Beijing: +1 for clean air

 

dogAfter finishing going down the Yangtze River and visiting Zhangjiajie Park, I hopped on a direct train to Beijing. I had a pretty standard visit there and made the rounds at all of the tourist sites, including Tian’anmen Square, The Forbidden City, The Great Wall (a bit outside Beijing), etc.

The most exciting thing that happened in any of these places was in Tian’anmen Square when I hopped on a trash can to get an elevated view and police cars and foot officers rushed up to surround me and followed me the rest of the time I was in the square. If you aren’t familiar, Tian’anmen was the site of massive pro-democracy student protests in 1989 that ended in massacre, so the “People’s Square” is in reality the government’s square and you can’t even get in without a security check. There are also massive flood lights positioned over the huge square in case they need to spot any miscreants.

As I’ve commented previously, I had become wary

of tourist sites in China so didn’t press too hard to see many places in and around Beijing. In short, my impression of Chinese tourist sites is that they are suffocatingly cramped (mostly with domestic tourists), the admission fees for the sites are way overpriced, and I get the overwhelming sense of disingenuousness whenever I visit them. It seems they are more geared for money-making and their historical importance pushed to the background (it was impossible to enjoy the Great Wall without someone trying to sell me a Coke and Snickers). Even Mao's Mausoleum (aka Maosoleum) only had fake plants and flowers around his preserved body, and I had a sneaking suspicion that his preserved body was also made of plastic (no pictures allowed, but it was free). These opinions, though, may have less to do with the fact that it is in China and more that I’m getting diminished personal returns from paying to see things that I am “supposed” to see. Some things really are incredible to see, even the most touristy things, but crowds and excessive vendors can ruin pretty much any site no matter how incredible.

 

On a brighter note, I did have a really nice place to stay in Beijing thanks to a chance Facebook spotting of a friend-of-a-friend living in Beijing. I sent Emily (working as an architect in Beijing) a random message, and she said it would be cool to crash in her place, which she shared with an American filmmaker working in China and another American teaching English. On my last few days their other roommate Ola, a Canadian who had been working odds jobs in China for months including organizing a TEDx conference, arrived from a jaunt in India doing yoga training and dabbling in martial arts. I crashed in a little nook/hippie den of theirs and they really made me feel like it was home. Too much to write about here, they were all really interesting and fun to be around and broke the hostel-cycle that I had been in (hooray for not having to lock up belongings!). Besides hanging out with them and doing the tourist thing, I used the time in Beijing to catch up on business from back home, sleep, get some cold weather clothes and figure out my route to Mongolia.

I’m writing this from the border town Zamyn-Uud in Mongolia en route to the capital, so I’ll get to that later.

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