Beijing There, Done That

Read all the exciting things our scholars have been up to!

Now that I have less than one month in China, I want to fill every moment with something exciting. As of now, each weekend is filled with trips. From short adventures to nearby cities to my biggest ad[vuong]ture yet: BEIJNG!

Overnight Train

The train was actually not that bad. Keep in mind, I was expecting an old choo-choo train that puffed out smoke. Don’t ask me why, but that is what I imagined. Anyways, I was pleasantly surprised that it was similar to a bullet train, just four times slower.

The ride was fine, aside from me almost suffering from hypothermia. It was so cold! I do not understand the temperature of the cart, but I was constantly shivering. I was in a T-shirt and shorts. Being the genius that I am, I did not bring a jacket because I was packing light for Beijing.

I could definitely fit everything I needed for the weekend in a backpack. Who needs a jacket in Beijing during the summer? The answer is no one, unless you are taking a train that also doubles as a freezer. However, I still got a few hours of sleep. It was not uninterrupted, but it was not unbearable. I simply tucked myself in, by which I mean I stuffed my arms inside my shirt [a) I stole this idea from one of my friends who I saw sleeping fairly peacefully and b) this is why I wear oversized shirts]. I even remember dreaming about how warm it was.

I remember half waking up and thinking I need to go back to sleep before the air conditioning turns back on and my body registers the coldness. I knew I would regret not enjoying the coolness, but I was too cold to appreciate anything.

Temple of Heaven (天坛)

How many people can say that they shared a laugh with the gods? Well anyone that stepped onto the stone at the Temple of Heaven, but I doubt many people giggled. If you stand on the Heaven’s Heart Stone in the center of the Circular Mound Altar, you can communicate with the gods.

This information would have been useful before I waited in the line just to stand on the stone for a few seconds. My friend and I just saw a line and thought why not. It was not until afterward when we met up with the rest of our friends that they asked what we said to the gods. We both looked at each other so confused and had to admit that we did not say anything spectacular.

We also saw the Temple of Heaven. Pictures can be deceiving: it was not as large as I thought it would be. It was still really pretty. The vibrant colors were not what I usually saw on temples, especially the blue. However, we were not allowed to go inside the temple.

This makes sense in the preservation standpoint, but I really wanted to walk in and see everything. Viewing it from the small opening was not ideal, especially with the group of other sweaty tourists who wanted the same view. We briefly visited the museum buildings, but it had a historical scent that did not mix well with the heat.

The Forbidden City: Everything the Smog Touches is China’s Kingdom

A city within a city. Centuries of symmetry. I had not realized how big the palace was. It was like a maze of ancient buildings, each one looked so similar to the next yet still had a different purpose. There was also so many gates to pass through, which makes sense because of protection.

Honestly, I was constantly eyeing the temple on the mountain that seemed so close yet so far. A friend and I finally just broke off from the rest of the group and made our way to the temple. We took a few detours, like the gift shop for the AC and just a few photo opps. We finally made it to the north exit.

We found a tunnel (make sure to take a left because the one on the right is a lot farther away) and crossed the traffic without risking our lives. The tickets to climb the mountain was only one yuan (we got the student discount, but the original price is only two yuan). I remember asking them again because I was so shocked. They are not taking economical advantage of this tourist trap.

We began our hike. It was not as bad as I thought. I have definitely had harder climbs (looking at you Poznan and Enchanted Rock). We made it to the top and the view was amazing. We could see the entirety of The Forbidden City from an almost bird’s eye view. It was breathtaking, not just because we were on higher elevation closer to the smog. We would have seen so much more of the city (beyond the palace) if the smog was not so bad that day. Hiking up the mountain just for that view is a definite must!

Tiananmen Square (天安门广场)

“Oh no, how do you say that in Chinese?” I was having the worst brain fart moment ever. I wanted to ask a security guard how to get to Tiananmen Square without having to go through the palace (because it was already closed). The guard directed me to another guard who spoke amazing English. It was not until I was talking with my friend after getting the directions that I realized that it is literally the same phonetic.

Regardless, we just had to make two rights. It is very convenient that everything is square or rectangular shaped. It was actually such a long walk. The rest of our group did not go to the temple on the mountain, so they had already headed toward Tiananmen Square. We wanted to catch up with them, so we sped walked. This may have not been worth because we got there around the same time they did, but we had no idea until we actually got there.

As we entered Tiananmen Square, we had to go through security. It took me slightly by surprise, but I guess D.C. is also very strict on security. [Still on my bucket list of places I need to visit, maybe this spring break.] I got to see the large photo of Mao Zedong. I thought we would be allowed to go inside, but that was not the case. This only made me want to enter even more. However, the numerous guards did dissuade me from doing anything stupid (not that I would have done anything dumb anyways).

One of my friends warned us about being careful about what we say in the area. He visited last weekend and said when he tried to google the date of the Tiananmen Square Protest, his phone shut down. I was freaked. I honestly believe that the Chinese government is capable of doing that.

He then went on about how there may be undercover spies walking around. While I did not doubt that, I also felt like he was trying to scare us. It worked though. I do not think the Chinese government should be underestimated. Apparently, some Chinese do not believe that the protest actually happened or do not know the exact details (not that I know either). This made me more curious, but this was not the place to ask too many questions.