06-07.04: Katie’s lie and the other tough start
Katie Mellowa lied to us. There are not 9 million bicycles in Beijing. Not even 1 million and that is when I am lenient and count in all motor bikes and baby strollers. I have been humming her bl##dy song since entering China, so you can imagine how dissapointing this is, especially for us – citicins of Cycling Nation, the Netherlands. If this is not a fact, if this is a truth we can deny… what other truths have crushed down unnoticed? Maybe the fact that people love each other till they die?
Excuse my cynisism but you have to know that I actually barely made it to Beijing. I spent my last night with Raoul on the big white telephone (Just say the name aloud to understand my business in the bathroom) due to food poisening. The next morning was really tough. I could barely move and nevertheless had to disembark. I had no next bed arranged yet. I realised for the first time how vulnerable I was as a solo traveller. Vince from the US/Aussie group helped out but had itinerary in the opposite direction. I managed to get myself on a ‘bullet train’ to Beijing and simply sat it out. I reached Beijing only 8 hours journey later. Thanks China for your high speed link!
Next day, feeling a little better, I went to the Forbidden City, My hostel was only a block away and is the no 1 place to visit. I walked up to the entrance, expectingly, but must admit to be somewhat disappointed by its looks on the outside. It is just a big red wall, nothing spectacular. Their audio guide system seemed more funky, it tracked my position by GPS and then automatically started on the nearest subject. Brilliant, if only it would have worked. I tried and tried and, yes, I did touch the 2 buttons that they explicitely said NOT TO TOUCH. Forbidden buttons in the Forbidden City, that was just too tempting. After an hour I had figured out the functions of the forbidden buttons but the device still didn’t work. My ‘bring-it-back-make-a-big-fuss-and-get-a-new-one’ was more effective.
The Forbidden City is the biggest standing palace in the world. It served as the home of the Chinese emperors and as the centre for national ceremonies and politics for the last 500 years (until 1912). It was called forbidden because no one could enter without the emperor’s permission. The premise is so vaste that it feels like a city, however, one different from anything I ever experienced before. It seems an never ending maze of royal buildings, squares, tempels and gardens. Beautiful buildings in the brightest colors with the most delicate ornaments with the loftiest building names My favorites were Palace of Heavenly Purity and the Hall of Supreme Balance.
I thought long on how to let you experience the City in this blog by just a few pictures. I don’t think this is possible. I recommend you to go to China and see it for yourself (or come over and I will show you my highlights.
08.04: The greatest of the greatest
Today was the day for which I had come to China: the Great Wall (in Dutch: Chinese muur). I booked a tour that would take me to the farthest, less touristy section of the Wall and it included a 4 hour hike, whoohaa! I was accompanied by Olivia, an 18 years old English daredevil, who had decided that she wanted to see the world for a year after graduation to find out what she wanted in life. She fancied China so she found a teaching job. She is all alone and it is going smooth, now that is what I call guts and glory.
So how to tell you about our experience on the Great Wall? Ehmmmm. OK, here goes nothing: IT IS GREAT IT IS GREAT IT IS GREAT. IT IS NOT ONLY GREAT, IT IS THE GREATEST, IT IS THE MOST IMPRESSIVE ‘THING’ I HAVE EVER SEEN. WOW, OOH, AHH, IIEEE x100,000. This one, again, you have to go and experience yourself.
Olivia and I had bought tickets for the famous Beijing Kong Fu show later that night. Honestly, I was worried that we would be up for a cheesy tourist show, but my gut feeling was wrong. The show was well done and very entertaining. Of course, Olivia and I practices our kicking techniques at the entrance and sang ‘everyone was kong fu fighting whohaa whohaa’ the entire night, maybe at the dismay of the staff.
9.04: The Summer Palace and the Lama Temple, two other wow-ers
The blossoms in the Summer Palace
Many people recommended the Summer Palace, so I jumped on the metro and went. It had crossed my mind that it was Sunday and that Chinese have their one and only day off on Sunday so it could be a little more crowded. Crowded? You could barely get in, it was that crowded. The whole nation must have come out there that. I didn’t have much choice in postponing since it was my last day In China.
I went in anyways and that was a good decision because the place is almost criminally big. Unbelievable that an Emperor can claim such amount of land in the heart of the city for his private Home-Away-From-Home. It’s like our Dutch King claiming the entire Amsterdam inner city centre (or the Ruler of Dubai claim the full Marina area, from beach to SZR). I put the latter between brackets because I think the Ruler can do it with the blink of an eye if he wanted, whereas for King Willem-Aexander it would probably mean the end of the Kingdom as we know it 🙂
The royal gardens were in one word magnificent; I actually liked them better then the buildings. That was probably due to my perfect timing in the blossom season. In my Dutch home province, we have some blossoming trees but nothing compared to this. It was magical.
Burning down the Lama temple
My mind was already pretty filled up with tempels so when I entered the Lama tempel, I didn’t expect much. Boy, was I in for a surprise! I suddendly was in front of a 3 story high, golden lady buddha statue. Breath taking!
I need to confess a tiny, tiny mistake made in the temple. An English sign, which are very uncommon, invited visitors to burn incents (in Dutch: wierook). Now I burn a candle in any (Christian) churche where I can. It is my ritual; I feel that somehow a candle in a holy place can transport a thought to an expired loved one. And, even if this is ‘bs’ then I can console with the fact that at least it makes me feel good.
The Lama Temple didn’t have candles so I wanted to try with incents. I picked up a box of incents, walked in, studied the behaviour of the worshippers so that I could copy it (and I remember that I felt so snug when I thought that up) walked up to the front of the ‘altar’ and stuck -just like everyone else- 3 sticks in the ashes. Three was the perfect number for me. I used to burn one candle for my grandma, but I added one after my dad died last year, who I miss terribly. I recently added another candle, I call that one ‘one for the world’ because I think we need it.
I was looking at the smoking sticks. Hi grandma hey dad, I hope you are well, and ‘go world go’. So far so good. Then I realised with a shock that the box wasn’t empty yet. It had some 20-30 odd sticks left and I did not know what to do with them. All eyes were on me and people were getting eager to have their go. I took a decision in a split second; I took out all remaining incents and stuck them -in one package- in the ashes.
Awkward situation managed, right? Not really! The 20-30 incents caught on and caused a massive smoke. Pretty logical; the smoke of 20-30 incents is roughly 10x more intense than that of 3. I foresaw (yes, I acknowledge, a little too late) that this would happen so I tried to back out slowly, unnoticeable. My incents made the shrine almost invisible for several minutes. Oops!
I walked on quickly, pretty embaressed. It struck me only once I reached the next square and looked around to see another altar, another one and another one. Almost every shine and buddha statue had one and people were lighting 3 incents at the altars of their choice. So that was what I had supposed to do with my remaining incents. Quite logical. I will do that next time, or, maybe I should just refrain from religious activities in the future…
I cannot close a blog on Beijing without telling about Beijing Duck (or Peking Duck). It took some time to find the ‘best local restaurant’ but this place became my House-of-Happiness. The only dish I ordered was Peking Duck. Have a look at the picture and tell me that you don’t get hungry just by looking at it.
PS: How to eat peking duck: 1) Take a pancake, 2) add crispy duck skin after having dipped it in sugar and garlic cream, 3) add duck filet after having dipped it in Hoian sauce, 4) add some sping onions and cucumber, 5) roll in all into a pancake, 6) stick it into your mouth and experience heaven on earth. Yummy!
Senior lovers caught in the act
China is fantastic. It has deep rooted traditions and they are visible in every aspect of life. The Chinese, as many Asian countries, believe in pre-arranged marriages. I used to be very sceptical but my Middle Easter experience has made me soften my opinion a little.
The Chinese have ‘markets’ where families show pictures and stats of their children/grand children in attempt to find the most suitable suitor. I was amazed to find such a market for mature people; for men and women who had lost their spouse and who wanted to get back into a relationship. I unknowlingly caught a senior man making courtship to a lady of roughly the same age and had accidentely taken their picture just after the man had touched the woman’s cheek which made the two blush like school kids. How wonderful and simple life can be!
I quickly dissapeared without them noticing me. Funnily enough, I got ambushed by an ouder gentlemen -I guess at least 60- who, without speaking any English, insisted on taking my phone number. I had been told that this was ‘Step 1’. I felt a little troubled that he thought I could be interested -I don’t look THAT old now do I- but hey, I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. So I gave him my number, also because I was still a little mellow from witnessing the senior love birds earlier. Admittedly, I given an incorrect last digit 😉 I am truly sorry for the person in Dubai who received my calls.
Encore: What the Duck!?!