Note: I have chosen to divide Beijing into two posts, mostly because I am going to post so many pictures of the Great Wall. To avoid shoving fifty or so pictures in your face all at once, I’m splitting things up. Twenty to thirty seems more manageable, right? I thought so. Now, Enjoy!)
After a long, restless journey from Shanghai, I was more than ready to settle into my hostel. Following their vague directions, I eventually found the bus I needed and got where I needed to be. I was up for only a few hours before I went to bed for the night. The previous night’s journey had left me exhausted and in need of a bed to fall asleep in forever. Thursday was consumed by the journey and the call of a welcome bed.
On Friday, feeling well rested, I decided to get an early start. I headed outside, and it was pouring… but I continued to walk anyway, aiming to buy an umbrella. Cut to an hour later. I was thoroughly soaked, as were my shoes. They would squish with every step, which I promise you, is an incredibly uncomfortable feeling. Horribly uncomfortable, it was time to head back to my hostel. As soon as I’d made up my mind to turn back, I found a shop where I bought an umbrella. Of course!
I spent a few hours back at the hostel, waiting for the rain to subside, and once it finally had, I dedicated myself to finding a post office so that I could send my boy his present. And herein lies a perfect example of how difficult I find it to do anything in this country. I asked the front desk if there was a post office nearby. They said, “Yes. 5 minutes walking. Just down street. You go this way,” and directed me. I walked for 20 minutes, wondering if I was just pathetically stupid. I found nothing, and so I decided to go into a hotel and ask at reception. “Where is the nearest post office?”
“Errr, no. No post office close. Not walking. You must take taxi. Very far.”
Uhh… I don’t know if there was anything they could have said that contradicted what I’d previously been told any more than it did. I suppose they could have told me that Beijing doesn’t actually have any post offices. I decided to try once more. I walked into a bank and asked the same question. They said that there was one just down the street and pointed me on my way. “Very close.”
There was not. Having wasted nearly an hour and a half by this point, I dejectedly decided that it was time I gave up and went to see something in the city. I walked twenty minutes to the metro station, and just for the hell of it, decided to turn the corner… you know, just in case. AND WHAT DO I FIND. Yeah, you know what I found. The post office. Three times I asked for directions. Three different answers. None of them correct, and in the end I just found it myself! There were no words. Though not the most expedient process in the world, I mailed my package and headed to the Forbidden City. Because of the delay I experienced finding the post office, I arrived at the Forbidden City far later than I would have liked to. I was able to get into the first courtyard, but the museum/ tour area was closed for the day. I explored what I could and then crossed the road to see Tiananmen Square. It was… a large open square. At sunset every day, People’s Liberation Army soldiers ceremoniously lower the flag. As I was about to leave, I saw the soldiers marching my way. However, ominous clouds were also heading my way, and the rain arrived before they lowered the flag, so I left.
When I got back to my neighborhood, I decided that I wanted a foot massage. Massage parlous are abundant in Beijing (and Shanghai for that matter), and I’d been pining for a massage since my arrival. It was absolutely heavenly, and I’d fallen asleep by the end! After my incredibly relaxing massage, I went for dinner at a restaurant I’d noticed just down the street. Peking duck is one of my absolute favorite foods, and Beijing boasts the best in China… so it would logically follow that Beijing boasts
the best Peking duck in the world. Whether the claims are true or not, I had a fantastic meal. It was a good day.
On Saturday morning, I tried to talk to Michael for a while, only to be thwarted by the hostel’s broken internet, which just provoked me to seek out an alternative. I happened upon an adorable coffee shop called “Waiting for Godot,” which is why it had caught my attention in the first place. After getting my internet fix, I went and found a grocery store because I was craving fruit! Now, usually, a trip to the grocery store wouldn’t merit mentioning… but this does. I picked up a basket and began browsing. I picked out a few apples and put them in my basket. As soon as I had, an attendant came and took them out of my basket and beckoned that I follow her. I did. She weighed them and told me the cost. I tried to motion that I wasn’t done shopping and I wanted to continue looking around. She looked blankly at me and repeated the price. I paid, and continued to shop, and every time I put something in my basket, someone would come and remove it. I didn’t follow them to the cashier’s desk any more; I continued shopping and let them play their silly game. I don’t know if they thought I was going to steal, or if they thought they were doing me a favor, but I didn’t notice them doing it to anyone else. Perplexed, I paid and left. This experience will forever baffle me.
I dropped my purchase back at the hostel and then returned to the Forbidden City so that I could actually visit the interesting part. It was absolutely exquisite. The Forbidden City gets its name for fairly obvious reasons. It was off limits under penalty of death for 500 years, and now open to the public, it teems with tourists. The grounds are extensive, and the buildings have been remarkably well preserved. There is architecture to admire in any and every direction you look. I spent several hours here, admiring the grounds, and easily could have spent much longer. I left, intending to head to the Temple of Heaven, but turned the wrong way. Sometimes, even with a map in my hand I have no sense of direction! Once I realized that I was hopelessly lost, and nowhere near where I’d wanted to be, I headed home. I explored the streets surrounding my hostel and discovered that I was staying next to (what I declare to be) the cutest street in all of Beijing. The street was lined with musical instrument stores, kitschy accessory shops, boutiques, bars, restaurants, and wait for it…. vintage clothing shops. Uhh, this sounds a bit like heaven. I did a lot of browsing and admiring, but no buying. The street was buzzing with people and the atmosphere was intoxicating.
On Sunday, I joined a tour to the Great Wall. I usually hate going on tours, but I decided that I wanted to see a bit of the Wall that was less touristy, and was by myself, it would be a nice way to get to meet some people and have company while I experienced something magnificent. I was picked up at 7:30AM, and we headed to the Ming Tombs. There are 16 tombs, but most of them are unexcavated, and only three of them are open to the public. We visited one. We descended nine stories, into a thoroughly unimpressive chamber, followed by another fairly unimpressive chamber. The second housed three large red boxes and a number of smaller red boxes: replicas of the coffins and the boxes that held the treasures with which the Emperor and his two Empresses were buried. And then, we resurfaced and visited the “museum.” When I say museum, I actually mean: a single room filled with a few objects of interest. The experience was underwhelming, and we were all left unimpressed, wondering why we’d wasted our time there. At the end of the day, I would have preferred spending that time at the Great Wall. After the Ming Tombs, we headed to a jade factory; any tour you go on stops at a few shops, which obviously, we really could have done without. We ate lunch at a restaurant there, which was wonderful. There were 11 of us on the tour, so they brought out plates and plates of food, which we shared family style. After lunch, we headed to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. The newest, most visited area that you’re most likely to see in photographs is an area called Badaling. Mutianyu is over two hours outside of Beijing. We took a cable car up the mountain, and were given about an hour and a half to explore. I definitely could have used longer! The wall was absolutely magnificent. What else can I say? I made friends with a couple on the tour, so we walked together, taking pictures for each other. I was glad for the company, and glad for someone who was capable of working a camera! It was a clear day, so the views were superb, and I really don’t know how else to tell you about how breathtaking it was, so I’ll let the pictures below do the talking for me. It’s no wonder we consider it a Wonder of the World; I felt honored to be able to have this experience.
After the wall, we headed to a silk factory, at which point we’d all had a long day and were ready to go home… and after what seemed like an eternity, we did.
I slept well that night.
My rainy morning that thoroughly soaked me!
Outside of the Forbidden City
The entrance gate to the Forbidden City, complete with giant portrait of Mao Zedong.
Hello! The first picture of me in China where you can see my actual face. 🙂
The buildings inside the Forbidden City are all exquisite.
This is my favorite picture from The Forbidden City.
These are the replica tombs in the burial room at the Ming Tombs… not much to look at!
This was the most interesting thing at the Ming Tombs. It’s the Emperor’s crown, decorated with dragons and phoenixes made out of gold, pearls, turquoise, and other precious gems.
The cable car ride up to the wall at Mutianyu.
There was a couple taking their wedding pictures! They looked incredible.
Now, part two!