Today was my first sunny and clear sky day in China, the others days was the “smoggy” (“smoke + fog” or smoke from the pollution plus mist) or rainy.
I went by bus to the Summer Palace (Yiheyuan) 15km from the center of Beijing, a huge and beautiful “park”, plus thousands of Chinese tourists. I walked a lot, for about seven hours and without eating, because the food in the cafeteria has already finished, my feet were hurting me and I could not see everything. I went to have a lunch only after I left the park at the end of the day.
In addition to temples, pagoda, statues, gardens, there were bridges, the most famous being the “Bridge of 17 Arches”; a huge lake, Lake Kunming that occupies 2/3 of the park area, where people rent boats in the summer or ice-ski in the winter; and the famous and impressive “Marble Boat”, which I saw since childhood in pictures oin the Chinese restaurants in Brazil, I would never have imagined that I would see it in person! Built in 1750 AD in the 300-hectare Qing dynasty, the Palace was a birthday present for Emperor Qianlong’s mother. It was the place where the imperial family spent the summer.
On the way back to the hostel rained hail, the city was a chaos, glad I was in my raincoat.
Today it rained in the morning, hindered my plans, but I took a bus and went to the Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) anyway, it didn’t take much time, an hour or two was enough. This very beautiful, circular-shaped temple was built around 1420 AD and was used to make sacrifices to the “God of Heaven” and pray for a good harvest. The place was considered so sacred that only the emperor could enter the ceremonies.
The base of the Temple of Heaven has an almost quadrilateral shape. The south side was planned in straight lines and the north side in arched form, following the concept of a round sky and a flat Earth. At 2.73 km², its area is four times larger than that of the Imperial Palace. The Temple of Heaven includes to the north the Prayer Room for good harvests and to the south, the Circular Altar and the Celestial Imperial Dome. This temple bears an incredible resemblance to its disposition of the buildings with the Tabernacle, the temple of the Jews.
Nearby there was a small mall and I bought some things there. Then I came to find that in addition being fake, the headphones I bought did not work, I was very angry! I was also exploited by other little things.
From there, I tried to visit the Tibetan Lama Temple, but it was already closed, as well as the Confucius Temple 100m away, here the temples close at 5:00 pm. So I decided to walk around the neighborhood through a street full of religious goods stores that sold incense, books, images; and other old streets of poor and typical houses (called “Hutong”) with communal toilet, not yet run over by China’s merciless modernizing machine. For here you see everything under construction, blocks and streets disappear from the map to make way for the large avenues, and huge and luxurious malls. The government simply expels the residents. The works take place 24 hours a day, taking turns in shifts.
I passed quickly in the park Dialong, already almost dark. There was nothing that caught my eyes.
That night, I gathered up some courage and, after seeing some English tourists eating scorpion skewers, I decided to try scorpion, grasshopper, snakeskin and squid. The grasshopper skewer was dull, I don’t think there was enough seasoning, and the serrated grasshopper legs hooked and stuck my lips. The scorpion was snacky and crispy, a delight! And as for snakeskin, the taste looked like chicken skin, and the squid just looked like squid.
The Imperial Palace, known as “The Forbidden City” is really impressive! There was a lot to see, I got very tired, it’s a real little town inside the walls. There was also both very, very many tourists and many Chinese. At the entrance there was a large portrait of Mao Zedong, the great dictator of Chinese communism, hero to many and tyrant to others, founder of Maoism, far-left communism.
During the five centuries of operation it housed fourteen emperors of the Ming dynasty and ten of the Qing dynasty until 1912, portrayed in the excellent film “The Last Emperor” (Emperor Puyi). The complex has 800 buildings and almost 9,000 rooms in its 720 km² enclosed within the walls. The palace took 14 years to build and employed 200,000 workers, ending in 1420 A.D. It has a museum and several treasures, rich in architectural, cultural and artistic details. It is the largest palace in the world and was listed by UNESCO in 1987.
Tiananmen Square was also huge and full of Chinese, I had never seen so many in my life!!! It is right in front of the Forbidden City, just crossing an avenue of twelve or fourteen lanes. In the Square or surrounding it are statues, museums, monuments, memorials and a plaque counting down to the Olympics in Beijing 2008.
The largest square in the world, ironically called the 40-acre Tiananmen Square, was the scene of the massacre of Chinese intellectuals, students and workers in peaceful protests for democracy, against corruption, inflation and unemployment between April and June 1989, during a visit by Russian President Mikhail Gorbatchev. Of course, other protests were taking place in parallel in other major cities in China. No one knows for sure how many were cowardly killed by the tanks and machine guns of the Chinese military, which by the way, were divided, some were sympathizers to the movement, because the government omits and manipulates information, estimates range from three hundred to ten thousand dead. Many innocent people are imprisoned to this day. At the time, some Chinese communities in Europe, Canada and the U.S., as well as Taiwan and Hong Kong, also joined the protests.
I also went to a “cool little park”, the 70 hectares Beihai Park, north of the Forbidden City, the park had a lake, a temple, a Tibetan white pagoda and three islets.
At night, in Wang Fu Jing I only had the courage to eat the seahorse skewer, by the way tasteless and dull, had no meat only bones. I ate another skewer too, I think it was sparrow, with head and everything!
Here in China it’s all very dirty, the “Chinese” has no notion of hygiene and education, spit, burp and fart without fear of being judgement, besides leaving the filthy city of garbage, manage to be rude, stupid and super rude. Bathrooms… no comments, worse than you can possibly imagine! And because of the 2008 Olympics, the government is running etiquette and education programs so as not to shock foreigners. Traffic is chaotic, car does not respect pedestrian, nor two or three-wheeled vehicles and vice versa, red sign here means that the car can walk, but the pedestrian take care! One should look in all directions to cross the street, as car comes in the opposite direction, front, back, sides and diagonals. A real adventure! Pedestrian signs here are merely ornamental.
After two weeks in Japan, I left Tokyo for Osaka. I took all Nippon Airways (ANA) flight NH141 from 07:35, one hour long. After another hour of connection in Osaka and three hours of flight, I arrived in Beijing at noon. From the airport to Central Railway Station in downtown, I took a bus for RMB 16 (USD 2) and went straight to the hostel. Before I got a little lost walking through the giant city blocks and dragging the weight of my luggage, which wasted a lot of time. After all, as I did not trust the Chinese, I avoided taking one of the many rickshaws who insistently tried to sell their services by the door of the bus. The taxi from the airport would leave for RMB 100 to RMB 120 (from USD 13 to USD 15).
I confess that I was a little shocked to see so much poverty, beggars and other poor people trying to make a living selling little things at the train station. Even knowing this fact before coming to China, witnessing was somewhat disgusted, after all they were my compatriots, even though they did not have much bond, the origins are the same. In Brazil, Asians aren’t usually that poor.
The hostels and most things in China are cheap. After through research on the internet had chosen the district of Dongcheng (pronounced “don-tchen”, the final “g” is always silent) east of the Forbidden City. The location of the hostel looked good, next to tourist attractions and shops, the accesses were all on foot, eventually subway or bus.
The New Dragon Hostel left for RMB 40 per night (USD 5.13) plus USD 2 reservation. It took a lot of work to choose this hostel.
Compared to Japan everything here was very cheap, and even compared to Brazil. My dollar yielded a lot here, USD 1 was worth almost RMB 8 (called Yuan or Remimbi, the “people’s money”). But unlike Japan, there are thousands of Chinese in the streets, instead of Japanese! Imagine that almost everywhere in China is like walking on the packed Rua 25 de Março in downtown São Paulo.
At night I went for a walk on the famous Wang Fu Jing Avenue, a boardwalk where shops and a night market full of exotic foods, such as scorpion skewers, locusts, seahorses, snakeskin, centipede, sparrow, cocoons, etc. That night I had no courage to eat these things, who knows in another day, after all I had to satisfy my anxiety and curiosity, it was a matter of “tourist honor”.
Beijing, which means “Capital of the North” is the current capital of China, and was for more than 800 years capital of several dynasties, was spelled Peking, but the pronunciation in Chinese-Mandarin is the same. It is one of the former capitals of China, being the second most populous city in China, with 15 millions inhabitants, behind Shanghai, which will host the 2008 Olympics. It is also a city full of history and culture, as well as being the political center of the fastest growing nation in the world today. It is located northeast of China 1 hour from the coast. In Beijing the buildings are modern, tall and beautiful, their architecture mixes concepts from the West with the East.