Thursday, 26 May 2011

Storms coming

Thursday 26th May 2011

4 days left traveling the world.

MP3 track of the day: Singing in the rain - Gene Kelly

Weather: The day started smoggy, with a hint of a blue sky. Beijing was as hot as normal, however a cooling breeze blew. At 2:30pm the skies darkened and, only an hour later, thunder and lighting erupted; this eruption was closely followed by buckets of rain falling throughout the afternoon, and into the evening.

I was up earlier than expected; first action for today was to find 'dim sum' for breakfast … again. Once again I went to reception and, this time, I showed the lady a Chinese translation, of what I wanted, instead of a picture. She went all red and apologised for the mix-up yesterday; she said that 'dim sum' was a southern breakfast and I would struggle to find it in northern China. It's ironic that I can find pizza, Thai food and even a Canadian restaurant and yet, I cannot find food served only a few hundred miles away. As a sort of compromise she asked if I liked cake; is the Pope Catholic, I thought to myself, and she began to explain where the cake shop, I visited yesterday, was located. I thanked her for the information and went in that direction. Yet again Beijing's 'opening times' amazed me; yesterday's cake shop didn't open until 9am and, here I was, at 8am. It mattered not; I walked by and went into another cake shop further down the street. The cake – a chocolate cake – was creamy and tasty, though a little small. The hot chocolate tasted like hot milk but, the price, was very cheap. Once again my taste buds weren't set on fire however, given the location and the price, I may end up coming back. I continued walking south until I made it to my first attraction, Jingshan Park.

Located only a few hundred yards from the Forbidden City, Jingshan Park provided the perfect location to get an overview. Once I'd paid the five Yuan entrance fee I noticed that the parks grounds were a lot bigger than I first thought; most of the gardens were covered in pine trees where stone paths worked their way between them. People were playing cards, exercising or chatting to friends which made the park look intriguing; I hadn't the time to wander as I'd come for one reason, and one reason only.

The path, up the hill, had been well cared for and, though slightly out of breathe, I found myself at the top in no time. Along the ridge of the hill were five buildings; a main temple was erected in the middle with four Pavilions, two to each side, making the whole area symmetrical. I'd climbed up to the temple and looked around before walking to each pavilion. From my elevated position I could see how big the Forbidden City was; it looked much bigger, from up here, than it felt walking around it yesterday. I took many photos, cursing a little because the smog prevented seeing all the way to the cities southern gate. I didn't stay long and, at around 10am, I started to descend heading south. Getting down the hill didn't take too long and I soon found myself within a beautiful rose garden; in-between the many pine trees were beds of roses, all out in full bloom. I took many photos, of the flowers, trying to capture a creature retrieving pollen. There were signs, asking people not to walk on the beds, but they were ignored; a park attendant would periodically shout, asking the Chinese public not to pose for photos whilst standing within the flower beds. I would occasionally step off the path, and up to said flower bed, but the attendant seemed okay with that. As I was about to leave I noticed a woman, in the middle of a rose garden, posing for a photo. As I looked at her I, very quickly, came to the conclusion that no matter how many beautiful roses surrounded her, she was still butt ugly. Only if the flowers covered her entire body, and face, could she look anything near normal.

Once out of the parks southern gate, the forbidden city faced me; half tempted to go back in I walked around the perimeter (once again getting a good idea of the scale) before, forty minutes later, arriving at Tienanmen square. Once through security I walked out, onto the square, to see a Chinese flag flying with guards posted at each side. There were many tourists, within this forty hectare square (which, if I'm being picky, is actually a rectangle), but there were also many guards. I took photos of the square, and the surrounding buildings, with one eye on the security. The square, designed for national celebrations, is more known for the bloody demonstrations that have occurred within the twentieth Century, most notably the 1989 'popular dissent' protest in which, possibly, thousands of people were killed. As I walked I tried to imagine the scene of carnage; if the current metal barriers were in place, twenty-two years ago, it would have made it extremely difficult to avoid gun fire. A cold shiver traveled down my spine and I quickly changed thought, by focusing on photographing the 'Great Hall of the People' and the 'Museum of Chinese History'. I went past Chairman Mao's memorial hall reading the conditions of entry; just like 'Uncle Ho's' place no cameras were allowed in and so I moved on, deciding to come back later. I finished photographing the square around 11am. I was glad to leave; the amount of armed personnel, on duty, freaked me out and I soon found myself, within KFC, ordering a large coke. Whilst sipping away I worked out how to get to the final attraction of the day. I finished my drink, and head south in the direction of the Temple of Heaven.

Beijing's a funny city; position yourself within Tienanmen Square and walk, in any direction, for around twenty minutes and the urban-scape seems to become less grand, and more run down. It's because of this that Beijing feels small; wonder away from the main tourist area for too long and you'll soon find yourself in areas that don't look inviting. This was true as I walked south towards the 'Temple of Heaven'. I'd walked south for around thirty minutes before turning left; my map showed a large park but all I could see were run down, very communist, residential blocks. I quickened my pace and, after an hour of walking, I finally made it to the southern entrance of the temple. The temple had northern, and western, entrances however my guidebook said to walk to the southern gate as then you'll be visiting the buildings in the correct order. Entry was thirty-five Yuan, which I gladly paid. There was another audio guide service however, this time, I rejected the offer. I had my ticket stamped as I walked through an old, red, Chinese gate. The complex was surrounded by acres of woodland and, on either side of where I stood, thousands of pine trees blocked my line of sight. In front of me was a long, rectangular, stone path that lead to another gate. Once through a round altar could be seen; surrounded by a circular marble wall, with many gates, a three tiered round altar stood looming above me. Each tier represented man, earth and heaven, in that order; in the centre, of the top tier, was a small stone circle which, was believed, to be the middle of the middle kingdom – the very centre of Earth.

Continuing north the next structure was a circular wooden building called the 'Imperial Vault of Heaven'. This was a beautiful temple which stood upon a square white marble platform. Both the shape of the building (circle) and the platform (square) were symbolic as a circle represented heaven and the square Earth (thus, at this temple, this is where both realms met). The temple's roof was blue and its sides red.

Surrounding the temple was the 'Whispering Wall'. Apparently the wall was constructed in such a way so that sounds could travel around it. It is said that, if one person whispers into the wall the sound will travel all the way around. As I walked hordes of Chinese tourists were shouting at the wall before pressing their ear to it; I was about to politely remind them that the wall was called the 'Whispering Wall' but then I thought better of it.

Eventually I made it to the main event. The 'Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests' is what its name suggests. Kind of a 'bigger brother', to the 'Imperial Vault of Heaven', the two buildings were identical in external design but the insides were vastly different. This temple had four compass point pillars represent the four seasons, which were then enclosed by twelve outer pillars (representing the months of the year). This is the temple where the Emperor would visit, once a year, to pray for a good harvest. The Emperor, being known as a 'Son of Heaven', was the only person eligible to pray for such benefits. With the main buildings done I went in search of something yummy; even though the clouds had drawn in the temperature was still high therefore I felt thirsty. Just like yesterday I went for an ice cream, the only difference being that this one was a peach ice lolly, and it tasted good. As I walked I ate my ice lolly quickly, for fear of melting. I walked into the wooded grounds, of the complex, to find the 'outer buildings'. On the east side stood the kitchens (used for sacrificial animal killings) but, alas, they were closed. I quickly transferred to the west side where I walked through my second rose garden of the day (which was just as beautiful as the first). Next to the rose garden was supposed to be the 'garden of a thousand plants' however, once in, it looked quite over grown and unkept. I enjoyed walking down the stone paths, moving tree branches out of my way and side-stepping broken cobbles but I didn't spent long. I exited through a wooden canopy – with vines dripping off it – and went to an outer palace. This place was used by the Emperor for three days, before the ritual for a good harvest commenced. Add additional entrance fee had to be paid to view, therefore I declined and left the park.

Once again it was late afternoon and I'd only eaten a slice of cake and an ice cream all day. Once in town I went to the first restaurant I could find – by-passing the Beijing Duck – and had something to eat. It was at this time that the clouds had drawn in and the sky was becoming darker; as I exited the sound of thunder could be heard and so I quickened my pace to the nearest subway station. I made it in before a torrent of rain erupted. Whilst on the train I decided not to visit Chairman's Mao's memorial today as, a) it was raining and b) it closes at 11am every day. I had planned on visiting the Summer Palace tomorrow but, if the weather is as bad as it is now, I may change my plans by visiting 'Mao' and then going shopping. As I've already visited 'Uncle Ho' I wondered if I visited 'Mao', and the Russian bloke, (i.e. seeing all three) whether I would get a sticker … or a free Big Mac. I didn't have time to evaluate the possibility; at that point the train's doors opened and I exited.

Once out of the underground the rain was bombarding Beijing; I erected my umbrella and started on the short walk to my hostel. The time was only 4pm however, with the rain falling, I wasn't going to venture back out. I sat down and started to write my blog. I was interrupted, but in a nice way, twice; firstly a couple from Quebec City chatted to me about my time there (ho hum, I wish I was back in Quebec City … I think I would have been there about this time last year) and then, the receptionist from this morning, sat down next to me with three pieces of paper. Whilst I'd been out she'd scoured the internet and found three places that I could eat 'Dim Sum'; she’d written the directions, in both Chinese and English, and smiled at me as she gave me the information. I couldn't believe it; I smiled back and thanked her. Like I've said before, Chinese hostel staff are amazing.

Once my blog was complete I found out that I would receive an acrobatics ticket, for this Saturday, tomorrow and that I would get a free lift there and back. All was going well and so I went for a shower before an early night. Tomorrow is weather dependent, but I'll certainly be trying 'Dim sum' after all my receptionists work.

Toodle Pip!

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