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Monday, August 23, 2010

tianenmen,forbidden city & beihai park

After 3 months in Beijing, I finally made it to Tianenmen Square, the largest square in the world--even bigger than Moscow's Red Square. It was huge--and a huge letdown. It was a really big square surrounded by incredibly uninspired buildings. As with the Bird's Nest at Olympic Village, the only thing that made it interesting was its history.

Almost as soon as I arrived, a young woman approached me, asking if she could practice her English with me. I thought this would be a win-win since she could speak and read Chinese and I didn't have a tour guide, so sure why not? The same thing happened to me when I was at a museum in Lima, Peru and it was a fun experience.

Her English name was Linda and she was indeed able to tell me some things I didn't know.

She also took pictures of me in front of famous sites, and I took one of her (see accompanying photo).

We had been walking around in the heat for a couple of hours, so she asked if I wanted to stop to get some tea or beer or something. The "beer" suggestion pricked my curiosity right away. She left it up to me where to go. I chose the next decent-looking place we came to that offered tea and beer.

There were only 2 small rooms, so we went into one. It was air-conditioned, and we got to sit in pleasant surroundings. She asked if I wanted tea or beer. It was one o'clock and I thought about getting beer since it was my day off, but I told her I was afraid that after drinking it, and going back in the hot sun that I'd get sick. She made a face and said she'd never heard of that. I began to get more skeptical. So we ordered a pot of tea. After she took a couple of sips, she said she wanted a beer and asked if I was sure I didn't want one. I was sure. . Then the waitress brought out watermelon and crackers. The watermelon was delicious and I scarfed it down.

I asked for the bill. By this time, my suspicions were high. So while waiting for the bill, I was wondering, is this just a nice girl who wanted to practice her English or is she a scammer? Well, the bill comes, and instead of 80 yuan, it's for 760 (over $100)! Right away, I knew. I examined the bill and said the tea was 50 and the beer was 30, so how did she come up with 760? Remember, Linda is translating for me. She said the waitress said she thought I wanted a tea ceremony, not just the tea. Then the waitress handed me a menu, but the prices were entirely different. I got mad. I just gave her 100 kwai and left in a hurry. I left without looking back, but kept wondering if she'd send somebody after us. She didn't.

Forbidden City was VERY impressive, much more than Lama Temple.

I saw a sign for Beihai Park, which was the park that the royal family had landscaped over 300 years ago. So I went in. There were about 20 sites listed within this huge park, many with interesting and curious names. See accompanying photo. Enjoyed taking photos (see attached) and then stumbled upon the beautiful 5 pavilions that the emperor used. (see photo) And a man was playing Chinese flute there, as in Ritan Park! But no singing.

The park is absolutely gorgous--much better than Ritan Park.

I decide to go home. So I try to hail a taxi, but they're ignoring me. It's rush hour, so it might be kind of hard. There are a couple of guys with motorcyle rickshaws.

I figure this will be an adventure. I've always wanted to try one of these things and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I know a lot of people would be scared, but I'd been taking taxi's all over Beijing for 3 months as well as walking on the streets and had become somewhat anured to the chaotic and dangerous Beijing traffic. The weather has cooled, there's no top and he's going a leisurely 30 mph. It's wonderful. I'm seeing parts of the city I've never seen, and at a leisurely pace. Yes, it gets a little dicey when he comes close to a couple of busses, but that's part of the adventure.

Well, it's taking longer and longer, and it's starting to get dark. The darkness combined with all the close calls start to give me pause. He gets onto some busy roads that are almost like freeways. Then he asks me for the card again. Aha! he didn't know where my place was after all! He stops a couple of times and asks me which way to go. If I were near my place, I could tell him, but I haven't seen anything that I recognize. He finally points to the a hotel across the highway and wants to know if that's it. I tell him yes, b/c I realize I probably won't make it home with him. At least at the hotel, I can catch a taxi home. Well, he takes several exits trying to get there. Going down one exit, he stops where other cars are starting to merge. We are right in the middle of all the merging freeway traffic whizzing by on both sides. I wonder what he's doing and he just sits there and looks around. I AM getting scared now. But not as much as when he TURNS AROUND and starts heading back UP the exit ramp we just came down GOING THE WRONG WAY. This is the only time I was really scared.

From the hotel, I took a taxi home.

Some people would think this was a terrible day. But to me, it's all part of the adventure. I have met people and experienced things I wouldn't trade for anything.