So we went to Beijing, after Dali, got there in about the second week of January, and dear readers, Beijing is C-O-L-D.
Best shot first: I ate a scorpion.
It was shell-y, and it was deep-fried and sprinkled with salt. . . which means that it tasted like everything tastes when it's deep-fried and sprinkled with salt.
So, we rocked into Beijing from Kunming.
Beijing Airport is big. Hella big. Overflippingwhelming. So big that when Matt, his wife, and I went there to pick up his parents, they were at the same airport, and it still took us two hours after they arrived, before we found them. (Yeah, a miscommunication played a part in that, but still...)
Two terminals. A twelve minute bus-ride apart.
See, Beijing got totally overhauled for the Olympics, and while Hong Kong was daunting because it was just so intense -- like three Kangnam's stacked on top of each other -- Beijing, especially near the Forbidden Palace, was built especially to intimidate visitors, to awe, to impress, to cow visitors into stunned submission.
And it works, dear readers. The size of the buildings, height, depth, scale -- the windows in some buildings are one and a half stories high, in order to make the buildings seem even more daunting. The fact none of the buildings pile higher than the others, makes ALL of them seem just that overpowering. The buildings are spaced out far enough that there's space to see the sky...but the epic buildings make the sky into a brooding, hovering thing that's just as overbearing as the buildings.
We took a bus tour that guided us through many of the main sites in downtown Beijing -- from the Forbidden City to the Olympic Village.
We stayed at the Peking Youth Hostel, a really nice, clean, well-kept youth hostel in an incredible location, about two blocks from a side-entrance to The Forbidden Place. Great place, very helpful workers; any time I go to Beijing, I'll sleep there.
The silk market was busy, and impressive, but intense -- all the people trying SO DARN HARD to sell us things. They spoke some English, which was very different from many other markets, but as we walked around a bit more, it became really obvious that this market was for tourists: both because of how much (relatively) they spoke English, and (moreover) the kinds of tourist prices we were quoted.
We had duck. It was good. This is how you eat it. The restaurant was pretty fancy: we got a little card saying, "This duck restaurant has been in operation since. . . something like 1860. . . and you are eating the 512 538th duck served here."
Matt's folks didn't enjoy "Take Money From The Tourists" street; later we found an outdoor market area that was a pretty area with nice buildings and a cool atmosphere: if you buy souvenirs, you may as well get them at a place that has a nice mood and is close to some cool sites/sights, rather than letting them take your money at a market.
North of the Forbidden City is an area with a lot of neat side-streets which might have been my favorite neighbourhood we visited in Beijing -- we didn't get to see a huge ton of the city, only having four days, and one of them taken up with The Great Wall, and another half-taken up by picking up Matt's folks from the Airport.
There was an awesome lake there which, if we'd had another day/evening in Beijing, would have been the only place I wanted to visit.
As it was, we did one pass, and then had to move on, but I got these nice pictures.
This might be my favorite picture from the entire trip.
While we waited at the airport for Matt's folks, who forgot to give us their incoming flight number, Michael Phelps came through the gate. Everybody went bananas, (way more than for the Taiwanese stars who'd come in a little before him), and he came through the crowd with a nice, "aw, shucks" smile, and got close enough that I could have spit on him before photographers and fans shoved me aside.
I'm not usually one to go ga-ga over a star, I don't think, but I DO love people watching, and the crowds were wildly entertaining to watch, as their idol waded through their midst.
Every day we went to this great tiny dumpling place that was totally authentic, full of locals, not a word of English spoken, no picture menus, none of that stuff, just the best dumplings I think I've had. Soft, hot hot hot in the middle, nice spicy chili dip with soy sauce, really friendly folks, and five of us could eat our fill, seriously our fill, for about eight dollars' equivalent.
This is how they made them.
I ate the scorpion in the night food market by Wangfujing, the elite, richy-rich prestige shopping district near downtown Beijing.
They had all kinds of good things to eat.
Silkworm larvae, scorpions, grasshoppers, cicadas. Yeah.
Don't forget starfish. Way overpriced, though -- there might be an area where you can get this stuff for reasonable prices, but not here. I also have this suspicion that this whole neighbourhood used to look like this, but I bet it was all cleaned up during the Olympic lead-up.
Strawberries coated in sugar. (Also apples and kiwi), because, you know, strawberries aren't sweet enough already.
Fortunately, they DID preserve one little alley of market shopping-stuff...it was all tourist stuff, souvenirs and doodads, rather than the kind of diversity it would have had back when, you know, locals shopped there.
Wangfujing also had these cool trees with fake flowers and blue lights brushing them, outside a shop. They were lovely. Fake as anything, but lovely.
There was also the first Starbucks we found since Hong Kong. That was nice. The extra warm-gear we bought in Yangshuo came in really handy. Also, they had bike crossing signs, instead of just crossing signs. They made me happy.
A big line-up of those rickshaw carts were there. They were cool. It wasn't cool being razzed by them for a ride all the time, but what can you do?
The Forbidden City: We took one pass through it, straight down the center. We didn't even look at the side buildings or the gardens or any of the living quarters or stuff: just the seven thousand throne rooms, and that wore us right out.
Starting outside, the people's monument in Tiananmen Square. This square was crazy big.
Then we went inside, and it was really big in there, too.
For good Feng Shui, entrances should line up directly like this. . . symmetry's important. There are other rules wherein perfect center-line symmetry sometimes causes energy to flow too quickly through a building. . . but anyway, the symmetry in the palace here was A-MA-ZING.
All the buildings were this impressive. And the details up close are just as impressive as the sheer scale from a distance.
I love taking pictures of people taking pictures of each other.
More of the buildings. The Great Wall took a million workers, and a hundred thousand architects, fourteen years to build it.
There were a bajillion throne rooms -- the throne room for meeting foreign dignitaries, the throne room for when the Emperor had important business, the throne room for summer, for winter, for bad weather, for legal matters, for internal affairs, for matters of war, for meeting his concubines, for meeting the empress. . . well, you get the point.
Detail work. Yeh.
These are just ramps for people to walk up or down from the throne room walkway. There are courtyards at the bottom big enough to make a proper coliseum.
These guards and other folks are exhausted. Seeing a guard sleeping like that made me smile. . . stuff like that always kills me: cracks in facades, the businessman with mustard on his tie, the gorgeous lady who loses her stiletto heel in a sidewalk crack, guards dressed up to look badass, yawning or picking their noses. . . :)
or taking a smoke break.
The walk around wiped us out, but jeez, it was amazing. Here's the north corner of the tower, from the far side of the moat.I have to go back to Beijing again, for at least two weeks. . . it was great.
And. . . The Great Wall
On the way to the great wall, they tried to get us to buy stuff, but then we went to these Ming Tombs that were really fantastic: all the old emperors were buried there, and each tomb basically went all the way up the mountainside.
These pillars were each made of one tree, and they were ridiculously huge. According to the tour guide, the Emperor basically sent a million guys to a forest way off in the south, and by the time they came back with the pillars, only about half of them had survived.
This Emperess' crown is hella old, made of beautiful gold mesh, light as anything, build half a millenium ago. Cool.
Then we made it up to the mountain, and the wall. MMM. I walked slowly up the incline, drinking everything in.
The wall was great.
Overwhelming and mind-blowing, that a structure like this, 10 000 miles long, was built 3000 years ago -- not all of it, but the beginnings. Pretty cool. Being there was one of those "I'm Alive" experiences -- that same wall I read about when I was a kid, that always showed up on the seven wonders of the world lists and stuff like that -- and here I was, walking on it, and taking crappy pictures of it with my OWN camera. Thin air. Humans made this thing. Humans did it.
So, mind-blown and exhausted, we took the 24 hour boat ride home, starting early early the morning after seeing the Great Wall. We caught a bus with the most horrible driver in the world, this obnoxious turd who smoked on the bus and honked what must have been a train whistle every time he came near another vehicle, and I swear, that bus had the speaker blaring INTO the bus instead of out. We were not happy. Getting home was nice, but it was an epic trip.
We met some cool folks in Beijing, and had some good laughs with Matt's folks. We took it a bit easier there than in Dali or Yangshuo, for the sake of Matt's folks, but we saw just enough of Beijing for me to really, really want to go back.
And that was my China Trip. After that, I came back to Korea and bummed around a bit, and then for Lunar New Year, Hanoi.
Be well, my dear readers. Hope you have enjoyed my China trip. It was fun going through it again in my own mind.
One last note:
When I travel, I like keeping a written diary, because there are some things that just don't translate into pictures. While I sure did take a lot of pictures, I also spend a lot of time jotting down everything that can't go into a jpg file: smells, smiles, stories, people, weird conversations, funny comebacks, and all that stuff.
This was the diary I bought on my second or third day, in Hong Kong. A few days after returning from Vietnam, I filled the last page, tidily finishing my record of the final leg of the trip.
Check it out.
A good trip indeed.