I could not take sitting in the apartment any longer; however I cannot will my feet to walk very far. No nonsense, I have never experienced foot pain the way I have experienced it the last three days. I will regret it later, but I pushed myself to walk to a bakery & deli called Skyway's. This place is wonderful in that it's small, cozy, smells of sweet warm bread, and I can be in the presence of westerners. I do not come here too often because it is expensive. The small cup of freshly brewed coffee I am sipping is costing me 18 RMB ($3.00). Call me cheap, but I could walk three blocks to a McDonald's and get a large coffee for 9 RMB. (Alexa Trick: bring an instant coffee packet and your own hot water (or ask for it) and refill your own cup/instant coffee 1RMB) At Skyway's, you're paying extra for the ambiance of home. Well, it is also one of the very few places you can purchase fresh bread and dessert. One slice of tiramisu (100RMB) is equivalent to the price of seven typical, average-scale Chinese meals. I usually come here for the occasional sandwich and drink combo which costs 22RMB. The sandwich is made your way and is always fresh, crunchy and delicious! Regardless of this mathematical-spending jazz, it provides a relaxing atmosphere for blogging, and for now, a personal campground for my feet.
My Intro to Beijing
I booked a trip with my roommate, Ryan, for Beijing September 30th-October 6th. The thrill of going to see the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace, the Great Wall, etc., nearly gave me goosebumps at the very thought of it. I have to be honest, I did not know much about half of what I was about to explore until I opened a travellers book I purchased focusing on Beijing and Shanghai. I once took an ancient history course and I learnt of old China and its emperors, gruesome battles with the mongols, and ancient traditions, etc. It was an opportune time to be able to associate that background information with all of the new history I was taking in. There is so much idiosyncratic history in China; it blows my mind. Especially when I came to realize that an agglomeration of this history happened only less than one-hundred years ago. How could the world let this happen? Why didn't we step in and do anything? How is this constructively altered, yet still deranged, government still operating? It's 2012! What sounds like something that would have happened hundreds or thousands of years ago happened less than a century ago and it boggles my mind that I had no palpable knowledge of it. Perhaps I was too absorbed reading the wrong headlines during my breaks at Starbucks, or tied up watching Jersey Shore. Here in China, I sometimes feel as if I am walking around a plastic community due to the constraint of information given to these people, and the hindrance of free will. If this trip has done anything, it has furthered my thirst for knowledge and awareness. My brain has never felt so much like a sponge.
Getting There: Bullet Train/Squat Toilet Style
Our bullet train would take off at 4:00pm and it would be a four-hour commute to Beijing. Dealing with a mild fever, I had hoped it would not get in the way of a good time. I had dinner at a burger joint at the train station. China hires employees to walk around fast food joints to clean tables, pick up trash, and to help guests. I asked one of these employees for honey mustard. She came back with a side of mayonnaise. Hah! Afterwards, I used the bathroom, or toilet as they call it. It looked clean, but the overbearing smell of old urine compelled me to breathe through my hoodie sleeve. They only offered squat toilets, of course. Bordered around my squat toilet was a frame of urine. Before I could do anything, the homeless urine had already saturated the bottom rim of my black yoga pants, and the soles of my black sandals. Score for wearing black; minus one for wearing sandals. I am still attempting to master the squat toilet. I have yet to use one without tinkling a droplet on the floor, or on myself. There is either some strategic technique that I am missing, or my urine has a mind of its own. "Urine, why won't you go to your home?" I always want to ask it. I wish I had only gotten that unavoidable droplet on the floor. I did not squat back far enough and I created my own little pee stream. I felt sorry for the lady waiting outside of my stall. There was no soap for washing my hands. I thought about asking the two women hunched over next to me if I could use their laundry soap. Then it occurred to me that if they were washing their soiled clothes in the sink of a train station, they needed that soap more than me.
I boarded the bullet train in high spirits. I was pleased to find that this was not your average train station. If I did not know any better, I would have thought I was on an airplane. The adjustable cushioned seats were set up airplane-style and offered the same retractable mini-table to eat off of or place your luggage. Train employees walked up and down the aisle collecting trash, and offered overpriced drinks and goodies. I purchased a double-priced cold coffee about my third hour in. It sure hit the spot. I have come to cherish the little things in China.
I never prefer to read the same book twice, but I opened up and began one of my favorites: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. I read it for the first time during my time teaching in Costa Rica in 2010. I found it laced with determination, perseverance, and found it important for this time in history. I am sad to say that I found out two weeks ago that Greg Mortenson stopped taking interviews because investigators found that he fabricated major events in his book. For example, he lied and said he was kidnapped by the Taliban, and most of the schools he built in Pakistan either never existed, or are not in use because Mortenson used the money for a book tour and not actually for starting the schools which he spoke of during these tours. It was a money-making scam. I find it disappointing that this incredible man believed that America would not be satisfied with the truth of his upbringing; that it wasn't good enough he fundraised and built only a few schools; and the harsh living conditions he endured with very little money. Instead, he felt the need to say he built hundreds of schools and that there were dangerous men out to get him. Though he lied and fabricated his own (truly) heroic-success story to make money, I still find his past life impressive and moving. In the grand scheme of things, his book and motivational speaking would promote world peace, expose the potential power of one great idea, as well as reveal how far passionate determination can get you. I would read it anyway.
All was well until the passengers around me began eating. I understand that it is a cultural difference, but I cannot accept the fact that so many people here sound like hungry pigs while they eat. Thank the friggin' god of hogs that those chompy, heinous sounds are over before you know it because their food does not last long. Render me mislead because I thought that the point of chopsticks was for you to eat more delicately and relish the taste in every succulent bite. I threw that theory out of the window as soon as I got here. I watched a man sitting adjacent to my seat chizzle two full cucumbers with his teeth and chomp on them as if they were thick pieces of Bubbalicious chewing gum. Why do so many Chinese people have to emit a whomping chewing sound every time they bite down on something? He bobbed his head up and down with every bite, putting in some serious work as if he was punishing them for not already being pre-skinned. Later he busted out six packages of miniature hotdogs and an extra- large disposable bowl of ramen soup. I knew my life was over when he got up to pour hot water in it. I can barely sit through Chinese people eating around here, let alone slurping pasta. While the boiled e coli water softened his captive and soon-to-be ravaged noodles, he tore open his common Chinese snack choice: the hotdog. The mini hotdogs were stacked on each other in individual packages. This man straight-up ingurgitated them. He forced them forward one-by-one out of their suctioned plastic home, slurped them into his wet salivating pie hole and proceeded to chomp them with his mouth wide open at least ten times before at last swallowing; but not before he had another hotdog ready and smacked against his fat, juicy lips for another ingurgitated slurpage. One of the little suckers missed his Angelina Jolie lips entirely, fell on the floor of the train, and noisily rolled over to my side of the train and brushed my foot! The moment a rolling hotdog hits your foot on a quiet train: awkward. Wonderful. I looked at the rolling hotdog, looked at him, and saw he put down his remaining hotdogs and moved on to his stinkin' soup. I was not smiling. I was completely dying inside at the mere thought of him eating that soup in direct sight of me. We all have our pet peeves. Mine has been the sound of eating, since I was a little girl. My sister, Brieanna, used it as a tactic to make me cry. Since then I've controlled my urges to cry, hit, or scream over it. This man was a true test of my control. I stared unwillingly. He skillfully grasped a swimming, luckless chunk of noodles in his tightly clasped chopsticks, gradually bringing them to his sappy butterball lips, and pounced on his new victims like a great white on a tuna. I could hear him suctioning on their weak, slimy, white flesh! No need for background music; my own mind took care of it all. He tore through that entire chunk of noodles with no help of his chopsticks, but instead, his teeth and the shameless, penetrating suction of his whole unholy mouth. By the time the attack was over he had broth all over his face and he was on the hunt for more. My senses flew overboard. My heart pounded in my chest and my whole body was falling weaker by the second. If I watched and listened to that guy eat any longer I would have instantly spazzed and died an unknown case to the world. In a near panic, I got up and pretended to walk to the bathroom to collect myself and shake this guy off. By the time I came back, the ocean-of-noodle massacre was over and I only had to endure the long, bubbling slurps of his broth.
Chinese Box Courtyard Hostel
We Made it!
Arriving in Beijing at 8:00pm, we waited an hour for a taxi. We were forced to wait in a line or take the subway. After waiting twenty-five minutes, Ryan vouched to take the subway. The line was moving, we already waited twenty-five minutes, we did not know how packed the subway would be; needless to say, I was not ready to move out of line. There was a time when Ryan wanted to take the bus in the worst traffic I had ever seen in my life, but I vouched to walk. I made it to the banquet; he did not. Taxi it was. It was 9:30pm when we arrived at Chinese Box Courtyard Hostel. I was surprised at how many tall buildings and lights I saw driving through Beijing. I had no idea what Beijing would look like. I did not look it up for the sake of it being one big surprise. It was the NYC of China. Appearance-wise, it did not seem much different from Nanjing. They are both city-life and the streets almost looked the identical.
The taxi dropped us off at a what looked like an alley, but it was a street. We were greeted with a grand red door that had lion heads for doorknobs. A hospitable foreigner opened the door for us. Nearly all of the foreigners were European. The hostel had a friendly atmosphere to it. Not knowing what to expect, I laughed at the sight of our room. The door to our room was no door at all; it was a colorful sheet. Our tiny, confined room had just enough space for bunk beds, a small dresser, and a chair. That was all we really needed anyway. I called top bunk because I figured roaches might make it to the bottom bunk first. Winning. The rest was community living. It brought me right back to the living conditions I succumbed to in Costa Rica. We all shared showers, sinks, washers, toilets, etc. The walls were bright and colorful, vegetable plants paved the floors, and the common room felt comfortable and happily inviting. I noticed that beer was only 5 RMB and there was free mooncake. Nice! You would just have to get used to seeing other guests clothes, towels, and sometimes, bodies. I remember wanting to sit, relax, and have one or two beers before bed. I could have, but I decided not to because Ryan wanted to get right to bed since we had to be up at 5:00am. If I stayed up, I would have disturbed his sleep at some point. I didn't even write in my journal because I had a feeling my book light would bother him. Ryan did not like the place one bit. The first words out of his mouth were, "I've never stayed in a hostel like this" and it came out in a skiddish tone. He often worries about getting sick, germs, and requires his personal space. Good thing for him, we would be off to another hostel in the morning.
|Our "door" at Chinese Box Hostel|
|Our room at Chinese Box Hostel|
Tiananmen Square's Flag Ceremony
My alarm went off at 4:45am. You have got to be kidding, I just shut my eyes! Knowing I only had fifteen minutes, I burst out of bed and got ready. Ryan got up at 4:45am as well and at 4:55am urges, "we have to go." Annoyed, I replied, "we agreed on 5:00am. I have five minutes." Had we agreed on 5:55am, I would have been up at 4:40am. What girl is ready in ten minutes, first thing in the morning? We were off to a great start. Happy National Day!
We rushed to the subway station, bought our tickets, and hurried to the mobbed line. The subway was crammed with locals and tourists ready to see the big flag ceremony at Tiananmen Square. All I could smell on the subway was bad breath. How dare people not brush their teeth in the morning. The subway stop to Tiananmen Square was not open yet, so the subway took all of us three stops out of our way. I have only been in China a little over a month and I was not surprised that 1) they wouldn't open the station on time for their big holiday, and 2) there was no sign or warning that people would be shipped three stations away and to plan their time accordingly. That truly is typical China.
When the subway doors opened, it was like a world war and people were running for their lives. Everyone wanted to see that great old Chinese flag rise. It has great symbolic value. I could not keep up with how fast Ryan was walking, so I found myself jog-walking and laughing the whole way there. Maybe it is because he is going on his second year in China, but Ryan did not seem to find any of it exciting. He simply made comments such as, "What do all these people think they're going to see?" or "We're not going to get to see anything!" or "What are they even taking pictures of?" I kept a lot of my excitement to myself, or I shared it with people around me by taking pictures of them with their China flags and China stickers. Honestly, it was not much. Maybe two-hundred military men were there, unmoving. Some stood still and others marched. They raised the flag and everyone's cameras rose to the sky. The highlight of my morning was the moment the flag reached the top, a surplus of pigeons flew through the sky. It looked so cool and made such perfect timing that I thought it was planned. It was not. Then it was over and everyone went about the rest of their morning. The entire ceremony lasted about five minutes.
Happy Dragon Hostel (day 2)
We checked out of China Box by 8:30am and took a taxi to our new hostel: Happy Dragon. Our first three taxi's turned us away. I found myself jokingly wanting to say, "But wait, we're měi-guó rén!" Měi-guó rén (may-gwar-en) is Chinese for American. Pulling up to our alley, or street, I was taken back by the morning market that was going on all around us. The market scene was more how I pictured Beijing. There were fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans, tofu, clothes, cassette tapes, gadgets, I-phone covers, fish, and crabs everywhere!
Happy Dragon was colorful, inviting, and the staff was excellent beyond words. They knew terrific English and were very helpful. We were greeted with wide smiles, and given maps along with an explanation of our area. After speaking with the staff, I knew where to find an ATM, our key destination spots, the subway station, a stretch of markets, and we had our information for planning our trip to the Great Wall. I certainly was a "happy dragon." I crack myself up.
The walls were white and begging for our artwork to fill its empty space. The once blank walls were filled with murals done in paint and markers, but mostly signatures and comments from previous guests. I could have read them for hours; some were priceless. I noticed that I had a hard time finding anything on these walls from Americans. I saw someone from Texas and Ohio had left their mark. Cheers to Texas and Ohio! Soon New Jersey would be up there. Again, the walls brought me back to my home-base in Costa Rica. There, the walls were white as well and we stamped our painted hands on the walls the day before our departure. I remember stamping a pink and green rock hand sign and posting a Lil Wayne lyric I lived by, "sleep when you die." Also on the walls were colorful, slanted picture frames revealing fun photos of prior guests. I would like to give some credit to the management in that place for what I saw next: a line of pictures and details of the staff. Before you left, they asked that you give stars to your favorite staff members. They had everyone on the wall including: desk help, housekeeping, the bartender, the cooks, the tour guides, the driver, etc. What an intelligent idea for both the guests and the staff.
It was nice to see that our room had a door! The confined room included two clean white beds, a small dresser, a pot for boiling water, and a bathroom. There was barely any room for our luggage! As long as it felt somewhat clean, I was comfortable. What would come to be the ultimate struggle with this room would be the paper thin walls and doors and having to go to the bathroom. Close your ears, please.
The subway station was packed. Let me get this out there: every place was crammed up to the hilt with Chinese people. I do not think I will ever see mobs of people that significant any place else. With or without a holiday to exemplify the crowds, it was already packed on a daily basis. You would assume every day was a holiday. Now that there was a holiday, it looked as if the sky recently had some bad mooncake and and began diarrhea'ing people uncontrollably. Sorry to sound so vulgar, but some of these people reeked to the foulest extent. I do not think I could go back to New York City and be taken back by the crowds of people. I wish China offered that much free space. Try and imagine this: New York holds a population of 8,244,910 people, whereas Beijing holds 20,180,000 people. That is near two-and-half times as much as New York and that number sky rockets on holidays! America's population in 2011 held 311,591,917 people. China's 2011 population was 1,344,130,000. That is four times our population. Just look at that number of bodies. I can barely fathom that many people. I could barely fathom the crowds of people I was about to be surrounded by the next few days. What I thought was a mass load in Nanjing became a mere fragment of a much more seethingly congested and chaotic community.
We walked forty minutes from our hostel to Tiananmen Square. Along the way we passed a vast amount of shops and buildings. The main streets were clean and offered a lot to look at. I could not take my eyes off of the fashion. Beijing is the capital, so I was excited to see the style and fashion it had to offer. Ryan agreed with my statement that the clothes would look spectacular on a Barbie doll, but not a person! I saw manikins clad in robins-egg blue gowns (some mixed with yellow and orange), frilly everything, gauty dangly gold chains hanging off of blouses, overalls, layers of different patterns and shades put together, thick jewels glued to heels and stilettos, platform shoes in every color under the sun, and the most odd patterns and shades of tights put together with tops or sweaters that looked of something totally opposite. Opposites certainly do attract in China.
We stopped at a McDonald's along the way so Ryan could have his breakfast. I ordered a flat white coffee and it was yummy. I rarely have McDonald's at home, but it has been a genuine friend to me in China. On some days, coffee is my lifeline and I know that unlike many other places here, that I can find good coffee at any McDonald's brewed fresh in front of my very eyes. This place favors tea and tea houses. It is expensive! I will be having a major argument with myself in the future whether I will continue to be against McDonald's, or if I will support it. With all of the substantial facts I can throw at you over the poisonous junk they put in their food, how they promote obesity, and how they shut down too many smaller, economically-beneficial businesses; the place sure was comforting and convenient during the early, most traumatic days of this expat lifestyle. By the way, one of their best sold products is a hotdog on a hotdog roll with lettuce and tomato. Can you supersize that?
The last thing I remember passing before I saw Tiananmen Square were two brides in front of a church taking wedding pictures. It was not their actual wedding day. The whole concept of getting married is so much different here. Some interesting facts of the process are that: 1) They purchase two wedding dresses (one for prior pictures on a different day and the other for the ceremony); 2) They make themselves look as white and flawless as they possibly can (to the point that they look like dolls); 3) Guys are only there for holding purses and for helping their bride stay looking fresh to death; 4) They do not have receptions, but instead, extravagant dinners. I walked up to the brides to get a closer look. They both smiled at me and welcomed my camera. They looked flawless and stunning.
There is was, Tiananmen Square. To be honest, it was across the street and I had no idea what I was looking at. I just imagined the gruesome university protest that resulted there and all of the people who died less than twenty feet away from me, only 23 short years ago. We had to go underground to get to the other side of the street. That was my first introduction to true madness. I was elbow-to-elbow with other people (not the first time). I had never been so tightly squeezed to a strangers body before. Personal space was nonexistent. I felt bags and body parts poking me in places they shouldn't have. It was to the point that I was not even walking anymore; I was being pushed along an ocean of Chinese people and their strong current was what was leading me to the underground stairway. I almost made it until security (military) tried to stop us. At first, they had us under control and people were turning away to find another way to cross the street. In the end, the tail would wag the dog and we, the people, pushed our way through. I find it happens recurrently that the military cannot control civilians or think quickly in emergency situations.
We made it to the other side and though the crowd grew by the hundreds, we actually had room to walk. We roamed the different buildings and took a closer look at the flag that was raised that morning. I saw the famous Mao Zedong's face plastered up on the famous Tiananmen gate tower and where he delivered a few speeches. I find his legendary fame disturbing because I do not find his reign heroic in any way. Let me cause deaths to millions of people; I'll revolutionize this country too. Always a different leader, but perpetually the same old dude with the same old morale.
After walking through the place, we went to KFC for lunch. This time it was my fault. My camera battery was dying and I was in search of an outlet. I found one, but I needed an adapter. Go figure! Lunch: I only ordered chicken bites. It felt so good to bite into real, thick chunks of chicken. They skimp out on meat here all the time. I savor any real meat I can get my hands on. I'm thinking about meat right now and my mouth is watering.
After Tiananmen Square, we crossed over Tiananmen Gate, or the Gate of Heavenly Peace, to the Forbidden City. It was not easy and took nearly an hour. It was another one of those times when I was not walking, but being pushed along through the crowd. I moaned and cursed under my breath countless times. I was getting a headache from all of the foreign noise and I was becoming agitated of the poking and elbowing. Being that close to people for such a long period of time, my senses became hypersensitive. The smells of sweat, bad breath, and damp clothes became redolent and the slightest bumps felt like blows to my body. I was pushing everyone in sight to get past them. For once, I did not look back as if to say I was sorry. For once, I did not give the half smile as if to say I did not mean any harm. I was full blown trying to get through like any other Chinese person in that crowd. Watch out!
The Forbidden City was one of my favorite parts of the trip. All of the history which I was familiar with, lay right before my eyes. I got to see where, Puyi, the last emperor roamed (for Puyi, I was the most excited); and of course, the place that housed twenty-four emperors. I've seen the movie The Last Emperor, and I must say, the movie is pretty on-point. If you have an interest in the culture of China, Puyi, the Ching Dynasty, or what life was like in the Forbidden City, I highly encourage you to watch it. In real life, it was so much more extensive than I imagined. Their people are so small; yet their palace doors are so massive. It was so rewarding to be able to touch everything I had read and learnt about in college. It was hard to believe that Puyi lived here less than 100 years ago and that "the people's republic" was still so new to their country. I was not happy that they painted over everything to keep it looking “new.” They do it everywhere and are depreciating the worth of their antiquity as far as I'm concerned. That’s why I find Japanese temples and old structures more impressive. History does not need a fresh paint job.
|Entering the Forbidden City.|
|The palace doors were massive.|
|Some of the crowd.|
|Where my man, Puyi, once lived.|
A Journal a Day Keeps She-Hulk Away
After the Forbidden Palace, Ryan and I were exhausted of temples, history, and walking. We welcomed ourselves back to the hostel. Ryan would go on the internet and take a short nap, and I would go to the small, pleasant hostel bar by myself. I sat in a booth and ordered a Bacardi and coke for 20 RMB. It was a long day and I needed a stiff drink to make spending the rest of the day easier. One thing I have left out in my day thus far was how annoyed I was becoming with Ryan. Looking back now, I do not think it was Ryan who I found annoying, but my own decisions not to do what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do them. I did not speak up. Also, I was still sick! We are very different. Every second I spent with him I felt like I had to keep up with his every move. If I stopped to take a picture, to read something, or to simply take in where I was, he was long gone. He walks too fast for me. I do not understand the need to rush all day long through people, especially when all you have is time. Rush, rush, rush, all day long. Anytime he wanted something, he just had to have it or he would not stop complaining about it. I constantly felt that what I wanted to do was unimportant and I certainly did not find him a ton of fun. Hiding it the best I could, I would become so annoyed that I never found any of his jokes funny and I did not find anything he said to be of any interest. So I sit there in the bar with my Bacardi and coke and began venting in my journal. I wrote in it for almost an hour straight. Therapeutic.
I have barely consumed any alcohol since I’ve been in China. I have had a beer here and there, and I had wine once at our holiday banquet. After one Bacardi and coke and a beer, I was feeling really good. After my journal entry, I got out my laptop and was thrilled to see that my best friend, Jackie, had e-mailed me! It was a good one too. I e-mailed her back, as well as my boyfriend. At one point I even text Ryan to have a beer with me. I met a hilarious group of Australians and I wanted Ryan to meet them. After asking him to have a beer with me and no response, I text him again that good old, “you know how I know you’re gay?” He responded, “When I start wearing your clothes and makeup.” He is the first guy in my experience to pass on an invitation to a beer.
We went out shortly after that for dinner. We walked forty minutes a to great dumpling place that Ryan had recommended. They were so delicious and so CHEAP! It was only $3.50 RMB for three huge dumplings. All I had to eat the entire day were ten mini chicken bites from KFC for lunch. It was now 7:00pm and I was starving. Suddenly my body felt weak and I felt like I was going to pass out. There were moments I did not think I would make it to the restaurant. I had no idea it was almost an hour walk. Ryan's quick pace never slowed down either. Luckily we were only two minutes away when I was at my weakest state. I had eight dumplings! That’s a lot for me. 3 were vegetable dumplings, and five were pork. I dipped them in soy sauce which tasted of vinegar. I have got to find a similar dumpling place in Nanjing.
|The best dumplings I've ever had (pork and vegetable).|
|A pork dumpling.|
I should keep this part to myself, but I will share because I am not ashamed! The food here really messes with your digestive system. I was getting worried because I had not gone number two in five days. The cramps were always there, and I could just never go. It is also harder to go in a squat toilet. Don’t even get me started. The pains were becoming so bad I actually confided in Ryan about it. Well, after those dumplings, my time to shine came. When we got back, I had to go. As I stated, I had not gone in five days. The magnitude of what was about to come out of me was completely unknown! Ryan was in the room preparing for bed. I held it. It became painful and I wanted the air on because I was sweating. Thank God our internet never worked in our room. He ran down to the lobby to get connected, and the moment he did, I was on that toilet as quick as the lines form at Rita’s when they give out free water ice. The moments I shared with that bathroom were epic.
On day two, we headed out around 9:30am. We walked for an hour trying to find a Starbucks because Ryan wanted oatmeal. The one we found did not even have oatmeal. I didn't mind though. I like walking, and I enjoyed seeing the city. The start of what would soon be a serious issue began during that walk. My right foot began to feel like it had a cramp in it, or something felt twisted. It was hard to explain. I tried putting more pressure on my left foot while walking. After Starbucks, we walked all the way back and to the subway station to head to Summer Palace. I did not know what Summer Palace was all about until a few weeks prior. It's where the emperors went when the summers became stiflingly hot, hence the name. Summer Palace is located around trees and the Kunming Lake.
Getting off of the subway station, I noticed right away the smell of something sweet. China is not a place for sweets, so if I smell it, my mouth waters. When I made it up the steps and outside, I saw all of the food stands. The only one I cared to try was the stand of sweet potatoes. I knew that's where the smell had come from. The stand consisted of an old dirty grill, and a small stand for a stack of sweet potatoes and to-go bags. My sweet potato was 5RMB (less than $1). Ryan had KFC for lunch. My fever would not let up, so I ordered a small side of the only soup they offered: egg and vegetable. It tasted like the ocean. I tried to eat it, but it tasted like sea water! I put the lid back on it and left it for a poor person. That sounds silly, but I know someone ate it. I enjoyed my sweet potato for lunch, outside of KFC. It was steaming hot, sweet, fluffy, and just enough to fill me up. I was more than satisfied with it.
|Sweet potato stand.|
|Sweet potato for lunch.|
|KFC squat toilet (squat-urinal!).|
Summer Palace was huge. You could spend all day there walking the scenic trails and hiking up and down the steep hills. There were a surplus of rocks to climb and relax on, and the sights were profound. You could see the whole city up on those rocks. There were difficult, steep trails down to the river. Of course we walked them. I was getting nervous. Suddenly my left foot (my good foot) became more painful than my right. Something serious was going on with my feet. I kept it to myself. I'll only express a feeling of pain if it becomes nearly unbearable. I maintained my "suck it up" mentality and convinced myself that I may only visit Beijing once, so I should ignore my feet and deal with them later. Ryan was out and way ahead of me on those steps. The gaps between the steps were very distant, and they were so steep that one slip would send you straight down. I was walking down the trail with a limp and still passing people! Chinese people never rush, ever.
We took the subway to the pearl market. The place was a huge, lit up shopping mall, only instead of enclosed stores, everything was laid out just as it would be in market. There were five floors. They had everything in all of the name brands I loved (fake of course)! It was so hard for me to walk away from the watches, purses, I-phone accessories, Hello Kitty, shoes, coats, etc.! At this point I was dragging my feet around the place. Ryan and I split up. Yes, these markets are great because you can bargain, but they are such a headache! One after the next these people are in your face and literally grabbing you to buy their products. They do not want you to think so they never stop talking to you and asking you questions. My quickly acquired trick was to not make eye contact. Bargaining was actually kind of fun. I learned more so the second time around, but you can bargain them down to nearly nothing. I was trying on a pair of shoes and the saleswoman yanked my foot and tried putting it in the shoe. It was that moment I knew something was seriously wrong with my feet. Without any hesitation, it brought tears to my eyes. Never wanting anyone to see me shed a tear, I tore myself away from her and limped (embarrassing) all the way to the other end of the store. She yelled for me the entire way. They do not give up!
|The Pearl Market|
We took a motor carriage to the Toilet Restaurant. I am almost certain that the man riding us there was either drunk or on drugs. In any event, he was hilarious. He was swerving, riding down the wrong lane (everyone does it), and beeping at people with his voice. This crazy Chinese motor carriage rider would yell "Beep, beep! Woo! Beep, beep!" We finally made it. I tipped the man an extra 3 RMB (forty cents) because he was the most thrilling part of my day.
There is was: the Toilet Restaurant. Walking up the steps we were greeted with shiny, white toilet lights on the painted walls and turd murals. The inside was nothing less than legendary. There were zero chairs, only toilet seats. The walls were decorated to imitate a bathroom. There was a real shower head poking out of the wall, a turd clock, turd shaped everything, turd stuffed pillows, turd people, etc. The tables were clear glass and had sinks holding them up. The sinks gave it that whole bathroom feel. I picked up my turd shaped menu and checked it out. Everything was translated in English. I saw menu items that barely even gave a description of what the food was. Examples included: big shit, muddy shit, nutty shit, the throne of shit, people's shit, corn shit, a bulk of shit....and food items of that nature. I ordered spicy curry chicken and Ryan ordered seafood rice.
My food came out in a monstrous black toilet bowl. Nestled in the toilet bowl was a steaming, brown pile of curry sauce and chunks of chicken and potato. It looked scrumptious and tasted better than it appeared. Real chicken! It was funny how my three small chunks of chicken seemed like large portions. The rest was all potato. It also came with a squat toilet of white rice.
The dessert menu selection was just as vague as the dinner selection. I wanted to go all out for the dessert. I wanted something more than a chocolate soft serve, which I already recognized as a child that it appeared of poo. I went with one of the most expensive desserts: Marlton's Diarrhea #9. There was no description. They came out with a squat toilet of chocolate/vanilla ice cream and a colorful selection of clumpy toppings. They were certainly going for a textured look, I know that much. Bon appetite!
|The "vague" menu.|
|Marlton's Diarrhea #9|
|The bathroom. I'd rather go in the toilet-sink than the actual toilet.|
My alarm went off the next morning at 6:30am. I rushed through my shower and headed down to the bar for a complimentary breakfast that was included in the price of the Great Wall expedition. I do not usually eat breakfast so the eggs, sausage, bacon, hash brown, and white bread with jam was a real treat. Of course, I spent extra on a sweet cup of coffee. I made friends with other Happy Dragon guests. They were a pleasant bunch from Canada and the UK.
Our bus left at 7:30am with only a few of us on board. We stopped at another hotel and our bus instantly filled up with probably forty foreigners from the UK. It was nonstop British accent central from that point on. Even Tony, our tour guide, had a British accent when he spoke English! It's common for the Chinese people to speak English with a British accent because they learn British-English. I remember one of the first parts of Tony's speech in his Chinese-British accent: "In China you're not considered a real man unless you've climbed the Great Wall. Well I've climbed the wall at least forty times so I guess that makes me Superman." I was the only one who laughed.
It took the bus nearly two hours to make it to the wall and it was so packed with people that we had to get out on the road that lead to the entrance and walk. I will just have you know that I spent the entire two hours praying that my feet would not fail on me. "Suck it up," I'd say to myself, "You only get to do this once." I was in pain. It felt like my feet were twisting in my skin when my feet weren't even touching the floor. The idea of climbing this wall was nearly killing my optimism and I was hoping the trip would go by quickly.
Getting off of the bus and walking up the already sharp hill, my adrenaline was slowly kicking in. My feet hurt, but at least my mind was finally focused on something else. When I saw the deeply stretched, connecting stone walls, it was inconceivable to imagine the long struggle that millions of people put into creating it. I could not wait to get up there. Ryan and I skipped out on the tour group and did our own thing.
I am not going to write about all of the hours spent climbing that wall. I am sure you can imagine. Actually, no, I don't think you can unless you're an active climber or something. This was no hike. This was no Tough Mudder or Warrior Dash (I can't believe they are even considered the same category). I swear they made those steps hard to walk across on purpose so those mongols would be too exhausted to fight and turn back.
First of all, the steps were awkwardly tall, and even worse, steep. When you looked up, all you could see were steps and the sky. I noticed crowds of Chinese people hanging out on the sidelines or never moving from the person selling drinks and candy. I am not trying to sound stereotypical, I've just come to notice that while I am always viewing foreigners on the move, Chinese people move rather slowly and do a lot of stopping (with the exception of one obese westerner who never stood up or stopped smoking). I was sweating bullets getting up those steps. Thank the Lord that the Chinese built so many watch towers. It gave me a chance to collect my breathe and recoup. Once I began my trek on those arduous steps, I never stopped. One or two times I was nearly blacking out getting to the top. The steps were so big, steep, and crooked that I was not even climbing at one point; I was crawling. It was the only way. I remember turning to my left and seeing a little Chinese kid, about the age of five, pouring sweat. He was like me: determined and unwilling to stop. Those steps were taller than he was! I wanted to give him a pound, but I had to pass the little fella. When you weren't climbing up a wall, you were walking over scattered rocks and dirt, taking hits from branches and swatting bees. You have to be careful not to lose your balance because with the trail only being four feet wide, if you fell to your right, you were off the cliff and dead. A Pakistan man from our tour guide fell off and died last year.
Bliss. Ryan and I found the most perfect, remote spot to relax and take in the view. Segments of the wall have been rebuilt several times, but there was one spot you could go to check out the ruins. I appreciated the wall for what it really was. I parked my weak bones on a flat, washed out rock and gazed at the view. There I was, sitting high and mighty on the Great Wall of China. I can count on one hand how many Americans I've met, yet there I was, perched on that rock; a class clown from New Jersey. What brought me here to this culturally perplexing country where babies poop through their clothes on subways and it is socially acceptable to hock loogies, pick your nose and stare at it? Why do I feel like I have an internal compass pointing me in the direction of the unknown or the impossible, all the time? It's really not easy, and often unsafe, for me to pursue the paths I've taken; so what is the unknown force driving me to do it? It frustrates me to not understand my own self. I can still see the sky and those mountains; the same way you can pull up your favorite memory and revive every smell, every image, every utterance, and every feeling. Strokes of a brush, the lens of a camera, or the meticulous clicks of photoshop could never give this imperial mileu justice. If God could season together the most infallible blend of blues, he used His divine power to do so for me, and stopped time to hinder it from moving or fading. Still. Clear. Transparent of something deep and soulful. It was like staring into something you were never meant to put into words, or capture in a photo; it can only be seen for what it really is: unexplainable and beautiful. Its crystalline blue shades bounced off of the energized, verdant green Yan mountains. I could take my arm, sway it like a snake, and trace the Great Wall intermittently up and down the slopes of the lush, healing, Yan moutains. If a fresh new start to life could be expressed visually, then this was your picture. Redolent of fresh air, the unfiltered, crystal blues of the sky; invoking with its heavenly aura, spoke to me on that rock. It told me that I wasn't done. It told me that there's more to this life than I recognize, and I need to seek its significance. The earth fell silent, yet it was music to my ears. If you asked me a week ago if the sky could sing, I would call you crazy. I could only compare it to the soothing waves of the ocean or what you listen for in a seashell. If only I could pick up a seashell and hear the sky.
|Overlooking the Great Wall.|
|A small glance of the arduous stone steps|
Before heading home the following day with what felt like broken or sprained feet, we made a trip to the Beijing Zoo. I could not leave without seeing the giant pandas. Little did I know the zoo would be as packed as a Jay Z concert.
I would like my final picture to symbolize the many other stories that have gone untold because my fingers are dying of typing over here. Perhaps another time.
|"I'll take 2 scorpions, 1 centipede, 4 larvae, and all the hearts you've got please."|
What were the top lessons I learned during my trip to Beijing?
1. Never wear sandals in a squat-only bathroom. It's safer to go out outside where they spit loogies and bowels.
2. Bulldoze through anyone who looks unkempt or looks to have a neglected mouth, because at any moment you could be stuck next to that raunchy individual for an hour straight.
3. Never, under any circumstances, leave without your i-pod; you might always get stuck next to someone who is EATING.
4. When senior citizens are parading down the street smacking themselves, they are NOT mentally challenged; they are just exercising.
5. Chinese babies: I want one!