Thursday, April 8, 2010

Welcome to Beijing. Rickshaw?

I traveled to Beijing with my friend David, who I met at a grocery store a couple months after I first moved to Hong Kong. Another friend, Rita, met us at the airport and helped us get a taxi to our hotel. Staying in a hotel rather than a hostel was a new experience in itself. I didn’t have to lock up my valuables or worry about stepping on Damien from Sweden on the descent from the top bunk.
Beijing Day One was FREEZING. So windy and freezing, David had to buy a local-style silken jacket. It changed colors in the light:

After the acquisition of the Technicolor dreamcoat, the three of us went to Beijing-style hotpot, similar to Hong Kong-style hotpot, but with taller chimneys and more yelling:

From there, we walked to Tiananmen Square

where Rita left us to our own devices. We marveled at the Square, though David heretically called it a rectangle. The Square guards stand on pedestals surrounded on four sides by a red velvet rope like they have at movie theatres:

How to Get Kicked Out of China 101: David pinching a Chinese guard’s ass through the magic of photographic perspective.

We crossed the road to enter the Forbidden City—

the imperial palace from the Ming to the Qing dynasties (circa 1406—1912). It’s not forbidden to enter anymore, as long as you pay a 2 Yuan entrance fee. It is now home to the Palace Museum and a collection of photographs, such as the Emperor of the Dork Dynasty:

We never found an entrance to the Palace Museum and after several failed attempts to enter through the exit, we gave up on it and David went to the male piss room.

I know it’s hard to read, but it definitely says “male piss room”. I was trying to be inconspicuous, as I usually am when I photograph toilets, so we take what we can get. And yes, I felt left out as there was no female piss room.
Then at last, he found us: Saturday Hero. As heroes often do, he came riding on a chariot of motorized bicycle with a bench seat on the back. We hopped on and communicated our next destination: Houhai Lake.
The seemingly circuitous route took us through some narrow residential alleys:

He stopped on the north side of the Forbidden City for a photo op.
David with the Saturday Hero himself:

Houhai: a beautiful lake in central Beijing

surrounded by restaurants, bars, and really classy establishments:

As we walked the perimeter of the Lake, we denied at least 583 rickshaw drivers. They have a brilliant tactic of offering a ride and immediately agreeing with themselves. Example: “Rickshaw? Ok!”
Met Rita to go to dinner with David’s friends Andrew, Nicola, and Tom. We ate Muslim food and watched belly dancers:

Then out for ice cream at Coldstone where I talked with Stephanie, Andrew’s employee and fellow English grad. Nothing like bonding over Emerson in Beijing…

Next day, THE WALL. We hired a driver (Sunday Hero) to take us out to the Mutianyu section of The Wall---about an hour and a half drive to what we thought would be low on tourists. Wrong on the few tourists part, but The Wall was indeed Great. To get up to The Wall, you can take a cable car. One friend alleges that he rode the same car as Bill Clinton. I don’t think Bill Clinton would get on this device. But we did.

I hesitate to post photos; they can hardly do it justice. But here are a few anyway:

Wouldn't be a trip to a UNESCO World Heritage Site without some defacing:

To get down from The Wall, you ride a toboggan past angry guys in long green coats who yell, “Brake! Brake! Brake!” and “No fast!” Then again, they may have been yelling “Break!” which might actually make more sense considering the circumstance.

Memorable characters at The Wall:

Our driver collected us and en route back to the hotel stopped off at The Bird’s Nest:
Next stop: Silk Market. Initially a horrid place, but got progressively better as we ascended. From there, we were offered a taxi ride to our next destination, but it really looked like a regular guy calling his maroon Mitsubishi a “taxi”. Took a legit taxi to Dong Hua Men Night Market.

I ate some beetles

Then we met Rita for Peking Duck:

Obligatory photo with the giant cartoon duck outside the restaurant:

Beijing Day Three…here’s where it gets crazy, folks.
It started out normal, at least by Chinese standards. We got up very early in order to hit everything on our schedule: Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, and the 798 Art Zone. First stop: The Summer Palace. The magnificent and massive Palace area was unfortunately obscured by a sand storm, but I got a few decent photos:

Some of my favorite Palace names: Chamber of Heartfelt Contentment and the Hall of Dispelling Clouds.
After the Summer Palace, we met Rita for lunch. I started to feel sick, even before I ate, but tried to ignore it. It got worse and worse. I felt ridiculously hot, so I lay down on the bathroom floor…more disgusting than eating beetles, for sure. I was having a difficult time even moving by this point, but I made it back out to our table, where Rita and David said I didn’t look good. We planned to go back to the hotel to rest, but the pain started to get unbearable and I got uncommunicative besides the word “pain” and grasping my lower abdomen. I lay down again on the sidewalk outside the restaurant. A minor step above the bathroom, still way below beetles. Rita got a taxi for us and yelled “hospital” (in Mandarin) at the driver at least 80 times before he got it. Never mind the girl writhing in pain in the backseat. He finally got it and drove to the hospital where Rita knew they speak English. (Rita = Monday Hero, by the way)The ride felt like an eternity to me and David kept saying, “We’re almost there” even though he had no idea. The best friends always know when to lie. Eventually, we got there—I hardly remember getting out of the taxi and into the hospital, but I apparently did because they pumped morphine into me and I felt better fast. The doctor did a pelvic exam (never thought I’d mention such in this blog…) and then sent me up for an ultrasound. As I predicted, I’m not pregnant. I had an ovarian cyst rupture and another one still there. No big deal, really. Just insanely painful for a while.
Post pain, on morphine, filling out more paperwork:

Photo compliments the incomparable David Shapiro.
We discussed whether or not we could fly back to Hong Kong. I wanted nothing more than to get back, and the doctor said it would be fine. I felt bad that we missed the Temple of Heaven; David said at one point he was afraid I might end up there myself.
Back in HK now…alive and well. Rickshaw?