There is something about China that seems to attract the weirdos. I’m by no means trying to say that I am not weird, but at the very least I hope to be able to garner the Chinese lifestyle for what it is. There is nothing worse than a traveler who can only complain about the place that they are in, and this seems to be quite the regular event in Beijing. Sure, it’s loud, it’s inconvenient and it has the ability to make you feel quite alienated, but this is what the traveler should want to experience, is it not? This is the true meaning of broadening your understanding, of reestablishing your perception of the world.
I have been eating pretty regularly at a dumpling and steamed bun stand down the street. They speak no English, and cater to a much more working clash contingent (20 dumplings = $1.50). While grabbing breakfast this morning, I happened upon a fellow American who I had briefly met a day or two before at the hostel. This fine representative of our nation had quite a bit to say about China, the main points being that it was loud, the Chinese are rude and ultimately that they are ignorant.
Do I completely disagree? Yes and no. China is easily the loudest place I have ever been. Get over it, it isn’t likely to change. Are the Chinese rude? Well in American standards, yes, they are very rude, but we are not in the confines of the contiguous states and, as such, you simply need stop trying to make one into another. Square peg, round hole, my friends. And finally, ignorant? Well I don’t think I’ve been here long enough to truly answer that. Experience in a new culture is not dissimilar to learning a new language. There comes a point when you have understand that some things will never translate.
That jaunt aside, I spent a good bit of time drifting around central Beijing. I wanted to get out of the hostel and to keep myself active, and so I decided that I would visit the Forbidden City. This was a bit of a strange decision, as I have been there once before and completely hated it. It was frigid beyond compare, and I ultimately found little within those great walls that held my attention. For better pictures and a story, Check it out here.
This time, in great contrast, the weather was stupid hot, somewhere around 90F, which, when combined with zero shade, legendary pollution and the largest open square in the world, meant that you were cooked like a chicken in about an hour. I mean cooked.
I got to the square with little difficulty. The subway stop at Qianmen exits directly onto the southeastern end of the square, which is very convenient. I noticed almost immediately that a huge number of Chinese were carrying umbrellas. Though I was inclined to laugh at the extremely flamboyant nature of a Chinese male with a satin umbrella, I quickly grew jealous of the shade afforded by the simple device. Immediately on entering the square sits the famed Mao Mausoleum (haha, a Maosoleum). With his embalmed body still contained within, it is one of the most famed tourist sites within China, and continues to draw massive crowds. Despite a surface temperature that was probably near 100 degrees, a line of Chinese stretched all the way around the building and doubled back on itself. I would not be surprised if the line covered close to a mile start to end. More than 30 years after his death, Mao Zedong is still of massive significance in a nation that would appear to have removed itself from so much of his policy making. There was a great article that I read a while back that contained interviews with people standing on this line. It compared interviews taken from those who were pre and those who were post Mao, a near polarization between the feelings of the two groups. For those who remember his time, he is still relevent, and for those who do not, the memories of the generation before them hold strong enough that that his presence has remained.
I never made it in to the forbidden city. I got to the ticket booth, and saw lines that must have been half an hour long, followed by another half an hour to actually hand your ticket in at the entryway. No chance was I going to wait that long on this stone furnace. Feeling very dehydrated but entertained by the experience, I headed back home.