Saturday, September 09, 2006

Beijing - Short Version

When we got out of the Beijing train station at 7:30 am it was no longer balmy. In fact, it was pretty damn windy and cold. We hurriedly pulled stuff out of our backpacks to try to cover ourselves.

Then we walked up and over the pedestrian overpass to the Beijing Subway. It had been immediately apparent from my casing of the city that my first choice for hotel wasn't going to cut it, so we had quickly come up with a Plan B: a newish hostel that also had double rooms. And the subway would take us there.

We got to the right station and climbed back up to street level. Shanghai had been western oriented and a Hong Kong on the make. Beijing immediately reminded me of Moscow: inhumanly wide boulevards, inhumanly wide sidewalks, and block long buildings, all of which are intended to make you feel stupid and insignificant. The sky had sort of a pastel Moscow color to it, too.

We found the hostel behind one such building, and they had a double. It was nice, too, and only $20 a night. We moved ourselves in and celebrated with a short nap.

At around 11:30 we headed off for Tianamien Square, about a half hour walk away.

It being the largest public square in the world, I was expecting to be impressed. And it's certainly big (and would be even bigger if they hadn't plopped a Mao Mauseleum in the middle of it). But--and this is especially weird inasmuch as the Chinese are so into fung shue and harmony and all that crap--Sumi and I both found the space curiously unrefreshing. Sure, there was a gate of Heavenly Peace and the Great Hall of the People and all that other jazz, and you sure have to walk a lot to get to the other side of it, but there was just no pop.

No fizz.

Now we were hungry again (funny how that's a recurring theme when you travel) and started walking, walking, walking, trying to find the great vegetarian restaurant that the LP said was south of there. As opposed to Shanghai, the area we were walking through was rundown and shabby, and hardly an advertisement for the New China. When we finally found the address, the restaurant and every other business within a hundred yards was long demolished. So we hailed a cab and laboriously pointed on maps until he figured out how to take us to the other great vegetarian restaurant.

Which was boarded up when we got there. Now really, really hungry, we were happy to find a Pizza Haven (a less than mediocre apparently Australian pizza chain), and became sated and rested. And once we started to walk around again we noticed that this area of town was much newer and brighter and not even close to Moscowish. We were back in a consumer world that we could relate to.

Then it was off to the manmade hill with a temple on top that is just north of the Forbidden city, and a climb up 170 steps. When we got to the top we were rewarded with a great view of the Forbidden City and the whole rest of Beijing. We were also immediately ordered to go down because they were closing the hill for the evening or construction or something.

Next some wandering around and around and around, then around some more. Finally, it was back on the subway and back to our private room. And our first private sleep of the journey so far.


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