Beijing–Day 1 (Tian’anmen/Forbidden City and The Olympic Park)

Well hello there! It has been quite some time since I’ve updated my blog, and for that I sincerely apologize. After getting back from Taiwan, I began preparing for the HSK which is a Chinese Language Proficiency Test. Before Dannysha and I left for Taipei, the school told us we would be taking HSK level 4, but when we returned they informed us we would be taking level 5, which is much more difficult. We took the exam on May 12th, and until we reached that date much of our free time was spent studying, though I did take a little trip to Taiyuan to free my mind a bit (I’ll make a post about that later). So, again, I apologize for my absence, but I plan to post quite a bit before I leave, particularly since my departure is looming ever closer.

About a week ago, Dannysha and I jumped on sleeper train to head up to Beijing, the capital of China and probably the most famous city in the country. From Kaifeng, it’s about a 14 hour train ride to get to the thriving metropolis. Fortunately, this ride wasn’t so bad–we left around 8 PM on a Friday and arrived around 10:30 AM the next day. This was not my first time on a sleeper train, but I did take a photo for your viewing pleasure. They aren’t necessarily the most comfortable, but it’s way better than a hard seat. What I really enjoy about them is that people won’t bother you because you’re white–they’ll still talk about you, but people book the sleepers because they want to sleep, and sleep they do.

When we got to Beijing, the first order of business was to get to the hostel. We found ours off of hostelworld.com and the cost per night was only around $6 per person. This is, of course, for the dorm style room which means you’ll be rooming with other people and using a community bathroom. But for $6 a night, I am absolutely okay with that. We took the subway to the appropriate stop, missed the entrance to the hostel at first but eventually stumbled upon it. The girl working the front desk knew very little English (not a problem for us, of course) and was not very helpful. She forgot to give us our key and gave us the password to the wifi begrudgingly. When we entered into the room, we noticed that there was indeed an air conditioner (just as it said online) but it did not work. There was also a 127-year-old woman that was apparently living there. She seemed nice at first and it’s always useful to practice Chinese–I found the Beijing accent to be much easier to understand than the Henan accent–but then she just became a bit annoying. She would ask us where things were in Beijing even though we explained we were just there to sight-see, and she would go to sleep very late with the TV blaring and then have the audacity to be the first one up the next morning, usually clambering out of bed around 7. The bathrooms were nice–but there was only one shower per restroom. This was apparently not a very popular hostel because this never became an issue, but the shower itself wasn’t too pleasant: the temperature options were Direct From the Arctic or Straight Out of Hell. Needless to say, I will not be patronizing that hostel again.

After checking in and putting our stuff down, we decided to head out for lunch at the fine American establishment, Burger King. No, seriously. It was in the gourmet food section of the mall instead of the food court. Burger Kings are much more difficult to find in China than McDonald’s and are far superior in quality in that they are less Asian and retain more of the American fast food feel. After dining on a delicious Western meal, we set out for the Forbidden City. Tian’anmen is located directly in front of the Forbidden City, so it’s essentially a two-for-one deal. It was a Saturday so the palace was pretty packed. I was a little bit disappointed, to be honest. The Forbidden city has three main palaces, and two out of the three were blocked off for renovation. It also wasn’t quite as tall and grand as I thought it would be, the Chinese movie Curse of the Golden Flower being the cause for my disillusion (which I highly recommend if you haven’t seen it). But it was much much bigger than I thought it was going to be. The spaces in between the palaces were absolutely huge, and it’s not hard to believe that there actually are 9,999 rooms within it’s walls. My favorite places in the Forbidden City were definitely the smaller alleyways in between buildings. The walls were maybe 30 feet high on either side, with random gates and intersections that seemed to have been placed there for the sole purpose of confusing the person wandering through them. After meandering through many of the palaces and smaller chambers, we exited into Tian’anmen. Tian’anmen also wasn’t too impressive, though it was also quite large. There were some nice looking buildings surrounding it, but because there was not even a sliver of shade to rest under and it was about 90 degrees that day we left pretty quickly.

That night we went to the Olympic Park to check out the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube. Since the 2008 Olympics, the Water Cube has been converted into a large indoor water park. The cost of admission running on the high side, so we settled for some photos outside. The Bird’s Nest is still mainly a giant stadium, though a 5-star restaurant has been installed somewhere inside, and I’m fairly certain there’s a large gym in there too. You can take a tour of the stadium during the day, but, like the Water Cube, it’s a bit expensive. The park was nice though–lots of people selling cheap novelty items, many people were rollerblading, and most interestingly, there were some karaoke set ups. People came out with their own flatscreens, generators, microphones, etc and set up a little karaoke area. You told the guy what song you wanted to sing, paid him the appropriate amount, and then waited for your song to come up and sing. It was fun to watch, but looked very intimidating to participate in.

And that concludes day 1 in Beijing! Tomorrow I plan on writing about day 2 and post the corresponding photos!

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