Saturday, October 15, 2011

Beijing by storm

I arrived in Beijing a couple of days prior to my Tibet touring starting for some sightseeing adventures China style. I arrive in China and am immediately hit with culture shock. While I have been to many many places in the last several months SE Asia has a certain same same but differentness about it. China, on the other hand, does not. China is simply DIFFERENT! Not in a bad way, but will take a few days of adjustment. While waiting for my bags at the terminal a Chinese man began talking to me. He was very nice, insisted on helping me with my bags and locate a taxi. Well, I was so busy talking to him that I completely forgot to go to the ATM! Which I realize as we're standing in the taxi line. Great. I explain to him my predicament and say that I need to go back in for the ATM and thank you so much good bye. He was so insistent on helping me into a taxi that before I could even register what was happening he had shoved 100RMB in my hand, rattled something off to the taxi driver, bags placed in the trunk, and I was off! Well, that was an interesting way for China to start, I think to myself as I wiz through Beijing on the way to my hostel.
The next morning I set out for a full day of sightseeing, armed with a map, water, snacks, and toilet paper. Why toilet paper you may be wondering? Not every place provides it, in fact most places don't. Which is why one of my travel tips is don't leave home without something to wipe your hinny with! Just a little FYI from me to you! Anyways, I surprisingly easily navigate the Beijing metro to the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is massive, it could easily take you days to go through the entire place, but with loads on my to-do-list I cut it down to a mere half day. I spent a lovely smoggy morning wandering through the Hall of Supreme Harmony, Palace of Heavenly Purity, or the Palace of Complete Happiness. Aren't those names lovely? In the Imperial Garden I enjoyed some kettle corn, then set off for Jingsan Park across the street. The park is suppose to have the best views of the City and Beijing, but did I mention the smog? Yeah, those views, not so great. Still I enjoyed walking around the park and sat and watched a large group of locals play a card game where you slap cards down with great vigor and a Ha, beat that!
Next on the hit list was a quick stop in Tiananmen Square, just to say I was there. Another quick, but squished metro ride to the Temple of Heaven park. There I enjoyed the Prayer Hall For Good Harvest and several other temples. I also saw an interesting instrument that I kind of motioned for an older gentlemen to demonstrate for me. He did until it was his turn in chess, then he stopped faster than an ADD kid can lose interest. Impressed with my list of things done today? Me too! And I wasn't even done! I had cooking class that night, which was great. The class is run by a brother and sister and they bickered the entire class like all siblings do and it was hilarious. Made some great food and discovered Sichuan peppers. They are also called numbing peppers, because they numb your mouth when you eat them. It's very good and a very interesting feeling to experience when you eat.
The following day I took things a little easier and headed to the outskirts of Beijing for the Summer Palace. Unfortunately it was another grey, overcast day, not so great for wandering the palace. Still, I meandered for a few hours until the rain picked up.
Met the new group that night and set out for the Great Wall the following morning. The Great Wall is well, pretty great. The scenery was lovely, green mountains and bright blue skies with the wall snaking through the hills. You can see towers dotting hilltops throughout the mountains. Hard to believe that they not only made the wall starting in the _th century, bur also that it's been around for that long. We lucked out with the weather and were graced with blue skies and crisp air, perfect for a trek up the Wall.
Other random impressions of China:
-everyone carries around nalagen bottles and thermos of water and tea.
- the Beijing metro is very very crowded no matter what time of day
- people spit all the time, complete with that really horrible throat clearing sound. I can't help but cringe every time I hear it. 

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