Sightseeing adventures

Trip Start Feb 27, 2013
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Flag of China  , Beijing,
Sunday, April 28, 2013

Last week, on Wednesday, we had the day off for International Labor Day.  Most workers got Monday to Wednesday off, but we only got the one day.  I was feeling cheated, until I heard that the workers (and some students at other universities) had to work on Saturday and Sunday to make up for the three day break.  Not so jealous anymore! On Tuesday night, I went out with a lot of my classmates, and we had fun and ended up going to karaoke.  The Russian speakers in our class monopolized the karaoke for a good part of the night, singing Russian classics to the entertainment of the rest of us.  It was a fun night, and I am so glad I have such a great class with so many wonderful people.  My class is made up from people from Indonesia, Armenia, Sweden, Switzerland, France, Lithuania, Canada, UK, US, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Japan, Korea, Syria, Mexico, Uruguay, Costa Rica.  It is so fantastic to have the opportunity to meet so many people from such a diverse range of countries.  There are two Swedish girls, and two Canadians, but apart from that, everyone else is from different countries.

On Friday, my friend Melissa and I decided that we wanted to go for a massage.  These hard beds are not agreeing with our backs, so we thought it would be a nice relaxing way to spend a Friday afternoon.  It was a really funny experience.  We were greeted by two males who would be our masseuses. They were wearing jeans and lab coats so I almost felt like I was going to be experimented on rather than massaged.  The massage beds looked like recliner chairs from an outdated nursing home.  We were handed pyjamas to wear, and the masseuses watched the Chinese version of Days of Our Lives the entire time.  It wasn't exactly a hugely relaxing afternoon, but it was still a really enjoyable experience.  It was cheap, too, especially compared to what you would pay in Australia.

Saturday, Ian and Emily took me to Tao Ran Ting park.  This is a beautiful park where many Chinese go to spend the day on the weekend.  I found it so funny as I walked around and I saw them putting up tents and really settling in for the weekend. There was even a lady with a blow up mattress, lying in prime position next to the lake. With no one having any back yards, this really is the next best thing.  They stake out their spot, and just hang out all day.  The competition for spots must be pretty aggressive, especially during the warmer months where it is very crowded.  It made me giggle to myself as I realized all these people with camping tents would only ever use them for day trips to the park.
I also saw many pretty young ladies dressed up in traditional Chinese clothes and having professional photos taken in the garden.  Apparently, it is very popular to do this type of thing, especially to use for online dating profile pictures.
The park itself was beautiful.  We walked the whole way around the park, which covers 59 acres. It has a huge, beautiful lake in the middle where you can paddle boat in, as well as many willow trees and flowers. People were playing musical instruments, playing with bubbles, and just dancing around. I felt rejuvenated and relaxed as I spent the day in a place which really felt a mile away from the craziness of Beijing.
We went to a hutong for dinner.  Hutongs are traditional residences of the Chinese people, and are mostly a collection of really narrow alleyways.  The one we went into still looked pretty old, and had many people still living there.  The restaurant was tiny, but highly recommended by a website.  I was at first a little concerned about the sanitation standards, but I really had no reason to worry. The food was actually really delicious. 

On Monday, after class, I went out with my friend Melissa again to see the Bell Tower. It was a really warm day, but it was still a nice day to go do some sightseeing. Bell Towers were very common in the Han Dynasty (206-220 BC) to remind people of the time, when there was no such thing as an iPhone. The bell itself inside the tower is the largest and heaviest in China, weighing 63 tons and 23 feet high. I was looking at the ground underneath the bell, and wondering what would happen if it ever dislodged and fell.
There were quite a few steep stairs to get up to the bell. Getting up was no problem (aside from the physical strain), but getting down was certainly a 'both hands on the railing' sort of job to stop yourself from slipping and rolling the whole way down.  I was just glad that nobody was going up or down when I was there, because the stairwell was so narrow, it would have been awkward to navigate past each other.  Going up so many stairs would inevitably lead you to a beautiful view. Unfortunately, the heavy and widespread pollution, meant that we could not see past a few hundred meters, but it was still nice to look over the city.
We decided to spend the rest of the afternoon in the nearby hutong. This hutong was very set up for tourists, that I don't think anything original actually exists there. There are rickshaw drivers and souvenir shops lining the very clean roads. It was still nice, and you could still feel the old sense of spirit of the place. Melissa and I went and spent a while sitting on futons on the roof of one of these places, which was a really relaxing way to spend the afternoon. We overlooked the lake, and shared laughter with the passing rickshaw drivers. I have no idea how they can be so happy, when they are pushing so many people on the back of their bikes!
I also bought a panda onesie (panda suit), which I feel like may be the best investment I have made since I have arrived in China. There are so many occasions in life where a panda onesie would be so appropriate. Maybe that's a slight exaggerration, but it is still fun to dance around in.

Back in Australia, the only time I have ever had my ID checked was when I attempted to buy some plastic knives and forks from Safeway.  Apparently you are not allowed to sell knives to under 18 year olds, even if they are of the plastic variety, hence the need to check my ID.  I have always thought it was incredibly ridiculous, but coming to China, they had a similar policy. I tried to buy a knife today from the supermarket (adorably named Happiness Mart), and the manager came over to look at my student card.  He went away and recorded my details as well as what kind of knife I bought.  Since 2012, most stores record when people buy knives from the shops, in case they are ever used as weapons later on.  I have no idea why I appear to look like a potential knife-wielding attacker, but I am apparently, and universally, seen as suspicious looking.
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Comments

Shirley from Beijing on

I'm so glad to hear from you and know you have had wonderful time here. It would be good to meet some time whenever you are free.

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