Temple fatigue and dodgy bars
20.07.2011 - 20.07.2011 30 °C
Awakening to a relaxing, oscillating water jet on the electronic and fully customizable toilet, come bidet our relocation from open Mongolian field toilet to the height of technological bathroom experience in Beijing could not be more complete. A hole in the ground replaced by Japanese innovation. Hard to decide which we prefer. Certainly the view was better in Mongolia!
Ready to explore the Forbidden City we are soon crammed onto the unavoidable Subway Line 1, once again giving a passable impression of sardines in a can. Released from our temporary and intimate predicament we are soon outside the ancient buildings, where entry was forbidden for 500 years and that served as home to two dynasties of Emperors, the Ming and Qing. In former ages the price for uninvited entry was execution; today Y60 ($10 USD) was sufficient.
The sheer size and scale of the city is spectacular. As we entered through the southern Meridien Gate one courtyard after another appeared before us until we approached the Palace of Heavenly Purity, a residence of Ming and early Qing emperors, and later an audience hall for receiving foreign envoys and high officials. From the outside the Chinese style architecture could not fail to impress, although the dusty and off limits interiors of what appeared consistently to be rather staid looking beds was a little disappointing. From this northern area a multitude of small courtyards house further buildings, once residences, storage rooms and even telecommunication centers but now either shops, museums and locked to the public.
Yet, despite its scale and perhaps due to the volume of tourists crawling over ever area of the city or a growing temple fatigue the Forbidden City does not capture our passions and certainly does not offer up the splendid photographic opportunities we had hoped for. Maybe we need more classes! So we explore the city and wonder at the buildings but cannot help but compare to both sights on this trip and previous that have engaged us more.
However, on leaving the Forbidden City after some hours exploration, as it truly is a city within an capital we are keen to climb to the top of the hill, shaped from the earth excavated to create the palace moat that still surround the city. With its priceless views Jingshan Park offers an amazing panorama of both the Forbidden City and central Beijing. Whilst Chinese tourists dress in the Emperors traditional robes for the sought after photograph we descend the hill through the quieter northern area of the park and towards the tourist Hútòng of Nanluogu Xiang. Replete with western tourists, kitsch stores and bohemian style cafes this area of Beijing reminds one of the shopping alleyways of Shanghai but certainly not the busy, modern capital of Beijing we have become used to.
With a brief return to the Silk Market to hard bargain purchases of ‘must have’ items that we never realized we wanted we spend an interesting evening, after drinks and nibbles at the hotel, exploring the Sanlitun Lu bar street of the Chaoyang embassy district.
Throughout Beijing we have seen small motorbikes embedded within essentially an enclosed steel box that allows the driver to transport two passengers short distances both on the road and sidewalk. Riding in one of these to the Sanlitun one feels like a slightly cramped convict on way to trial, in a micro paddy wagon, with nothing but a small windows to see out of. However, they are relatively comfortable after the subway and with us averaging 15 miles a day, walking, a welcome respite.
The bar street itself is a capitalist mélange of quality fashion stores and neon lit relatively seedy looking bars. The fusion of these very different environments is both strange and unexpected in Beijing. Approaching one bar we are excitedly told not to worry. The singer on stage will be ending soon and two girls, gesticulated at as if at the zoo, will be pole dancing soon. Not unsurprisingly we give that bar a miss and find one that proffered a somewhat cheesy ‘American I Got Talent Idol’ style singer and electronic pianist. With expensive beers and a desperately empty bar we ‘savored’ the atmosphere as the bar began to fill with Chinese men purchasing large amounts of beer and clearly settling in for the evening.
As our bottles of local beer emptied we were informed that as the main event was to start soon our comfy chairs would got $150USD if we were to stay. With no interest in paying, on a whole variety of fronts, we were soon back on the street and returning to our hotel. Yet, as we passed other bars, that clearly started their ‘action’ early, the pole dancing appeared to be a weird, well covered, Turkish style dancing that will certainly not worry a Mr. Stringfellow or certain bar owners in Bangkok, I will warrant. With both Chinese and foreign tourists enjoying the warm night air at these bars clearly the sight of well clothed young girls, pole dancing, does not concern either customer or authority in what must becoming a slightly more accepting Beijing.