This post is about the main tourist attractions in Beijing… you know which ones I mean: Tienanmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Summer palace. We did them all in one pretty packed, box-ticking day.
As famous as Tienanmen square is, it is just a square. I don’t know what I was expecting but we were like ‘well we’ve seen that now’ on our way from the subway station to the Forbidden City. It did, however, look prettier in the evening when they had a giant statue of fruit and flowers, that was lit up in the middle of the square.
The Forbidden City was pretty cool. It was absolutely packed with Chinese tourists though, which was a bit unpleasant. If you’ve ever encountered Chinese tourists on mass, you can kind of understand why the Chinese government felt that it was necessary to produce a 64 page edict, instructing Chinese tourists on how to behave abroad. I may be British, but I wasn’t alone in being appalled by the complete lack of queueing etiquette. When there was a room to look into, instead of waiting for people to move out of the way, there was deliberate pushing, shoving and elbowing. It got to the point when we were like it’s just not worth the bruises you’d acquire trying to look into a room, which is a real shame. This kind of behaviour really turned the tables on the stereotype you often get of the Chinese being really polite and focused on communal values compared to the more individualist Western values.
In the Forbidden City, make sure to ask for a student discount, if you are eligible, as you save a fair bit. The audio guides also impressed us. They used GPS to work out which room you were in, and played the appropriate information. They also had a map on the back that lit up to show you where you were. However, as far as the actual audio description was concerned, we tuned it out after not long. It did go on a bit. They should offer a brief alternative guide, for those who want to walk around quicker and not spend the whole day.
When we left the Forbidden City, we made it our mission to find some Peking duck for lunch. It wasn’t quite what I expected. Instead of the shredded duck you get with pancakes and hoisin sauce, they bring out a whole roasted duck on a plate. Head, beak, feat and everything. Siepke and Dan decided to crack open the skull and give the brain a taste! Definitely not for me. We also all bought ridiculous hats from a hawker outside.
In the afternoon we went to the Summer Palace. It took a long time, as it turns out the walk to the subway station took a lot longer than anticipated. Beijing is huge, and the stations are spaced fairly far apart. When we got to the Summer Palace, it was beautiful. I would definitely recommend a visit to anyone in Beijing. Though bare in mind that although the park stays open until eight, it gets dark at about six and the paths through the woods to the exit aren’t lit. Two of us girls found ourselves in a race against the sunset to get to the gates before we were stuck alone in the dark, with nothing to light our way. It all worked out just fine however. There was a giant inflatable rubber duck on the lake when we went and it was nice and peaceful to walk around the grounds and take the boat across the lake. There are a few craft shops in the park and it was interesting to watch a Chinese painter at work, in one of them.
After the Summer Palace, I finally got to practice some of my Mandarin! Some policemen came up to us and presented us with a dollar bill. It took a while for us to work out that they were asking if we were american; just out of curiosity. I replied, ‘I am not, I am English’ in Mandarin. They laughed at me but they understood – which is what really matters