had a huge menu with various Japanese specialties and we were able to order any and all dishes we wanted. Michelle, Brian and I had some sashimi that was fantastic and we all ordered several large beers. After two or three rounds of beers the waitress reported that they did not have any more cold beer...we cleaned them out. :) After offering to pour our beer over ice, which we rejected, she brought out an ice bucket and placed the beers in the bucket to chill so we could drink them. It was great!

After dinner we walked over to the night market, only to discover that it closes at 9 p.m. We walked into a few shops and explored the area a bit and then called it a night.

Brian and I had a difficult time getting a cab home, none of the drivers wanted to take us the short distance to our hotel without negotiating a high fare. We wanted to use the meter and after several attempts Brian finally negotiated a price and we were on our way.

Happy birthday to Kyle!

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Tiannamen Square
Tiannamen Square
The countdown to the Olympics
The countdown to the Olympics
Soldiers marching outside Tiannamen
Soldiers marching outside Tiannamen
Sun setting over a temple
Sun setting over a temple
The Underground City
The Underground City
An alley in Beijing
An alley in Beijing
Beijing
photo by: Deats