Monday, January 16, 2006

Beijing (Part 1)

Ok, I keep putting this off, so I figure I better write it.  After all, I’m going to have so much to tell you soon, that despite how awesome and amazing my trip to Beijing was, that will be old news and pale in comparison to my coming few months.  

After all of my whining about how none of the cultural sites in China are authentic, and most are Disneyized bastardizations of their former selves, Beijing finally satiated my desire to see China and its rich history.  

Louise and I arrived in Beijing airport on the evening of Boxing Day (day after Christmas) and took a taxi to the hotel we had decided to stay in.  The hotel, Chiang Kai Shiek’s former residence and the old Yugoslav Embassy, was located down one of the narrow hutongs, or alleyways in Beijing.  It took a good deal of searching before we found the right hutong and we finally checked in around 9pm.  The hotel itself was pretty rundown, but you could tell that in its day it was a very nice residence.  Due to its obscure location, I think we had the entire hotel to ourselves.  Then it was off to the nearest Peking Duck restaurant for one of my new favorite dishes.

Beijing was cold, bitterly cold.  We bundled up the next day and went wandering.  We visited the Drum and the Bell Towers in the north of the city, where we were treated to some pretty good views of Beijing.  Ever 30 minutes or so we would stop in a café for some coffee and heat.  We started walking South towards the Forbidden City and soon found ourselves strolling down a hutong full of bars and antique shops.  It really is amazing how you can take a few steps down an alley hutong and step into a whole other world.  You’d never believe you were in a large city, much less one with a population over 12 million.  We took our time wandering though the shops and ended up playing around on a frozen lake on ice-chairs.  You sit on these chairs that have large ice-skates attached to them and you propel yourself around the lake using ski poles.  Great fun.  Then we walked South to the park that overlooks the Forbidden City for some great views.  I got to try out my new lenses for my digital camera, although my hands were extremely painful… I had to remove my gloves to manipulate the lens… brr.  We continuted on to Tiananment Square, then to a street market where we stopped in a chopstick shop for some souveniers.  We made a few turns and after another hour or so walking, we found our way to the World Trade Center where we had a fantastic meal at an Indian food restaurant.  As normal, I made the mistake of ordering lamb vindaloo and had a very difficult time finishing.  The sweat pouring down your face as you eat it is annoying, but it tastes soooo good.  On our way home, we decided to try and find the Passby Bar, a “must see” according to our Lonely Planet guide.  After a few drinks there, we made the short walk back to the hotel and crashed.  We had been walking solidly for 12 hours and were exhausted.

The next day we took the Beijing subway into the city center and found the Oriental Pearl Shopping Mall.  This place is the embodiment of capitalism.  Fendi, Dolci & Cabana, Omega, Armani, Bose, Prada, Swavorski… the most expensive brands in the whole world, and the mall was full of them.  Combine New York’s 5th Ave, Shanghai’s Nanjing Rd, and Paris’ Champs Elysees into one huge building and you might come close.  Across the street there was a foreign bookstore where I spent far too much money (hey, books written in English are hard to get here).  After a few hours of shopping, we went back to the mall to get some Blizzards at Dairy Queen.  Yeah, they have DQ in Beijing… how much does that rule?  I ate my blizzard in the taxi on the way to the airport.  Why were we going to the airport you ask?  To pick up the most insane group of friends that any guy could ask for.  Beijing was about to get torn apart by Phi Psi Penn Theta… well, some of them.  God help us all.