Saturday, May 28, 2016

Beijing

We were so excited to go to Beijing. I mean, The Forbidden City, The Great Wall, The Temple of Heaven- Beijing is China in a nutshell. A big, crowded nutshell that holds 12 million people. But in all seriousness, there is so much history there and we couldn't wait. This was our long vacation (8 days) so we combined Beijing and Xi'an together. First stop: Beijing.

Day 1: Temple of Heaven

Like every trip, we got into Beijing around 3:00 am and got about 4 hours of sleep before we had to head out later that morning. The first thing I noticed about Beijing was how nice it felt outside. It was about the same temperature as Zhongshan, but without the humidity it was perfect. 85 degrees in Zhongshan means you are sweating the instant you step outside and the "real feel" is 102 degrees. 85 degrees in Beijing is like 85 degrees back home: Perfect for a t-shirt and shorts and a nice stroll in the park.

The Temple of Heaven is located in a gated park in the middle of the city. If you haven't noticed by now, I LOVE parks. We bought our tickets and headed inside.


It was crowded but still nice. We were stopped for a lot of pictures, but when doesn't that happen?




Hahahahahaha.....This is the fateful moment Sadie ripped her pants. I'm not going to just expose her right here (pun intended) but if you look closely you'll be able to figure out what I'm talking about. Luckily Kim had a jacket she could wrap around her waist for the rest of the day.


The Temple of Heaven. The lighting was a little wonky that day because of the pollution so the colors don't stand out as much as they did in real life. 


The park had a few other things to see: The Echoing Wall (Apparently if you say something at one end you can hear it at the other. It must be a Chinese secret because we had no luck.) and a prayer pedestal thing. Monks used to pray there because they believed it made you closer to Heaven. We also came across a small band playing where a delightful man was singing in Chinese and a crowd had gathered. There was a huge group of people singing along and it was so fun to watch. I filmed the whole thing, but my videos are too large to put on this blog, so sorry about that. (I'm planning on making a video montage of my whole trip here and putting that on YouTube so hopefully I can get that on here sometime.) After the singing group we ran into some guys selling some Chinese games. One was like a cross between badminton and ping pong and the other was like hacky sack but with a weighted feather toy. Since we're white they wanted to play with us, and we gladly agreed. We spent the next hour or so playing around with them, which was so much fun. I bought one of the hacky sack things and definitely plan on practicing. It looks really cool when you're good....I am not good.

On our way out of the park guess who we ran into? BYU students! We met a couple of guys and a girl who had just gotten in to China for a study abroad. That was pretty cool. It's always nice to meet people who know English, and it's even more fun to meet Americans.

Day 2:  Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, and The Summer Palace

We woke up early the next day and made our way to Tiananmen Square, one of the largest public squares in the world. If you get there before 11:00 am you can see Mausoleum of Mao Zedong and we thought that might be cool so we got there around 10:00. But when we tried to get in line people kept yelling at us and telling us we couldn't go in. Finally through a bunch of hand motions and broken English we figured out we weren't allowed to take any bags or cameras in. There was an option to check them, but we figured it wouldn't be worth the hassle and decided to forgo Mao.  

Tiananmen Square has a lot of history behind it. It contains the Monument to the People's Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, along with the Mausoleum of Mao. 






Being such a prominent place in China Tiananmen Square has held a lot of important events in history as well. It is a place for large public gatherings and has also held some well-known protests, the most famous being the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989. That might not ring a bell, but the photo of "Tank Man" from those protests probably will. 


It's a really sad and interesting story, and I'd recommend reading more. You can find more information here and here. Anyways, it is a pretty fascinating place. Sad a lot of the time, but fascinating. Chinese history is so different from American history- it really puts things into perspective when it comes to how the government treats its citizens. People complain about American government all the time and while I don't agree with them a decent amount of the time, we seriously have it so. much. better. that a lot of other countries. Being a democracy in itself is amazing. Sure, there are people out there in our government who have more power than the average citizen but the fact that we have checks and balances that keep one person from doing whatever they want is so revolutionary. There are countries out there where one man can literally snap his fingers and make a decision that affects millions of people (looking at you, North Korea). I'm not going to go into detail about the Chinese government because that would be an entire post in itself and frankly it's very confusing and I don't understand most of it. Basically they technically have a lot of different branches of government and parties but the China Communist Party holds most of the power and the few people in that party make most of the major decisions for all of China. There are also a lot of indirect elections meaning who you know and how well you represent the "way of China" means a lot when it comes to elections, not the voice of the people. Aside from all of that, China's population is so massive that it is impossible for the government to keep tabs on every government official. This creates a lot of corrupt local-level officials who do their best to limit the power of the citizens. I know the U.S. has some sketchy areas out there, but nothing compared to some of the stories I've heard about the sketchy areas in China. One of my coordinators told me she knew a lady who had her entire hand cut off by some random guy because he wanted her wedding ring. I live in a very safe city, but even here you hardly ever see people wear nice jewelry because theft is so common (and sometimes brutal). But don't worry mom, I didn't bring any nice things here so I'll be fine! :)

Alright, moving on. After Tiananmen Square we went through the Forbidden City. This was another place that had a ton of history behind it. I had my travel guidebook with me so I could read about the different buildings as I went through, and that made the whole experience ten times better. I definitely recommend reading up on the history of everything if you ever go to Beijing. Without that knowledge it's just a bunch of buildings. 








This elephant is in an anatomically impossible pose, symbolizing that the emperor was so powerful even the world's mightiest beasts submitted to him.

The Forbidden City is huge. There are quite a few parts still unavailable to the public and quite a few we didn't have time to go through even though we spent a good three or four hours inside. When we got to the end of the city we crossed the street behind it and went to a park that a couple we had met in Zhangjiajie told us about. There was a pagoda just a short hike up that we walked to and at the top there was an amazing view of the Forbidden City. 




It really showed you just how big the Forbidden City was. It was hard to tell inside because it was so crowded and there was a lot we didn't get to. The pagoda at the top was also a really cool little temple with a giant Buddha statue inside. If I ever find a temple that allows pictures and/or doesn't have people praying inside I'll definitely take a picture because they are so beautiful. 

By this time it was around 4 pm and we still wanted to see the Summer Palace so we set off to find the nearest subway station. We asked for help and something must have gotten a little lost in translation because we ended up walking for like 40 minutes before we finally found one. (That seems to happen a lot.) The Summer Palace was inside another gated park like the Temple of Heaven. It had a little river that ran through where you could take boat rides and a lot of sort of layered buildings and temples that you could climb up through on your way to the actual Summer Palace. 





We didn't get to go in the Summer Palace because they closed the separate gate around it just before we got there, which was a bummer because it overlooked the water and I'm sure it was really gorgeous. But we could see part of it over the gate. As far as aesthetics go it was probably the most beautiful palace I've seen in China. The colors were so bright and the patterns and architecture were so intricate. We had a lot of fun taking pictures and exploring the park. 





Day 3: Olympic Park and the Night Market

Day three was our rainy day. It rained all morning and into the afternoon but cleared up for the evening, which actually ended up working really well for us. We decided to go to the location of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The whole area is huge (makes sense) so we only stuck to a relatively small section. We walked through a really pretty park area to the aquatic building and the stadium.




The whole day was a pretty surreal experience. I have always loved watching the Olympics with my family, and the 2008 Olympics is the first one that I remember really well. Huge names like Lolo Jones and Nastia Liukin were returning. Some guy from Jamaica named Usain Bolt sprinted his way to the title of the fastest man in the world. Michael Phelps came back as strong as ever and set the world record for the most first-place finishes at any single Olympic Games. Eight gold medals! I don't think I'll ever forget that moment. And we can't forget Tom Daley, the cutest diver any one of my thirteen year-old friends and I had ever seen. There were 43 world records set that August. So many incredible things happened in Beijing that year.

The aquatic building is called The Water Cube. It was where they held all the swimming competitions in the Olympics. Now they use it for community events, restaurants, swim meets, and there's even a water park inside. I got chills when we made it to the pool. I mean, Michael Phelps broke those records where I was standing. 




After the Water Cube we went to The Bird's Nest (the stadium where they held the opening ceremonies and some other events). Inside there was some more information about the Beijing Olympics and some of the props and costumes used in the opening ceremonies. 








I am so glad we went. After Olympic Park we decided to hit the night market. Night markets are huge in China and you can find them everywhere. In Beijing, however, it's sort of a thing to offer weird foods at the night market. By weird foods I mean scorpions, centipedes, and tarantulas. YES. TO EAT. The market itself was super fun. Well, minus getting chased away from a shop by a very angry Chinese man with a metal pole because we knew how to barter and he didn't like that. But other than that it was great! 



Then the moment of truth came where we had to decide if we were going to eat a scorpion. None of us really wanted to do it but we knew we'd regret it if we didn't. So we went to a vendor, picked out our scorpion stick and watched as a man dunked our poor scorpions in a pot of boiling oil. Then he pulled them out, salted them, and handed them over. I have it all on video but my internet isn't good enough to upload said video, so I'm afraid you won't get to see proof of my amazing feat. But. I ATE A SCORPION. I did it. It was crunchy and salty and not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be, but I still did it. Boom. 




Day 4: The Great Wall of China

We booked a tour of the Great Wall through a hostel so we didn't have to deal with transportation there and back which ended up being such a great plan because we didn't have to worry about buses or taxis and we got to climb a very non-touristy part of the wall. We only saw about five people outside of our group the entire time. It made the experience a lot more enjoyable and it was much easier to appreciate how amazing this wall is and was. The tour group included the seven of us (a girl from another ILP group joined us in Beijing), four guys from Italy, a girl from the UK, two girls from China, a guy from California, a guy from Ukraine, and a guy from France. It was really cool to meet everyone and get to talk to these people from all over the world. 




Our tour guide took us to the entrance of this particular section of the wall, gave us a little history about it, then told us the hike was really hard and he was going to wait at the bottom where we should meet him in three hours. Then he left. 

So we began hiking. This section of the wall was part-restored, part unrestored (or "wild"). The parts where the original wall had crumbled the most had handrails put in so we wouldn't fall off, but most of it was still in pretty good shape, which is amazing I think.






Our tour guide wasn't kidding about the hike being hard. To be fair, I am terribly out of shape but everybody was huffing and puffing their way up. It is just stairs on stairs on stairs. But was breathtaking. It really is a wonder of the world. The wall is just this massive structure that rolls with the mountains for as far as the eye can see. It's hard to put into words how incredible it was. If you ever get the chance, definitely, definitely go.









When we were done with the wall we went back to our hostel, grabbed our things, and got on a 12-hour overnight train to Xi'an. Beijing was an amazing experience full of adventure and history. It was a sad goodbye. (Good thing I get to go back in a month!)