May 2, 2008

Beijing: Day 3

Okay, so, yesterday's entry read "Part 1" but it's also the last part. I didn't do much after I posted; just went out to walk around Houhai, bought some more souveneirs, and ate dinner. Pretty relaxing, really.

Today though, I saw Mao Ze Dong.

Here's how it happened.

Mao's tomb is in the south-central area of Tiananmen Square, in between Qianmen and the Monument to the People's Heroes. The entrance faces north; the line starts at the north-west corner and wraps all the way around the west, south, and east sides before coming to the actual entrance. The line (I have some pictures up on flickr) wraps around the whole building and is five to six people wide. It is set off from the rest of the square by some rope, and there's about 50 feet in between the rope and the line, so we cut a narrow swath of people through an empty spot of the square.

I got to the starting point and it took about, oh I don't know, an hour? to get inside. I'm bad at tracking time in these situations. Luckily, at no point did we stand still. We were all just shuffling slowly forward. That kept the blood flowing :-)

So there's the line, which is like 5 people wide, as enforced by some painted line on the sidewalk. On either side of you are several dozen attendants, telling people to hurry up, move along, remove troublemakers from the line, and intercept people from crossing the open space in between the line and the rest of the square. (The orange twine is not a big enough deterrent, it seems.)

As you walk, loudspeakers enumerate the rules in Chinese and in English: be quiet inside, no picture taking, turn off your cell phones, dress respectfully (people with vests will not be allowed, apparently), and so forth. After shuffling forward around the building, you come to the front, at which point the line splits in two. Each half goes into a small bunker-like building in the courtyard. In these buildings, guards give you the airport-security treatment: metal detector, put your stuff in a plastic bin, wave the metal-detecting wand, etc.

When you're through, you go up the big steps in front of the building. At this point you can turn and look out over the square and get a sense of how many people there are milling around.

Then you go inside, and if you're wearing a hat, signs tell you to remove it. The signs also say to be quiet and no picture taking. I had a hat on, and I removed it before we got to the doors. I didn't bring my camera, because I'd heard the rules when walking around the area yesterday, so I didn't bother bringing it. Guards (this time in nicer dress, with white gloves) hurry you along and shush you if you talk. It's an eerie atmosphere, because there are so many people in there with you but they're all really quiet.

The first room has a big scenic painting of mountains on the far wall. In front of it is a row of vibrant green potted plants/bushes. In the middle of this row is a large white statue of Mao, seated and smiling. There are bouquets of flowers at his feet.

As you enter the door each line hugs the wall and you move towards the painting. As you get closer you realize it's not the far wall but just a partition. You move behind the partition and through another small antechamber.

Then you arrive in Mao's actual tomb. You can see him now. He's in a large glass-topped coffin, draped with a Chinese flag so only his face is showing. A light is shining on his face. The coffin is inside a glass room that's inside of the room you're in. There are three guards standing at attention inside this smaller room. The attendants rush you past. You spend maybe a total of 12 - 15 seconds viewing his actual body.

Then it's back outside and down the south steps of the building, back into Tiananmen where Qianmen stands guard.

And that's that.

After doing this, I went back to the hotel to pick up my things and began the journey out to the Summer Palace. I took the metro out to Xizhimen and then hailed a cab to the Beijing Zoo. From there I walked east along Xizhimenwai Dajie until I got to the Beijing Exhibition Center. It was a long walk, as the front gate of the zoo is (understandably) quite big. And it was really hot and sticky out. I stopped for a nice meal of Wuhan spiced duck neck, stir-fried pork, and potato pancakes (not the ones I'm used to though, haha.)

At the BEC I told the guard I wanted to get to the Summer Palace. You see, my travel guide says that you can take a boat from the north-east corner of the BEC all the way up the river, to the Summer Palace. I thought this would be more fun than a cab, so I wanted to do it this way.

The guard pointed me in the right direction. As I wandered toward the dock, I encountered two expats walking away from it. Since I was unsure of where I was going, I stopped and asked them if I was in the right spot. They said yeah, the ticket office was just around the corner, but that some guy was trying to scam people into getting into his private boat, so they were going to wait until 2 oclock.

I got to the ticket office, chatted with the lady behind the counter for a bit, and then bought the ticket (70 RMB). Soon enough, a speedboat came along to pick up myself and like four other tourists. I got some pictures of the boat as it came to the lake, so I knew what to expect. We rocketed through the water, swerving this way and that, until about 10 seconds later we arrived at a dock on the side, of the river.

We all hopped out and I started to stroll around the grounds of our landing spot. However, something was amiss. I didn't see any pagodas or giant lakes. All I saw were ... rhinos! And tiger statues! And signs for the aquarium!

I wasn't at the Summer Palace -- I was at the zoo.

Crap. Did I just get scammed again?

I was pretty pissed off right now. Memories flashed in my head of my foolishness from yesterday, with the pedicab and all that. So now I was like, shit, I just got scammed again, and even after those expats warned me!

I guess I could have just given up and wandered around the zoo. After all, it's a fun enough attraction. And there are pandas there! But I didn't feel much like it after yet another failed attempt to go somewhere scenic without getting ripped off. I just pictured this woman, and the guy who herded me into the boat, laughing at yet another lao wai victim.

Instead, I decided to try and get my money back. I walked all the way around the aquarium until I got to the north gate of the zoo. I checked my map and saw I was on Gaoliangqiao Lu. Great -- I was really close to where I'd embarked from. So I began to walk along the street towards Xizhimenwai Dajie. It was turning into a really long walk - like 15 minutes at this point and I hadn't seen the street. It was really hot and sticky out, the street was really dusty and dirty due to roadwork and construction, I was sweating like crazy, and I was still frustrated about getting ripped off again. I was picturing, you know, going up to the woman and asking for my money back, and then what happens if she refuses, could I get help, and maybe I could call one of my co-workers and have them explain it to a cop, if I could mange to find one. Robert told me that yelling works really well in situations like these, so I was psyching myself up to yell (because it's not something I do very well, so I have to, like, prepare for it).

But as I was walking along, I thought, hold on a second. What if I misunderstood something, or I should have stayed at the dock, or something like that? Did I even buy the right ticket? Maybe I was mistaken. After all, well, I don't understand Chinese very well.

The walk was dragging on, so I hailed a cab for the rest of the way. He deposited me out front of the ticket booth, and I marched right up to the woman and explained myself. "I didn't arrive at the Summer Palace. I arrived at the " (and here I pointed to the Chinese characters for 'Beijing Zoo' since I don't know how to say it."

Through the conversation that followed I figured out the problem. It was my mistake. After arriving at the zoo, I was supposed to transfer to a bigger boat. That would take me to the Summer Palace. Duh!

The woman and the guy apologized profusely. They explained the situation to the speedboat guy who came by in like 5 minutes -- this lao wai got off at the wrong stop, he's supposed to continue on to the Summer Palace. Considering it was my fault, or whoever's fault it would be for me not understanding the directions (if they had indeed been given to me in the first place), they were very very apologetic. I of course said, you know, that's okay, it's my fault, I'm wrong, thank you, thank you, etc.

And off we went again :-)

This time when we exited the boat at the zoo, a staffer pulled me aside and led me to the front of another line a short distance away. I guess the woman at the BEC radioed ahead or something: "The next boat has a tall white guy on it, make sure he gets to the Summer Palace!" Man, I was so embarrassed. And it happened in front of a shitload of people, a vast number of whom were already waiting in line, too.

After like 20 minutes of waiting in the hot sticky sun, the next big boat came and off we went. It was me and maybe like 40 other people. The woman conducting the tour did so, and of course I couldn't understand much except for a couple numbers (dates) here and there. But it was nice to be on the way ...

and on the way ...

and on the way. This boat was S-L-O-W. I guess I thought it would be faster, given the speedboat ride to the zoo. But such was not the case. I'm not sure exactly how long we spent on the river, but we got off at one point to wait for another boat. That boat took like 20 minutes to arrive, during which time I met and talked with two English students at Beijing University. They were taking the boat back to their school, which is out near palace.

Finally the next boat came, and we started off towards the Summer Palace. After like, I don't know, maybe another 20 - 30 minutes on the water, we arrived. Finally! I was really really tired by this point, after expending mental energy on the accidental zoo trip and physical energy on walking, waiting, and sitting out in the hot sun all day. I'm not sure what time it was by now; probably like 3:30 PM. I think I'd started on the first boat ride close to 1. Talk about your slow boat to China ...

*rim shot*

I debarked and immediately took in Kunming Lake. My first thought was "Hey, this look a lot like Xihu." And I come to find out later that this design was intentional. Makes sense. But, having already seen and appreciate the original -- and having been so tired and beaten up about getting to the Palace in the first place -- I didn't really have the energy to appreciate Kunming Lake that much.

I started walking around the path, just kind of relaxing and settling down from the journey. Along the way I met an expat, Odette, and her mom. I guess I'd just been frustrated by poor or nonexistent English all day, so when I heard Odette and her mom speaking in, you know, actual English, I was like "woohoo!" Haha. So I joined up with them, and we walked around for a bit and took in some of the sights around the lake. We saw a little impromptu musical performance, which I made sure to capture on video. I made comparisons between KL and Xihu, not knowing at the time that KL was designed to resemble it, hehe.

The three of us went into one of the museums around the area, the Garden of Virtue and Harmony. It was here the Empress Dowager Cixi watched theater performed onstage just for her. We took in the theater building and the halls surrounding it, which contained pictures, imperial dinnerware, costumes, jewelry, and other items of the period.

After about an hour of looking through here, I was exhausted. Luckily Odette and her mom wanted to leave also, so I tagged along with them and we caught a cab back into the city. We all made plans to meet up for dinner later on. I came back to the hotel and vegged out, watching some TV and writing the first bit of this blog entry.

Our goal for the evening was to hit up Quanjude, a 100-year old restaurant that serves the most famous (but not necessarily the best, I've heard) Beijing roast duck in town. According to wikitravel there is a branch near my hotel, so they picked me up in a cab and we headed off. We gave the driver the address and he got us most of the way there -- or so we thought. After he dropped us off, he told us to take a left at the next street -- he couldn't drive there (we think because it's in a hutong).

Long story short -- we wandered around for about half an hour, asking person after person, haggling with pedicab drivers, to no avail. No Quanjude to be found. We have no idea why the cabbie dropped us off where he did, because we walked quite a bit farther down Qianmen Xi Dajie. Perhaps we were going in the wrong direction altogether. Anyway, I was a little disappointed, because I'd promised Adeline that I'd go. But it seems it was not to be. It's apparently really difficult to find -- especially when you don't speak or understand Chinese all that well :-) But it was an adventure, you know, the unexpected kind you have in these situations.

We did end up at another restaurant that served Beijing roast duck, so we did get to eat it. It's really damn good, the sauce especially. And the restaurant was nice besides. I'm planning on maybe trying to find it tomorrow for lunch, but honestly, I'm not holding out any hopes.

After dinner, we cabbed it back to our respective hotels.

And that's the end of Day 3.

1 comment:

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