Day 7: Beautiful Beijing

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I woke up at 6am, still feeling pretty lousy from my middle-of-the-summer cold.

The air was even worse today. At first I thought it was fog, but the constant smell and taste of dirt suggested otherwise.IMG_0500 I was done with the hostel from the Qing dynasty, so I was on the lookout for a good hotel. It was still pretty early, but I at least wanted to stick my bag somewhere, so I picked a hotel at random from the Lonely Planet book went to give them a call. It didn’t take long to find a payphone. There are 2 payphones every 10 meters. The problem came with how to dial. As far as I could tell, there were only slots for coins or phone cards. I didn’t have a card and the shops weren’t open yet. I hadn’t seen a coin at all. Chinese currency (RMB) come in bills up to 100RMB (about $12). There are a lot of bills, 50RMB, 20, 10, 5, 1, 0.5, 0.2, and a 0.1RMB bill that is worth about 1.2 cents. Not only is this a pain in the ass, but it meant I couldn’t call anyone for now. I hailed a taxi and had me take them to the nearest hotel. It was about 8am and check-in wasn’t until 2pm so I had 6 hours to kill. I walked down to Wangfujing Street, a shopping street that runs by the Forbidden City.

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It was early so the crowds weren’t about yet. I didn’t care. I just wanted to sit and rot. So I sat down and drank some rotting milk in a jar at a drink stand. Then I headed towards the Forbidden City.

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On the way to the Forbidden City I passed through a park. The willow trees almost covered up the smog in the air so I spent some time here.

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In Beijing there was an art festival going on (I guess) and art schools were doing showcases all over the city. “Showcase” seems to mean find a foreigner and try to drag them to your art show and get them to buy your crap.IMG_0525They might be well meaning students, but it’s more likely a scam to sell second rate art to foreigners. There are a lot of scams to watch out for in China. There was a bit of reconstruction going on at the Forbidden City, but I really wasn’t in much of a mood anyways. I walked around for a couple hours and it was interesting. I just wish it wasn’t so fog/smoggy. Part of the awe (to me, living in a cramped city) of the Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square is their huge expansive open areas. It’s hard to appreciate them when you can’t see past 20 meters. In Tienanmen Square I met two English students. My first thought was the ol’ art school scam, but they didn’t mention any art school. My next thought was the English-meal scam where students will find a foreigner to practice English with at a restaurant, order a bunch of expensive food and then skip out on the bill. But those fears were laid to rest when we went to KFC and they treated.

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They took me to the post office to mail some post cards and souvenirs I bought. They got me back to the hotel I was planning to book a room in, and when there were no rooms available, they took me to 3 other hotels in the city until we found a room available. It was at a hostel, but it was cheaper than the 300 year old hostel, with a room bigger than my apartment in Japan, and a king sized bed. Plus it was a great location next to Beijing station.

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I was feeling sort of bad for assuming they were trying to scam me at first, and at this point, they could scam me and I’d still be grateful for the help they’d given me. IMG_0549After checking in, they took me to an amusement park that I thought was abandoned. I offered to pay, just because I wanted to know how much this place could possibly cost, but nothing doing. I did manage to gleam the fact that due to low attendance rates, the admission fee was currently 50% off. I had an inkling they’d still overpaid, as the inside was all but deserted. At first I felt a little reassured when I noticed the park’s mascot was Winnie the Pooh. Some corporate backing would mean that perhaps the rides would have some sort of up-keep. Then I realized it was just some good ol’ trademark infringement. No way Disney or even Chuck E Cheese would sign off on this place. There was still a bit of a wait for most rides, but only because the operators had to wait until enough people were on before starting the ride. 5 People seemed to be the magic number for the “big” rides. The park was pretty big. It took a good 20 minutes to walk from one end to the other. The rides and sign posts were rusted over and faded. The vast emptyness combined with the smoggy air made it feel like we were in Silent Hill. It was really quite surreal.

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There was a huge deserted ferris wheel that gave a pretty good view of the park. It probably would have given a good view of the city if you could see through the smog.

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When it got dark, things only got weirder. I was convinced that the park was closed because there was nobody anywhere. But Jenny assured me it was still open. The rides still seemed to be open as they were stilled manned by workers, most of whom where asleep. IMG_0646After a nudge to wake them up, most would let us ride till we screamed at them to stop, since there wasn’t anyone else coming. 10 Minutes of the tilt-a-whirl was about all I thought I could take. After a half hour, you aren’t the same man you were when you got on. There was a 3D show that was sort of reminicient of Captain EO in Chinese. It used the old effects like shaking chairs, and blasts of air to enhance the uh…experience. Another effect was used when dinosaurs (yeah, there were dinosaurs) vomited on the audience, they would shoot a blast of water in the audience’s faces. Well, it hit Jenny and Anniar in the face. It must not have been calibrated for me as it would clock me in the neck everytime. Probably better off that way. I’d probably get tuberculosis from that water. There was also a children’s dance show that we ducked into to escape the rain. It opened with a magician clown deal that the 3 children in the audience loved, and then quickly turned up the heat with erotic dancers in skimpy clothes, that the 3 fathers and 1 white guy in the audience loved.

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~ by foomfoom on August 25, 2006.

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