May 1, 2008

Beijing: Day 2, Part 1

Whew, I just walked in from Gulou Dajie, and boy are my legs tired!

*holds for laughter*

Today started bright and early at 8 AM. I flopped out of bed and ate breakfast in the hotel's dining area, where I was informed nicely that I would be charged extra because breakfast wasn't included in my stay. Oh well.

Then I showered and dressed and hopped out on Chang'an Da Jie. The destination was the Temple of Heaven. I made it there eventually, but it took some doing.

According to the map it is just south of Tiananmen. According to reality, it is WAY south of Tiananmen. So I walked all the way down Tiananmen, past Qianmen, past the HUGE CROWDS of people lined up to see Mao's tomb (seriously -- the line went on forever and was like six people wide) and down Qianmen Dajie, expecting to see the temple. No dice. I got tired of walking and asked a group of official Olympic volunteers, no doubt practicing for August, where it was. They were like "Go down this street and turn right." I was pretty sure that was wrong, since I was facing west and I knew the temple was to my south, which would have meant a left turn. I tried to ask youguai/zuoguai? But that didn't produce much of a response.

I asked if it was possible to walk there, and they said yes, but I think they were misinformed. Either way, I didn't feel like walking more, and I felt like absorbing some local "color" so to speak, so I hired a pedicab driver. I named the destination, and off we went.

Big mistake.

Pedicab drivers have no meters, obviously, since they're just bikes with carts attached. And I didn't ask for the price. So after swerving in and out of traffic, dodging buses and going down hutong lanes, we arrived at the corner of the Temple of Heaven Park.

At this point I got out and said "How much?" At first he wanted American dollars. And I was like, I've been living in Shanghai for four months, I only have renminbi. So then he whipped out a price card and showed me what the ride cost. I'm man (or stupid) enough to post the amounts here.

The minimum charge was 300 RMB. That is a fucking insane price for a 10-minute bike ride. The 45-minute ride in from the airport didn't even cost 100 RMB, and didn't almost involve getting smashed by a bus. For 300 RMB, you could get a fancy dinner for 4 at a nice restaurant in Shanghai. A cab to the park would have cost about 15 or 16 RMB. But 300!!!

I easily could have pulled a "I don't understand" or argued with him or whatever. I could have brought the price down by saying I didn't have that much, or simply refused to pay. But, you know, I was dumb enough to ask him to go somewhere without asking the price first. That's my fault. So I paid him.

Then he was like "Hutong. 300 RMB." And pointed at the card. "Hutong tour" was listed separately on his "price list" for another 300 RMB. He mean that, since we went through the hutongs (not even stopping once, I might add) I should pay him ANOTHER 300 RMB. Sheesh. This time I argued a little bit: "I never asked you to go through the hutongs, I just said go to the park." Eventually we "settled" on an extra 200 RMB.

So a 10-minute bike ride cost me 500 RMB, or over $70. Again, a cab ride would have cost me about $5. I could have ran off, or not paid, or just thrown 20 RMB at him and left. But I consider it the stupid-tourist tax. By enforcing this on myself, I learn a lesson and will be far FAR more careful in the future.

But that doesn't mean I wasn't angry with myself about it. No, to the contrary, I was quite pissed off at myself for making the mistake of not asking about price first. I'm a little surprised that I'm posting about it. I guess I'm trying to shame myself into never doing it again :-) And, well, we all get scammed once or twice. I've managed to avoid it so far. But I got caught today.

I hope that guy treats his family to a nice dinner tonight and for the next month, that's all I've got to say :-) So yeah. A lesson to you all - unless there's a meter in the cab or whatever, ask for the damn price first :-)

To top it off, I was looking all around for that nice pretty tall pagoda you see in the Wikipedia entry. That's what I'd been looking for all morning. But it wasn't where we'd arrived. It was hot, I was a little hungry, I was essentially lost, and I'd just been fleeced for 470 more RMB than I'd intended to pay. So I was in a little pissy mood.

To calm down I just sat on a bench for like 10 minutes and just tried to relax. Then I got up and asked a bus station attendant where the park was. She pointed me in the right direction; thankfully it was really close. So I paid the 35 RMB entrance fee and learned a little something. I had thought that "Temple of Heaven" referred to the pagoda. That's incorrect. "Temple of Heaven" is an entire park, a scenic area, with numerous little areas of interest, of which the pagoda is one. It actually was an entire temple. The famous pagoda is the highlight of the area, the centerpiece (although it's not in the center of the park). Its name is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. So next time someone shows you that picture and says "look, Temple of Heaven!" you can correct them and impress them with your knowledge of China :-)

Anyway I found this out the hard way, by wandering around in the hot sun and getting increasingly frustrated that I couldn't find this famous landmark that I'd just gotten screwed out of $70 to see. Finally I made it there though, and it was pretty damn impressive. The thing is huge and pretty. In fact the entire temple really is nice. If you don't want to go to the Hall of Prayer, you can just pay 15 RMB and have access to the park grounds, which are really nice and spacious. So there are lots of people just lounding around, sitting on benches or sleeping in trees (I got a nice picture of that guy) or rollerblading or doing tai chi or whatever. Very nice. I went to a couple of the other areas in the park, including the Hall of Divine Music, the Nine-Dragon Juniper, and several of the gates. I also got a sweet tourist map for 10 RMB, which I'm considering framing and putting on my wall when I get home. It's that nice.

After the ToH, I decided it was time to see the Forbidden City. I didn't realize how large of an undertaking this was. All I've ever seen of the city are some photos of the palace itself and, of course, the south gate with Mao's picture hanging over it. But good lord, once I entered it, I realized - uhh, yeah, this is a city inside Beijing. It's massive. My tour book says it has an area of 7,860,429 square feet, or 180 acres. So it's easily a full-day site, even two days if you want to see everything. I was unprepared :-)

I entered through the south gate (the arch directly under Mao's portait was blocked off, so I went in to the gate immediately to the right) and begun the tour. Where you go first is the courtyard, which is free. However to go into one of the little museums or to climb one of the gates costs 10 RMB. I climbed the gate immediately after the south one, and looked down on the crowds.

At first glance, the FC is incredibly boring. It's pagoda-lined walls with huge empty stone courtyards in the middle. This is the design throughout the entire city except for the gardens near the north end. What you have to realize is that all the best stuff is hidden off to the side, through one of the doors in the walls or in one of the back rooms. I guess it would look strange if the exhibits were in free-standing modern buildings in the courtyard. But the design was off-putting at first.

The city itself is actually a museum (the Palace Museum), and you don't come to it until walking quite a distance past the south gate. All during that time you see little shops and restaurants on either side of you. Once you pay 60 RMB and get inside the city proper, these are replaced by museums. Again, everything interesting is tucked away inside the walls that divide each section. There's absolutely nothing of interest to see in the courtyards themselves, apart from being wowed by the vast expanse of empty ground.

After you pay your 60 RMB to get in, most of the other little side museums, for example the Hall of Jewelry and Treasure Gallery, cost an extra 10 RMB to get in. I went to this one, plus another couple of areas, like the Hall of Supreme Harmony. I also saw the Nine Dragon Screen, which was pretty slick.

So the FC is like the world's biggest open-air museum. And the little side museums themselves are overcrowded, hot, and noisy. And you can't take pictures in them (or so I was told; after a guide told me that, I went to the next room and saw tons of people taking pictures, so I joined in). Honestly, the FC was grand, but the sameness of all the pagodas and walls and steps and courtyards wore on me after awhile. I just didn't have the energy to cover the whole grounds in one sitting. It's definitely something to do over the course of a week, maybe, although that means you'll pay the 60 RMB entrance fee many many times :-) But it was informative and entertaining and I'm very glad I went.

At the north end you come out facing Jingshan Park, which looks like a lovely wooded hill to climb (with a pagoda on top!) but I was dead tired and so didn't even bother. Instead, I hopped a cab to the Nan Luoguo Xiang hutong up off Gulou Dong Dajie. Here I plopped my ass down in a little coffee shop-cafe type of deal, ate some spicy spaghetti with cucumbers and ham, drank a cup of coffee, and tried to relax the stink off of me. (Not sure that worked though, haha.)

This hutong runs on for a good clip and seems to be popular with the lao wai, for good reason. It has a ton of little arty/crafty stores, clothing stores, cafes and bars, and such. It seemed very peaceful and nice. I probably stayed there for like an hour and a half, just relaxing. Then I went shmying around and ended up buying a stuffed monkey, because really, who doesn't like stuffed monkeys?

That's all the excitement for today. Right now I'm relaxing in my hotel room. At some point I'll head out and eat dinner, maybe take a picture or three of Tiananmen at night (the whole thing is lit up like a stadium) and do some walking around Wangfujing or Houhai.

Tomorrow I want to see Mao, visit the Summer Palace, and walk around Peking/Tsinghua universities. Anything else will be considered a bonus :-)

Oh yeah, I took tons of pictures of course, but I haven't uploaded them yet. They're coming soon.

1 comment:

jactressk said...

omg yea be careful with those bike carts. you should know better! lol