|We were given a little notice this year about "Sports Day" so it meant we were able to plan a little holiday for the days off. A second year student here has a small business providing services to the foreign teachers so we hired her to buy tickets for the train ride to Beijing. We paid the extra money for the D train, which takes a little more than two hours rather than the normal train which takes 4. Even with almost a week's notice she could not buy seats for the trip there so she said we might have to stand. We hear horror stories about people having to stand for up to 20 hours during busy times (and on the slow trains). We were a little oblivious to the whole concept and ended up being booted out of seats only about halfway through the trip. We did, however, have seats on the return trip.
We booked a small, very un-Western style hotel where we got to practise our Chinese speaking skills. It wasn't fancy but pretty clean and the location was great. We were about a half block away from the northeast corner of the Forbidden City. I've included a photo of Gis at this corner by the moat surrounding the Forbidden City. There is a photo of the elevator in our hotel and one of the menu items in the bar was strawberry/peach hooka with a picture of the same.
We walked to the Wangfujing Market, a magnet for tourists in Beijing. We browsed through the two English bookstores and ate at a Sizzlers which had a huge salad bar. The salad was a wonderful treat since the Chinese eat mostly cooked veggies, including cooked lettuce and cucumbers.
We took a side trip into one of the crowded food streets off Wangfujing street and watched people enjoying all sorts of special treats. The still wiggling scorpions on sticks caused Gis to have a nightmare. There were beetles, snake, starfish and other assorted goodies. Lest you think no one was eating that let me assure you that they were doing a brisk business and we saw people eating the wiggling scorpions (thus the nightmare). We did not partake in any of the food but did find a French baguette, peanut butter and fruit for the next day.
We left early Thursday morning for the Aviation Museum which is some way north of Beijing. We took the subway to the end of the line and then caught a bus with only minor confusion. We pointed at where we wanted to go on a map that has both Chinese and English and the people were very helpful in getting us on the right bus and telling us when to get off. There was a small child on the bus and I played Itsey, Bitsey Spider with my fingers to amuse her. A short while later the old woman beside me tapped me and started moving her fingers around. At first I thought she was trying to write Chinese characters but then figured out that she wanted to learn the finger motions. Pretty soon the man sitting across joined in and a number of us were doing Itsey, Bitsey Spider, with limited success.
Along the way we saw all sorts of new housing developments going up in the north of Beijing. They are gated communities and one was called Vancouver Forest. It even had a number of totem poles at the entrance.
The Aviation Museum is far removed from the noise and bustle of anywhere we have ever been in China. To get there from the bus stop we walked down a country road with only the birds and a couple of fishermen as company. The absence of noise made us realize how much noise generally surrounds us.
There are some 400 planes at the museum in all states of disrepair. A large number are stored in a tunnel cut through a mountain which we suspect was not originally designed as museum space. Many planes are Russian in origin but the Chinese seem to have made an art out of taking Russian or American planes and making modifications to them and calling them improvements.
We were really glad for our picnic supplies that we had with us and we had a really wonderful lunch surrounded by war planes and bombs. You could even pay to go through Mao's private aircraft but we gave that a miss.
We spent Friday wandering around Tiananmen Square. There was a constantly moving line going through Mao's tomb but Gis announced very definitively that he was not going to go there. We stood in line to see the National Museum but left it after about fifteen minutes when we saw just how long the line was. Instead we headed to the very south part of the square which had a lookout tower to mark the end of the original walled city and an arrow tower. They both told a lot of the history of the area. We wandered south of there where all the original markets used to be. The area there is now restored shops and cobbled streets that attract the Chinese rather than Wangfujing Street which caters to foreigners.
On Saturday morning we walked to Jingshan Park which is just north of the Forbidden City. What a wonderful time we had there! The tulips were just finishing blooming and the roses were spectacular. We climbed the hill to the Buddhist temple at the top. Along the way we met all manner of people exercising and praying. It was a hopping place at 9:00 on a Saturday morning. The temple offered a spectacular view of Beijing in all directions. As we headed back down we came across two smaller temples that used to hold Buddhas as well but they had been "plundered" by the "8 Power Allied Forces" which included Britain and the U.S. I'm sure Western history views it differently.
We followed the sound of music and came across a choir conductor with three saxophones, a trumpet and drums as backup. Many in the crowd around her were singing songs out of song books that they all seemed to have. We also came across solo singers with small crowds singing along, various kinds of dancers, some with harmonica accompaniment, a brass band and all sorts of exercising.
We left Jingshan Park and went to nearby Beihai Park with gardens that are a thousand years old. It has lakes and a large pagoda, and we didn't have nearly enough time to wander there. We had lunch overlooking one of the lakes.
Our Chinese teacher seemed worried about us finding the right train for the return ride to Qinhuangdao. It seemed rather uncomplicated when we got to the train station so we were afraid we were missing something vital. It turns out that most trains to Qinhuangdao leave from the old station which is crowded and confusing but our train left from a new station that was probably built for the Beijing Olympics. So we didn't have to point at tickets and say "beng a meng" (lend a hand). Except for the young child in split pants peeing on the white tiled floor it was pretty uneventful.