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Day 3: Beijing, China - City Exploration

Beijing, China

Day 3: Monday, December 14th, 2009

Beijing, China

We got out of bed at 7am and Hunter discovered he had a full blown head cold so we started him on one of the many medicines that we packed in our travel pharmacy! We showered and dressed in the warmest clothes we brought, complete with thermal underwear. We enjoyed a nice continental breakfast of pastries, some weird looking egg thing, juices and coffee from a fancy machine I didn't know how to use until the attendant showed me. We filled up and watched the China TV news channel that was on. For each of the three mornings we were there, no more than 2 other tables were occupied with other guests. There were a lot of Chinese guests in the hotel, so maybe there were only a few platinum Marriott members – those who we saw were foreign businessmen.

Our first stop after breakfast was Tiananmen Square. We took a taxi from the hotel for 10 Yuan (the flat rate for short distances) and got dropped off across the street. It took us a while to figure out where we were in relation to the square and had to ask a policeman near a posted map who just pointed across the street to us. We were all bundled up in scarves and gloves and hats and took pictures in front of Mao's mausoleum, which was closed on Monday. We skipped the legislative building and the museum which lined the square and just walked through to the other end and took pictures. The light poles in the square were covered in security cameras pointing in every direction. I think every square inch of the Square was under surveillance! We took a picture in front of Mao's picture and then made our way under the underpass to the Forbidden City.

The Forbidden City was huge and we rented two audio guides to give us the necessary background. It was a good decision as we would not have known what we were looking at. We stopped at the Clocks Exhibition which was very interesting and we were there for the 11am clock demonstration – thanks to my thorough advanced planning! Every attraction in Beijing was outdoors so by the end of the Forbidden City we were used to the cold weather and walking far distances! We spent a good two hours in the Forbidden City and then took another underpass across the street to Jin San Park where we climbed to Wachting Pavillon to get a view of Beijing and the Forbidden City. It was well worth the very steep climb to see the sprawling city, although it was masked by a thick smog. The city looks like the size of three Manhattans as it just keeps going and going in every direction! Taking in the sight of Beijing from such a height was probably the highlight of our day.

Leaving the park, it was our intention to take a taxi to the Drum and Bell Towers, which we saw in the distance, but we couldn't find a taxi that would run the meter (I had been forewarned on Trip Adviser) and didn't want to pay the outrageous prices for a taxi (50 Yuan) which should have run no more than 10 Yuan. We were accosted by many different rickshaw operators but they didn't look warm or safe and we rushed past them. I almost got pushed over by a beggar and didn't like this touristy area at all! We decided to walk a full 20 min to a subway line that would take us to the next tourist spot. Surprisingly it was very easy to navigate as the ticket booth was in English and we could find the stop we wanted on one of the 7 color-coded subway line. The best part was each one-way trip was only 2 Yuan per person! We decided to skip the Drum and Bell Tower and go straight to the Lama Temple, the largest lamastary in the city. Getting off the subway, we stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to eat peanut butter crackers and drink our water before continuing. There was a park bench nearby but we saw someone spit directly on it and decided not to sit down!

The Lama temple was interesting but the audio guide wasn't working that well (it didn’t start in some areas of the temples) and so we just walked around watching locals and tourists burn incense and bow in front of the many Buddhas. There were some quite interesting Buddahs! Large ones, mostly painted in gold, with weird animated faces. Some statues looked almost cartoonish but I'm sure they were very important to one of the three religions that were represented in the lamastary. We were in time to see a Buddhist prayer ceremony inside one of the main temples, and that was very interesting. Probably about 20 different monks sat with their legs folded, chanting from their prayer books in unison. We were afraid to try to take pictures as there were guards in the corner, but a lot of tourists stood to the side, watching the monks. After the temple, we took the metro to the stop near the Wanfungshin section, which we had skipped the night before. We were very tired at this point, and it was getting very cold as the sun went down, so we didn't make it very far up the street. We went into one of the large connecting shopping malls which now seemed very navigable. We passed several Dairy Queen stands inside and a shop selling convenience items like waters and chocolates. At probably the fifth section – our fifth mall – we stopped for about a good half hour and checked email on our iPod Touch and wrote our first email to our family to let them know we arrived safely (there was a free WiFi signal in the shopping mall).

We ate dinner at 5pm at the Outback Steakhouse which was adjacent to the Beijing Hotel at the beginning of Wanfungshin. It was delicious to enjoy a nice American hamburger and french fries after such a limited meal this morning and all the walking we did! It was reasonably priced, but probably expensive for local standards – bottled water was the equivalent of $3 and each hamburger was $10. The bathroom finally had sit-down toilets, so the place worked for me! We had to hassle with a few taxi drivers outside of Wanfungshin before we could find one that would take us back to the hotel and we paid double the price (20 Yuan) although that wasn't too bad considering some drivers wanted 40 or 50 Yuan. We quickly dropped off our stuff and then took a taxi to the Kung Fu Show, although it took a few hotel staff members to find out where the place was and to be able to have them direct the taxi driver there.

We were dropped off across the street from the theater, where our tour guide for tomorrow - “Fortunate Jack” - met us to purchase our tickets. We had agreed to buy them through him instead of through an online discount ticket place because we thought it would be good to meet him before our big tour day and the difference was only 10 Yuan per person. He was very friendly – a tall young guy -- and he even walked us inside the place to show us to our seats. We said goodbye and then had a good 20 mins to wait before the show started promptly at 7:30pm. Hunter and I were trying very hard not to fall asleep as we were exhausted from such a busy day and our colds were kicking in. The show was good – it wasn't very action oriented, but there were little kids doing amazing somersaults on their bald heads which was fascinating. The music was good and the narration was all in English, so it was pretty tourist friendly. We are glad we went. Jack got us great seats – he had convinced me to upgrade to the 190 RMB seats because they were in the center and for most of the show, no one sat within 3 rows of us so we had absolutely no obstruction of the stage.

The show was 90 min long and we rushed right out of there at 9pm and were turned away by the waiting taxis who wanted 50 Yuan to take us back to the hotel. I refused to pay that price and although Hunter was worried it would be hard to find a taxi, we walked down the street and were able to flag down a passing taxi in the street who just started the meter and drove to the hotel. However, he thought we pointed to the Pearl Market address that was listed on the hotel direction card and drove us there. We then pointed to the hotel address but the taxi wouldn't move further and kept pointing to the market. Hunter remembered where the Pearl Market was in relation to the hotel (just down the road) and so he gestured to the driver to keep going. The driver was confused but kept driving down the road at our insistence, and Hunter kept repeating “The Sho-Show” which was the name of a huge building near the shopping center next to our hotel and we hoped the driver would know it. (We assumed it was a giant movie theater, but later learned from Jack that it was a big local Chinese-only market, so the driver actually knew of it and was able to take us there). We paid the driver and then walked through the mall, into our hotel. We only made one wrong turn this time to get into the Marriott – we are finding our way slowly! We crashed in bed after taking some cold medicine.

A few thoughts from today: today was much less overwhelming than yesterday once we got the hang of the underpasses and realized the maps were useless because they were all in Chinese and not to scale. We still think there are WAY too many enormous shopping malls here. Most are high end international brands in the malls. We haven't yet braved the low end markets as it requires a LOT of bargaining skills and we're already tired of haggling the taxi drivers to make sure they don't rip us off. But I am relentless and refuse to pay more than a few Yuan over meter price! There are reminder signs to boil the water in the tea kettle they give you in the hotel room before using it to brush your teeth but we were afraid that the boiling wouldn't kill all the bacteria so we used lots of bottled water.

permalink written by  mohicanfan on December 14, 2009 from Beijing, China
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged China, Beijing and Asia

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sorry to had to hassal the from the taxi drivers. I hope
we take the subways in Mar 29th 2010.

We have been to Beijing years ago, this time we hope to see the "Bird Nest".

We are a group of 16. A group of Americcan born Asians, who like thorselves had to point of what to eat.

permalink written by  Clayton Eng on February 12, 2010

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At the time I am writing this bio (Jan 2010), I, Meredith, am a 28-year old woman living in Virginia Beach, VA with my husband of almost 6 years, who works in New York 4 days a week. We are both avid travelers and beach lovers and I enjoy writing and reading. I am also a fastidious recorder of...

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