Big Bad Beijing
Trip Start May 05, 2012
54Trip End Mar 01, 2013
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The trip took 30min on the bullet train and we were travelling at about 295km/h for most of the journey! I was a little bit disappointed that we never cracked the magic 300km/h mark but I think it might have something to do with the heat on the tracks - it was a solid 30 degrees outside when we left Tianjin!
We arrived in Beijing South train station bang on time - 11.30am precisely! Considering the madness that envelopes most of life in China the precision of the bullet trains seems to be a bit of a contradiction. After disembarking the train we were feeling hungry - not having much for breakfast being so excited - so we found the Burger King that is inside the train station and indulged
After and early lunch we headed for the subway to make our way to Tiananmen Square. It took us a good 5-10min of searching for the subway entrance. There were loads of signs all pointing to "Subway" but they all seemed to be going in different directions. It was a wee-while before we realised that the entrance was smack bang in the middle of the station and that the signs were in fact pointing toward it. The Beijing metro is great. Its cheap (¥2 to go anywhere!), easy to use and the trains run every 2-5min. We managed to navigate our way to Tiananmen and were astounded when we stepped outside for the first time at how hot and clear the sky was. Apparently we managed to strike Beijing on a perfect summers day with the extreme rarity of blue skies!
We found a map of the square and upon getting our bearings had a wander around and a look at the various landmarks of this famous plaza. Fortunately being a Monday the crowds were quite subdued and there weren't many people milling around doing the touristy thing - relatively speaking. Unfortunately Monday is also the day that tourist attractions - such as the National Museum of China and Mao's Mausoleum - are closed. Being a 30min train ride away we can, and will, easily come back to do those ones.
Wandering around the square we took photos of the various landmarks. See our photo of the map for how they are laid out. They are all incredibly impressive buildings and you do get a sense of how important the place is politically for China. The square is absolutely crawling with PSB (Police) and Army Officers! There are x-ray scanner check points at all entrances to the square (however no one seemed to be looking at the x-rays of our bags, the security people just looked incredibly bored) and all the lamp posts are covered in security cameras
We took lots of photos of the buildings and monuments and a few of ourselves too, just to prove that we actually went. When we were taking photos of the massive sculptures that adorn Mao's Mausoleum, we asked a lovely old Chinese couple to take photos of us in broken Chinglish and through gestures. They happily obliged and when they had taken one of us with our camera they took turns to have their own photos taken with us!
It was quite funny people wanting to take their picture with the foreigners and it happened a couple more times to us as we made our way around the square. As we were looking at the Great Hall of People we had an entire family come up and have their photo taken. Later we had a younger guy and his father, who gave the impression that they were polite country bumpkins, request a photo. They were all polite and its quite sweet how something so normal to us is so strange and foreign to them. We were also approached by English speaking Chinese women (two groups) who just seemed to want to have a chat. Their main comment for us though was that I (Steph) was really white. One lady also asked if all people in NZ were as white as I was. In China this is a complement, unlike reactions my white skin has in NZ!! (Didn't you see the sun this summer??)
After sweltering in the heat of square I (Evan) was looking for a rest in the shade
We had a slow wander around the park in the heat of the day and found a few attractions that were quite cool. There was a bronze statue of Sun Yet Sen, the leader of the revolution in the early 1900s that overthrew the last emperor. There was an awesome set of stone lions which are thought to be artifacts of the Song Dynasty, which makes them at least a thousand years old! (the sign said they were buried by caretakers during the Cultural Revolution so that they wouldn't be destroyed). We also saw the Altar to the God of Land and Grain which was pretty cool, built in the year 1420.
Getting a bit hungry from an afternoon of tourist-ing we decided to head over to the Westerner District for a beer and some more familiar food. By this time it was only 3.30pm and we figured the subway shouldn't be too bad. Oh how we were wrong! The subway was the most crowded public space I have ever seen and it was only worse when we tried to get back to the train station at 6.30pm! We eventually made it to our stop and had to fight to get out the doors against the crush of Beijing commuters
At about 6pm we decided to head off and once again did battle with the subway hoards. I have absolutely no desire to live or work in Beijing after experiencing how crowded the subway is at 6.30pm! We now understand why the Chinese have no concept of personal space- it is simply a luxury that most cannot afford. We also now have a much greater appreciation for the Tianjin subway as it is relatively deserted by comparison!
After about an hour of pushing and shoving to get on/off various metro lines we eventually made it back to the intercity train station and got ourselves sorted for the correct train home. By the time we found our seats on the bullet train we were exhausted and hanging out for our apartment in Tianjin. Luckily getting a taxi at the train station was easy and we were home about 9pm.
Big Bad Beijing was great fun. Talking to people about it today has given us lots of ideas of what we want to see next time and we are looking forward to our next trip- maybe once the memory of the crowded subway has faded a bit more!