Internet (especially blog sites) are unpredictable here, so my apologies for not posting this earlier… It is hard to believe just 10 days of travel has past, as the time is so rich and full with experiences and exposure, food and new friends, and reflections and realities.
SATURDAY 1/5 I enjoyed a leisurely day at the temple of Heaven and Lama Temple. It is stunning to me how much effort is put into the architecture and yet, there seems little joy or connectedness in those worshipping here (Lama temple, the other is no longer in use). What I really enjoyed about the Temple of Heaven was the park it is in… Scores of people, younger and older connect here. Whether it is for a workout, concert, tai chi, cards, or a walk in the forests. I also am so grateful for how much can be conveyed in a smile. While I can’t say much in their language, the people are responsive and kind. I often have the peace sign flashed at me when others are taking my photo–or just as a gesture of greeting…. as I receive that, I sometimes find myself we in the US don’t have a current sign of goodwill, which is how I am experiencing the peace sign.
In the evening, I went to see a traditional acrobatics show, with also some mask changing. I went with my new friends from the hostel, and it was a great event! I had a sweet potatoe ice cream, which was a treat. One of the gals, Sara, is from MA and the other couple is from Colorado! The best thing was that Joe showed me how to save maps on my phone, so between that and my GPS I have an interactive map–what a wonderful use of technology…. Glad I discovered this a few days into the trip and not at the end! The interesting thing, is that even though I have internet in the hostel, there are many sites restricted by the party, including Facebook and WordPress, so please forgive my radio silence on here. I am posting this as soon as I can :). I also spent some time this weekend figuring out my banking situation, as I had to transfer money from one account to another, and needed my emergency people back home to help. So grateful for my parents–love you guys.
SUNDAY 1/6, I got up early and enjoyed the basic breakfast at my hostel. This consists of toast, peanut butter and bananas, yogurt and coffee :). Then I hopped onto the subway (about a 5 minute walk from our little place) and was jammed into a crowd of families out to enjoy the weekend. It is funny how personal space is totally different in a subway when you all just need to get in. Sqeeze, push, lean, etcetera… there is much less of a yours/mine feel. We are all just getting into the subway car.
I took the line 5 to my transfer, found the next direction, and then headed west to Tianamen Square. The beauty of the subway system is that have the ‘english’ spelling, in addition to the Chinese characters, so I can get myself around. Impressively, just this week 4 new lines of the system were open. There are now 15 lines in addition to the airport express (go to http://bjsubway.com if you want to see the entire system). WOW! I wish the RTD could build that quickly…. There is an entire network/city of these transits contsantly operating and expanding below the bustling city.
FORBIDDEN CITY: I arrived at the forbidden city to see the lines of visitors and families coming to experience the largest and best preserved complex of ancient buildings (credit: Lonely Planet China). Security in this area is ominously dense, and locals are required to present identification and submit to thorough pat-downs (as a foreigner, I just walked right in). The number of marble and jade structures, intricate statues, expansive rooms and prolific statues is almost dizzying. There is certainly a majestic feel, and if you have ever watched ‘The Last Emporer’, you can recognize the structure. I paid the 40rmb for admission and 40 for the audio tour ($12 total) and was impressed at the in-depth history of each of the rooms, decorations, and the construction. One of the most fascinating stories is how they moved a massive marble stone across the country to be chiseled and prepared for use here: they drug it across ice in the winter! Literally, the people stored water all across the distance, and when winter came, melted and laid down ice to transport this gigantic stone. The other area that most impressed me was an exhibition of ceremics, including pictures of ancient kilns all over the country, examples of a wide variety of methods, shapes, glazes, and descriptions to accompany them.
Beijing is QUITE chilly this time of year (about 0-5 degrees farenheit), so I stopped at the far end for a pomelo (grapefruit) hot tea, and that was delightful! After a lengthy time here of resting, reading, and reflecting, I went down to Tienamen square and walked around there. I noticed that all of the police have fire extinguishers at their feet, and later I learned that this is because there is a religion that has caused many people to burn themselves in protest/ demonstration especially in that area, and while horrified that people would do that, I am also grateful for the preparation and responsiveness they are ready to provide.
In the evening, eight of us from different countries (China, Belgium, Zanbia, Sweden, UK, France, Canada, and the US) went out for a most delicious beef and lamb hotpot!!! YUM. Hot pot is somewhat like fondue, in that you do the cooking at the table, but in includes a broth and many spices, as well as beans, greens, mushrooms, spices, and such. So in the end your experience of eating includes both that of fondue and soup, and the joy of cooking and eating together.
I took the tour out to the Ming tombs and Great Wall with one of my new friends from the hostel. We had a great time climbing and visiting the wall as well as touring the jade, silk, and tea factories. It is amazing how steep some of the wall is, and it reminded me of the Macchu Picu trail. I could not imagine having to hike these stairs with elements for war, or enough supplies to stock the watchtowers. Thankful I just had water and a camera :). In the evening, Eva, David and I went out for a Peking Duck dinner, which again was delicious. We have all become pros at ordering with miming, pointing, and facial expression…
TUESDAY 1/8 I went to the Olympic park with Eva (took pictures by the Birds nest and water cube) and then to the 798 art district before taking my flight to Chengdu. It was a bitter cold day, and I was so glad to have every layer that I do (long sleeve t, melanzana, down coat, buff, pashmina, hat, and long johns under my travel pants). On the taxi ride to the airport, my conversion of money came into my head as I was looking at distance signs, and I started to try and convert km to mi with the same ratio as RMB to US dollars… That made me laugh!!
Lesson learned: friends are everywhere! And it is possible to get conversion whiplash (from Haitian gourdes and dollars to the yuan/Kwai/rmb in China… Thankful that the US$ is accepted in Cambodia 🙂