Monday, January 31, 2011

Sleeping in a round bed in which there is another adult, in a room in which there are no windows, warmed by humidity from the in-room bathroom and no temperature controls, will make you a disaster in the morning. I woke up around 8:30, groggy and a victim of my sinuses. My body was tired, but we only had until Friday to explore Beijing, one of the world’s largest cities. I popped some Advil, showered, got ready for the day, then lugged myself downstairs.

We planned to meet Shannon’s cousin, Cameron, and several of his friends around lunchtime, so we couldn’t venture far. The sunshine streaming into the first floor of the hostel was an instant pick-me-up, and soon Shannon and I were walking toward Jingshan Park, which lies just north of the Forbidden City.

Beijing is full of fun architecture.

Within forty minutes we arrived at the entrance, and 2 yuan ($0.30) later we wandered into the park.

The view of the park from just inside the front entrance.

We immediately began our way up the stairs zigzagging their way up to the peak. Jingshan Park is essentially a steep hill covered in trees and surrounded by a tall wall; it’s man-made from the earth displaced when the moat around the Forbidden City, as well as the FC itself, were built.

Screw you, Stairmaster. You've got nothing on Beijing.

I commented that I’d never visited a city park where you had to pay to enter; once we reached the top of the hill, though, we knew why. It’s because Beijing is flat, and Jingshan Park, which exists in the center of the city, is the tallest point. The views were fantastic.

All those buildings in the background are a part of The Forbidden City.

After exploring a bit, we made our way back to the hostel to meet the guys. Shannon waited downstairs, and I curled into the fetal position on our bed for half an hour. Then, at 12:20, I decided to go to a bank nearby and exchange more money. I arrived at ICBC, a major bank in Beijing, at 12:30pm, was handed a number (9), and was intercepted by a girl my age walking out; she gave me her number (7). I was grateful, though didn’t see much of an advantage of my new number over my original one.

As it turns out, 30 minutes later, I was beyond grateful to have her number. Each person who went up to the counter seemed to take at least 15 minutes, and there were only three tellers. One woman was apparently withdrawing her entire account, evidenced by her large bag in which she placed bricks of bills, which tied up one teller for the entire time I was there. Finally, after 40 minutes, I raced up as my number was called, and my transaction took 5 minutes. I sat in the chair opposite the teller, who wore a name badge with a number on it, waiting for him to extend the transaction time. When he said, “You’re done,” I was surprised. What on earth was everyone else doing that was taking so long?

I hurried back to the hostel, expecting everyone to be waiting for me to get back. Luckily the guys had just arrived and were getting settled into their rooms. One by one they came downstairs to the cafe where Shannon and I were waiting, and I met Cameron, Will, Kevin and Liam.

Our group went around the corner to the noodle shop where Shannon and I ate our first night in Beijing – Cam, Shannon and I ate there, while the others brought in subs from the Subway next door. Then we decided to walk south to Temple of Heaven Park, approximately 4km away.

Like everything else in Beijing, this park was bigger than we anticipated.
From the entrance to the temple is a 5-10 minute walk. That's not the temple, it's just another ornate thing in the middle of the park.

The main attractions at the park closed at 5pm, and we arrived at 4, so we walked directly to the Temple, which is given much attention in guide books and is a popular tourist attraction.

That's the Temple of Heaven on the right. Tourists aren't allowed inside.
The brickwork at the base of the temple.
Europe has stained glass windows, Asia has intricate architectural details. No fun windows, though.

It was ornate and quite pretty, but none of us had an “ooh, aah” moment. As we explored the area, Will found a group playing a version of hackysack and jumped in.

Some people pray at temples. Will plays feather-sack.

Our group wandered away from the temple and explored more of the park, with its long walkways along green grass and tall trees. It was all very clean and well-kept.

More fun, this time with Will, Cam, Kevin and Liam (l-r)

Will lost us while he played hackysack with another group we’d found, and half an hour later, when we were ready to go, we still hadn’t found him. Kevin jogged a quick lap (20 minutes) through the park to see if he could find him, but no luck.

Shannon and I left the guys, who continued searching for Will, and took a taxi back to the hostel. We walked through the front door and found Will, who had himself taken a cab to the hostel after losing us. The rest of the boys returned, we all ate at the hostel cafe, then enjoyed sharing stories and beer for the rest of the evening. A guy from Ireland, Dave, who I recognized from earlier in the week, joined us. After shutting down the cafe, we continued drinking and chatting upstairs in Will and Cam’s room.

For such a diverse group of personalities, everyone got along famously. We made plans to go to the Forbidden City the following morning, bid each other goodnight at midnight or so, then each collapsed into bed.