2006-06-10

** Beijing - Day 5 - I was Not lost; I'd just intentionally misplaced myself.

I have a strong urge to update about the previous two days, as they were most eventful, but I have a limited attention span, enough to write about from just today, and most importantly, would think it silly to spend that much money on the internet. Yes, it is dirt cheap and all, but... Really.

I write long enough posts as is. However, I may end up covering some of that content anyway, what with my continuation of an ODE TO PUBLIC TRANSIT (oh, glee...)

Anyway, this morning, as Garrett was taking some time to sleep in and get over a little jetlag, I figured I'd head out and check out the old drum tower which he'd been less than keen on seeing. However, first things first, I paid up for another 5 days at my lovely little hostel, and changed rooms (I now face the back of the post office -- not only is it much much much quieter (someone this morning on the main road decided that mere honking was insufficient, and held down their horn for what felt like HOURS... you try and sleep through that dears.), but also, I think it's SUPER COOL, as I get to see mail getting loaded and stuff. Now, this may not seem so nifty to you, perhaps, but I think it's really cool. Especially because it looks so different from what I've seen in Canada. Everything's in bales. Wrapped up in the same sort of stuff rice and whatnot gets transit in. And there are green uber postal trucks. UBER POSTAL TRUCKS. Actually, incidentally, I think I may have seen mail getting delivered today, which is neat. I don't exactly live in a residential area, so I had no idea what the chinese postal service delivery folk dressed like on the job (except at the post office itself). And while I'm not entirely certain that this was a mailman (I didn't exactly want to interrupt his work to ask), he was definitely riding a bike, delivering a letter. This was made somewhat difficult as this was in old Beijing, and the door he was delivering to seemed to have no mailbox, and so he was making an effort to shove it over the door. Anyway...moving on).

I even managed to get bottom bunk in my new room, though by the time I came home, it appeared someone else was trying to move in and claim it. Bunk wars? Perhaps. We'll see. =)

Anyway... To get to the drum tower, I hopped the subway out around the ring (PS. DEEP DEEP LOVE OF THE SUBWAY). I thought my day was off to a rough start when I forgot my change, and had to be called back to the ticket window (slightly embarrassing, especially given the horde at the ticket window at the time -- and yes, I do mean HORDE. Ain't no such thing as a queue. You can be standing in front of the window, with your money out in front of you to give to the ticket lady (and I say ticket lady mostly because all the ticket takers and ticket sellers and conductors all seem to be women in this city... absolutely every one I've seen so far), and someone will manage to cut in front of you. Easily. In fact, I think I had 4 people cut in front of me before I finally just shoved money under the window like everyone else. Silly non-queuing.

The subway was reasonably full for 8:30am, and reminded me yet again of just how many people there are here... I mean, it feels like there's never a moment where you won't see other people around in the street. It feels like that would be so improbable as to be near impossible. But the little map on the wall lit up which stop we were at, so even when I couldn't always here the announcements of the next stop, I still had my bases covered for getting off right. I did see the neatest subway ad though, on my way out. It was actually a lit ad on the subway tunnel wall, which covered a fair distance of tube with frame by frame photos. So, like a flip book, as the subway sped past, the pictures animated. The only difference was that you could always see 3 or 4 frames at a given time, so it was like having 3 slightly offset flipbooks sitting all in a row for you to see. Very cool.

Anyway, I got off the subway having absolutely NO idea where I was, but it was a major intersection, so I asked the nice policeman for directions. Did I mention that it feels like it's hard to get lost in Beijing, simply because there are so many people -- official people -- everywhere for you to ask directions. Best of all, even local folk seem to do it, so I don't feel so bad being the crazy foreign tourist interrupting their work to ask directions.

I wandered along, said no to a few pedicab rides, and found myself in old Beijing. Coolest thing ever. I think in the tour books, they call it the HuTong (alley) district, but all it really is is some really really old buildings. It's postcard old-school Beijing. I love it. I have so many photos now of these old gorgeous villa-esque alleys and houses and complexes on the background of modern Beijing skyscrapers and commercial buildings. I love how the two seem to coexist. You turn a corner off a major street, all commercial, with four lanes of traffic, and, oh, there you have it, there's a imposing giant wall/arrow tower/really really old building, just cropping out of the ground in front of you. You'd think it would seem almost out of place, but it never does. It fits well, in fact. Blows you away, but fits.

I paid my admission to the drum tower (they let me get my student discount this time -- it really varies where will let you get away with that, and where will make sure you're a chinese student only), and walked up the steepest flight of stairs I've seen in a long time (steeper yet, I think, that those at the Granville skytrain station, which are something else too). Sidenote - next time you decide to build a steep staircase, DON'T BUILD IT OUT OF MARBLE. I definitely had a death grip on the railing, as I felt like I was going to slip off the worn marble stairs, especially those with a little incline toward the floor... Give me a push, why don't you... And then, oh, the view. You can see all of old Beijing, but also, the drum tower is straight north of the Palace (the Forbidden City), and so, at the very very far end of a long long street, you see this gorgeous building, this palace, cropping up above everything else around it. Really cool.

I arrived just in time for the drum ceremony thing, and so got to see that (absolutely worth the price of admission). Huge drums. Awesome. Wonderful. Happiness.

Crossed from the drum tower to the bell tower, where the courtyard between the two is filled with only two things. Parked tour buses and brightly coloured rickshaws. The first two drivers were nice enough, and left me alone after only two refusals. Then, when I was reading the bell tower sign (deciding if I wanted to pay more admission -- glad I did, you'll see why), another guy came over, with his little pamphlet, and just wouldn't take no for an answer. "But I'll give you the student discount... Only Y80 instead of 180! Look at all the things you'll see. Blah Blah Blah" I say no, again and again, and then go to the bell tower. He says that he'll wait til I come back to take me on the tour. I think nothing of it, but when I came back down, he was totally still there, waiting for me. Took another 5 minutes to finally leave ("Look, you don't even have to pay me til we get back! Look! Blah blah".

Not that I begrudge them their making money, and I'm sure they do actually do a nice tour of some really cool things. But I *like* walking. In fact, I love walking. I'd miss that way too much.

Anyway, the bell tower itself was less exciting (no drumming to see), and loaded with English speaking tourists (LOADED). BUT... (1) they had binoculars to see the city with (very cool), and (2) they had a guy dressed up for the tourists selling chinese papercuts. No, not the "ow, I've hurt myself, stupid paper..." kind, but the art-kind, and the kind I've been obsessed with since my mom brought home that book with them when I was little. I was just asking the price of the pig (which, I bought -- first souvenir purchase of trip, but TOTALLY worth it), and then, as his daughter showed off some of the other designs (he had this AMAZING full banner-length one of a street scene in old Beijing. Gorgeous), he offered to teach me. So, I learned to cut out butterflies. Very cool. We chatted (me with my broken mandarin, with occasional translation assist from his kids, who spoke reasonably good english - he had a few phrases that he knew, all of which were written out in a little book he kept, using chinese characters to transliterate the sounds. Coolest thing ever. I'd never really thought about transliteration in that direction before, but it makes perfect sense), and he told me about how he learned how to do paper cuts when he was 15 or 16, from his mom, and had been doing it ever since. He was just super happy to be teaching someone, and kept pointing out things like, how I should hold the scissors, or how the scissors are designed with one blade shorter than the other, etc. etc. He was just so happy. Very cool, altogether, and I loved that, although he was really in the tourist souvenir business too, he was good-hearted about it. Not a "selling is all that matters" attitude at all. Really friendly, and when I left, he was teaching a young English speaking girl to cut something too. Very cool.

Made admission to the tower worthwhile, in every which way.

Anyway... After the towers, I lunched at a little noodle place (I picked sort of randomly off the menu, and wasn't disappointed. It had stuff in it I recognized from soups my mom used to cook, and that made me altogether rather happy), and then went meandering. Made use of a public washroom (how very exciting, though I'm sure no one but my mom and I will concur), and remarked that they crop up in Beijing VERY frequently. Like, one every half a block, often, compared to virtually zero in Canada (where you have to go and use the bathroom at Timmy Ho's instead). I think this is cool.

And wandered. A lot. And then, I turned a corner, saw a big giant wall/defense tower (turned out to be a coin museum, actually), and decided that I had no idea where I was. I did, incidentally, figure out how to get to the great wall at Badaling by public transit, if we should choose to go to that section (likely no, as it is super touristy, and less fun hiking/scenery. Difficult to get a photo without thousands of people in the frame), as I happened across the bus stop. But it took me a good while to reorient myself. I did, and without having to ask or anything, and found the nearest subway to take me home and all. But, in technical terms, I got a bit lost.

Good lost, but still technically lost. =) However, I got a bonus garden/temple (which appeared a bit lovers lane ish, unexpectedly) and that big old building in the middle of a highway interchange. So, I'd say I won.

So, the final vote: "I was not lost; I'd just intentionally misplaced myself."

PS. Oh, and in case you were curious, the drum and bell towers told time, back in the day. The timekeeping things they had on display were also very cool.

3 comments:

d_grinwis@yahoo.com said...

Thank you for sharing your day. I can't travel now but your description not only entertained and delighted me, but reminded me of other times and places I have enjoyed. Best Wishes and Safe Travels!

Jenny said...

That sounds like a very excellent day! I cannot wait to see the pictures!

JP said...

Wow, you're so adventurous! The random wandering and getting lo... I mean intentional misplacement is very cool!

Be safe, and have a fantastic time!