I was very excited about the upcoming break from school. The main reason was because my dad was going to join me. The other reason was because we would be exploring China. We would hit two cities in China and then spend some time in Hong Kong. My dad arrived a few days before the trip would start. We saw a little of my city and had dinner a few times with friends. When Saturday rolled around we took it easy because our flight did not head out until 2. Then we received a message from Vince, a friend that was also heading to Beijing, saying that the boat was filling up. That lit a fire under our lazy behinds and we got ready and headed to the ferry dock. It was a good thing we did because we got some of the last seats on the boat headed to the Hong Kong Airport.
When we arrived we checked in and headed toward our terminal, stopping briefly to have Korean food for lunch. A little over an hour later we boarded our flight to Beijing, the capital of China. The flight itself was uneventful. I listened to music and read. We had a terrible meal on the plane but I was still glad they fed us. When we touched down I had a message from my friend Vince who was on a different flight. His plane was supposed to leave almost a half hour earlier but it was delayed and he got there minutes before we did. Strangely we got our bags before he did. Vince led us through security and toward the subway because he had done the homework on how to get to the hostel from the airport and I had not.
The hostel is called Peking Station Hostel and we were a little confused by the directions to get there but once we found the place we liked how close it was to the subway. The hostel is really close to the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven as well as other interesting sites. Simply hop on the subway and several places are a stop or two away. It was not so great about being in the thick of nightlife. There were not really any restaurants or bars near us and the 7 11 was in a building that often closed before it should have. The hostel itself was nice. I especially liked the sitting room and the friendly staff.
After we checked in and got settled we headed out for dinner. We decided to head to a place to have Peking duck. I could not see going to Beijing and not having this famous dish. So I consulted the Lonely Planet Beijing guide that my dad had brought along from the states. It recommended 5 and I read 3 descriptions before deciding on Liqun. We headed to the subway and rode a few stops and got out. We noticed some buildings had what looked like Christmas lights on them and we took a bunch of pictures of it. What we didn’t know was that we were looking at some buildings that were part of Tiananmen Square, we would discover that the next day. We started walking because our dinner spot was not that close to the subway. We came across a dirt alley with a duck painted on the wall. We turned down that alley and a few feet in we found our restaurant.
We had to wait so we sat in chairs outside of the building. We waited until someone came out to tell us if we wanted to pay for a private room to eat now we could or we would be outside waiting a half hour. I was hungry so I advocated for this idea and we went in and started looking at a menu. We ended up ordering a set meal for 3 to 4 people. It had several dishes in addition to the duck. It had Mongolian beef, five colors of chicken (the menus name for it), sautéed black mushroom with bok choy, lotus root & Hawthorn, egg rolls stuffed with chicken, chive and carrot, and shredded cucumber, green pepper and parsley in soy sauce. It sounds like a lot but they were on small plates. The Duck comes with little pancakes, onion, peppers, cucumber and a sauce. The food was very good. We enjoyed every last morsel. I have had Peking Duck in other places including Shenzhen but it has not ever been as good as it was at Liqun.
After we ate I wanted to go out to a night market but it seemed that the rest of the party thought it was too late because it was about 10 PM. So we headed back to the hostel.
I spent the night reading all about the Forbidden City in the Lonely Planet guide. I felt pretty sure the book had everything we needed to know and even the book assured me I did not need a guide. Now that I have been through I would say pick up the audio guide. The audio guides can tend to drone on but I might have walked away with interesting facts. I would have at least not had to stop several times to consult the book. I am sure the book was laid out in a fashion that it could have worked for some but it didn’t work for me. Either way the buildings started feeling the same after a while and all I could think about was how ridiculously large the palace grounds were and how devoid of plants and gardens most of it was. The gardens were hidden away or on the other side of the palace walls. I did not find it to be particularly beautiful. The architecture and the sheer size of it was astounding but I guess I imagined a beautiful little hide away and it is really just a large group of buildings that looked familiar enough to be confusing.
To be fair the Forbidden City had a few things going against it that had nothing to do with the palace grounds at all. The first strike against it was that we hadn’t eaten breakfast. I was sure there would be food when we got there so we headed to the Forbidden City instead of eating in the hostel but there really isn’t food at the Forbidden City. They have some parked vans selling drinks that should be refrigerated but aren’t and strange prepackaged bread things. So I was hungry and it is really quite a bit of walking to tour the palace grounds. The other major thing, that wasn’t the Forbidden City’s fault, was that I did not get the audio guide so I was often confused by what I was looking at. I just wandered and watched the crowds. There were definitely plenty of crowds and people would stand in lines to look inside poorly lit rooms. It was kind of entertaining to watch the lines but was not entertaining to be in them.
Occasionally I would push into the crowds that stood in front of open doors that allowed a peek inside but the rooms were always dark and I couldn’t see much 3 to 4 people back. Once I got a better view and it was some strange piece of furniture or something. I stopped trying to see after the second time. What is the point of only kind of putting things on display? Why would you open rooms to be viewed but not add any lighting to help? Why would you basically hide so many things from the public when you are also throwing open the doors for the world to see? It seems strange. I kind of think that China might not have its tourism game together yet. It is a distinct possibility, a lot of countries don’t. I know I sound like a whiny baby here. There I was in one of the great places in to see in China, a place most of my readers might never go, and all I can do is whine about it. I was just expecting something different. I expected to walk away being able to imagine what it might have been like to be an Emperor of China. I didn’t. I saw one little garden and the outside of a lot of red buildings. I loved looking through the area but I was frustrated that there wasn’t more things to read as you walked through.
Anyway we spent at least 2 hours in there and as we got to the back I was looking at my map and seeing that there were some interesting restaurants that were accessible from the back gate. Unfortunately we never found the back gate and our party concluded that there must be no back gate. We retraced our steps instead and went out a side gate near the front.
You should understand that near the front is still quite a distance away from the front and we walked for quite a while along a road with shops.
We eventually stopped to eat at one of the places before continuing back to Tiananmen Square. We had to go through security again to get into Tiananmen Square. I was really excited to be there because I wanted to see Chairman Mao. Unfortunately his mausoleum was closed and we very quickly learned that there really isn’t anything else to do there.
So we headed out of Tiananmen Square and over to a nearby KFC. Vince and I had read about how at the 4 corners of the area surrounding Tiananmen Square you could find a KFC, and implied that Colonel Sanders might be the true face of China, and it had tickled our funny bone. I had an ice cream served in a chocolate flavored cone and Vince got some fried squid or something like that.
We were worn out after our long trek through the palace grounds but I was thinking of going to the Temple of Heaven. My dad however suggested going to the place I had tried to go to after dinner the night before, Great Leap Brewery. I had suggested it after my market idea had been shot down but it had also kind of been dismissed. His idea, of resting our feet and enjoying a pint, had a whole lot of merit so we decided to act upon it. We traveled to the brewery and sat down and shared a sampler. Then I had a whole beer while everybody else had soda. You might find yourself wondering about our decision to stop for micro-brews on our first full day in Beijing. What if I told you that China is new to the microbrew game, would you be surprised? Probably not, but Great Leap happens to own the bragging rights as the first to give it a try. They are the ones to blaze the trail and it is slowly gaining in popularity. So we were visiting something historic and sometimes you need to kick your feet up and relax; especially tired and sore feet.
We had walked the entire morning with very few exceptions. I was sleepy after the beer but we didn’t have time to sleep, we were headed to the opera. So we headed back to our hostel and my dad and I showered and changed. The shower helped my exhaustion and we went out for round 2.