One thing I’ve made a point about for this trip is to schedule long enough in a place where I’m not constantly running around trying to get everything seen in a short amount of time. Japan had a pretty full schedule, but now I get to stay in one place for a week, and get a feel for the place. With that said, today I didn’t have anything specifically planned, so I picked out a spot to go see and headed there slowly. I first thought I should go and arrange my train ticket for Datong just in case there’s something odd about train ticket purchases.
Once I arrived at the station, it was chaos. An open square full of absolute chaos. And what was more amazing is that there was no signage anywhere about where to buy tickets. No one seems to speak English, and even in the train station security guards, I motion handing a ticket and paying money, and they all stare at me like I’m talking about nuclear chemistry in Greek. It took forever to figure out where to go get a ticket, and once I did, it took even longer.
Luckily, I had Google Translate, and wrote out the sentence of what I wanted to do. After waiting 15 minutes in line, she said I needed to go to window 16 for that ticket. Again, a twenty minute wait in line, and once I arrived, I was told that it’s window number 1. Unfortunately, being able to read a bit still didn’t help out, as none of the characters made sense as to what type of lines I was waiting in. Thankfully the third line I went to was short, and I got my ticket and I was on my way.
I chose to go see the Lama Temple, which was up north, and an interesting set of temples for Confucious. The grounds were nice, and the entire area smelled of incense burning. After spending a while looking for a decent place to eat, I opted to use Trip Advisor and see if anything was nearby. There was an Italian place that seemed close, but of course, close in Beijing still means a good 30-45 minute walk. I managed to find my way to this shopping street which was lined with all sorts of modern shops in very old buildings. It was really nice. While my eyes perused the unique shops, my stomach lead me to the alleyway where the Italian restaurant supposedly was. And there was, a tiny hole in the wall, closed. I looked at the door and I pressed my face against the window to peer in, and oddly, I could see a setting of a table being used, but no one was inside. I pulled on the door, and it was locked. So disappointed, I sat there shaking my head.
Suddenly, a dainty looking Chinese woman opened the door, and in an almost overly exaggerated enunciation of R’s and L’s, the woman’s English was very good. She explained that the shop had to close today due to some other circumstances, but said that she herself could make me anything that wasn’t a ‘meal’. That included mushroom soup, lasagna, all paninis, and desserts. I wonder what a ‘meal’ was if those were the only things ‘she’ was able to prepare. My mushroom soup was so good. I’d been holding back a little bit on feeling comfortable eating, and once the soup touched my lips, the familiarity of quality ingredients immediately allowed me to chug it down. Then came the Panini. Unfortunately, not as good as the soup, the bread was overly crunchy, and the ‘italian’ sausage had a very ‘chinse’ flavoring to it that made me feel a little grossed out. All in all, the meal was good, and got me going on my second round of walking.
I then decided to walk on down to the Forbidden city, to finally see what I hadn’t been able to see the previous day. Tienanmen Square with the famous Mao picture. As I made my way down, I went by subway so that when I exited, I followed the signs to Tienanmen. After security check, we were able to walk towards the square, and all of a sudden, while soldiers marched by, I saw the grand intersection where the gates of the Forbidden city stare back at you. It was really cool to finally understand it’s position in the city, in the street, in the square.
The square was huge. Like Red Square. A massive, communist type, square that obviously holds quite a tainted past. I know they have a flag dropping ceremony at sunset, but it was just 5:00, so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay. I am so glad I did. I went over and took pictures for a while, and then headed back to the square where everyone was gathering in front of the guarded flag to wait for the ceremonious flag change.
I then saw two foreign girls, and thought I would ask them if they knew what time the flag was dropping. They were really nice and both have been traveling together for the last few months. They too the TransSiberian train from St. Petersburg, all the way through Mongolia, and made their way down to Beijing. Quite the trek! As we chatted, the time flew. We were having a grand old time, and everyone around us was watching intently, laughing when we were laughing, and just wishing so much they could understand what we were talking about. It was funny, and sweet.
Apparently being in Tienanmen is a big honor for the Chinese, and it was a very important thing to be able to watch the ceremony. Finally, we saw movement of troops coming in and standing in a line. Apparently each step is precisely calculated something like 108 steps to get one place to another each measured by a certain space. What I’m curious is who’s checking.
After another wait, the flag began to lower, and ceremoniously, the troops took it off the pole and removed from the grounds. After the removal, everyone dispersed like cockroaches. The troops then began shewing everyone out of the square. Vehicles were driving around making sure no one stayed on the square and that the entire square was evacuated. All of a sudden, the lights of the Forbidden city were aglow, and it was fantastic.
The lighting was absolutely beautiful and boasted the grandeur sense of what lays behind the gate. After another bout of picture taking, I decided my full day of wandering around Beijing was over. My feet are tired. On my way home however, I saw a group of old ladies using giant calligraphy brushes ‘painting’ characters in the street. They were using water to make the characters. I went over and watched them, and they started to smile. So I motioned to take a brush, and we started writing characters together. She wrote the character for Love. Then Country. = Patriotism. Then China. Wow, already propaganda I wonder? So I wrote the character for Beauty (which also is the first character in the wod USA). And she smiled surprisingly that I could write anything. She then wrote the character for person, and pointed out middle, kingdom, peson. Chinse. So I pointed out Beauty Kingdom, Person (American). I then wrote ‘Good’ and then wrote the chcaracters for Japanese Language, because they didn’t understand why I could write but not speak :) I then wrote down the Chinese characters for my name, and asked her hers. It was a really cool experience, and something fun to remember.