Saturday, July 25, 2009

Beijing, Again

My vacation begins, although I'm still quite some way from Mongolia. I took the high speed train to Beijing, last night. Turns out the subway line out to the South Train Station isn't finished yet, so I walked all the way to Tian'anmen Square from the station. Luckily I had a similarly luckless Brit traveler to keep me company on the cross-town hike.
Got up around 6 AM. Wandered over to Tian'anmen. The surveilance cameras (at least three installed on each and every lamppost on the square) were somehow more noticeable this time. Also, they've newly installed luggage detectors/security points heading onto the square itself (at least I don't remember such a security presence last time I was here). I had to go through two (actually they tricked us on the first under-road passage, because it led to a section of the square that was cordioned off for no good reason) to get to the square proper. But no metal detectors, so I guess if terrorists want to blow themselves up with explosives strapped on, they could probably still find a way. Granted, the terrorists had better look more like western tourists than musliims if they want to get through--I imagine the process is more thorough.
Grabbed my tickets to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia from the CITS head office; next on my itinerary: the Summer Palace.
The Summer Palace is the country home (now enveloped by the city) for the hot summer months when Beijing becomes an unbearable furnace. I don't blame those emperors. The Forbidden City is nice and imposing and all, but it's kindof desolate and charmless. I imagine it wouldn't be a treat when baking in the July heat. Thus, the Summer Palace, a place of meandering pathways, temple-crested hilltops, and very uncomfortable-looking thrones carved out of Birch roots (one of them was, apparently). The place would indeed have been a bastion of peace and harmony for the richest, most powerful man in China--plus his harem of concubines--but the estimated tourist intake on the day I visited was 40,000 people. Mein gott, the fresh air was nice, but sandwiched in with that many people, the charm of the place is lost very quickly indeed.
The Palace was burned down at least twice (both by coalitions of European troups rampaging/retaliating against the Manchu throne during (a) the Opium Wars and (b) the Boxer Rebellion. The Palace was rebuilt both times, one of those times by misappropriated funds that were supposed to be allocated for building China a modern navy. Oh well, Empress Cixi did build herself a marble boat, however, so perhaps that counts as an addition to the Chinese navy? In any case, it didn't help much in protecting the palace when it got burned down the second time.
So now I'm absolutely exhaused and wondering whether or not I feel up to hiking a section of the Great Wall, tomorrow. It is both sad and true that this is the fourth time I've visited Beijing, but I've still never been out to the Great Wall. I'm always either on my way to somewhere, or felt completely tired with major Chinese tourist attractions when I came through there, albeit a somewhat weak excuse when talking about a putatative world wonder. I guess we'll see how I'm feeling tomorrow. I don't want to use up all my energy reserves before I reach Mongolia, after all!
Signing out in Beijing,

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