Yay! We made it to Shanghai two days ago and now, all of a sudden, I find myself in Beijing! Crazy to be back here, seeing some of the same stuff I saw a year and a half ago but with different people and in a very different time of year (there is ice on the canals in the Forbidden City!). Still lots of fun. Bo asked that I send in some stuff for the SALTS log about what we’re up to so there is something else to put in other than the same ramblings around Shanghai that have been happening the last 2 days… so I figured I’d put it all up here. I don’t know if she’s going to use the whole thing, but if not, here it is in its entirety. (Saves me from having to be creative twice…!)
After some confusion as to which Shanghai Railway station we were to be at last night (lacking as we do the critical skill of reading Chinese) and following entertaining metro and taxi rides, Sarah B, Sarah L, Susan, Greg, and I arrived at our train with about 5 min to spare. Sarah, Sarah, Susan, and I were sharing a 6 bed cabin with Antony and Jose, who were already quite comfortable on the lower bunks when we arrived. We chose to travel by “hard sleeper” which means that the train cars have a long, narrow corridor down one side with small “cabins” (with no doors) off of it. Each cabin has 6 bunks – 3 on each side. I ended up on a top bunk which was just above the top of my head when standing on the floor (about 6 ft up!). The bottom bunks are the only ones with enough head room to sit up on, meaning that head space in the middle and top bunks is practically non-existent. In fact, if I removed my head, the height probably would have been perfect. Climbing up to a top bunk is also a tricky prospect which is best done with lots of caution. Fortunately, we are sailors and have a lot of experience in navigating sticky situations while moving in all possible directions. At the end of each train car is a hot water tap for instant noodles (with the warning “Be careful to scald” in unfortunate Chinglish written above the tap) as well as two toilets of the squatting variety. Jose learned the hard way that one should always wear shoes when using the head on a train. Oh, and toilets in China are all BYO TP, trains included… which means we are all carrying around packages of Kleenex in our pockets. After breakfast of “jidan chaomien” – egg fried noodles – which I got from one of the carts roaming up and down the aisle, we packed our bags for our arrival of 9:40 am. Saying goodbye to Antony and Jose, the four girls headed out to the hostel we booked just minutes away from the Forbidden City. Our walk to the hostel took us down a shopping street I remembered from last time I was here a year and a half ago, it is fun to see things and remember where I am. Our hostel is situated in one of Beijing’s hutong, neighborhoods of narrow stone alleyways and low stone/wood houses (which are typically little more than one room with a dirt floor). Sarah B and I both agree that it is one of the nicest hostels we have ever stayed at, and its location makes it even more quaint. After checking in, we walked over to the Forbidden City, where the emperors used to live in the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1300’s-early 1900’s). It is called “forbidden” because no one except people the emperor allowed to enter could. The Forbidden City is one of the largest palace complexes in the world and it stunningly gorgeous. The buildings are vivid red with golden roofs and intricately carved wood work painted with gold and brilliant shades of blue and green. It is a series of sections inside of each other getting progressively smaller, until you end up in the Imperial Garden where the Emperor and Empress lived in a palace. From the Forbidden City, we walked down to Tienanmen Square, the largest square in the world. It was crazy to think of the history of that square and to realize we were standing in it. People were flying kites and others were trying to sell us random souvenirs we didn’t want or need. Many we looking around and taking pictures like we were. A square like that is such an anomaly in China where everything is packed in on top of everything else. It was like a breath of air in the middle of the city, but not because it of the history. We ran into Chase, Raven, Chris, and Sean on our way back to the hostel and their group did much the same thing as us today, they are having lots of fun. On our way back to the hostel, we stopped at the night market for dinner. The night market is where food vendors line up along the street with food and cook it in front of you. We saw everything from sea urchins, squid, and starfish on skewers, candied fruit, dumplings and steamed buns, noodles… We mostly opted for the tamer items for dinner. Our evening entertainment tonight brought us to the Peking Opera, known more for its martial arts, acrobatics, and colourful costumes than its acting or singing… It was very entertaining and lots of fun. There were two short story lines playing tonight; one about a “white snake” guard assigned to protect an important general and the other about a sneaky soldier who steals silver for the poor from a corrupt official. It was lots of fun. Now we are all back at the hostel, taking turns through the shower, our first since Okinawa, and I think it is my turn…!