Filed under: China, Travel | Tags: Beijing, Emperor Guesthouse, Temple of Heaven Park
Although I’m really interested in just about every surrounding country, I’ve never been that interested in going to China. Maybe it’s having read about the political horror stories, dissidents, re-education, Tibet, but mainland China just never appealed to me. But as we Americans often feel, the people are not the same as our government policies.
We had a long weekend in Korea for their major national holiday. And while most of the locals were visiting family and paying homage to their ancestors, it seems every other English teacher in Korea decided to head to Beijing. I’d say 80% of the foreigners we met this weekend were also teaching English in Korea. My fellow travelling-teacher and I weren’t the only ones happy to get out for a few days.
Beijing had a lot of the feel of Asia that I’ve been missing in Korea. The gnarly buildings, the winding side streets, the animals wandering around, the smell of shit alternating with the smell of some amazing tofu vegetable street dish. There was a liveliness, an unabashed happiness, and a laid-back feeling that I just don’t see in the area of Incheon that I live in. I was so ecstatically happy all weekend. Part of that was just the glee of travelling and seeing some place new, but part of it was also being surrounded by people who didn’t give off the air of being self-conscious and concerned about their appearance, but rather of just truly enjoying themselves.
But unfortunately, the narrow walking streets are quickly disappearing in the Tianemen Square area as huge touristy developments are being built. I was talking with an older Scottish man who had stayed at the same hostel four years ago, and he said he couldn’t even recognize any of the streets. A new shopping street cut off from vehicle traffic has been put in – with a seemingly endless amount of money, as each building is more ornate than the next.
We stayed in a great little hostel that was still on a windy street. It is a really old building, built in the courtyard style and used to be the residence of Emperor Qian Long. Which I suppose is why it is called the Emperor Guesthouse. It was fantastic and funky. The whole Square area was a madhouse this weekend as it was the 60th anniversary of the founding of the official People’s Republic of China. One relief is that the sheer number of people ensured that we weren’t targeted by street vendors. I think it also added to the sense of pride and elation that seemed to encompass the whole city. People seemed really excited about the events and the day we visited the square, it was obvious that there were people from all different parts of China there to celebrate.
Temple of Heaven Park
It took most of Friday to get to Beijing and to find our hotel, so we didn’t get to do much Friday night. Unfortunately, most of the temples close around 4:30, so an evening stroll and some prostrations to Buddha weren’t really an option. We decided to go to the Temple of Heaven Park, and although we didn’t get to see inside the temple, which I’ve heard is astounding, the park itself was delightful. We felt perfectly safe walking around well after dark, and there were little groups of people playing traditional instruments, singing to portable karaoke machines, kicking around a hacky sack, and just sitting around hanging out. There was even one couple putting on a strange dance number for anyone who wanted to stop and watch. It was some cross between ballet, freestyle, and I’m assuming something traditional. What made it even more fascinating was that the man was wearing cut-off jean shorts, a skin-tight black tanktop, had red ribbons tied around his arms, and a look on his face that was somewhere between peyode high and just plain crazy.
So that was day one, or really half a day. We had a great dinner at a hole in the wall place with a giggling, very pregnant young waitress of wild herb dumplings and wood-ear mushroom and bokchoy stirfry. Tomorrow, the Great Wall…
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