My first day in Beijing was a Sunday. My timing was completely off, but my plan was to just go for as long as i could before i collapsed, and hope i could push my body to get on China time. Sunday morning i met D in my hotel lobby at 9 am. D is a colleague that i have worked with long distance for about 2 years, and met six months ago in person when he and his boss came to the US. He is a curious and friendly guy, about 5 years younger than me. He is my guide for the day.
First stop – Tiannamen Square. We rode the subway to Tiannamen Square, where we walked around what is basically a big damn square. There were tons and tons of people there, all of them seeming to be doing the same thing i was doing, which was wandering around and gawking. President Mau’s body is interred in a nearby building, and the square is a site of someimportant historical events. In 1989 there were protests held there in favor of democracy, which resulted in a declaration of martial law and the killing of several hundred Chinese citizens.
Second stop – the Forbidden City. This is a must-see location in Beijing. The architecture is amazing to begin with, and then you realize it is 600 years old, which makes it doubly so. The emperors of China lived here up until 1925, when their government changed so that they had Presidents instead of Emperors.
The Forbidden City was very crowded with tourists. Mostly Chinese tourists. There were several buildings where visitors bunched around an opening to peer inside and see the divine tablets, but it was not very organized, so it was basically just a mob trying to see inside a building. I was patiently waiting my turn, but no one paid me any heed and just cut in front of me. D told me i had to be more aggressive. So. I pushed my way into the crowd, about halfway in (the crowd was about 12 people deep, i think). It was a friggin MOB. At one point i could go neither forward nor backward. I decided i did not really need to see the divine tablets in that particular Hall of Celestial Harmony. D laughed and told me not to worry, since there were two more nearly identical Halls of Celestial Somethings with more divine tablets further in. There were 9,999 rooms in the place. We wandered for about 2 hours before we left. I missed more than half of it, but i think i got the idea.
Third stop: a park across the street from the Forbidden City. There were people singing and dancing there – that was neat. D told me that people who retire often go to parks during the day and sing or dance, just for fun. Neat idea.
Fourth stop: Lunch. We randomly walked into a hole in the wall restaurant on a side street. It was fairly uncomfortable, and D kept asking me what i wanted and i’m like, dude, you have to help me out. We ordered three random dishes and some hot and sour soup. None of it was particularly good, though the rice at least tasted like rice. D didn’t think it was good either, so at least it wasn’t just me.
Fifth stop: BeiHai Park. This was definitely my favorite part of the day. The park is around a man-made lake, with lots of little boats on the water. Paddle boats, many of them. There were more people singing and dancing here – i am really loving that part of this culture. It is cloudly and windy and threatening to rain.
Sixth stop: Temple of Heaven. This was another park, but without a lake or any water. Somehow we took a taxi from “about to storm” weather to “scalding hot and sunny” weather. There were three sites to see here – more old ceremonial temples, with more divine tablets.
The Temple of Heaven park was also the place where i took my first restroom break. WARNING TMI AHEAD! There was a public restroom, but the first stall i walked into was broken. At least, that’s what i thought when i walked in and there appeared to be a urinal on the floor. I left that stall and checked two more, and they were all the same, so nevermind, it wasn’t broken, it was just a urinal on the floor. I closed the door and i swear my problem solving skills were not quite up to this task. (Keep in mind, by my clock it’s about 3 am.) I simply could not wait to pee until i got back to the hotel, so i finally figured out that i had to shimmy my pants down and squat over this urinal thing. Why oh why? I swear, the real reason the US is a superpower might just be because we have figured out public restrooms. No toilet paper provided, although i luckily had some paper towels in my back pocket. There was a valve to step on that flushed water through sideways. A very bizarre experience.
Seventh stop: Dinner, Sichuan-style restaurant. I was excited about this, but the reality was strange. I asked for bottled water but got boiled water instead. The food was pretty good, but again i was told to just “order whatever you want” and i’m like, dude, i have no idea what i want! It is very uncomfortable to order food in a foreign country when all you have to go on is the pictures.
Overall, a good first day of touring.