Greetings, Readers! It’s been a few weeks but it’s been a busy time for me. Thankfully I celebrated it with a little trip to China. For the next few weeks, I’ll recount my adventures in Beijing and Shanghai.
My trip began in Beijing, a place I had never been. I was really excited about finally visiting Beijing since I had studied a lot of Chinese history in high school. I had originally intended to be a East Asian Studies major in college. (I ended up studying Latin American History, which made sense since I already spoke Spanish fluently). This was my third trip to China and I was thrilled to finally get to see the capital.
We had chosen the hotel due to its proximity to the Forbidden City. What I hadn’t realized (and this became a theme on the trip) was the immense scale of Beijing. The hotel was a block and half to the entrance of the Forbidden City but it is the outer gate. It’s a good 15 minute walk around the moat and whatnot to the ticket office.
The hotel was okay. It was a bit odd that the bathroom was completely enclosed in glass with no doors. There was a curtain that shielded the entire room, which was better than nothing. But it was clean and safe.
My first meal was across the street at a whole in the wall place with lots of folks. I had some eggplant, one of my favorite veggies in Chinese food, along with some fried dough with pork inside. Welcome to China and many more delicious meals!
Since our first full day was Saturday, we decided to head to Panjiayuan Flea Market since it was the busiest day for the market. Before we went, I wanted to go to the Tiananmen Square since we were so close. Again, we didn’t really know the scale of the city. It was a 15-20 minute walk to the famous square, with occasional stops at the bakeries along the way for delicious foods.
Tiananmen Square was astonishing. I had no idea how big it was until I stood there. Much bigger than Plaza de Mayo, Plaza de la Revolution in Cuba, and other squares. It was gratifying to finally be there. So much history!
Then we made a little error. There was a bridge with lots of people and we decided to follow. That’s when we appreciated one of the challenges of having such an enormous population: the importance of crowd management. The bridge led to the Forbidden City complex. Once there, there was no easy way out. There was no bridge out. So we wandered around trying to find a way out, which probably was about 40 minutes to trying to find the exit!
Eventually, we made our way out, took the swift metro, and made it to our flea market. What a bustling and fun place! So much for sale! Teapots, beaded necklaces, mechanical treasures, and even instruments! My friend and I ended up picking up beautiful stringed instruments. Later we realized when we ate at a Uighur restaurant that we had actually bought Uyghur instruments. My instrument was a rabab, a long necked lute. Very cool!
Since it was getting a little late in the day, we decided to head to the National Museum, just off Tiananmen Square. We would go to the Forbidden City the next day so we could have ample time to wander. The National Museum was an impressive building, akin to one of our Smithsonians. I am a big fan of Chinese ceramics so we made a beeline for that. It was pretty good but I preferred the layout of the Shanghai Museum. In the basement, there was an exhibition that spanned the history of China that had some amazing water clocks!
We stopped for some tea and snacks in their teahouse. My friend ordered marinated beef, which sounded filling and tasty. I got a sandwich. When our food came, we got a sandwich and these foil wrapped things. They looked like condiments but she quickly realized that this was her marinated beef. I can confirm, it tasted as good as foil wrapped beef sounds. It would be our worst meal by a long shot on the trip. So pretty good! The tea, on the other hand, was excellent.
For dinner, we decided to go to Lost Heaven, a Yunnan restaurant, recommended by the guidebook. It was housed in the former American embassy complex. Quite a fancy little place. The food was delicious! A great end to a first day.
However, due to the difficulties of finding a cab in Beijing, our sojourn to the restaurant meant crossing Tiananmen Square twice! And that’s on top of the two other times we crossed it. We really grew to appreciate the scale of the place!
Next week, I’ll talk about the Forbidden City and other adventures!