So for this post I’m realllllly stretching the “live”blogging concept. I would’ve posted Friday morning, but was too tired and assumed I could write on the train back, compress days 6 & 7 into one day, then update from home. Of course, when I got home the internet was out and now this post is so delayed for the information age that I might as well be dead. But I’m not, so here’s the last bit of my trip…
I wasted a solid hour of Thursday morning trying to replace my camera. When I finally decided to bite the bullet on a Lumix LX3 my Mastercard wouldn’t work. It wasn’t the end of the world though, as the two temples I visited that day bore distinctly similar qualities to all the others.
The Lama Temple (Yonghegong Temple) is a Tibetan temple at which you can burn incense at the door of a succession of worship halls. China really is an arsonists’ dream. The Chinese were out in full force, hands clutching unconscionably large quantities of flaming incense, bowing here and there and making me feel like Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation. “I didn’t feel anything,” but should I have? It seemed blasphemous enough to be pretending to take part in the ritual by burning incense and I didn’t want to risk further offending the devout by bowing and hoping for transcendence.
The second temple I visited was the Temple of Heaven. Unfortunately, by this time I was too tired to walk around the park for more than about an hour. I saw the temple itself, remarked inwardly, “that looks a lot like every other temple I’ve seen,” and walked back out. Basically, I was in the cranky child phase of a trip that had somehow devolved into Templemania 2010, and so ready to spend my last Beijing afternoon soaking in a tub.
In between the two temples I stopped for my last trip lunch at Made in China in the Grand Hyatt. The décor was fairly standard fancy hotel décor, with a bunch of crap in the walls like, “Oh wow they put spoons in jugs in a fish tank and wove lettuce into a cheongsam.” No, they didn’t really, but it follows a pattern and while it’s nice enough it’s not a reason to check the place out. The reason to check it out is the food. This was definitely my favorite meal of the trip and although second most expensive, I was happy to pay. Jasmine tea preceded the meal, which started with a Chinese cabbage and bean curd (tofu) soup (overpriced in every respect, but decent). Then my vegetable came, more cabbage (this time green instead of white, I don’t know the difference) stir fried with dried shrimp and chilis. The cabbage was tasty although less and less satisfying as the dish cooled down, but the dried shrimp tasted like a pet store smells. My main course was pot stickers filled with minced pork, shrimp and mushrooms. Delicious. To finish everything off I tried a sweet corn crème brûlée, which tasted as questionable as it sounds. There was also actually corn in it and caramel popcorn decorating the top. I liked it enough to finish it unceremoniously in about three minutes, but there’s no comparison to the real deal.
In the evening I caught a performance of Swan Lake at the National Center for the Performing Arts. Ballet is stupid, but the theater was absolutely amazing (although from certain angles it felt a tad airport-ish). I recommend catching something there – most satisfying would most likely be opera, as the Opera House (from pictures I saw) seemed to be the most impressively designed.
The next day I spent mostly on the train. I had prepared for the worst. The China Daily that morning had a front page article chronicling the mounting pressures on China’s transit systems with the holiday coming to an end, noting that the rush had started a few days earlier than usual this year. Yippee. I arrived at the train station belabored with three giant bags (I’d come with two, I don’t know how this happened), and spent a good half hour trying to find something to eat. Eternally indecisive, I went from one place to another and back again before realizing I was surely running out of time and deciding to grab McDonald’s. Right as I got back to my gate the train started boarding and a human bottleneck of absurd proportions commenced with much expected pushing and shoving. By this time I was sweating profusely and thoroughly confused, so when I finally saw a train worker man (official capacity?) I latched onto him with the graciousness of a thousand suns. Well, asked him where to go and said, “Thank you.” The train ride itself was decent; comfortable and large seats, tons of leg room, especially if you’re elfin, and plenty of overhead storage. On the downside, the cabin was uncomfortably warm and the second woman (maybe 50 years old) to take the seat next to me had a weird thing for my arm hair and couldn’t stop touching my computer and talking at me in Chinese, so naturally I gave her my name and phone number. Oops.
It terrifies me to think of Beijing during the peak season. Traveling over the national holiday when things were at their most dead was arduous enough. If the city keeps developing and more and more people keep moving in and checking it out I can only assume that, as with architecture, there’ll be nowhere to go but up and people will start riding on each other’s shoulders. Didn’t the Chinese invent acrobatics? Entire families can put it to good use in the new millennia as they’re forced to literally “hop on pop” in contention for sidewalk space. Over the next few days I hope to compile some “Notes on a Sojourn,” but I’m still in the middle of winter session and time is of the essence. But according to the official WordPress stats, zero people have checked this site in the last two days so I’m not too worried about reader backlash, snap.