Ni Hao China!

Lynn and I both slept decently, especially considering the train would stop every few hours throughout the night, lurching violently back and forth when it would do so.  There was also a very pesky train horn that seemed to come from right outside of our window and continued honking off and on for 30 minutes or so while the train was reassembled after the bogie switching around 1 am.

We passed the last few hours of our ride looking out the window at the Chinese landscape.  It was full of rocky cliffs and hills and very different from what we had seen all day yesterday in the rolling steppe of the Gobi.

We arrived at the main Beijing train station around 11.30 and stepped off the train onto Chinese soil (or train platform as it were) for the first time.  Lynn immediately took note of how clean everything was compared to last time she was here ten years ago.  We walked out of the train station and found an ATM before deciding that the weather was lovely and we would rather walk to our hostel than take the subway.  Besides, google said it took about the same amount of time either way.

We made our way up the busy roads of Beijing with Lynn making comments every once in a while about how this or that was or was not as she remembered it.  Overall we decided that the China of today is much more developed and clean than it was ten years ago and basically everything Lynn used to know about China is suspect (barring the food).

We made it to our hostel hot and sweaty and checked into our rooms for a shower and cool down before heading back out to explore.  We dropped some laundry off at the front desk to get the smell of dust and lamb out of our clothes and went off to find a place to eat a late lunch.  Lynn had found Mr. Shi’s Dumplings on Trip Advisor with pretty good reviews and so that’s the direction we headed.  Upon arrival I was dismayed to see the place was full of tourists and very few locals which is hardly ever a good sign for a restaurant.  But at this point it was 2.30 and we were both very ready for food.  The menu had over 50 different types of dumplings on it and so we ordered a sampling of three of them (pork and leek, shitake and shrimp, and our favorite, chicken and green chile) along with a cucumber garlic salad as a side and Lynn was very excited to see watermelon juice on the menu which she gladly partook in.  Luckily it seems that the locals don’t know what they are missing because all of the food was delicious and we left feeling very full and more ready to take on the rest of the city.

Delicious lunch of dumplings.
Delicious lunch of dumplings.

There are a couple of lakes on the west side of the city and we thought it would be nice to walk along them as we made our way down to Tienanmen square for the afternoon.  They were quite lovely indeed.  Little shops and restaurants lined the narrow roads around the lake.  Sure most of the shops were selling souvenirs and the restaurants and food stalls were overpriced but the view was great and it was a beautiful day.  We made a loop of the biggest lake, watching the old men play a game that looked like checkers, the young couples canoodling on benches, and some rather large men in speedos hanging out smoking.  Everyone also had plastic flowers in their hair that were being sold all over the place which added a nice touch of whimsy to the whole thing.

View across the lake.  The tower looks old and important doesn't it? It's not, it was built in 2004 as an event space we found out.
View across the lake. The tower looks old and important doesn’t it? It’s not, it was built in 2004 as an event space we found out.
Lynn enjoying a passion fruit aloe shake in the streets around the lakes.
Lynn enjoying a passion fruit aloe shake in the streets around the lakes.

Having completed our loop we made our way down towards Tienanmen Square by way of the Forbidden City.  It was at this point that we realized how massive Beijing actually is.  It took us quite some time to get down there and we stopped every so often to take pictures, or to make a wrong turn that ended with a road closed off by the police but we eventually made it to the square just as the sun was setting.

We passed through a security checkpoint and saw that a very large crowd had gathered at Tienanmen gate and across the street around the flag pole in the center of the square as well. Sure that something good was going to happen soon we joined the crowd but got bored after a few minutes of nothing happening and wandered over to a large flower display in the center of the square instead.

Tienanmen Gate
Tienanmen Gate
Giant flowers indeed.
Giant flowers indeed.

We poked around for a little bit before sitting down to read about the square and to see if we could figure out if there was something special going on today that everyone was waiting to see.  There wasn’t, it was just the flag lowering ceremony which was not very exciting,  Soon after that though all of the lights turned on around the square which made for a pretty dramatic sight, so we took some more pictures before deciding it was time to find some food and head home for the night.

They keep fire extinguishers around the square in case protesters try and self-immolate.
They keep fire extinguishers around the square in case protesters try and self-immolate.
Tienanmen Gate at night.  I know this looks fake, but it really did look like this.
Tienanmen Gate at night. I know this looks fake, but it really did look like this.

On the way back we stumbled across a row of street stands all selling various skewered items cooked to order.  They had squid, frog, and sea urchin among the more standard items like chicken, beef, and vegetables.  Unfortunately Lynn was too thirsty to really enjoy fried food and I was too disgusted by the smell of something they were cooking that filled my nose every couples of stalls so we moved on.

We instead found a fruit market and bought some fresh dates, longans, and mangosteen.  Pretty sure that wasn’t going to fill us up we also stopped at a rice bowl restaurant where we both ordered Kung Pao chicken, which wasn’t half bad but wasn’t great either.

Finishing our walk home we also found a real grocery store where we could stock up on some supplies.  We had been looking for one all day and had found that people are very loose with their use of the word “super market” in Beijing.  It had meant everything from candy store to quad copter store, but never the floss, tissues, hand sanitizer, and contact solution store.  It turns out we had been looking for the wrong word, Hyper Markets are what we were after.  We grabbed a couple of essentials and looked around for a bit before heading home. Unfortunately we weren’t able to find contact solution or floss so we’ll keep looking tomorrow.

Back at the hostel, we started uploading our posts from the past few days and really struggled through some truly awful Wi-Fi.  I’m sure this won’t be the last time, but it’s surprising that the hotel in Mongolia had better internet than one in the third largest city in the world.

Daily Walking Miles : 17.7 – We’re back on track after a very lethargic Mongolia leg.

First Impressions of China:

  • Doug – It’s not at all what I expected.  I had the impression it was going to be very pushy, dirty, and smoggy.  So far everyone has been friendly with a few overzealous street vendors here and there, the city is as clean as Japan was despite the occasional lugey spitting from the locals, and the smog is definitely there but we can still see blue sky.
  • Lynn – It’s much cleaner than I remember and the food is just as delicious.

 

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