Wednesday, December 15, 2004

You say Peking, I say Beijing. Let's call the whole thing off.

Day 3-
The Temple of Heaven is a complex of ceremonial buildings that were used a couple of times each year (solstices, etc.) for the Emperor to come and pray for a good harvest, victory in battle, etc. One little known fact you won't find in any guidebook: It was also the site of the annual pumpkin carving contest and eunoch's "sackless" sack-race. Today it is a sprawling urban garden almost as big as the Forbidden City. The treasures here include scrolls and tablets bearing Confucian sayings. For most western visitors they rate a head-bob (a la Chevy Chase at the Grand Canyon in Vacation).

The Museum of Ancient Architecture is right around the corner. I found it hard to muster excitement for this place despite my minor in architecture. Consequently, no photos. Moving on.

The Summer Palace was the Empress Cixi's (pronounced See-She) favorite retreat and it's easy to see why. In late May, temperatures in Beijing were in the low 90s. The Summer Palace, on the shore of the North Lakes was cool and breezy. There's not a whole lot in the way of art and decoration here, but the overall setting is very relaxing. The Marble Boat was Cixi's way of saying 'fuck you' to the Imperial Navy, as she spent their entire year's budget on it. They retaliated by losing several important naval battles weakening the empire to the point that it would collapse roughly a decade later. Oops! If you have limited time in Beijing, don't skip this one.

Day 4-
As I said before, hiring a car with driver and a guide is very easy. We chose to visit another section of the Great Wall, this time at Juyonguan (pronounced Joo Yong Gwan) Pass. This mountain pass was once the site of a battle between the red states and the blue states. Bloodshed, beheadings, yadda yadda yadda. The restoration of the wall here is less authentic as it includes a handrail on the 60+ degree climbs. Chairman Mao once said something like, "He who climbs the Great Wall is a real man." Lesser known is his addendum, "and it's harder on the glutes than Sweatin' to the Oldies and Buns of Steel combined." This is unfortunately skippable.

In the same neighborhood as Juyonguan is the Eastern Ming (pronounced Ming) Tombs, so it makes sense to see them the same day. The Eastern Ming Tombs is a complex of 15-18 burial mounds of Ming Emperors all in the same general area (See also: Egypt's Valley of the Kings). Unlike Egypt's tombs however, the Ming tombs have not been fully excavated...I'm sure I read something about respecting the spirits. Whatever. There is a little museum here that's worth visiting if you're already here. Tough to recommend making a special trip though.

Leading up the Ming Tombs is a "path", for lack of a better word, called the Spirit Way. In usual Chinese fashion it's perfectly aligned along a north-south line, except for a quick bend in the path designed to throw off the spirits from using it as a runway or something. The Spirit Way is lined with huge stone carvings of people and animals, real and mythical. A nice stroll, but also tough to recommend a special trip.

Day 5-
We were 3 westerners in China, going it alone. No tour guide, no fixed itinerary. We knew what we wanted to see and where we wanted to go, which cities we wanted to fly to, and when. Travelocity lists some intra-China flights, so using that as a rough guide I layed out the plan. We wound up buying our international "to" and "from" tickets from a local consolidator who told us that there are tons of flights not listed on Travelocity and we could get huge discounts by buying the tickets once we got there. What an asshole that guy turned out to be. Travel agents in China are not terribly helpful and do not take credit cards. Your hotel can arrange intra-China flights, but be prepared to pay a service charge. We managed, instead, to find both an ATM and the offices of Air China and book the exact flight I had seen on Travelocity for exactly the same price. Sure I would have had to pay a couple of extra bucks to have the tickets mailed to me, but then I would have missed out on all the pointing and grunting fun with the lovely people at Air China.

Tiananmen Square is right down the street from Air China's offices, so that was the logical next stop. A huge paved public Square, Tiananmen is chock-a-block full of hawkers who would love to sell you a kite, bottled water, a copy of Mao's Little Red Book, or any number of other things. On the south end of the square is Chairman Mao's mausoleum where he is on display. The guidebooks say that there is a wax replica so detailed that only the staff knows which little yellow corpse is on display at any given time. Unfortunately the Chairman was being used as a card table for the politbureau's weekly Texas Hold 'Em tourney, so it was closed and we didn't get to see him. But some of the best People's Statues and People's Monuments are here. There's also some history thing about tanks, but I didn't have time to Google it to see what that was all about.

Today was Buddha's birthday, which I think actually changes from year to year, probably based on the lunar calendar. I had planned on visiting Yonghe Gong Lamasery (a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Beijing) but had heard from the girls at our hotel that a big to-do was planned at a different temple out on the west side. The benefits of not being on a set schedule/guided-tour pay off for stuff like this. Dad decided he wanted to just go walk the streets around our hotel, so Mom & I hopped on the People's Subway (about US$1). There are only two subway lines in Beijing: One runs east-west through Tiananmen and the other makes a small loop around downtown. We arrived at the end of the subway line and, per the directions we were given, we went looking for the closest People's Bus Stop for the line that would take us to the temple. We wandered around the People's Ghetto for awhile and several well-meaning, yet unhelpful, people pointed us in circles. We found it and eventually found the temple- It was BEAUTIFULLY decorated and incensed (aside: smelly, not mad). The guest of honor, a 30-something monk who astutely noticed the only two westerners in the place, stopped shaking hands and taking pictures with everyone else to greet Mom and I in very good English. We were very honored that he did this, and even moreso when he explained that his uncle was also a very important holy man. You might know him as the Dalai Lama. Very cool indeed. He explained his presence in China was kind of under-the-radar, so I've chosen not to publish his picture, but I've got his Hotmail address if you want it. (aside: No shit.)

This concludes the Beijing portion of the vacation. Day 6 we head back to the People's International Airport, this time headed deep in-country to Xi'an (pronounced She-Ahn) the ancient capital of China. Intra-China travel isn't all that mysterious or difficult. There is a departure tax you have to pay (50 RMB ~ US$6.25) and there's a whole separate line to stand in for that. Otherwise it's exactly like taking a flight here.


[Next: Xi'an]


At 1:39 AM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Damn. I've just published and realized I forgot two or three important and/or interesting things about Beijing. It's too late now, so I'll do it with the next post.

At 7:47 AM, Blogger Badaunt said...


How DARE you forget important and interesting things about Beijing.

I'm looking forward to Xi'an. I was offered a teaching job at a university there, by a professor I met on the boat going over. I thought he was joking. He wasn't. I turned it down. A friend was teaching at a university in China at the time, and being paid in Renminbi, which couldn't be taken out of the country. I didn't want to be stuck there. (I didn't have any savings at all, except what I was blowing on the trip.)

Tell me what I missed. I didn't visit there, either.

At 8:00 AM, Blogger Zelda said...

Sackless sack race, 'fuck you' to the Imperial Navy, CARD TABLE?! I've snickered my way throught this entire post. I must say though, that the Asian person in your post beats the Asian subject of my post.

At 8:26 AM, Blogger Allie#3ga said...

zelda - the asian in you post WAS beating the asian in your post ... i crack me up.

and b- very very nice teeny... and i myveryown self have seen the Dalai Lama speak ... he's amazing.

At 9:33 AM, Blogger Zelda said...

Bitchcakes - LOL. I set that up so perfectly, didn't I?

At 11:36 AM, Blogger Jay said...

i'd like to go, but only with a group of translators. otherwise i'm sure to get screwed. i have sucker written on my forehead

At 2:09 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Theic- Oooh, hurt me momma! ;) Reading about your Japanese students, I'm pretty confident you made the right decision.

Z/Al- *curtsy*

Jay- On the other hand, if screwed is what you're looking for, Thailand is just another couple hours further.

At 2:23 PM, Blogger se7en said...

MrHands you da man! Funny and interesting, I feel like I am back in history class except even more interesting and more funny than Mr Reisen my old history prof. He had a voice that guaranteed a nap, he coulda bottled it and cornered the market on sleep aids I tell ya! But I loved history anyway.


At 2:55 PM, Blogger Tasty said...

Much better than your run-of-the-mill history class. I really enjoyed this part: (Aside: no shit.)

At 9:26 PM, Blogger April said...

i'm loving this series, i've never been out of the country so i love reading about other people's travels. great posts!

At 3:22 AM, Blogger emily said...

Re. cheaper plane tickets in China than from the west: I've read that over and over again, that tix are lots cheaper when you get there! (haven't been there yet).

If you didn't use LP's Thorn Tree during your research, it can be a great resource for your next one. And it's not just for smelly backpackers anymore.


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