Beijing - Part 1

Trip Start Jul 12, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, October 18, 2003

The first thing we did upon arriving in Beijing was head to Tiananmen Square. At first we didn't even know if we were in 'the' square as it seems to have been filled in with so much 'stuff', maybe to prevent mass gatherings? Who knows! But instead of the massive expanse of concrete reminiscent of the Tiananmen Square massacre in '89, there is now a huge flower garden in the centre, a replica of the Great Wall of China, and various other statues and gaudy minatures of Chinese tourist attractions. Even so, the square is still pretty big!

It was great to discover a subway station right near our hostel - it's made getting around Beijing so quick and easy (so we've managed to do so much already!). We joined the hordes of tourists visiting the Forbidden City, a huge complex of ancient buildings where two dynasties of emporers lived. As great an experience it was to be in such a historical, famous place, the hordes of tour groups did diminish the fun factor just a little. You have to compete with the jabbing elbows and rude shoves of the Chinese tourists just to get a glimpse of something, not to mention the impossibility of taking photos without people walking in front of you and avoiding the ubiquitous spit that flys out of every second mouth - no wonder there was a SARS outbreak here!! Don't get me wrong though, Beijing is fantastic and we're loving our time here! It was just that this particular site had too many tourists for it's own good!

We visited another dead communist leader (after Ho Chi Minh) - Mao's body in the huge Mausoleum in Tiananmen Square. It was similar to Ho Chi Minh's in that it looked like a wax dummy, had a red light shining on his face, and you were ushered past really quickly by strict guards. Yet another of the million and one things to do and see here is the Lama Temple - although we were feeling templed-out (as the Lonely Planet saying goes), we thought we'd visit 'just one more' as it was a Tibetan Buddhist temple, a kind I hadn't seen before (Steve had). It was so colourful and beautiful, with prayer wheels, golden buddha statues, ornate colourful ceilings and even a 55 foot high buddha carved from one huge piece of sandalwood. There was so much incense being burnt there you could smell it in the nearest subway station!

We visited the Silk Market which was jam-packed with fake designer bags and clothes, but found it was a bit of a rip-off and aimed more at westerners than Chinese. I've found much better bargains at the 10 yuan shops (do I really need more handbags? Ummm...yes!) so we didn't stick around. One evening we sought refuge in a really authentic looking British pub, the John Bull Pub - a little English oasis in a big Chinese world for 2 pub-food starved Aussies! It was great - however we sheepishly calculated that for the price of 1 pint of beer there, we could have bought 12 longnecks of Chinese beer at our hostel!!
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