Out of the Well: A Frogs-Eye-View of China and the World

Random Jottings on China, History, Culture, and Life as seen by an American student in Beijing.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Chapter two: we are tourists

(Note: I do not know if these are being posted, for some reason I can't visit any site with a blogspot.com address. Perhaps I am being blocked by the Great firewall, email me if you can read this.)

On friday we began to do the tourist thing in earnest. After a leisurely morning in Wu Dao Kou, which involved purchasing a nifty little cell phone, we took a taxi down to the Forbidden City. If you have never been to the Forbidden City, it is quite a daunting experience. The massive palace complex consists of five or six main courtyards, off of which flow innumerable courtyards, show rooms and gardens. As my father said, it should only be done in two hours or several days. As he is only here until Monday we went for the two hour run through.

Behind the Forbidden City is a park called Jingshan Gongyuan, literally scenic mountain public park. From the mountain we were able to see into the Forbidden City, as well as much of Beijing. That is we would have, were it not for the omnipresent haze. Nonetheless the view was impressive, and after the crowds at the Forbidden City, it was pleasantly sparse.

We then engaged in one of the most frustrating, and potentially rewarding, tourist traditions in Beijing, the bicycle rickshaw ride through the old Hutongs of Beijing. The Hutongs are the low courtyard houses that make up the inner city of Beijing. The idea of the rickshaw ride is that you pay in the beginning, you pay in the middle, and then you pay at the end. At the beginning you negotiate a price with the English-speaking boss. In the middle the non-English speaking driver takes you to various destinations where you are expected to pay an entrance fee, buy something to eat, etc. It can be assumed that your driver gets a cut. I had been on this before so we were not too badly fleeced. We saw two nice courtyard houses for reasonable entrance fees, one of which included free tea. At one point he brought us to the drum tower and tried to convince us to pay 65RMB each for a guide and a ticket to enter. We declined and walked to the real ticket booth where we each paid 15RMB. In the end he dropped us off at the least convenient end of the Houhai bar district and explained that he worked hard and that his boss would not give him much money. We gave him a little out of pity and walked away reasonably pleased with our afternoon.

After a couple of hours of wandering we discovered a nice Peiking Duck restaurant (complete with waiters in Qing Dynasty costume!) where we ate a good meal before turning in early.

Today (Saturday) we ventured outside of Beijing to the Great Wall at Badaling and the Ming Tombs at Shi San Ling. We had arranged to go by car with Mr. Song, our taxi driver who had taken us to our hotel the first day. I had wanted to find a taxi driver who would be willing to take us (and thus avoid the tour busses), and Mr. Song had two good things going for him. His taxi had plenty of legroom, and I was able to understand his Chinese reasonably well. It turns out that he is also just a really nice guy. The only bump in the road was when he took us to Badaling (a popular tourist spot on the wall) because I had failed to properly communicate to him which section of the wall I wanted to go to. This was not much of a problem because we beat the tourists by about an hour, and had a great time anyway.

After the great wall Mr. Song took us to a restaurant in Shi San Ling (literally 13 tombs) the town where 13 of the 16 Ming emperors are buried. We treated him to a fantastic lunch, which included Hot and Sour Soup, Ma Po Tofu, an extravagantly large local fish of some sort (their expensive specialty) and some tasty dry cooked chicken. Best meal in China thus far. We got to talking, as best as we could with my poor Chinese, and he told us about himself. His wife works in a hotel, and he has a 5 year old son. When I asked him if he always lived in Beijing he replied that he had, and proceeded to invite me and my whole family to come for a meal when they all come to visit in June. I am looking forward to this, hopefully by then I will be a more effective translator.

After dinner we visited the tomb of Ming emperor Shenzong, which was completed in 1590. This tomb was excavated in the 1950s, and today you can desend about 7 stories by foot into the old kings underground burial chamber where he and his two wives rested for about 350 years. Educational and entertaining!

On the way back Mr. Song stopped at one of the many orchard side fruit stands and hopped out of the car. He returned with a present: A bag of tiny zang fruits and four enormous peaches. The zang fruits are small and oval, with a small seed in the center. They taste like a really sweet apple. Mr. Song explained that if we had purchased them they would have been much more expensive. Because he was Chinese the zang fruit was only 5RMB(60US Cents) for about a pound of them. This was how much we had just paid for a bottle of water.

All and all not a bad couple of days. Tomorrow I get the key to my apartment, and then I get to go the police station to attempt the acquisition of a temporary visitors permit. Yipee!


Post a Comment

<< Home