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Beijing #2

CHINA | Saturday, 6 October 2007 | Views [583]

Donkey says-

Lonely Planet=Doesn’t Exist on this Planet

            For the last few days Dog and I have been navigating our way through China’s capital city.  We have seen the historical sites in and around Beijing, negotiated and bargained our way into an interesting array of souvenirs and wandered the streets searching for more adventures.  We rented a little one room apartment in downtown Beijing for the whopping amount of $25 USD a night and sit one block from the subway, a 10 minute walk to the Temple of Heaven and a 20 minute walk to Tiananmen Square.

            With this week surrounding National Day (October 1st) the majority of the Chinese are on holiday with us.  Many of our colleagues said that Beijing would be a zoo (and thus went South to beaches and quieter locales) this week but I don’t think it has been unbelievably crowded.  Maybe I have been in China too long and crowds don’t faze me as much anymore.  Of course I say that and tomorrow while waiting in line at the airline counter, I’m sure I will be bumped several times between my shoulder and knees by flailing limbs and before I am cut in line by several Chinese women and their mothers.  The phrase “cut in line” doesn’t translate to Chinese I’m told.  If you stand back and wait your turn in the grocery store, in the restroom or on the subway you could be pushed aside and left waiting for quite sometime. 

            We decided on Beijing in October because we have heard that Beijing in February, when our next extended holiday occurs, is flat out cold.  Dog is scared of the cold and would much rather head south for the winter and I tend to agree that will be a welcomed venture out of my first real winter.    

            Tuesday morning we ventured over to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City and found that we weren’t the only ones that had thought of that plan.  The next day the local English edition newspaper said the police department received thousands of missing persons calls from Tiananmen that day.  Luckily Dog stuck out enough that I could find her whenever I wanted to.  It was extremely interesting to walk through both the square and the no longer Forbidden City and witness the different approaches people take to celebrating historical relics and demonstrating patriotism.  As an outsider, you may not understand the whole obsession with maintaining and showcasing Mao’s remainders but you better not get in anyone’s way from having there photo with his statue or painting.  His photo is everywhere, his book is everywhere, his actions seemed to have been forgotten by quite a few though.  He has quite a little cult like following usually consisting of people that didn’t pay attention in history class last week because they aren’t quite old enough to have lived through it.  I was a little disappointed that his mausoleum was closed because it is said that they have the body stored in a fridge underneath the floor and they raise and lower it daily to prevent the body from decomposing anymore.  Between that and the formaldehyde, they say he is pretty pickled.  There is also a rumor that Ho Chi Minh’s body is kept in much the same way, when we head to Vietnam I’ll get the details for you.  

Side note: During teacher training we were adamantly told that we could not discuss three things with our students because we are technically government employees;

1.     Taiwan- Is it a country?  It thinks so, most of the world thinks so but one group is pretty darn clear that Taiwan is not an independent country.  Can you guess who that is?

2.     Tibet-  Same type of thing, different underlying issues.  Ask the Dalai Lama the next time he is in America hanging out with Richard Gere, he’ll explain it to you.

3.     Tiananmen Square-   What about it?  It’s a public square that many people frequently visit. 

            One of the coolest things we saw in the Forbidden City is this huge stone carving that sits in between two flights of stairs leading up to one of the temples.  It’s dimensions rival the width a basketball lane and probably twice as long.  Workers drug the stone in one piece through the streets of Beijing in the middle of winter.  Showing that the Emperor didn’t have all the brains (despite having all the balls), they poured water on the streets so that it froze and made their job a little bit easier.  Oh the things they did to satisfy the emperor. 

            I’m thinking that life as an Emperor wouldn’t be too bad.  You get a huge palace in the city to yourself or you can share it with your wife, many concubines, advisors, freeloaders and servants (eunuchs).  To enter the palace, you are the only one that gets to walk in through the center gate, the only one to walk down the center path made of white stone and occasionally marble and when you get hot during the Beijing summer you can just make your way to the summer “cottage” on nearby Kunming Lake.  Tough life.  Oh yeah, did I mention that you can spend all of your countries money on anything you want, including or excluding your people in the process, and only have to worry about an attempted hostile takeovers every few years.  Are there any countries that still have this position?  Are they hiring?  Do I need to send in a cover letter or do they just need a resume?

            Wednesday was a trip to the Great Wall and I gotta say, it is a pretty impressive feat of engineering.  Now did it effectively serve its purpose through history?  Not really but it looks cool from space I hear.  By the way we waved at space just in case anyone was watching.   The Great Wall sits along the ridge of some mountains that should have provided a substantial natural boundary by themselves but once again it must have been cool to be the emperor.  What else are you going to do with millions of unemployed people waiting to work?  Dog and I hiked up the mountain, a pretty solid workout mind you and walked along the wall and marveled at the way it was all put together, the distance it spans (beyond what we could see) and contemplated the fact that all of that stone had to be lugged up the mountain from somewhere.  Kind of like the beer that I saw two foreigners enjoying at the top.  Except heavier.

            I really could go on and on about the Wall but could not do it justice so I am going to share the true entertainment of the day with you.  After exiting the toboggan chute (that's right, toboggan chute) and walking into the only street that leads up and down the mountain, we were assaulted by the street vendors that are very interested in you buying goods from them.  As we walked down the street we heard some interesting tidbits of English from people that apparently knew we were coming, “HEY LADY!!!  I waiting for you!  Look!  Look!”  These vendors would try to catch your eye and if they did you were in for a ride.  If you showed any interest in a trinket, piece of art, or even a piece of crap they caught you and and I mean they catch you.  These people will scream, grab and pull until you give them your undivided attention.  The Chinese method of sales can only be explained by the one lady that told Jenn as she tried to walk away, “No, no.  I say, You say.”    Some people call it bargaining, others call it haggling,   I call it obnoxiously and painfully funny.  The vendors throw out a price roughly 3000% higher than the value of the good and write it on a tiny pad of paper.  The customer (or the assault victim) then shakes their head and says “No.”  The pad of paper is thrust into the customers face and they jot down a number about 3000% less than what the vendor threw out and the vendor acts like that number is preposterous.  Then the flexing begins.  After a few rounds of pen jabbing the vendor concedes when the customer throws the ultimate uppercut when she (it’s usually the she) turns to walk away.  At that point the vendor admits defeat by grabbing the arm of customer and yanks her back into the discussion and gives her the item in question for the low price.  Congratulations you are the winner of a plastic statue of the Great Wall.  Then you are allowed to repeat the process once for every two steps that you take down the street.

            There are certain gender differences that are brought to the forefront by this process.  Not being a big shopper to begin with, I find this to be an extremely unnecessary and excruciating process to the point that I usually lose interest in the item that I asked the price of in the first place.  After all of the hassle, it dawns on me that I don’t really need that gold crusted fire breathing dragon statue anyway.  Jenn, on the other hand is flat out undefeated in the ring of negotiations.  She thrives on the competition.  She has a hunger for the great deals and will continue doing whatever it takes to ensure that she gets the lowest price possible.  It definitely brings out the dog in her.  The only lady she didn’t talk down was the lady that didn’t scream to get our attention at the dried fruit table.  When I asked her why not, her reply was “Because she was sweet.”  I really think it was because the lady next to that one was screaming at us really loud and Jenn just wanted to tick her off.  That’s my dog. 

            Next we head back to Shanghai and back to work.  I think we are both in agreement that Beijing has some cool stuff to offer as far as attractions and sites but Shanghai is a much cooler city.  Beijing is steeped in history and the center of government but Shanghai has a much more laid back feel to it and a little less of a power complex.  Maybe that means that we really are starting to feel like Shanghai is home. 

            Beijing, check it off the list. 

Tags: Adventures

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