Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Day Four - Beijing

Guest Writer: Stephanie's Mom

First we went back to the dumpling place just down the road from our hostel, on the way to the subway.  We were there at a very busy time today and the cashier was very short with Stephanie this time and got her frustrated.  Yesterday's breakfast only cost us 9RMB total, this time it was a little more.  I prefer the baozi (very doughy bread outside, filling on the inside),  B prefers the dumplings.  We also tried an extra large pork roll that looked like a big cinnamon roll, and was very good.

We grabbed the subway to Tiananmen Square which was surprisingly quiet yet again.  We are hitting these places at the right time.  Today was a very cold and windy day.  There weren't even that many vendors out.  I remember getting majorly harassed the last time I was here, but that was in the summer.  After we walked the huge plaza and took tons of pictures, we headed into the Forbidden City.

If you don't know, the Forbidden City is basically a fortress that the emperor lived in.  It is multi-walled and gated and has over 8,700 rooms.  It was even bigger than I remembered but that could be because we walked where we wanted to, instead of with a tour group.  We went to a few new areas, including a clock museum and a treasures museum.  We also saw a big nine dragon screen (wall).  B wanted to steal some of the fancy jewelry we saw but luckily they were all in secure glass cases.

When we exited the Forbidden City, there were more vendors, and some of the first ones that were selling books that B was interested in.  They have big colorful pictures of the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.  B negotiated once again but really wanted them.  They started at 60RMB each and she got them for 40RMB for 2.

We grabbed a taxi to the Temple of Heaven.  This is where the emperor would have an annual ceremony to wish for a good harvest.  There is an Abstinence Hall where the emperor would stay for three days before the ceremony abstaining from women, meat and alcohol.  The main temple of Good Harvest is a very well-known temple that you probably have seen in pictures in Chinese restaurants.  It is round and has three levels and is very colorful.  The entire temple area is a large and beautiful park that the people use for getting together, playing cards, music, singing, selling homemade items, like crocheted elephant purses and hacky-sack type things with feathers on them (very popular).  They don't harass you too much, ask once or twice and then let you go on your way, but everyone is selling the same things.

We went to the Circular Mound where the emperor would climb the steps, stand on a small round stone and talk to the gods.  The tourists take turns standing on it for pictures, and of course we did too.  Bethany asked for warmer weather. 

We went to the Echoing Wall, a round walled area with a couple of buildings.  Its claim to fame is that you can talk into the wall at any point and hear it at any other point, no matter how far away you are.  Stephanie loves her panorama option on her new camera and took another cool picture here.

After we left the Temple of Heaven, we stopped for coffee to warm up.  The place was really small and it had a ladder that went into a small hole in the ceiling, where there supplies were.  While there, Stephanie asked where the best restaurant for Peking Duck was and got suggestions on how to get there.  But first we stopped in the Pearl Market.

The Pearl Market is a large 4-story shopping place, mainly for products, no food.  A lot of the vendors have a tiny 6'x6' area packed full with a small hole in the middle where they stand.  Sometimes they would scoot underneath to get out or they would have an assistant.  Here they harassed you endlessly.  'Hey Lady', 'best price for you', 'better quality', 'looka looka', 'I give you better price because your friend can speak Chinese' (ha!).  They are SO good at following your eyes.  You glance at something and they immediately pick it up and try to sell it to you.  If you don't look their way, they point out something and yell it out, 'magnets!', 'pashmina', 'chopsticks' etc.   They would actually pull on your sleeves and follow you down the aisles.  We were there for a couple of hours, did some heavy bargaining, bought some items, made some enemies and stayed until it closed, using the late time to make some last minute sales.

We grabbed a taxi to the Peking Duck restaurant.  It was a nice place, it had covers over the chairs and covers over people's jackets on the chairs.  I'm not sure if I explained this practice yet, but (according to my book), this is because Chinese food consists of a lot of liquids and sauces and the spaces between tables are usually very small, so these covers prevent spills on people's jackets and on the chairs.  Also, once you are seated at a restaurant, they usually only give you one menu (which we hand to Stephanie) and may leave for a minute or two and then they are back right away looking to get your order.  You barely have time to open the menu and look at it.  They stand over you impatiently waiting.  There's no such thing as ordering drinks first and casually perusing the menu.  Also, you really have to work to get the waiter's attention after the initial order, for more tea, for the bill, etc.  Only one place we have  been at, have they cleared some of the dishes as we are eating.  Most don't take anything away, even if you have many empty dishes on the table and there isn't room for more, until you leave the table.

We ordered half a duck (B wasn't sure she would like it), the side items needed to eat the duck (thin pancakes, duck sauce, scallions), sweet and sour crispy fish, mushrooms with cabbage hearts and more.  Some soup showed up that we didn't order so we sent it back.  Later, Stephanie asked for sugar for our tea and the soup showed up again.  She used the wrong tone (tang vs tang) and eventually we got the right item.  B really liked the duck as did S and me.  It was as good as I remembered.  Stephanie ate the meat from the half a head too.  Our last item arrived really late, shrimp fried rice.  Here, once the item is ready it comes out, no waiting for everything to be ready and some items come out late.  You need to pace yourself.  We had leftovers this time and I suggested we get our leftovers packed to give to a beggar woman we passed on the way in.  This was the first beggar I remember seeing so far on this trip.

On the way out, we passed her and I gave her the bag of food.  She was so grateful, and thanked me many times.  But next thing you know, there were three beggar women surrounding me while S was calling a taxi.  They were very friendly saying 'hungry', pointing to their bellies and mouths and 'xie, xie' (thank you, thank you).  I gave each a dollar and we jumped in a cab and drove away.  A man was starting towards us just before we got in the cab, I'm assuming to shoo the women away.  I realized that we were very lucky to 'escape' and I decided that we wouldn't give to another beggar unless we could get away fast.  They could come out of the woodwork faster than we can handle.

We went back to the hostel and used the internet in the lobby and talked to the lady at the front desk and some of the guests.  It was a good time.  'Windy' is trying to learn English and we talked for a while and she learned a few new phrases.  She wanted our pictures with her and I asked for her email address so I could send her copies and she was thrilled.  She also asked if I could be her American mother, what an honor.  We stayed up too late but it was fun, and eventually dragged ourselves to bed because we had a morning flight to Xi'an.

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