Saturday, May 25, 2013

Weekending in Beijing: Part One

Ever since we arrived in China--actually, well before even that--Ben and I have wanted to visit Beijing. Our love of history and my fascination with Communist countries made a trip to Beijing at the top of our list. Despite it being relatively easy to get there, pesky things like teaching, below freezing weather, and Thailand made it difficult to go until now.

Lovely Michelle and I ready to board our train!
Thanks to our lovely friend Michelle, we were able to go on a semi-spontaneous trip to the capital a couple of weeks ago. Taking the 8 hour overnight train from our province's capital for about 45 USD (beat that, Amtrak!), we arrived ready to conquer the largest city in the most populous country in the world.

Since we live so close to our province's capital, Zhengzhou, I thought I knew what big Chinese cities were like: lots of traffic, smoggy, and dirty. Since ZZ only has 10 million residents, I thought Beijing's 20.6 million would mean even more smog, cars, and dirt.

Taken in Zhengzhou right before leaving

However, we were more than pleasantly surprised when we arrived to find clean air, blue skies, and spacious roads. Granted, it had just rained the day before, but it is clear that the new pollution measures do sometimes work.
The Tiananmen Square Gate and blue skies

After a quick McDonalds stop (yes, we are classy people), we arrived at Tienanmen Square at around 7:30 am along with half of the Chinese and European tour bus population. I will never again think San Francisco or Yosemite has a lot of international tourists!

The square is massive and quite impressive. It was built during the Ming Dynasty as a gate to the Emperor's grounds. It is where Mao declared the creation of the People's Republic of China 64 years ago. And of course, it is also where thousands of people were publicly denounced and executed; where students rose up and were massacred; and, most recently, where a five people self-immolated in 2001.

The Monument to the People's Heroes, the Maosoleum, and tourists

 The Great Leader's "Maosoleum" is located  in the middle of the square, but unfortunately the lines were too long and our time was too short to gaze upon his dehydrated corpse. Next time though! I'm eager to compare Lenin's body in the Red Square with Mao's...that came out wrong.

He's looking over us all
Moving right along! After some pictures in front of the (in)famous picture (does it remind anybody else of The Mona Lisa? No? Just me then), we ventured into the most unForbidden City considering how many people were also visiting there with us.

Lots of crowds

The Forbidden City gate (partially obstructed by our giant heads)
The City was beautiful and grand, but since Ben and I have seen approximately 6,000 pagodas and temples since we have arrived in China, we fell a bit short of impressed. Next time, I plan on doing more research or getting an audio tour, so I can appreciate the significance more.

It was still pretty cool to be there

After the FC, we crossed the street and found a hill/park that looked interesting. We met back up with Michelle, who had opted to shop instead of going to the Forbidden City for her 10th time, and climbed some steep steps to the top of this mountainous hill. The views from the top were spectacular.

Ben and Jingshan Hill
We were able to see Beijing in every direction for miles and miles since we pretty much in the center. It was amazing to see the historical rooftops and buildings were intertwined with the ultra modern high rises and apartments. It is not often that a city is able to modernize so quickly yet still maintain its strong cultural identity. This is what has impressed me the most about this place.

Beautiful traditional roofs with skyscrapers in the background

After a very long walk down some lovely shaded streets, we arrived at our hostel and checked-in. We booked a 3-bed room for about $12 a person. It was clean, comfortable, and conveniently located. No complaints!
Passing all the shops to get to our hostel

After a quick lunch, we headed out to the Summer Palace. By the way, Beijing has a great subway system: super comprehensive and only $0.30 to go anywhere in this huge city (beat that BART!).

Next we headed to the Summer Palace which was where the emperor and his family would escape the stifling city heat and relax in nature, which was exactly what we did, too. This place is huge-- After climbing some more hills and looking at some more temples, we came to a pretty, blue lake. Since this area was overrun with tourists, we escaped to a more remote place where we talked, played Risk on my iPad, and listened to the nearby sprinkler. Highly enjoyable.

The entrance to the Summer Palace

Ben rocks!

 Then we headed back into the city to a very ritzy, hyper Western part of town and consumed the most delicious (and expensive) burger I have had in China. It did not feel like we were in China...until the waitstaff wanted to take our picture for their restaurant wall. Oh well, can't win them all.

When we got back to our hostel, we crashed, and I had the best night sleep ever.

Stay tuned for our next post about a pretty great wall!

No comments:

Post a Comment