We decided to spend two of our days off this week in Beijing again. We were trying to decide between Tianjin and Beijing, but the other David had not visited Beijing yet, so we all went together. Our first stop after the 2-hour bus ride was the Temple of Heaven; a large park/temple sanctuary constructed in 1421 for the emperors to worship, ask for good harvests, make sacrifices and enjoy its beauty. We went on the Qingming holiday (Tomb Sweeping Day to honor the dead), so it was bustling with people. Lots of elderly people were selling small hand-made wares, dancing around, laughing and singing, practicing tai chi, and generally being a lively addition to the park. The major temple, used for making prayers of good harvest, was really impressive. It is ornately decorated on the inside and out and very architecturally complex. Beside it, we visited the “70-year Door” created in 1779 by during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. The Emperor’s health was failing and building door was offered as a way for the Emperor to bypass the long walls and enter the ceremony grounds more quickly. He accepted the offer, but only on the terms that no other Emperor could enter the door unless they had also reached the age of 70. Since no Emperor ever lived to that age again, he has been the only one to use the door.

We experienced a funny situation as we walked through the park, and stumbled upon a Chinese couple who had paid to rent some Qing Dynasty-esque costumes to take pictures. We started to take photos of them, but they immediately invited David and I into the photos. The Chinese man took of his Emperor hat and necklace and put it on David, taking his Avon Walk Crew hat for his own head. Everyone was definitely amused (except the attendants standing around waiting for us to stop taking advantage of the costumes) and the photos came out great. They have these dress-up sessions at almost all Chinese attractions, although I haven’t actually seen any foreigners participating, only the Chinese. I also posted a photo of an older Chinese couple with some really sweet Nike and Adidas shoes. It seems like everyone young and old likes these brands, and I get a kick out of the combination of traditional Chinese clothing and Nikes!

At night we went to the Hou Hai area of Beijing, which is known for its lake-side scenery and night-life. At night it looked great because all of the buildings were lit up and reflecting over the lakes. Not many people were walking around because it was raining on a Monday night, so we were more harassed than normal to patron the many empty bars and restaurants in the area. David was a little sad that the whole area seem really Westernized, as most of the bars featured Budweiser, Gin & Tonics, White Russians and other typically Western bar drinks. The area sort of felt like the Cancun or Miami of Beijing, but it was still really fun to see this touristy place. The drinks and food are all extremely over-priced, but we did find some great deals on DVDs around the area.

It took a little time, but we found a youth hostel nearby, and had dinner at a Thai restaurant. Again, expensive but I thought the food was excellent and the decor was nice. David and I split lemon fried tofu and potato/egg pancakes, and the tofu is definitely some of the best I have ever had. I am a big fan of lemon sauces, but it was awesome! After dinner we found another chic little coffee shop and had tea and cake…definitely felt frou frou for China but it was a good night.

The hostel was good, located next to the Bell Tower in Beijing, and in the morning we each ate an egg omlette from a street vendor for $1.50 total. The second day was bright and sunny after the rain, and probably in the low 60s. It was a prettiest day we have had in China so far, so we walked around a lot! First we went to Beihai Park, which is huge and is definitely the best tourist deal for the money. We saw carp pools, Buddhist temples, a big lake a little reminiscent of the Tidal Basin in DC, Chinese temples on the water, one of the 3-famous 9-dragon walls, and a lot of pretty scenery. You could also rent a small boat to take to a center island in the park, but we didn’t do that this time.

After Beihai, we went to another park across the street from the Forbidden City, called Jingshan (literally Prospect Hill). We climbed to the top of a small mountain in the park and got some really good views of the entire city. We took aerial photos of the Forbidden City, and could see all of the spots we had visited in Beijing. Unlike most cities in the US, it is obvious that Beijing is very old, because the center of the city is filled with small neighborhoods and windy roads, while the malls and skyscrapers don’t begin until you get a few miles out. We are so used to skyscrapers being right in the middle of town, but that isn’t the case in most historical spots. One of the interesting things about this park is that the last Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Chongzhen, actually hanged himself from a tree here, because he sensed the end of his rule by invasion of the newly proclaimed Shun Dynasty.

After Jingshan and a bidding war between drivers, we got into a small 3-wheel car to head back to Hou Hai for a restaurant that David heard was good. The drivers were really trying to rip off visitors to the Forbidden City, and charging 50 RMB for 5-7 RMB rides. We found a driver that offered us 5 RMB, so we got in. He took us through an Old Beijing neighborhood called Hutong and showed us three houses that were supposed to be hundreds of years old. Then, we stopped at our destination and he first locked the door of the car. He then told us the price was 180 RMB per person. David sprang into action and began yelling,” No 5 kuai, you told us 5″ (in Chinese). He showed us a laminated sheet of paper that said 180 RMB for “Old Beijing” tour. What a joke, he literally showed us 3 houses along the route and was trying to make us pay for a ridiculous “tour.” For this amount of money, we could have literally taken a bus to the Great Wall which is an hour outside of the city. He said, ok fine, 500…just as David managed to unlock the door. We tried to give him the 5 kuai (like saying “bucks” for RMB) he earned, but he refused and pulled out a tire lock and started waving it at us. We began to walk away and he began acting like he was going to run the small car into each of us, as many tourists and Chinese people started laughing at him. I called him a “Huai Ren” (bad person, I think) and we just kept saying that he could come and talk about it in the Tourist Center across the street if he really wanted. He eventually gave up and drove away with no money, but it certainly made me scared and so sad that he rips off tourists like this. So the moral of the story is: 1. David is no fool. And 2. Only take taxis in Beijing because they have meters. The tri-wheel bikes are a cute gimmick but the drivers are real jerks.

To add a little to this point, one of the major benefits of living in Tangshan versus a tourist city is that no one tries to rip you off. They are so surprised and interested in just seeing a foreigner, that I’m not sure thee idea of ripping them off is even in their thought-process. Tangshan doesn’t have anything in English like Beijing, or hardly anyone who can say more than hello, but I really like that there seems to be more embracing and appreciating visitors than trying to take advantage of them. Yes, my bike was still stolen, which is a big problem here…but I don’t think I was targeted as a foreigner, I was just targeted because I had a nice bike! One thing I did learn in the Beijing Silk Market though, is that even the Chinese people there respect the fact that David and I have come to teach, and immediately give us the “teacher price.” Yes, it’s still initially a rip-off, but it’s still somethin!

At this point we were really hungry and walked to a nearby pizza place in Hou Hai. It was ridiculously expensive, but David got a really good veggie burger and we all had pizza. It was ALL foreigners in the joint, and lots of kids getting their pizza fix! After pizza, we took a cab to try and find Jenny Lou’s import store. Somehow the cab actually made it there, and we bought some ketchup, cereal, ingredients for chili, granola bars, and rolos and caramellos for our boss. The prices were the same as at home, but clearly expensive for China. We walked through one last park with a lot of activities for the warm weather (rock climbing for about 4 dollars a day), and headed back to the bus station. Overall it was another successful trip to Beijing, and there is still a LOT there that we haven’t done!

Advertisements