Wednesday, November 14, 2007

China - Day 3 - Beijing

Tienanmen Square -The Forbidden City - The Summer Palace

(above: Tienanmen Square, notice the top of the light's the same in a photo below)

First off...5 star hotels are incredible, their beds however are not. We got our wake up call before dawn and arose from our cement mattresses to a packed day of touring.

We met Ashley, our tour guide for Beijing and got on our bus. Not being the itinerary type, I had no idea where we were headed. I had tried to make sense of where our hotel was on my little Beijing map but had no luck; which, for me, is saying something. I take pride in doing one thing well in life, figuring out my compass direction anywhere I am... There are only 2 places I have not been able to find my way north; any indoor mall with a JCPenny or Macys, and Movie Theaters. If there is a street sign or a visible sun, I can figure my way around practically any city...that was true at least until we found ourselves in China. The Chinese invented porcelain, silk, tea, and they built The Great Wall...but build cities around grid systems...forget it. To rub salt in the wound, there are so many sky scrapers in even the smallest of Chinese cities that the sun can never be found. Anyhow, we headed off in what I'm guessing was West from our hotel were immediately hit with our first culture shock.

From our seats in the back of our Air Conditioned tour buss, we passed through little slices of Chinese life. As if China were some incredible ant farm, I pointed through my window and sat awe struck for our entire ride, separated by glass from the world around me. Store fronts had no doors, just an open wall to beckon customers from the street. Traffic was well more of a parking lot than traffic, and there were more bicycles, motor bikes, scooters, motorcycles, etc. on every street than there are people in the rest of the civilized world.

You cannot possibly imagine the magnitude of the population there. It is just unreal how many people are tucked away in those cities. Perhaps the one clue as the amount of people is the pollution. The smoked filled skies of San Diego in the days prior to our departure were perhaps the only thing that comes close in comparison. Forget "smog" Beijing (and later we found the same in most every major Chinese city) has a thick blanket of soot hanging 50 feet overhead. Thankfully a brisk breeze picked up our first day in the city and much of the pollution was absent from the sky, but this we soon found, was only temporary relief.

Anyhow, we arrived to a side street and found a long line of familiar looking buses. There must have been 50 buses lined up, empty and parked on the side of the street. We filed out of the bus one by one, Jessica and I being the last to get off. Backpack and Camera strapped tight to my body, I peeked my head out of the door and took my first real breath of China (the day before didn't really count in my mind). Before my feet could hit the pavement, we were swarmed with about 9 vendors selling everything from "Rolex" watches to Beijing 2008 Olympic goods. I made the mistake of glancing at the 2 dollar Rolex watch and that poor vendor lady followed me for the next 50 minutes lowering her price with every step. I'll get back to these vendors later.

(above: tourist hell...sad part is I doubt anyone actually got a good shot inside that dark little room)
I rounded the corner from the street and found myself looking straight at Tienanmen Square. The history of the place immediately overwhelmed me. Black and white visions of the single student holding his ground in front of the tank could not be shaken from my mind for the rest of the day. Every where we went I tried to picture from what surrounding rooftop those photographers must have been filming the massacre. I then got lost in thought, wondering what current students there were taught about the massacre. Whispers in our group instructed me not to say anything to anyone about it, but my imagination was running wild. Ashley was leading our little pack through the, what had to be close to, 500,000 visitors that day. I could barely hear her brief speech on the history of the place in the distance, for I was already wondering off from the group. I was still overwhelmed with culture shock, and visions of Chinese prisons and pick pockets, so I didn't stray too far from fear. Anytime I wandered more than 40 feet away Jessica was there to guide me back. But I still managed some nice shots that day none the less.
(above: crazy big brother security in the square)
We slowly made our way through the masses of people and found ourselves in front of the gates to the Forbidden City. Pictures will never do this place justice. Mao's portrait greeted everyone as we walked under him and into the city. The amount of money, time and people spent creating every intricate detail of that place is beyond comprehension. The one and only fact that stuck in my head that day was that the Emperor had the floors built 11 layers thick with brick so that no enemies could tunnel in through the ground, talk about paranoia. Anyhow see the photos of the place for a little taste.

(above: Forbidden City)
As if that weren't enough oppulence and majesty, we turned our bus I'm guessing north, and headed to the Summer Palace. Being sure to stop by a fresh water pearl factory on the way, code for tourist trap for which to spend too much American dollar on overpriced goods. An otherwise forgetful 2 hours of my life, except for the 30 minutes when I escaped the group and discovered a little lake with fisherman and children amidst broken down tractors and empty buildings. I snapped a couple gems of photos and found Jim and Jessica to share my little discovery with.

(above: little lake near the pearl factory)
We got on the bus, rode through more city, passed the Olympic village, and found ourselves at the Summer Palace. The group was getting a little tired and cranky. A mild argument about walking a couple miles vs. riding a boat erupted and briefly died down. I really wasn't sure what we were doing, my focus was never really on anything inside that bus. Apparently some genius, probably Jim or Jessica, convinced the group that walking the couple miles around this place would be better than a boat, but I'm sure that boat ride would have been just as magnificent. So back to the point, the Summer Palace is a ...well...Palace that some crazy lady called "the Dragon Lady" made out of pure gluttony and excess. She basically had slaves dig a monstrous hole, pile all of the dirt into a gigantic mountain, fill the hole with water creating a lake, surround the place with marble carvings and pathways, build a couple palaces, and wallah...the Summer Palace was complete. But I love her for it, because I got even more great photos here as well. Jessica would be mad if I didn't tell you that this same "Dragon Lady" made her servants make her 138 meals for dinner, 3 times over. She would smell the first batch, look and the second batch, and taste the final one...freaking Chinese Royalty.

(above: the summer palace)
That about rounded out DAY 2...hahaha...just typing about the highlights and I'm exhausted. We kept this pace up for the next 10 days.

Days 1-2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9 Day 10 Days 11-12 Day 13

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