The north side of the square is marked by the huge portrait of Mao, at the Gate of Heavenly Peace. The Chinese really know how to give epic names.
Then we started making our way through the famous gates. The best part is that I got to act like Mulan and take a picture in front of the steps of where she flies in at the end and like saves the emperor or whatever I forget the plot but I know the music is great.
Like the Temple of Heaven.
The Imperial Vault of Heaven is another of the inside sights to see. It was for the early gymnastics teams to practice their vaults, I assume.
The Echo Wall is apparently able to carry a whisper from one side to the other, so you could communicate with someone far away, and the book says that it’s hard to find a time when the crowd won’t inhibit your efforts to do so, but what really inhibited us was the complete lack of signage about where these supposed whisper spots were located. FOR SHAME. Whatever. You know how else I can hear Z? By standing next to him.
There’s also a place called the Animal Killing Pavilion which like, yes I’m sure that’s an accurate name but COME THE F ON, BRIDGET. Aside from that, the Temple of Heaven was a lovely park. I wish there were more toilets - it was hard to find one inside the park and I almost pulled a Mongolia behind a tree. But it’s definitely a must visit.
They gave us packs of 10 sticks but the signs said only to burn 3 and we didn’t want to offend the gods so we have partially full incense packs from Lama Temple as our very first souvenir of this entire summer. What are the odds they actually make it back to London?
Just down the street from Lama Temple is Confucius Temple & Imperial College, so make a big morning or afternoon of seeing both of these sites plus all the neighborhood’s many hutongs (narrow alleyways with historic courtyard homes set back from the busyness of the city; the books make a bigger deal about these hutongs than they’re worth, like, you’ll see them just being out in the city and they’re fine but not like ‘do a whole hutong walking tour!’ levels of importance). The Confucian Temple’s tranquility was undeniable, with pavilions and important old trees and, of course, the statue of the big guy himself.
Honestly, the best part about Beijing - besides being in a real city with real city perks - is that it put all the amazing English tee shirts and stuff we’ve seen in Russia and Mongolia to shame. Of course the stuff we see in China is going to be soo much better, it’s all made here. And I don’t feel super bad about pointing out how dumb it all is because western people trying to use Chinese characters (or any character-based language) is 100x worse. This is mostly adorable. Every time, we want to be like, do you know what your shirt says?! From 90-year-old men wearing shirts that say “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” to young men wearing shirts saying “The Future Looked Bright” to girls wearing “Dream of Hope and Tomorrow is Yes” sweatshirts, it’s an endless and amazing onslaught of bad English.
And of course, those of you on my facebook have seen this incredible one:
We also loved these people taking a photoshoot of their baby right on the street:
The least best thing about Beijing is realizing how rough it will be for us throughout China coming from the UK, Land of Proper Queueing. Chinese people DO NOT QUEUE. We'd be waiting in line for something, anything - the subway's security check (every metro station begins with a bag x-ray), a toilet, tickets for a tourist attraction, checkout at the grocery store - and without fail at least two people will just cut right in front of us when we get to the front. And I don't think it's out of rudeness - they really just do not recognize that as wrong. It's very much dog eat dog (I won't make the obvious dumb joke), everyone looking out for himself, and discourteous behavior is not good or bad, it's just part of the culture. It's annoying in crowded places like on the subway - you know how if someone is trying to pass, you'll scooch up a little to let them pass, fully intending to reclaim your space after they pass and not remaining on your tiptoes with no center of gravity? Yeah here, someone will take that little bit of space you scooched for before you can put your heels down. It's annoying. The subways really are sooo crowded. And despite being such an international city, everyone stared at us for being white. It is not fun, and I imagine it is going to get super old super fast, and only will worsen as we go into the not-so-touristed bits.
You know what else is super hard wrap my head around? Everyone burps and farts, and LOUD. It's insane. We knew about all the spitting - we didn't realize just how prevalent it was, but we knew people would hack up a lung and spit it on the street. (I didn't expect young beautiful women to do it, which was sexist of me, because I quickly learned they are gross champs at it. It's kind of hilarious.) (Is it because of the pollution? It's more forgivable if so.) But we did not know about the farting. It is unmistakable - in restaurants, cafes, museums, trains, we keep hearing like a sound effects version of a fart and realize it's coming from a nearby person and then another and another. SO GROSS.
We stayed at one of the 161 Wanfujing Hotel chain outlets, right down the street from the nicer Courtyard version of the hotel. It was fine, more like a hostel than a hotel, or at least a budget hotel, but with our own bathroom. The bed and bathroom were clean at least, if the room at large just...wasn’t, and the lobby area was nice. They had a mezzanine seating area that the sign said was open till 11pm (the wifi was better there; awful in the rooms) but every night a girl would kick us out at 10pm and say ‘just tonight is special closing time’ or some nonsense that by the 3rd or 4th time I just refused to leave until 11pm. The only trouble with the hotel is that there’s a tourist service desk in the lobby, a separate company’s representative, but still, in the lobby, and the guy selling the tours is a big bag o’ dicks. We got our Great Wall tour through him (so did everyone in the hotel and all surrounding hotels and hostels, apparently, it was just for the most popular big bus trips there) and it was different from what he sold us in terms of size and vehicle and other details. When we confronted him after the fact, he asked if we had a recording of him to prove that he lied. F-ing hell I wish I punched him in the throat but I can’t get arrested here. Luckily it wasn’t that big a deal, we still had an amazing time on the Wall, but to be confronted with a level of customer service that makes London’s look good is astonishing.
Aside from Prickadick McGee, we really enjoyed our time in Beijing and would happily go back. On the corner of the main street leading to our hotel was a supermarket (yay cheap water!), and every night there would be a group of old ladies dancing on the corner in a choreographed dance. It was amazing. We wondered how they learned it, but then one night we saw the instructor calling out moves, presumably teaching a new dance. Was so fun. I love old lady public group dancing.