My first stop in China was appropriately the capital of China: Beijing! My first impressions of Beijing were a good reflection of my impressions of the whole of China – super easy to get around (I took the subway from the airport to my hotel without incident) but enough pollution to give you instantaneous lung cancer. This visibility from right in front of our hotel was pretty bad:
Looking at the sun, I quickly realized how dire their pollution issue is:
I tried to ignore the pollution while sightseeing. And sightseeing is what we did. Of course, we stopped at the most famous tourist attractions in Beijing, starting with Tiananmen Square!
It’s amazing how very few people in China actually know what happened here in 1989. They’ve never seen the iconic picture of the lone protester with the tanks. Oh well. I suppose ignorance is bliss, right? Or not… Anyway, it was a national holiday the week before so some of the decorations were still up, such as this one right in the middle of the square:
And of course, you can’t come to Tiananmen Square without seeing Chairman Mao’s mausoleum:
Luckily, Mao is closed for viewing on Monday, so the square wasn’t as crowded as we were warned. The entrance to the Forbidden City, however, was packed:
Look! It’s me and Mao!
The Forbidden City itself is pretty much void of all of the interior furnishings as they were moved to Taiwan right before the communists took power in 1949. So it’s the outside of the buildings and the architecture that are really on display. And displayed they are: the Forbidden City is like one of those Russian dolls where you open it up and there’s another doll inside, and then another, and then another! You go through one entrance and then inside there’s another entrance… and then another… and another! You just keep going through gates into the next big area where you see yet another gate. So many photo ops…
On a side note, those Russian dolls I mentioned are sold everywhere in China. We asked why. I’m not sure why I was surprised but the answer was that they are made in China… just like everything else.
We also popped by the Temple of Heaven:
Both the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City were mostly restored, but you could find sections that either were left to show their actual current state with wear and tear, or just hadn’t been cleaned up yet. See the difference on the intricate outsides of the buildings.
It wasn’t all sightseeing. We also hit up the Hong Qiao Pearl Market for some shopping.
Inside there were knock-offs of every treasure you could ever ask for: sunglasses, watches, electronics, handbags, jeans, clothes, etc. The only problem: those bitches is crazy. The ladies that run all of the stalls – and there are many – are absolutely frightening. As you walk by, they block your path and try to sell you things. If you don’t stop, they try to put their products in your hands. And if that doesn’t work, they just grab your arms – sometimes two of them grabbing you at once – and they try to pull you over to their stall. Ok bitch, get your hands off of me! You have to forcefully push them off of you. It’s a bit of a gauntlet inside. And then there’s the haggling. The products are made cheaply, but they tell you the price is several times higher in hopes of ripping off western tourists. You have to haggle. And if you haggle them down to a point where they look visibly upset and flustered, you know you’ve done a good job. It seems a bit heartless to bring people down to that level, but you have to do it. Lucky for me, I don’t have a major problem with pissing people off.
Finally, our cultural event for Beijing: a Kung Fu show! The show was on the second night and proved very entertaining despite my intense jetlag and sleepiness. I think part of it was that there were a lot of topless men on stage jumping around. I’m ok with that. Afterward, like in all of China, they spit you out of the theatre into a gift shop and try to sell you awfully tacky souvenirs – like this t-shirt that my roommate for the trip, Joel, is holding up:
Get it? It’s a Kung Fu show… so those are Kung Fu Pandas! Loving the tackiness! And Joel totally mastered the peace sign thing that all of the Asians do with their fingers in photos. And yes, we saw the locals doing it everywhere! All the stereotypes are scarily proving true…
There was one other very important thing we saw in Beijing, but it’s so special that it deserves a whole separate blog post next…