American Breakfast at the hostel was a treat, though not the greatest quality but the real butter experience made it worth it.
People don’t stare at us here, and there are foreigners everywhere. When we asked one woman for directions I at first thought she was just going to keep walking without even replying, but after the third “duipuchi” (excuse me) she finally took notice of me.
It was culture shock all over again, we had gotten so used to the Jinan locals who would walk you to your destination just for a chance to practice their English. The other foreigners in Beijing also seemed cold, in Jinan we knew most of the foreigners we were likely to run into, and the ones we didn’t know would usually exchange of nod of acknowledgement. In Beijing we were invisible, just another white faced laowei (foreigner) among many.
The subway was a very well put together and convenient network. Two yuans got you virtually anywhere in the city in less then twenty minutes. It was crowded, but no where near the nightmare I had expected when I recalled the stories of other passengers physically being pushed on board so that the doors would close.
We visited the forbidden city, which was, as it turned out, forbidden. Not as forbidden as it would have been in the pages of history when it was filled with the emperor, his servants, eunuchs, and concubines, and the only (in tact) man allowed within it’s walls after dark was the emperor himself, but more forbidden then we expected. We could get partway in, but the main interior was being renovated and was closed to public.
There were two thick walls to enter through, the openings heavily gated. They stood wide, allowing the crowds to pour through, but still this could not completely diminish their foreboding glare. As I passed through, looking up at the solid grey walls, I couldn’t help but recall the blurb about the city from our lonely planet travel guide “In former ages the price for uninvited admission was instant execution” (Harper et al. 2013) I shivered at the shadow cast all around me, “These days 40 RMB- 50 RMB will do.” (Harper et al. 2013)
The mood lightened slightly once we were through the gates. In one of the courtyards we saw some of the ever serious guards playing basketball, for once looking human. We excited through the back gate and entered a park that was both extensive and beautiful. The canal that served in part as a mote was lined with willows who’s long waving arms reached down towards the water.
The hutongs (old walking streets) were the next place on our list to visit. As we passed back along the forbidden city we were bombarded by people offering us tours or rides. We kept saying “bu yao” (don’t want) but they didn’t give up easy. One guy would seem to be dropping behind after hounding us for a few minutes, only to speed up and catch up again as if he expected us to have changed our minds in the few seconds he left us alone.
I guess you could say were weren’t invisible anymore, we were new walking money belts, with vendors all around us trying to convince us to purchase their product.
We met a couple from Toronto in one of the stores, and walked and talked to them for a while. I guess it was good to talk to people from our own country.
We didn’t really know where we were going. Twice we thought we had reached hutongs marked on the map, but both times we found ourselves on empty streets.
We eventually found the hutongs, and spent the rest of our daylight hours there. I loved all of the silk scarves, especially the ones with toggles on them so that they could be warn as a shirt!
We made it to the drum and bell towers by dark, and took some blurry pictures before moving on. It was while wondering around lost while attempting to get home to our hostel that we found the real gem.
We were cold, hungry, and not entirely sure where we were going. For a while we were walking in the complete opposite direction… and then we saw the lake. The lights of lanterns and small shops and restaurants reflected on it’s smooth black surface. I froze mid walk “I’m going to take a picture” I took off, eyes gazing at nothing but the beautiful post card view opening up in front of me.
I don’t know what Nate was thinking as he watched his head-in-the-clouds girlfriend take off like a leaf carried on the wind. Regardless, despite his cold and hunger he took out his camera and pointed the view finder at the body of water, balancing it on a post to get a clearer shot.
I followed the sound of music and came upon two men and a computer. They had set up karaoke on the street. We crossed a bridge decorated with white lights and followed the lake around to look in the stores and restaurants.
We ate at a western food restaurant called the “Crazy Elephant Cafe”. We left the restaurant satisfied and warm enough to make it the rest of the way back. When we returned we stopped in at a bar around the corner for some hot mulled wine. Not a bad way to end a busy day.