Saturday, April 12, 2008

Is that really his body? (Beijing - Part 1)

Spring Festival started for me on January 22 when I finished teaching. That night we had a big Mexican fiesta in Handan so we could all say goodbye before I left town for the next four weeks. The next morning I took an early train from Handan to Beijing. My friend, Sherly, got on the train in Shijiazhuang and the two of us were ready for our first trip to the capital city.

It seemed funny to me that I had lived in China for five months at this point and had still never been to Beijing except for when we arrived at the airport and didn't get to see anything. Sherly and I immediately went to the ticket office to buy train tickets to our next destination, Harbin. We had a list of available trains on the day we wanted, but of course they were all sold out. Our only option was to take a D train (the fastest and nicest trains) a day earlier than we wanted to leave. We called Jeremy, because he and Michelle and Jenna were meeting us in Harbin and we wanted to see if they would have a similar encounter. Turns out they had just bought their tickets and the only thing available would get them in about 30 minutes before us. Sweet.

Sherly and I spent most of our time in Beijing getting lost. Seriously, I don't know what was wrong, but I normally have a fairly good sense of direction and yet as soon as we got to Beijing all of that was thrown out the window.

While we were in Beijing we got to go to the Forbidden City, which was disappointing because almost the entire thing was under construction. They are trying to get Beijing ready for the Olympics (trying being the operative word here) and so EVERYTHING is under construction. It seems to me that cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong are much more prepared for the Olympics than Beijing, but I guess they will have to pull it off somehow.

We also went to the Temple of Heaven, which was really cool. Apparently the whole thing was built without the use of a single nail. That is quite impressive if I may say so.

We went to Tiananmen Square, where all the protests took place in the late 1980s and again it was cool, but it wasn't really what I was expecting. I thought it was going to be a lot bigger than it was (it is still massive, the largest public square in China) and I didn't realize there was a street between the square and the Forbidden City.

The creepiest thing we did was go to the mausoleum where Chairman Mao's dead body is left on display for everyone to come through and take a peek at. We had to dump all of our belonging in lockers across the street and then walk quietly and in a single file line past the waxy looking body wrapped in a Chinese flag. It was eerie and pretty disturbing.

After seeing the big sites in Beijing of course we had to hit up the silk market to test out our bargaining skills in Beijing's third largest tourist destination (or so their web site claims). I was on a mission to get some shoes for the rest of the trip because my gym shoes were falling apart and I didn't have any boots for the next lef of our journey. The woman started out asking 700 kuai for a pair of Uggs and another 700 kuai for a pair of Adidas shoes. In the end I got her down to 300 kuai total for the two pairs of shoes. That's 40 bucks US, so I was pretty happy and I knew the shoes were going to come in handy. I also scored a Burberry scarf for 20 kuai (3 bucks) and some Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses for another 20 kuai. I didn't do any souvenir shopping because I knew this was only the beginning of my trip and I would have to drag along any purchases for the entire rest of my trip.

The next morning Sherly and I set out north to Harbin on the incredibly comfortable D train.

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