Weekend in Beijing...
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I finally made it to Beijing, and I don't know why I didn't go earlier (maybe the crowds and heat?). According to my trusty Lonely Planet the size of the Municipality of Beijing is larger than all of Belgium, and there are at least 7 million more people in Beijing! One bus I took was so crowded (fill the bus to overflowing, then push in 10 more people) that there was no need to hold the hand rail. If the bus were to roll, we'd stay right where we were standing.
Around 7:30 on Saturday morning I headed out on a tour to the Ming Tombs (十三陵) and the Great Wall. There were three Spanish on the group who spoke some English but understood French (so I translated), and an Austrian girl studying in Wuhan with her father. Later in the evening, I quite randomly ran into the two of them by Tian'anmen of all places. The tomb was quite interesting and the guide did a great job of explaining things. We had a few 'factory tours', aka buy our products, and ate lunch before heading to the wall.
We visited the Great Wall at Juyongguan (居庸关), which was a strategically important pass because it's so close to Beijing. I didn't realize until after, but if you've seen the TV show The Amazing Race, I went where the contestants went this season.
It was less crowded than I expected, and I'm glad I didn't climb it in the middle of the summer heat. The views were really beautiful, and it's crazy to think that you're actually walking on the Great Wall of China. OK, I know where I was had been renovated, but still.
Back in Beijing I decided to walk from my hostel (which actually had toilet paper -a rarity in Chinese bathrooms) to Tian'anmen. It was about a 45 minute walk, but the evening was warm and there were people on the street playing cards, talking, fishing in the moat, etc. I ended up buying some postcards from a lady out front of the Forbidden City. We chatted in Chinese a bit (I was having a good Mandarin day), and I ended up buying a Chinese-English version of Mao's collected works. I'm in China for a year and she gave me a good price, how could I not?
I kept walking, went through a short tunnel, and realized that I had walked into Tian'anmen Square (天安门广场) with the portrait of Mao right above my head. It was really quite amazing to see the square for the first time.
Sunday morning I headed to the Summer Palace (颐和园) and Kunming Lake, which were packed with tour groups. It was gorgeous, but I didn't really enjoy it with the people everywhere pushing and shouting. I'll have to go back very early one day.
In Mandarin class last year, we learned about XiangShan (香山) and the red leaves that you can see in autumn. I decided to head there, since it was also in the far northwest of Beijing. Big mistake. Me and tens of thousands of Chinese (I only saw three other foreigners) wanted to see these famous red fall leaves. First you walk through a gauntlet of shops trying to see you any and everything. There are cars trying to drive down the lane, and people everywhere. The photo shows one tiny section of the path to the ticket booth. Luckily I've learned how to 'line up' Chinese style, though I was pretty exhausted by the time I got my ticket.
I didn't really see any red leaves, though I didn't go far enough into the park I guess because I didn't have enough time. But I did get to see the Azure Cloud Temple (碧云寺) which was really impressive.
I really enjoyed Beijing, and I'll have to go back to see some more of it. Not to mention the food and bargain hunting/shopping.