THIRD MOVEMENT: CHINA
Today I started the third leg of my journey. I had the 11:50 flight from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing. I woke up, waited to use one of the three shower rooms (it was busy and crowded this morning with many guests), finally was able to shower, I got dressed, packed my bags, paid for last night and the laundry, and left the guesthouse behind. I grabbed a taxi and made it to the airport at about 09:35. Checking-in was quick, as was security, and passport control. I was ready to board the plane at 09:50, which, of course, meant I had two hours to kill.
The flight took off on time and on board I had chicken and rice cooked oriental-style (or at least what we’re used to as oriental-style in America). During the flight, I read the “In-flight” magazine which had an article detailing how Air China was now flying to Washington D.C.; in the article I learned that the “root of all social problems [in the United States] is racism”; I think there’s a little more to it than that, but who am I to argue. We landed at Beijing after about two hours and twenty minutes of flying. I passed through the temperature scanner at the airport in spite of the mild fever and sore throat I had and then waited in the long queue for Immigration and Customs. I made it through and quickly tried to find my way out and exchange my Mongolian Tugriks for Chinese Yuan, but found out that they do not take Mongolian Tugriks – a little odd since China shares an extensive border with Mongolia . . . what ever. I then used the ATM so I had spending cash to grab a ticket for the Airport Express subway. I was soon on board the train and heading to the heart of China’s capital.
After getting off the subway and wandering around the winding alleyways I soon managed to find the hostel I was staying at. I checked in and as soon as I could I took off to see Tiananmen Square (just five days after the 25th anniversary of the massacre – actually, as I type this, I’m trying to search for additional information on the massacre, however none of the links to any useful webpages work in China). I mostly walked south on the street adjacent to the Lama temple (near the guesthouse I’m staying at) and it took a little over an hour to walk there from where I am staying; along the way I saw McDonalds, KFC, and a WuMart (?). Also, today was a relatively smog-free day, so I could see the blue sky beyond the clouds.
When I neared the square, I met an “art teacher” who wanted to practice her English with me and eventually show me an art exhibit with pieces for sale that “art students” had created. She walked with me to the square through gardens and security checkpoints, explaining some of the sights and history surrounding us (i.e. Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, the Great Hall of the People, the Museum of Chinese History, and the Forbidden City). While there, crowds were gathering to see the National Flag taken down before the night, so we stayed and watched the soldiers pull it down and toss and tie it into a knot (they don’t fold it into a neat little triangle like we do in the United States). After that rather unspectacular show (I expected more with the crowd involved), I suggested we go see the art exhibit if it was still open (hahaha). So we walked to a hotel, went into a staff entrance, and in to a room with lots of art hanging on the walls and piled on tables. I thought some of it was quite well done on leaves, silk paper, and rice paper. I explained I wasn’t buying souvenirs on this trip, so she offered it at half or one-third the marked price. I declined and she was most understanding (at this time another Chinese woman walked in with a group of foreigners). We exited the hotel and she suggested I visit the snack market and directed me which way to travel. I thanked her for showing me around and left. I later found out this night, from reading Lonely Planet’s China guide, that the “art teacher” was a con artist involved in a ploy to get foreigners to buy overpriced art; though I must type, she was the nicest and most accommodating con artist I ever met; I never once felt pressured in to buying any art and she spent well over an hour with me.
The Snack Market is designed to appeal to foreigners and was set up with them in mind as the primary target. There you’ll find an abundance of stalls selling exotic foods such as fried starfish, centipedes, squid, scorpions, and king spiders (I tried the last two, which were incredibly overpriced for something I can catch and fry myself, but as I typed, this market is set up for foreigners, so of course it’s full of overpriced garbage). The best thing about the market is the ambience, with paper lanterns, traditional arches and roofs, and even down one alley, a one-man performance in the Peking Opera style (the description, “one-man”, is correct even though the performer was dressed like a woman – I can thank David Cronenberg’s ‘M. Butterfly’ for teaching me the truth about Peking Opera). I also ate some dumplings as I was trying to avoid the abundant cheats and swindlers that are found in the capital city of the most populous country (though India may prove to be worse).
I then walked back to the hostel after eating my fill of street food. Once there, I discovered that Google is not accessible in China (I already knew about China being a Facebook dead zone – here on the dark side of the earth). So I’ll have to use Yahoo as my go-to search engine until I reach Taiwan. I eventually went to sleep after a long day and after my dormitory companions quieted down.