The (relatively) nice weather held up in Beijing for another day so I decided to brave Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Before I could do this I had to of course get myself there and this involved the Beijing subway. I asked for directions from the hotel desk, but of course I still got lost. I stopped a young Chinese woman in the street and showed her my little map with “Chaoyangmen Subway” written in Chinese. She knew of it and proceeded to explain to me how to get there – in Chinese. I understood, “You can,” and then it all went over my head. I responded with a bunch of affirming nods and “Yes,” and “Good.” She even pulled out her iPhone to show me a Google map. Luckily the gist of it all was “turn left and go straight” (gotten across via pointing), so I found the subway ten minutes later. The subway in Beijing is relatively easy to understand and because it is a holiday right now the subway was less crowded and therefore less treacherous than I’ve heard it can be.
I have to admit that I sort of “accidentally” spent the day in the Forbidden City. I’d set out to see Tiananmen because I was sure it wouldn’t be closed, despite it being the first day of the new year. When I got to the Forbidden City I got confused and half expected that Tiananmen was behind its walls – it’s not. I unfortunately spent a solid half hour wandering around outside the palace complex looking for lunch, which I’d neglected to plan for. In the end I bought myself a hot dog that made Oscar Mayer look like a culinary genius and a carton of small biscuits that were awful, but I told myself they were like the bun and therefore I’d created an entire meal (kind of) with my choices. For the record, there are a few small restaurants set up inside the complex, so if you’re low on time or in a hurry to get there, but starving, plan on eating inside. I was braced for an hour or so of standing in line with another million tourists just to get inside the city walls, but it seems like the advice from my Chinese penpal in the states paid off. While I did stand in line, the line kept moving at a steady pace – I didn’t have to wait for a half second all day.
The complex itself is huge and frankly, all of the buildings look the same. (It’s true! You look through my photos and tell me when I’ve moved from one end to the other). I tried to buy an automated tour guide, but didn’t have enough cash, so I strolled around and took lots of pictures wherever there was a crowd. While I appreciated the magnificence of the structure and walked from one end of it to the other twice, there was a definite Disney vibe thanks to the scores of tourists floating around, following the color-coded flags of their tour guides. If you come here in the summer or autumn, not in the dead of winter on the first day of the biggest family holiday all year, you should probably brace yourself for an experience quite different from mine, involving a few thousand more of your new closest international friends. The experience is best summed up in pictures rather than words, and I’ll close this portion of my diary with a note about the basics: getting inside the complex costs forty RMB, about six USD. Certain “attractions” inside the complex such as the hall of clocks and the treasure garden have an additional cost, ten RMB. The automated tour guide costs 140RMB, but 100 of that is a deposit that you receive back when finished with your tour. Budget at least three solid hours to spend at the Forbidden City. I spent about two and half wandering around by myself, so especially if you factor in a small child or two you’ll have to plan accordingly.
Tiananmen square was literally a giant sidewalk. On my way to the square there was a security checkpoint that didn’t check me. I wondered if it was because I looked so friendly until I realized it was actually because they were only checking the Chinese, thanks to the site’s political history. It should be noted that, according to the map I saw of Tiananmen, the “square” actually refers to a few sections of the area in front of the Forbidden City. Come to think of it, I might not have even seen the whole thing…
After walking so much I was ready to crash by 5:30pm. I managed to keep myself awake and landed in the pizza place right next to my hotel. I don’t know if it was just a craving that so desperately needed to be satisfied or if the pizza was actually as good as I think it was, but damn – that was some tasty pizza. After dinner I went out into the night armed with a list of Beijing’s top cafes, torn from the pages of Chinese Vogue. It was hard to find the first café (which was closed, anyway) and literally impossible to find the second one. It took me three different cab rides only to find myself trying to break into a residential building in the business district because apparently, taxi drivers don’t read Vogue (and there are at least five, five different building complexes named “Soho” that I’ve seen so far here. This café was supposed to be on the fourth floor of one of them, apparently the magic one that’s down the rabbit hole).
I ended the night at the bar behind my hotel, where it dawned on me that there needs to be a book devoted to Asian men’s hairstyles.
Today the sun is shining and the sky is blue. I have a feeling the temperature’s dropped, but good riddance!