Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Adventures in Beijing
Beijing, a city of run down back alley streets hidden by towering impersonal buildings. The allure of old China is around but at times hard to see, hidden by all the high-rise banks and apartments.
Staying in the financial district at the Ritz we found ourselves in a very Western setting. A little hand gesturing and phrase simplifying was necessary to communicate with the staff but it was easy to forget we were in fact in Beijing.
Looking out of the window when we awoke on our first morning, the sky was a thick sheet of clouds alluding to a cool marine-layer like temperature. It wasn't until we left the hotel that we realized the lie the sky was telling. It was in the 90's and humid like downtown NYC on the hottest of days. I made my way alone in a cab to the Forbidden City. 19 RMB ($3) later I was dropped off across the street. Kindly the cabbie gave a nod & point in the direction of an under street walk way that I would later find common all around Beijing. I walked through 2 large courtyards before coming to the entrance for the Forbidden City where I decided to take a left and check out the park next to it for 50 cents and save the tour for when Chadd was with me later in the week. It was easy to see that I was among a very small handful of non-asians. It was mostly all local families, enjoying a little sight seeing on their Sunday outing.
Having traveled through Italy and London on my own I was use to being by myself in a foreign place. I always try to integrate with the residents, smile, have quick chats, enjoy what the locals are enjoying and get a real feel for the place but so much of that feeling comes from feeling welcomed and not like you were intruding which is how the lack of smiles back and or returned gesture of kindness was leaving me to feel. Oh well, so I'm not going to be exchanging emails or making new best friends, I could still have my own fun so I popped in my earphones and let Adele keep me company as I wandered the gorgeous park. There were families in boats, picnicking and strolling in the heat which was making the AC back in my room really tempting.
I hopped in a cab and cruised back just in time to meet up with Chadd now back from his quick rehearsal. Shopping to the silk market we go, where there is everything imaginable and all up for negation. The least we could do was help out the local economy and that we did. Shoes, purses, a new suit, sunglasses. We did it up. By the time we finished haggling, weaving our big bags through little aisles and freeing Chadd from all of the grabby & pinchy sales girls at the market we were exhausted.
A few days later, I met up with a friend of a friend in the Houhai. A lake surrounded by shops, restaurants and back alleys leading to what looked to be homes that time had all but forgotten. These alleys and doors were some of my favorite parts on Beijing because what happens beyond them is the true story of Beijing, the one I am not privet too and the one I most want to see.
My new friend and I sat outside next to the water and shared a meal of lotus flower, cucumbers and shrimp while I gently quizzed her about what it is to live there.
98% of people live in furnished apartments: well that explains what's up with all of the big buildings. You call the sky "constipated" because it needs to rain: again, that explains why I have get to catch a glimpse of it and couldn't pick its shade of blue out of a line up.
I kept thinking during our meal, if I hadn't come on this trip what would I be doing right now? Ok, so the obvious answer would be sleeping but beyond that, there is so much else that I wouldn't be experiencing and I felt so thankful that I was in Beijing.
Take a moment to think about all the different experiences people are having all around the world right now. There are so many people taking that vacation that they've been saving up for years to take RIGHT NOW. They are finally seeing the thing they've read & researched about and until now only saw on the internet and in their day dreams like the Ponte Vecchio over the Arno in Florence or the vibrant fish below the ocean. Zip lining through the Costa Rican rain forest or smelling spices in the markets of Morocco or listening to frogs in the Amazon. There are an infinite amount of adventures being had and at that moment by the lake I was singing in that chorus of adventurers and feeling the joy of life being lived.
My next adventure came a few days later when Chadd and I toured the Forbidden City. We hadn't thought about using a guide until we were approached outside of the City and realized that it would be a great way to get the most out of the mere hour and a half we had before Chadd had to be back and for the equivalent of $15 how could we pass it up. If we hadn't we would have never about the people who actually lived within its walls. Over 3,000 young concubines that would spend most of their lives never leaving it. You see, once you came to the Forbidden City, you didn't leave. Imagine the gossip and jealousy that took place there with over THREE THOUSAND WOMEN vying for the same mans affection?! And if you were a man working within its walls, well you were castrated!
When we walked outside its walls we noticed a gorgeous building way up on the hill across the street and hiked up to see it. The view from up there was astonishing and we were able to see the entire Forbidden city from there. It felt magical being in the "clouds" and seeing the 360 degrees surrounding us. It was the Beijing I was hoping to see.
Lama & Confucian temple & the Great Wall to come....