Again, the weather forecast all week had been for a sunny day today (Monday). I was still surprised when I walked out of the hotel to see clear (for Beijing) blue skies.
On the way to the subway station, there looked to be a nice little restaurant. We popped our heads in once before, but it was during the busy morning rush. We had a little time to try and decipher the menu. Actually, I didn’t bother, I just bought one of each of the four things on display in the counter (which was a delicious) victory.
We made a bit of a detour to check out a local clothing market (Tian Yi Xin Shang Cheng). It was a couple of different subways, followed by a 15-minute walk (in the sudden summer heat). We didn’t see any other tourists, so we thought we might have found something a little different. And something different is certainly what we found! Firstly there was giant Santa Claus (in a green coat, no less). There were countless fibreglass animals (sometimes just their heads), as well as the characters from Monkey (Monkey, Pigsy, Tripitaka and the other one).
Inside though, it was hectic. Want sunglasses? There is a floor with shops that sell nothing but sunglasses. Want socks? Yup, there is another floor selling socks, or watches, or belts, or handbags, or suitcases, or jewellery, or toys. You want fashionable clothes? Go to a department store – you won’t find it here… We’d mused before that Beijingers aren’t the most fashionable people, and if this is where locals come to shop, I can understand why. Still, we bought socks and an LED head torch, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time and energy. Actually, even if we didn’t buy anything, it was amazing just to see the size of the place.
I know we only just ate, but all that shopping made us hungry (it didn’t actually), so we detoured to (another) famous dumpling shop. This time shaomai (or what Australians call Dim sims). No English menu, but there was a waitress who spoke English and explained to menu items to us. We bought an assortment of these steamed little delights, and again, apart from the vegetable ones, they were delicious. Don’t get me wrong, the vegetable ones were still nice, but they just weren’t as juicy and full of flavour as the meat based ones.
The restaurant also had an interesting story. It’s rather long, so condensed the Emperor dressed in plain clothes and visited the restaurant because it was the only one open. At the time the restaurant didn’t have a name (as the owner said it wasn’t large enough to require one), so the Emperor gave it a name (Du-yi-chu – something like ‘only shop in town’) and made a plaque, which made the restaurant famous. And they lived happily ever after. Actually, they supposedly still strive to make the best shaomai.
This restaurant, Duyichu, is in a modern historic area (make sense?) south of Tiananmen Square, with avenues and alleys lined with brand-new, but historic looking buildings, with shops like Uniqlo and Starbucks as tenants – as well as all the usual souvenir shops and hawkers. But, I tell you what they didn’t have – not one single bubble tea shop. Business opportunity right there!
We tried to go to Tiananmen Square to have a look. Last time we were there we caught the flag lowering ceremony – and then were promptly evacuated from the area. Again, today we couldn’t get in to the area, but we had no idea why. We knew that Mao’s mausoleum was closed (Monday) but didn’t think that the entire square would be off-limits. Accepting that it was shut for whatever reason, we kept walking towards the Forbidden City. Half way there was an enormous explosion that we could feel in our chests and echoed off the surrounding buildings. We didn’t know if we should run for cover, or pull out the camera. None of the Chinese seemed concerned, in fact they were opted for the later – camera phones were out. And then it happened again. And again. And I finally managed to see in the distance 8 artilleries. Then the flash of fire, the pound of the explosion, and the smoke from the barrel. They must have fired twenty shots (blanks I presume) in total. We were totally mystified and will have to search for answers one day.
It was 11˚C yesterday, and over 30˚C today, so we struggled a little with the heat – we’ve just come from a long and cold winter in Hokkaido. It was nice to have blue-ish skies, but it was much easier walking in the milder weather.
Entering the Forbidden City through the Gate of Heavenly Peace was really impressive. However, for whatever reason, we couldn’t enter the Forbidden City today – the gates were shut. I couldn’t get any reason from anyone, other than it was shut today. And, we didn’t find that out until we’d walked quarter of the way around it looking for an entrance, and caught a bus another quarter of the way still in search of a way in.
We’d planned to go see an acrobatic troupe this evening, which happened to be near the Temple of Heaven. But a bit of luck and assistance, we managed to find a bus that would take us there (from the north exit of Forbidden City). It was a slow and crushed bus trip (standing room only), but it got us there eventually, and it only cost us ¥2 (30c). Took a guess as to which way to the entrance (North or East). Went with North. Walked half way there and encountered a trike taxi driver who told us we were going the wrong way. Risa was tired, so I let her be convinced by the driver that we’d get a lift from him for ¥15 ($2) to the East entrance – because he said it was such a long way to walk. Unsurprisingly, it was lies – it was only just past the bus stop we’d just come from. When we called him out on his lies, he just continued the story that it was a long way. So cheeky.
Turned out all our effort was in vain anyway – the ticket office had stopped selling tickets. So, not only had our plan on seeing the Temple of Heaven failed, it had also impacted our plans to see an acrobatic show that was in a theatre on the west-side of the temple.
It was early, but rather than waste time/energy/money at the Pearl or Silk markets that neighbour the temple, we found a bus that took us to the other side of the temple grounds – to where the theatre was. I say was, but the theatre is still there, it’s just no longer open or doing performances. So, we’d missed out again, for the third time today. We were tired and a long way from any subway stations. We also didn’t have internet to be able to search for an alternative performance. Oddly, Risa had a Japanese tourist map with us which had a theatre market not far from where we were, so we did what we’d been doing all day – walked a little further.
Our luck didn’t change when we arrived at the location on Risa’s map – it was a large hotel. However, that hotel was able to book tickets and transfers (taxi) for us to go to an acrobatics show that was taking place on the other side of town in thirty minutes. This was going to be our only chance to see one, and we were going to have to decide very soon what we wanted to do. Not surprisingly, the tickets weren’t cheap, but the lady at the tour desk in the hotel did us a ‘deal’ (I think we ended up in the cheap seats anyway). She sold us two of the mid-tier ¥280 ($50) tickets for ¥225 ($40) each, and then booked a taxi to take us there (¥20-¥30).
I nearly fell asleep when I sat down in the taxi, but I was too busy looking around to let my eyes drop. We drove past Tiananmen Square just as the sun was setting. I even got to see my favourite Beijing building, the CCTV ‘pants’ building. I think it looks amazing – I just wouldn’t be 100% comfortable working above the void.
A lady from the tour company was waiting at the front door with our tickets, and we had just enough time for a bathroom visit before the lights dimmed and the curtains opened on stage. The production was over the top, but just enough that it wasn’t ridiculous – a fine line to be sure.
It started out fairly simply, with men jumping through hoops and performing acrobatics, and then moved to more subtle displays of skills, like ridiculous balance and co-ordination using umbrellas as props.
There was even a Globe of Death with motorbikes rapidly doing loops inside the sphere. Every time an extra rider entered, it looked like they couldn’t add another, and then they did. Until they got to five riders, all buzzing around narrowly missing each other… and then they added three more to make eight!
It continued to rapidly change between acts, each one attempting to outdo the previous, and I couldn’t honestly pick a favourite. The show completed, and the staff busily prepared the theatre for the next batch of tourists.
We went to have a look at an area that we saw during the day, and looked like it would be rather interesting at night – Qianhai Lake. We weren’t wrong! There was live music blasting out of every other bar/restaurant/club and so much neon for what seemed like a rather quiet area (during the day). But, none of it really took our fancy (especially now that it was our last night and money was critically tight).
We ended up at a small and dirty (but not un-hygienically so) noodle bar between Qianhai and Nanluogu Xiang where we were fed for less than ¥40 ($7). My beef noodles were great (even though they weren’t the noodle I was expecting after seeing the picture), but Risa’s were a little flavourless.
Since we were in the area, we had one more quick stroll up the alleyways at Nanluogu Xiang. We’d been waiting all day for a bubble tea – and there were so many to choose from!
But, we’d missed the last subway and were forced to catch a taxi. Risa managed to barter a trike down to ¥10 ($1.7) so at least we didn’t have to walk!