Monday, April 20, 2015

Beijing Part III: The Temple of Heaven and Exploring the City

We got an early start on our third day in Beijing, as we wanted to try to beat some of the crazy crowds we experienced the previous day at the Forbidden City.  Our first stop on this morning was to visit the Temple of Heaven.  The Temple of Heaven dates back to the early 1400s, and is one of China's iconic sites.  We left our hostel by 8 AM to make our way to the temple, at which point it was surprise, surprise....freezing outside.  There was actually a decent amount of snow still on the ground out by the temple when we arrived, which I'll admit was pretty beautiful.

Luckily, it seemed like we succeeded in beating the crazy crowds, which was a nice change from our experience the day before.  The temple itself was really beautiful and like many of the other temples I've seen, much more impressive in person than in pictures.

While we were walking around and taking pictures, a Chinese man came over and asked to take a picture with us (an all too familiar occurrence as a westerner in Asia), and afterwards he was trying to tell us something, but we couldn't understand what it was.  A few minutes later someone who spoke English told us that there was some kind of show going on soon and we had to move to the sides to clear way for the performance.

We moved to the sides and waited to see what was happening.  Then we waited some more...and some more.  Apparently "soon" wasn't really soon by out standards, and as the crowd got huge naturally the pushing began, which didn't make us too happy considering we were absolutely frozen by this point and getting a little cranky on account of our discomfort. 

Finally, the show began and there were tons of people who marched in with traditional Chinese clothes and flags.  After everyone marched in, different groups came to the center and did some sort of performance. It was interesting to see, but it was pretty long and repetitive and we had absolutely no idea what it all represented. 

By the time the performance ended, we were beyond frozen and it actually hurt my joints just to start walking again. Our number one mission was to find someplace warm and FAST.  Luckily, we saw a little bakery across the street and we were lucky to get there before the rush of people came in. We got some coffee and really delicious bread and sat in the warmth for a while while figuring out what was next.  

After defrosting a bit and getting some food we were in much better spirits and decided to head over to Yuanmingyuan Park because there was a festival going on for the Lunar New Year.  There were red lanterns everywhere and of course, lots of food stands.  While we didn't eat anything, we did enjoy walking around the park. 

After we finished at the park we decided to go back to the hostel to figure out our plan for the rest of the night (and to use a clean bathroom...we had already had two more extremely traumatic experiences this day).  We got something to eat and decided to head Wangfujing Street to do some souvenir shopping. 

One of the streets in this area sells all kinds of food....seriously, ALL kinds of food, including seahorses and scorpions.

Yep, those are seahorses.

We walked around for a while, but it was freezing and it was really crowded (noticing a theme here?)  We also weren't so successful in our souvenir shopping, so we decided to go back over to the huge mall located just across the street. The mall had tons of western stores and as we walked around Jen and I mentioned how it kind of felt like we were just back home--apart from the Lunar New Year decorations that were everywhere.


We decided to eat at a restaurant in the mall and had some very delicious dim sum for dinner.  We walked around for a bit more before decided to go back into the cold to make the trip back to our hostel.

The area around the mall.

We finally made it back to our hostel and our warm room to pack up our stuff for our early flight the next morning. Although our second day in Beijing had been a little rough, we had a much better time on our third day, and felt satisfied that we could leave China on a pretty positive note.  

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Beijing Part II: Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City

We woke up on our second morning in Beijing and decided to have breakfast right in our hostel to avoid the cold for a bit longer.  Once we got brave enough, we headed out into the icy weather to go to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

We got there by using the subway without any issues, but as soon as we got off there were TONS of people--which pretty much set the tone for the rest of the day.  Tiananmen Square is located right before the Forbidden City and it is the site of many important events in Chinese history. It even houses the body of Mao Zedong in a mausoleum that was built just for him. However, by the time we were there it was freezing, snowing, and crowded, so we didn't hang around for long before heading to the Forbidden City.

Big picture of Mao. Jen and I often said throughout the trip that Beijing had a weird "communist" feeling.  I know you're probably thinking "well DUH!" It really isn't an eloquent way to describe it, but it was definitely a different vibe from what I've experienced before.  There were pictures of Mao everywhere.

Once we got into the Forbidden City the crowds just got worse and worse. We were battling huge crowds of people just to walk anywhere.  Add in the snow and freezing cold and we weren't exactly happy campers. This was not the 50 degree weather that we saw in the forecast.

The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace for nearly 500 years. The palace was only open to the emperor's family and those who had permission to enter, hence the name of the "Forbidden City."  The palace itself was huge and did look nice with the snow.  The girl who worked at our hostel said that people wait all season for it to snow because it looks so pretty on the palace. She said she had been waiting all winter to go see it in the snow, but this was the first chance.  This probably didn't help with the issue of the huge crowds...I swear all of China's one billion people were visiting on this day.

So many people!

This little girl was absolutely adorable. She was trying to talk to Jen and couldn't quite understand why she couldn't speak Mandarian to her.  

One of our worst experiences of the day was using the bathroom.  To enter the bathroom there was only one door instead of a set of double doors.  There were TONS of people trying to get inside, and no one seemed to care about letting anyone out. The result was just a huge crowd of people fiercely pushing, pushing, pushing! It got to the point where Jen and I literally couldn't move and were yelling at people to STOP! This was probably the most outrageous thing to us, especially since there were small children in the crowd.

Once we entered the bathroom, things unfortunately didn't get better. The smell inside was so overwhelmingly terrible that Jen and I instantly covered our noses and started coughing.  I'm pretty sure that this bathroom had never been cleaned. After waiting in line we tried to take care of our business as quickly as possible and get out of there and back into the fresh air. Normally I would try not to act like that--clearly the Chinese people were totally unphazed by both the pushing and the conditions inside the bathroom and Jen and I probably looked like rude foreigners...but there was really no way to hide our reactions in this totally took us by surprise.

We walked around the palace for a bit longer, but we were actually pretty miserable from the huge crowds and the wet snow. Eventually we called it quits and decided to make the walk back to the subway. Here's an interesting fact about have to go through security before you get on the subway. Your bag has to be screened and you have to walk through a metal detector before you can even get on the subway.  It didn't seem like it was really very thorough really seemed like it was more of a formality than anything else.

Look at that sexy face mask! These signs were at the subway station.

And cute ones for kids!
After we got back to the area near our hostel we had wanted to book tickets for a show that night, but the people at our hostel told us that the normal programs weren't happening because of the holiday.  This meant we didn't have any plans for the night, so we decided to get some food.  Unfortunately, something about what we had didn't quite agree with me and I had to spend the next hour laying in our room with an absolutely terrible stomachache.

We decided to stay at the hostel to make dumplings again that night instead of venturing back into the freezing cold.  We were totally beat from the day and didn't really care to go back into the cold or the huge, pushy crowds, so we spent the rest of the night resting in our room, hoping that our next day would be better.