I woke up early, checked out and waited for my private tour guide. I was supposed to join another tour group, but my train was leaving at 4PM and I just might miss it if I was part of a tour group. I spent double, but was intent on making the most of my trip to Beijing. Going to the sites alone through public transport was not an option.
Jessica was my tour guide and she led me through a very walk-intensive tour of the Tianenmen Square, The Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven. I must have walked almost 10 kilometers in all!
Tiananmen square was formidable (so large it can indeed accommodate a million people at one time) and Chairman Mao’s large portrait (so like Jesus Christ’s portraits) seemed to look straight at me, wherever I went.
Not having brushed up on my history, I asked Jessica (refer to Lesson #5) what the significance of Tiananmen Square was, and she looked at me like I was crazy and said that this was where the birth of the New China was announced by Chairman Mao many years ago. I know that there was a famous demonstration and massacre that happened as well, but I guess this was not part of the tour information. After the tour I tried to look it up online and well, yeah… all the sites were blocked, so I only had a chance to read up on what happened when I got home.
Past Tiananmen Square, we walked into the Forbidden City. This was the ancient place of the emperors. I watched The Last Emperor decades ago, and it was really surreal to be able to walk through the area that was depicted in that movie.
Jessica talked a lot about the history, what buildings were used for what, where the Emperor slept, where the Empress slept, where the meetings occurred. Another tidbit…every man who was guarding or serving around the place where the concubines lived had to be eunuchs. For obvious reasons. There was even one emperor who had his teenaged son sent off to live elsewhere…just to avoid any ummm… complications. Well, if you have teenaged concubines and a teenaged son in the same area… complications would surely arise. I wonder why these tidbits were the ones that stuck in my mind.
We went to a silk store, and saw how silk is “harvested” from the silkworm pupae. I ended up buying stuff – a quilt, a scarf, several souvenirs for the kids and Year of the Rooster piece for my hubby…who was not born on that year, but just is obsessed with roosters.
I had a solo lunch at a vegetarian restaurant which served pseudo-meat dishes made of vegetables but tasted like meat. If you were a strict vegetarian, this defeated the purpose of vegetarianism, but then I guess it was popular for other people. I asked Jessica and the driver to join me but they were firm about saying they needed to sit at another table and eat their own meals. Oh well…
Last stop was the Temple of Heaven. Another long walk/hike. The first part became a people’s park, and there were many shows/dances and mixers happening all around where people got together to have fun and hang out. Lots of singing and dancing, sports, etc. Then of course, the temples themselves…
Then it was time to catch my train back to Shanghai. I was more knowledgeable, I knew the station/gate number, my car number and seat number. On the train, I was just too tired to do anything else, but to enjoy the ride, and watch some episodes of “Devious Maids” from the cellphone of a lady sitting one seat in front of the seat across from me. She didn’t use earphones, so I had a good audio going.
Stubborn as I was, I still didn’t use the facilities and didn’t buy any food, but I observed. And I realized a lot of things. The Chinese are quite disciplined, the trains are very efficient and always on time. Attendants kept the train clean and well maintained and everyone obeyed the rules. For some reason, the train ride (and the two days of touring) made me realize that I had a lot of misconceptions about China and the Chinese in general, but they were wrong. I have come to develop a new respect for both the country and the people. They are indeed a force to be reckoned with.
I arrived at Hong Qiao train station and when I got to the exit, there was no one with my name plastered on a card. I was tired, hungry…and had too much luggage because of my purchases. I went to a corner, breathed deeply and tried looking for the number of the Courtyard Marriott to check on my car pickup. Then… from the corner of my eye, I saw a lady raise a piece of paper…with my name on it. Wait, what? A lady? I went to her and she nodded. She gestured for me to follow her and she proceeded to walk very fast and talk on her cellphone. I tried to keep up, mindful of the fact that if I lost sight of her, I would be lost in the crowded station.
We met another lady midway, who was also holding a sign with my name on it (aha… two exits, two signs. Smart!). And the first lady gestured for me to follow the second lady. This lady started walking even faster than the first one. Arg… I tried to keep up again, trying to will the hunger and the light headedness and the tiredness not to overwhelm me. After what seemed like hours of walking (again), I saw my hotel car and I was safely “transferred” by the 2nd lady to my car pickup driver. I slumped in the car and just almost passed out.
Back at the hotel, I checked in, ordered room service, prepared my clothes for the work the next day…and blacked out.