A Beijing New Years...
I took off for Beijing on Saturday morning, in the snow. There was snow in Beijing, but not nearly as much as here in Baoding.
First on the agenda was a much needed Starbucks Peppermint Mocha, which I've been dreaming about for far too long now (over the weekend I had two of them, as well as a Starbucks cappuccino). We came across a happy SnowMao as we made our way to the Silk Market to check out all the fake/cheap goods. I finally bought the green and brown 'fur' army winter hat that I wanted with (a removable) red star on the front. The starting price was 80RMB, but I got it for 20RMB ($3), which makes you wonder how much it really cost and what a Chinese person could get it for! Dinner was an amazing hamburger, with real cheese and onions! Oh how I've missed my dear friend the hamburger.
The next morning a few of us we headed to the Lama Temple, which was converted from a Prince's residence to a lamasery in 1744. It's the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Beijing, and we had a chance to briefly chat with a monk from Tibet when he blessed a little jade Buddha. According to the sign at the front, the temple had fallen into disrepair until the benevolent Communist Party took control and restored the temple, protecting it "during the 'so-called' Cultural Revolution", and finally opening it to tourists a few years ago.
We got to Tian'anmen Square at 11:45 PM on New Years Eve, and saw a maximum of 200 foreigners in front of Mao's portrait on the Gate of Heavenly Peace. At about 5 minutes to midnight a van of extra police pulled up through the gate (to keep the already present police, soldiers, and undercover cops company). At 3 minutes to midnight the lights were turned off on the gate.
We had our own countdown and the police jumped to attention when the corks on a couple bottles of champagne popped open at midnight. We lit some small sparklers, the kind that kids play with and wave around. I guess the police weren't too happy about that because they came running over and shouted at us to put them out. They kept shouting "Hurry Up!" at us in Chinese until we finally stomped the pathetic sparklers to death.
By 1:00 we made it to Suzie Wong's and paid the inflated price to get in (more on that in another post). We danced until 5:30, got some fries at McDonald's to start off 2007 in style, then got back to the hostel at 7:00AM for two hours of sleep.
We didn't do much the next day, just some wandering around with a coffee and cake break.
On Tuesday morning a few of us headed to the Underground City, constructed between 1969 and 1979 to protect citizens from an attack by the Russians or the Americans. It extends all under Beijing, though most of it is in disrepair now. The guide rushed us through, and wouldn't have told us anything interesting if we didn't ask. Along the route, we walked through a silk shop where we could buy products!
For lunch we decided to head to IKEA and I revelled in the Swedish meatballs
(complete with flag to distinguish them from all those knock-off Swedish meatballs) and fries. I had a chocolate mousse cake for dessert with 3 cups of Swedish coffee. Much needed let me tell you.
It was four pretty intense days of eating Western food (and the occasional Beijing roast duck), drinking coffee, sight seeing, and dancing, but it was worth every Yuan.