Friday, August 22, 2008

Beijing Day 7

Today was an open day. We had nothing planned and no Olympic events. So first thing we did was sleep in some. After getting up at 6 am or earlier every day, regardless of having been up until midnight or later the day before, we slept in until 8 am. We then had a leisurely morning getting up and going and finally left the hotel by about 10:30 am.

Our plan for today was to re-visit some of the areas we had visited on tours but hadn't been able to spend an adequate amount of time at. So our first stop was the Luilichang Commercial District and some hutongs. We grabbed a taxi in front of the hotel and headed off. This was by far our worst taxi ride yet. We've become used to the crazy close calls while driving so it wasn't that. This taxi driver kept sharply braking for no reason. We'd be going down an open stretch of road and he'd just brake hard for a second or two and then keep going. It was a very jerky ride and very annoying. We couldn't decide if he was doing it because he was a crappy driver or just didn't like foreigners. Anyway, no tip for him.

We arrived at Luilichang and began our stroll. This area is full of interesting shops full of handicrafts and arts and we were both interested in taking a look around. Unfortunately, the Chinese have no concept of window shopping or browsing. If they notice you even slowing down in front of their windows to look, a sales person will rush out and push the hard sell. No peaceful browsing for us. We didn't even go into any of the stores because of the hard sell. Too bad for them. Neither one of us are very big shoppers, but without the added annoyance of the hard sell, we would have bought stuff if we could have looked around in peace. I'm actually looking forward to getting back to the U.S. where you can wander a store (like Home Depot) for hours without being bothered or helped for that matter.

When the Luilichang portion of the street ran out, it dumped us into a hutong. We wandered around. Scott took lots of pictures. We were as much of a tourist attraction to the locals as their homes were to us. There were food stalls which were scary. Normal type food, but no refrigeration. Fresh eggs and meat sitting out in the sun in 80+ degree weather. We saw several pet dogs but due to warnings from the health nurse, we didn't try to pet them. Scott, of course, took pictures.

Scott had one older man sitting out selling shoe parts and repairing shoes indicate that Scott should take his picture. Then he wanted money. Nice. We also had a little boy, about 3 or 4 years old, playing in the street ham it up for Scott and then come running over each time he took a picture to look at the back of the camera. Apparently, not a new thing for him. He didn't ask for money though. His grandmother was watching us closely, but with a smile.

After about an hour, we'd reached a major road and decided we'd had enough. We were just across the street from Tianammen Square, so we decided to head over. We had to go down through a pedestrian underpass and go through a security check. They kept closing off the underpass to slow down traffic coming through the x-ray machine at the security check and left us all standing out in the hot sun. Scott mentioned after we got through that if they'd just let us go with the flow, like other security checks, we'd all have made it through in about the same amount of time, without all the fuss. Go figure.

Once in the Square, we just wandered around taking pictures. Scott offered to take pictures of at least a couple of families with their cameras. We then ended up being in photos like we were an attraction. Weird. Mao's tomb was closed that day and at the south gate, they were setting up some fireworks. Maybe for the Closing Ceremonies? The funny thing was that they had put up police tape or do not cross tape surrounding the fireworks. Because it was in a shady area, people were crawling over and under the tape to go sit in the shade. Right in front of the police that were supposed to be keeping order. You'd get tazered for that kind of behavior in the U.S. these days, so you have to ask, who's really living in a police state?

Next, we wandered over to the Forbidden City via another underground pedestrian underpass. Again, Scott starts taking pictures. It's much more crowded over here, but we are getting used to the pushing and close quarters. We enter the outer courtyard of the City and are immediately approached about going on a tour to the Great Wall, asked if we want a tour guide for the City and told there is a student art showing if we just had 5 minutes (this one is a scam that is so prevalent, it's listed in the tour books). Then, of course, there are at least a dozen "souvenir" shops before you reach the inner gate. Yikes. I did manage to find some postcards that I will get out when we return to our hotel.

We pretty much spent the next four hours wandering around the City at the speed we would have liked to conduct our tour during our first visit. We ate at a "fast food" restaurant. The dish we ordered was "Two meats with vegetables and rice." It appeared to be beef cubes and pork meatballs. Rather tasty. I grabbed chopsticks thinking we'd have no real choice in utensils before we headed outside to eat. One of the bus boys came out a minute or so later and brought us spoons. I'm not sure if they see us having difficulties or if they just assume Westerner can't use chopsticks. We aren't ever going to get any better if we don't practice. We were sitting on the ground, eating with our spoons and noticed that every single Chinese person passing us was looking at us and laughing. We weren't sure if this was beause we were sitting on the ground instead of squatting like they do or because we were using spoons to eat. Apparently, it was the spoons. Scott made a comment that he was tired of being stared at like a sideshow freak just because they used sticks to eat with instead of civilized eating utensils. I snorted some rice laughing. We had set down our trays, mine still had a significant amount of food on it, and some woman came passed and threw her trash right into my plate. She didn't even look to see if I was done eating. I made a comment about how rude and apparently, she noticed my tone and gestured an apology to Scott. What's with these people? We were standing less than 5 feet from a garbage can.

We then continued on our tour and tried to stay off the main meridian of the City an check out some of the side buildings. We came across a display (air conditioned, yay!) of the elaborate clothing the Emporer and the Emporess wore. Very beautiful stuff. No photos because they were prohibited. We next stumbled upon a display of anciet calligraphy writings. Nice but we couldn't read it. There was a beautiful display of a room screen that was made of wood and had the characters carved in jade and embedded in the wood. It was amazing just contemplating the artistry and skill that would have been required to achieve that.

Scott was having troubles getting photos in places due to the number of photographers trying to get similiar shots. Most would take their shots and move on allowing the next person to get a shot. However, there was more than one that just stood there taking shot after shot for like 5 minutes. Annoying, especially in this heat. We did see this one guy who had a special camera that would allow him to stand in one spot and take a panoramic 360 degree photo. It only used film, but was pretty cool. We watched him use it from a distance a couple of times.

Overall, my impression of the Forbidden City is one of granduer that has seen better days. They seem to be having troubles with the upkeep and this national treasure is crumbling with age and use around their ears. I think they would have been better off spending the money they spent on the Olympics on restoring the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.

We left the north entrance of the City across from Jingshan Park. Now we began our search for a taxi. We ended up walking east and then north for about 20 minutes trying to find an open taxi. Every one that drove passed was full. We eventually spotted one that was dropping off someone almost right in front of the bike tour company's offices. We nearly got hit crossing the street to snag the taxi. However, we weren't the only ones. We've noticed that with the Chinese, it doesn't matter how long you've been waiting for a taxi, if you are the first one at the taxi, it's yours. There are no lines, no taxi stands. It's chaos and first come, first serve. Aggressiveness is rewarded. But, they don't fight over them. If you miss out on one, you just move on to finding another one.

With this in mind, we started getting into the cab while the other guy was still at the front fender of the car. This guy, another American, was really pissed. He said he had been waiting 5 minutes for a taxi and this was his. We explained that we'd been walking and waiting for nearly 20 minutes and we were taking it. Scott told me to get in the taxi. As I started to do so, the guy grabbed the door and pushed it closed on me. I'm going to have another bruise on my arm. He then took a swipe at Scott and knocked his glasses on the ground all the while cursing at us. That got Scott going and he started cursing back in spectacular fashion and telling the guy that after a week of being in Beijing, he had the distinction of being the rudest, most obnoxious person we had met and wouldn't you know it, he was an American. Despite all the drama, viewed very curiously by the Chinese I might add, we got in the taxi and left. That guy needs to chill out or he is going to have a very, very frustrating trip, especially if he thinks we were rude. I personally think he was just frustrated in general and we were the only ones that spoke English that he could take it out on. And honestly, the Chinese don't care if you are frustrated or pissed if you can't speak Chinese.

Back at the hotel, Scott finished up yesterday's blog and started working on his photos (they should be posted for your viewing pleasure). We had dinner at the restaurant on the second floor of the hotel. It was very good, more expensive than you would pay outside the hotel by about 3 times, which always pisses me off until I realize that it the equivalent of what you'd pay in the U.S. for a similar meal. We've tried to avoid eating in the hotel due to the prices, but it was 7:30 pm and we were hoping to watch the men's basketball semis which started at 8:00 pm.

So that's what we did, watched basketball, and worked on catching up on photos and blogging.

Tomorrow, we have women's indoor volleyball semi-finals and the bronze and gold medal match for women's basketball. We will also be having another scalper adventure.


norwester said...

I've heard that in some other countries there is no real concept of "standing in line" like there is in the United States, so it's interesting to get the perspective you guys have.

Also, way to throw down with the other American, Scott! ;)

Speedforce said...

Those queuing lessons the government made people take paid off like a charm. Not surprised with the outcome or the Ugly American. You should have gone all Spreewell on his ass. ;)

Americans & Germans have bad reputations when traveling. Guys like that are why. Glad you guys are bucking the trend & going native. Coming home, Chinese food will seem very different. :D