Anyway, our hotel is pretty nice -- the only thing we can really complain about is that there's almost zero pressure for the hot water, and there's only pressure for the cold water. That and the beds are pretty hard. But we have our own room, with air conditioning, a clean bathroom, and a TV. The hotel has a restaurant on the first floor (we had dinner there tonight, will mention later) and internet in the basement.
The city (Beijing) is pretty "nast", but "authentic" (quoted words from T). It's really dirty, and the air pollution is so bad that I feel like I'm going to get lung cancer just from walking down the street. By the end of today we were covered with a film of nast from head to toe (our feet were black, there was some unknown nast on our hands, and our contact lenses were dying. I have a cold that I picked up in Tokyo, so my nose is stuffed up and I can't really breathe through it, so all the nast that normally turns your boogers black made the inside of my mouth really nasty. I drank about five bottles of water during the day but my mouth felt dry and gross all day! Also, people spit all over the place, and are constantly picking their noses and flicking the snot away. The most irritating thing, however, is the people who shove flyers in your face (or in your pockets), the people who try to sell you crap for too much money (like the guy who tried to sell me "Rolex" watches), and how everyone pushes and shoves and crowds even when they don't need to. If you ask Ben, he'll say Hong Kong was really crowded, or Kyoto, but they don't hold a candle to Beijing. I have never been shoved by so many strangers in my life! What creeps me out the most is that there are a lot of people with deformities or missing limbs begging for money, and their method of begging is to scream and moan and shove their disfigured limbs in your face or poke you with them or grab at you. I don't have a problem with disabled people begging for money but the methods are really scary.
So now that I've covered all the bad things about Beijing, here's the good stuff. ;) It is indeed really hot, but at least it isn't humid (like everywhere else has been), so even though we're broiling, it's more like LA and we're not soaking in sweat. And, of course, there are lots of historical things to see! Moving on to a log of the day's activities . . .
So last night we didn't get in to the hotel until around 11 pm, and we had gotten up at 5am in Tokyo (which is an hour ahead of Beijing) to get to the airport (we had a four hour layover in Hong Kong), so we went straight to sleep (after discovering that there is indeed exactly one English TV station in Beijing).
This morning we got up and start out toward Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It wasn't far from the hotel, so we decided to walk. We stopped at a little place on the street for breakfast, where I ate a plate of some sort of wonton and T and I both had bowls of hot soy milk. Pretty tasty! T like doesn't eat when it's hot or something, so I feel like I'm always gobbling stuff down even when it's not that much! Anyway, I haven't gotten sick yet, so I guess it was safe. We're avoiding drinking the water but we're told it's safe for brushing your teeth.
We stopped at a 7-11 on the way to Tiananmen Square for bottled water and a loaf of bread for munching throughout the day, because we thought it was more trustworthy than random little shops on the street, and I got a bottle for 1 yuan, which is the equivalent of about 12 cents in US money. Pretty good! We got a little lost trying to get to Tiananmen, because you can't just cross the street, you have to like go underneath in these underground passages, but they're not well marked, and it's really confusing to find them.
After quite some time, we managed to make it to Tiananmen Square. We walked past the Mao Mausoleum, where a loudspeaker was blasting "Please come pay your respects to Chairman Mao." We were annoyed at having a hard time finding Tiananmen Square in the first place, so we passed up Mao and continued on. I snapped a lot of pictures of the places that are always shown when they talk about T. Square, like the giant portrait of Mao (BTW, he's on all the yuan denominations) and such. Successfully avoiding people trying to sell us crap, we made it through the actual Tiananmen gate ("Tiananmen" means "Gate of Heavenly Peace") to the entrance to the Forbidden City.
Along the entranceway to the Forbidden City are a bazillion places trying to get you to buy tickets into other things that you think are the Forbidden City because the sign is all in Chinese except for "ticket booth", but we were warned about them so we forged onward. I didn't rent the Roger Moore audio guide outside, but once we got inside I rented an audio guide so that I could get more info than the signs. If it had cost more than $5 US, I wouldn't have, but it was cheap so I figured it would be fine. It did have some interesting information!
Anyway, the Forbidden City is GIGANTIC. Sooo big. And it was incredibly crowded! You can't actually go inside any of the buildings, you just get to look at them from the outside, but they're pretty impressive. The audio guide had information on what sort of events took place in each building, and some interesting stuff like at one point they had this tradition where the emperor would choose his successor secretly, and write it on a piece of paper that was stored in this sealed box, and then they'd open it when he died.
Pictures are better than words for describing the Forbidden City I think. Luckily, the computers here have USB ports and there's a CD burning service, so I think I might be able to actually get my pictures uploaded! Suffice to say it was impressive, but at the same time we were broiling hot and getting sick of being shoved around, so we were ready to leave after a while.
We got a taxi to the Temple of Heaven, which is basically a large park with a few historical buildings and sites in it (old gates, bridges, halls, etc). The most famous is the Hall of Abstinence, where the emperor would go to abstain from meat, drink, women, and state affairs for three days before performing sacrifice rituals for the solstice or something like that. I thought the buildings were pretty interesting (we also saw the Round Altar -- self descriptive, and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, which is really interesting architecturally and is big and round), but T was exhausted from the heat (my guess is because all she'd had to eat was soy milk, ice cream, and a slice of bread from my loaf), so we didn't linger.
Getting a taxi out of the park was something of an adventure -- what one might term a "true" Beijing experience. We asked a taxi driver if he could take us there, and he called over some friends, and they told us to go with this one guy. We followed him to his car, which had no taxi markings at all. T asked him if he had a license (obviously because I can't speak Mandarin), and he was like, "No!" So she asked, "But isn't this a taxi?" and he was like, "No! I'm just on my way home." The sketchiness was plainly obvious, so we decided that was a no. The next taxi we asked (this time we asked to be taken to a subway station near our hotel instead of the hard-to-find hotel itself) said he couldn't take us because there was no parking. He also "couldn't" take us to the nearest subway station so we could take a train instead.
Finally we found a nice taxi driver who took us to the station. T chatted with him in the car but I have no idea what they said. [T says he was talking about tourist traps that aren't worth going to in Beijing.] We got off and made our way back to the hotel (a bit of a walk from the subway).
Back at the hotel, we took showers to de-nastify ourselves, and had dinner at the hotel restaurant. The hotel restaurant is (compared to the US) DIRT CHEAP. We ate a full meal, and had leftovers, for less than $5 US. Yum! It was tasty as well, and being in the westerner-friendly hotel, we figured the food was safer than outside. We definitely plan to go back for breakfast tomorrow (T says she'll actually eat something tomorrow).
We went to the travel desk in the hotel after that, and made reservations for a tour tomorrow. For about $30 US (each), we have transportation to the Ming Tombs and a portion of the Great Wall, lunch, admission, and a guide who speaks English to tell us about the history. We're hoping we can make it the whole day without dying of heat exhaustion and nast (we leave at 8am and get back at 5:30pm). We spent quite a while trying to decide which trip to which part of the great wall to do, and I'm glad we decided not to do the 12-hour trip to the steepest portion! I don't know how someone could spend 12 hours walking along a wall. Unfortunately, the portion we *are* going to is the easiest to get to, which means the most tourists, which means lots of con artists and lots of people shoving us all over.
I have postcards and stamps, so I'll try to send some tomorrow. I still haven't sent the postcards from Taipei! Oops. At least Beijing is cheap!
For reference -- only 13 days until we come home. [Valley-ism: Dude.] Actually, speaking of the Valley, while we were at the Forbidden city, this guy heard us talking and asked what part of the US we were from, and we said Los Angeles, and he asked where in LA, and we said the Valley, and he said, "Dude! We're from the Valley too! Where do you live, Northridge?" T told him she used to live there. Pretty weird, running into Valley people in Beijing! Or, as one might say, duuuuuuude.