The initial plan for the day was to visit the Chinese National Museum with JK and JC, but since the plans fell through, I set off to explore Beijing again as a lone warrior after a tasty (albeit sweet) Korean BBQ lunch with JK. The lunch special at this particular place indicates that after ordering two servings of meat, the table will be presented with a complimentary noodle hotpot. Not knowing our limits, JK and I set out to order the two servings of meat and ended up with an excessive amount of food sprawled over the table. Interestingly enough, the fuwuyuan (waitress) cooked all our BBQ for us right at our table (includes grilling, cutting, and plating) under our salivating mouths. Honestly the condiments (mashed potatoes, jap chae, kimchi soup, mungbean kimchi, steamed egg, and beet soup) were less than par, but the ribs we had were succulent and just chewy enough to make it an enjoyable dining experience.
I arrived at the Forbidden City only to discover that the ticket booth had “Palace Museum” written all over it. To my surprise, the government here has chosen to name this particular locale the Palace Museum despite its lack of resemblance to one. I bought my ticket and prepared for all the glory that waits behind the southern gate, but discovered, to my own astonishment, the lackluster spread before my eyes. Although beautiful in its architecture and exterior renovation, the Forbidden City does not quite live up to its name when it comes to renovation of interior areas since many of its cavernous rooms have been left to mold and rot. The entire establishment, similarly to much of Beijing, has morphed into a commercialized plane selling standard kitschy souvenir comparable to those found at other famous locations. Despite all this, the traveler’s worry is quelled by the structure’s magnificent courtyards and pavilions where people of all ages have come to hide away from the glaring sun. As I weaved through the different sections of the Forbidden City, I suddenly stumbled upon a crotch-less pants kid quickly urinating in the middle of the walkway. His mother, seemingly without a care in the world, has lifted the kid’s legs up so that the hole in his pants is enlarged and he can freely urinate to his liking. Talk about Culture Shock!
After drinking in the many sections of the Forbidden City, I left straight out its Northern gate and crossed the street to Jingshan park, famous for its mountain-like dirt mound created from the dirt lifted out to make the Palace Moat. The serenity offered by the park drastically contrasts to the hustle and bustle within the Forbidden City that sits just across the street. Clambering up to the top of the dirt mound (for some reason I’m making this sound small, but really, as pictures will show, it definitely is not), I was able to get a panoramic view of Beijing. Well, a panoramic view of (tiny) parts of Beijing anyway that the smog lets me see through to. Welcome to Beijing (haha). I took a long rest at the pavilion atop the mound (it helps that it was very windy up there), read up on the different descriptions of the park, and looked down to the Beijing that is today. Despite the beautiful misty haze that can be observed in my pictures, the reality is more stark as the smog has formed an unrelenting cloud around Beijing, shielding its residents from sunshine and clear blue skies (seriously, I physically cannot see the sun). After drinking in the smogery (smog + scenery), I leisurely walked down the never-ending steps and meandered around the park, discovering to my excitement, a little book of Mao Zedong’s quotations which I quickly purchased. Claiming one of the many benches strewn around the tree-lined park, I sat and read while time slowed down almost to a stop underneath the cover of the trees.
Side note from today: Today was the first day I actually felt like I was drowning in my own sweat. The unforgiving Beijing weather ranges from scalding hot to cloudy and humid to muggy and rainy in an instant. All this under the cloud cover of the infamous Beijing smog, mind you.
Walking out of the park towards Tiananmen, I peeked into many of the hutongs (alleyways) lining the street and got a glimpse of the old Beijing lifestyle still encompassing (according to Lonely Planet) about 20% of the city. When I reached Tiananmen, I heard a loud whistle and saw three PLA guards marching by (to the tune of, I shit you not, 108 paces per minute) so I obviously took to their heels and stalked them all the way to the flag in Tianamen Square. Turns out that I came just in time for the guard-switching process that draws a large crowd every day. I decided to stick it out until the flag-lowering ceremony at 7pm, hunkered down in the square, and just people-watched (I creeped especially hardcore on the really cute Asian babies stumbling around the square with their parents in tow). 10 minutes into my wait, I spotted a crotch-less pants kid stumbling by. 20 minutes into my wait, a woman literally a meter in front of me sat down and whipped out her breast for her hungry child. 30 minutes into my wait, a child five meters or so away from me squatted down for some good ol’ public urination. Good times.
The crowd stirred at 7pm when lesser guards came out to secure the perimeter, but nothing exciting happened until almost 8pm when traffic was halted to allow PLA guards, marching out from underneath Mao’s picture on Tiananmen, to cross the street to the flagpole. The guards lowered the flag and marched back across the street and into Tiananmen again as the night was welcomed with the illumination of the Gate and the Square.
Side note: How Beijingers know I’m a waiguoren part 2: I was not able to procure an umbrella or rain coat from the depths of my purse when it started raining today and had to suffer through walking in the rain (blasphemous!!!). Honestly, I probably got exposed to weak amounts of acid rain and should get myself checked out ASAP.
Getting home again did not mark the end to my night, but rather the start of another adventure as JK and I planned to meet up with other IUPers at a bar nearby (5-minute walk) called Lush. The second-floor bar was modern in its interior design, but still afforded an old-Beijing atmosphere in its wooden tables and chairs. The intimate atmosphere (and the Tsingdao beers we were able to procure for 10 yuan/bottle before Happy Hour ended) allowed the 9 of us, all crowded around a small table, to break the ice late into the night.
Edit: For some odd reason, it’s really not weird to go around Beijing lugging around a suitcase behind you. I see this sight everywhere (and I mean everywhere) I go (picture of this to come)