Beijing: Day 2

Before I start into the recapping, I do want to mention that I have a wealth of photos over at my photostream on flickr. The few photos I include in these blog posts are definitely not the best representatives of anything I saw, did, or ate, so mosey on over to get a better idea.  I am working on tagging everything and writing captions, which may take a while, but the photos themselves are posted through Hong Kong at this point.

***

Day 2 was a little more productive. By “a little,” I mean “infinitely.” We set out for Tiananmen Square, which was just a few blocks away from the hotel. Tiananmen is massive and impressive. It’s the total Communist package, and it’s one of those places that looks fairly boring in pictures but blows you away in person. The sheer size of the buildings and the color red everywhere, as well as the mandatory security screening before entering, really impress the Communist Way unto you. I’m not sure how else to describe it. And of course Mao is looking down upon you wherever you turn.

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First view of the square. Photobombing is the norm in China.

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Demonstrating the size of these buildings.

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Since we hadn’t gotten breakfast, Dan and I were both pretty frantic to find food. We went on what seemed at the time like an epic journey, finally finding a hidden Yoshinoya-knockoff fast food restaurant. We settled in, got some food, and the nausea hit me again. That’s when I encountered my old friend/nemesis/frenemy…

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THE SQUAT TOILET

This one was, at least, very clean. All said and done, I was sort of amused to be reunited with the squat toilet, as it is one of my favorite topics for jokes. Ask my mother. I also like watching unsuspecting Westerners ahead of me in line at the bathroom venture in and then wander out a few minutes later, horrified, with a glazed look in their eyes, as if the squat toilet has taken a chunk of their soul and left in its place a black hole, devoid of matter and above all, of basic human happiness. I’m pretty sure that this happened to me last January in Tbilisi; it explains a lot.

I came out of the bathroom smiling. People looked at me funny.

We left the restaurant and realized that our epic journey to find food had really been about a block and a half long. We also realized that we’re both a lot more talkative when we’re not hungry. We headed back past Tiananmen to get to the Forbidden City.

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me and Mao

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First glimpse of Fobidden City. We thought that China hired people to stand on top of the gate in fancy dress all day, but surprisingly they were mannequins.

The Forbidden City is, like most Chinese tourist attractions, overly restored. It’s been scrubbed and painted over, as well as rebuilt in some places. (This is also a huge issue with the Great Wall: it’s hard to find public-access original bits.) I think that the government just has a different idea of what restoration is and what tourists like. We may not have seen these halls as the abandoned buildings that they are now, but I guess we do get a pretty good idea of what they looked like back in the [imperial] day, and the buildings will definitely last longer, even if they’re not made of the original materials anymore. It was interesting to notice that the further we got from the gate, the less restored everything was.

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Restored paint detail.

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Unrestored (or less restored) paint detail.

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Picture of me with a dragon (nothing to do with paint details).

The Forbidden City is also where I started to notice the intricate roof details that seem to be characteristic of old Chinese buildings. On every corner are tiny ceramic figures in a procession, sort of like tiny, decorative Chinese gargoyles (Dad, take note! And sign up for a pottery class!).

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Forbidden City roof detail.

All bitching about restoration aside, I loved the Forbidden City. I’m a history nut, and I love imagining historical places in their original context. I was trying really hard to do that among the hordes of Chinese tourists, but I actually think that the sweeping view of modern Beijing juxtaposed with the incredibly anachronistic buildings was even better.

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After the Forbidden City, we walked back to the hotel (a bit of a hike) and got a dose of that modern Beijing I just mentioned.

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I needed a nap, so we hurried home, detained only by a quick snack run. I wasn’t feeling too great, so I took more of those anti-nausea shoe polish balls. I also took some silly pictures because the sight of me in bed, freezing, nauseous and surrounded by junk food, was too good to pass up, I guess. Who can fathom the minds of the unwell?

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Mango pocky. Mmm.

Dan woke me up for dinner. I was not thrilled. If you’ve never had to wake me up from a nap, this next picture will give you a pretty good idea of the wrath you will incur. Now multiply this x1000 because in person, you get angry sound effects and attempts to sneak back to sleep.

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In all my unretouched glory.

I’m pretty glad I dragged my sorry self out of bed, though, because we had an incredibly posh dinner. It began with fruit served over dry ice (I kid you not) and continued on to Peking duck, which the waitress wrapped up and served to us. This latter bit was, I think, more a display of her utter lack of confidence in us–we had been wrapping the duck taco-style, which obviously does not fly with sassy waitresses–than it was a luxury. We also got a million other condiments and side dishes. Regrettably, Dan had the duty of finishing most of the food, since I was still cold and nauseous.

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Dan doing work.

I fell asleep to the sounds of Chinese television and Dan shuffling around preparing for our big day the next day. And that was Day 2.

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