"Old World New Adventure" Top 5 Page for this destination Beijing Shi by beaverk
Beijing Shi Travel Guide: 6,754 reviews and 17,458 photos
13 hours in the air and I was awake for maybe half of one.
Glorious. Upon touch-down in Beijing I am wide-eyed and prepared for anything. Beaver greets me at baggage claim and ushers me into a warm and waiting taxi.
By 7:00am we are at his two-bedroom apartment unloading suitcases and preparing to depart for a full day of activities. First stop: Cantonese style breakfast. I have a rice porridge with chicken and preserved egg (think hard boiled) with a side of quasi beef brisket over udon. Not quite my steamed cauliflower and broiled chicken norm, but points to Beaver for trying to hit my ‘some sort of vegetable and meat of any kind’ request.
9:00am and I’m standing in Tienanmen Square. There are Tienewomen
milling about as well. Any gravitas I might have felt while standing on this politically charged ground was numb in me. Not because I stood in the shadow of an oppressive communist regime with an extremely spotty record on human rights, but because it was maybe 15 degrees outside. The red flags of China stood at full attention as winds whipped about, piercing every crevice of my being. Lips, cheeks, mustache hair—everything on me is frozen and there is talk of mutiny among my toes. On the positive side, all the air movement has swept out the usual pollution that hangs in Beijing’s skies and left a bright blue canopy above us, with light streaming down and revealing the stark and austere beauty of the world’s largest public (as long as you agree with the ruling government) square.
9:03am We cross the street and head into The Forbidden City. This is a huge-ass place, with warrens and cubbies and mazes of streets, all within four giant walls. It was a functioning city a billion years ago. Many exhibits are on display, showcasing who built what when and why. Very confusing. There seemed to be quite a few artifacts on display(scrolls—TONS of scrolls—and bowls and paintings and formal costume ware), but when Beaver tells me that most of the ‘good’ Chinese artifacts are in Taipei, Taiwan, I pay less attention and use the indoor exhibits as an excuse to temporarily defrost my butt-cheeks, which are frozen together like hamburger patties in a Costco freezer in Valencia. We stay three hours and by the end I am amazed that an entire society existed in such close quarters for that many decades (with zero central heat). (If you would like a way better description of The Forbidden City, go rent The Last Emperor.) In the afternoon we visit Bookworm, an expat hang-out that is part coffee/tea house, part bar and part book store. Such a simple concept, to serve any and all forms of liquid beverage under one roof, with books and magazines to spare! I want one of these back home.
2pm We keep moving. Beaver is merciless about keeping me awake. Bastard. There is some shopping for warmer gloves (me) and incense and dvds (B). A word about DVDs in China. They are hilariously sketchy. We found one package that advertised a Demi Moore flick (I’ve never heard of it: direct to Asia release apparently) on the front and then the copywriting on the back pertained to the Duke of Hazard movie. Beaver bought Battlestar Galactica Season 1 & 2 dvd box set ($14US) and the dvds are just burned episodes off TiVo! Very entrepreneurial, these Chinese.
7pm As a reward for staying up, Beaver takes me to get a foot massage. It’s a huge production in a private room. HBO plays on a flat-screen tv while we lay back in over-sized barcoloungers. Our tootsies get ministrations from hot, cold, painful and tickly sources. Beaver hits a button and a hostess brings us beverages and food that come with the use of the room. I am nearly over-stimulated by it all, but Bridget Wilson’s ‘acting’ in The Stepsister* keeps me alert.
*HBO Asia must be the dumping ground for B, D, E and F movies.
Home sometime later. I go to bed a happy woman.
There is a saying I’ve come to admire. “There is freedom in discipline.” Nice, right? So I get up and go work out lightly in the apartment complex gym. Treadmill, CNN—it’s got all I need. There is more staff present than equipment. Young men and women in coordinating polyester track suits bob their heads in often to make sure I’m doing okay. I am. Beaver is not. He is sick. We can’t tell if it’s a designer flu, like avian, or a cheap knock-off, so he stays home for the day and I’m on my own. (yay!) We hatch a plan for me to go terrorize the natives on my own, using taxis and hand written (by Beaver) Chinese cards that I am to give the drivers to help me communicate where I’d like to go. They say things like “Temple of Heaven” “Hongqiao Market” “Do You Have Any Nuts To Share?” and “This Is My Home, Please Take me There.” The plan works without a hitch and I spend two hours milling around the Temple of Heaven all by myself. I think I’m going to see ONE temple. But the Chinese seem to follow the ‘why build one temple when you can build five plus 10 auxiliary structures to surround it’ model of architecture. It’s a huge, beautiful complex. I roam far and wide, admiring the logical layout and symmetry. Unlike the Forbidden City, which is zig-zaggy alleys and back routes, T’Heaven is all straight lines and angles. A central meridian bisects the entire dealio into west and east and each zone has organized gardens and pavilions. Strange to say, but I feel very peaceful here, calm and curious too.
It appears that the Chinese, while not busy building gates and temples and cities verboten, invented just about everything, including assigning meaning and order to musical notes n’ stuff. It’s far too advanced for my small American brain to synthesize, but the general impression I come away with is this: music was not organized before the Chinese saw to putting it down on paper in an orderly and understandable way. Then they built five temples to celebrate their achievement. Beaver has been calling my cell phone every half hour for updates on my adventure. Someone’s lonely! B marvels at how I’m getting about the city w/o assistance. After T’Heaven I walk to two tourist markets. Pearl and Hongqiao Market. The short stroll I saw on the map never materialized and I spent a half hour getting there. I enjoyed being on the street and used one of my taxi cards on pedestrians when I thought I had gotten lost. Everyone was kind in keeping me on track. At the markets I am aggressively man-handled by Chinese girls half my size. They grab my arm and put faux Coach purses in my hand. This is charming for half an hour, then I pick up the pace so they can’t catch me.
5pm finds me quickly and I hop in a cab to meet up with B for
dinner. We go for hotpot, which is boiling broth (right at the table) into which we dip meats and vegetables to cook. B selects three different broths (1 spicy, 2 mild) and a variety of sliced raw meats (beef, lamb) and vegetable (mushroom, nori/seaweed, spinach). It’s hot, heavenly and communal—like making your own giant bowls of soup to share and eating just the solids. I'm sparing you all the details, so for any foodies out there who want deeper description, lemeno! After hot pot we check out some food vendors on a main street in downtown. They offer up all sorts of creations, including grasshoppers and scorpions on sticks, frog legs, squid, centipedes, other 40568590 legged creatures and beef and pork. Were i not so full I would have tried something exotic. It is on my agenda to return!!! From there we go to an artsy, up-scale yet casual lounge/bar called Bed (not like in New York). The inside is similar to the Forbidden City: small rooms leading to other small rooms, lashed together with trance music. We’re almost the only customers, it’s early. I enjoy the atmosphere for ten minutes, then I’m out like a light in a corner. Rookie mistake, taking me to a place called BED thinking I’ll stay awake.
Beaver has wonderfully soft water. My hair is in heaven. It looks
like a L’Oreal commercial (circa 1989) for all of ten seconds before the bitter cold and wind reduce the mass to medusaness. A more leisure day is in store and I have the luxury of journaling for a bit longer than usual. I feel guilt tho--as if i should be out there DOING instead of DOCUMENTING. *** it--it's 20 degrees out. An hour later--we're in the Houhai region of Beijing, dead center of the city. There are small but serious lakes here, connected to one another thru little water channels and bridges for the pedestrians. They are called the Queen Lakes. This is a social area, much like Third Street Prom in Santa Monica or East Race area in South Bend. Restaurants and bars line the banks of the lakes. Boat rentals available when the ice isn't present. When the ice is present, other vehicles are available to get about on. The evening before, B had told me that the Chinese are not very imaginative. I thought to myself at the time: who has time to be imaginative--with all the temple and gate building going on! Not to mention all that inventing of civilization!! Back to Houhai: as we come up to the water/ice's edge, I see before me quite an imaginative scene. In the states when we see frozen water we tend to skate on top of it (unless we have weak ankles, then we crawl across ice, but that's another story). The Chinese have created several mode of transport, the least imaginative being skates. There are ice bicycles (no front wheel but there is a back wheel and a steel 'under carriage' that is what has contact w/ the ice) and ice chairs (think of cross country skiing using poles but sitting in a chair) that seat one or two. Sure seems creative to me!! The ice is busy with biking and chair traffic. We hop on our own sets of wheels and go for a tour of the lake. For an hour, B and I frolic, cavort and careen across the ice. B executes an impressive brake/spin maneuver i dub The Beijing Betty. I chase/race him across the ice, narrowly missing several chairing folk. There are small pockets of ice skaters and some vendors out on the ice peddling hand crafted toys sharing the surface with us. We play. Boy do we play. Sixty minutes of just PLAYING, care and worry free. I can't believe how long it has been since I gave in to the impulse to be 10 again. I vow to play each day from now on. It's more fun on an ice bike, lemetellya, but i'll find some way!! Lunch followed play. Tasty, rich foods from the Hakka region of China. Maybe too rich, I get an upset stomach that follows me the rest of the afternoon. This doesn't stop us from taking a tricycle (rickshaw on more wheels) tour of the back alleys that are also in the HouHai. Hutongs as they are called, are literally back alleys. Narrow streets lead to narrower walk ways that lead to small warrens and dens of homes. Kinda like a ghetto, but well-off relatives of emporers lived in them due to their close proximity to The Forbidden City. People still live in the hutongs and some of the structures have been converted to shops and stores. The inter-connectedness of the hutongs leaves little room for privacy, especially with no indoor plumbing for restrooms!! Communal all the way baby! Our FREEZING, bumpy tour managed to dislodge my ache and B and I wrapped up our time in Houhai with a cocktail at one of the bars along the ice edge. Still trying to catch up on sleep cycles, I fall asleep as soon as we return to the apartment. I also realize that playing takes up a good deal of energy so I'll have to prepare for that in the future.
This is truly a bizarre place only found in contemporary China. One must at least visit once to behold the spectacle.... more travel advice
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