Unemployment has certain benefits, and several of them I’m currently enjoying: sporadic sleep patterns (I TRY so hard to keep a day-awake pattern: blame call center work), and ample time -amidst dwindling financial resources- to do the sort of stuff you like.
And here goes the long-delayed entry of my Beijing trip:
My last hurrah trip before I leave for China was hurriedly planned, and came to me as an afterthought at the end of a workday. I will be with two officemates, and we’ll be getting on the train to Beijing, say, a good day’s sleep-time, though, for us who hardly had any time to realize that, yes, we are going to spend several days where we’ve never been before, that means we don’t have enough time to pack bags, cook baon, and rest for a few hours.
The Shanghai railway station was better than I expected: not high-tech, but efficient looking and organized enough for non-Chinese speakers. We bought the ‘hard sleep’ tickets for the night, which means there’ll be six people -two triple-decks- in our cubicle; however, ‘hard sleep’ doesn’t meen you don’t get cushions or pillows or blankets. The setup was comfy enough, and my ticket was a few RMB’s cheaper, since I got the middle bed.
Sleep was easy, but how is it when you need to relieve yourself? Here’s the deal: I believe that my first, primary moment of Zen for the entire trip was waking up around 2AM. I felt so much like a very privileged pinoy on his way to glorious Beijing, crapping for the first time on a squat-type toilet on a reasonably shaky, long-distance train. That’s when the thrill really begins.
Upon arriving at the Beijing train station, we asked directions and found our way to the Beijing metro. We had to find accommodations, and we decided to head off to Leo Hostel, a relatively famous and cheap expat place where some of our officemates stayed during their stay in Beijing. We did try one other hotel, though it looked too seedy, and they wouldn’t allow my two female companions and myself to stay in one room: oh yes, I went on the trip with girls, since my male officemates would rather go R&B club-hopping (a Shanghai specialty I obviously wouldn’t give an effing crap about).
Our 3-person room at the hostel was barebones, but I’m a guy, and all I really need would be a bed with clean sheets and a pillow, and preferably, a nearby toilet (hostels have common toilets, in case you’re financialy able, or too nerdy and scared to leave the house).
We were a good 10 minute walk from famous Tiananmen Square, and behind it, the Forbidden City. The square was massive, and the city’s eager preparation for the upcoming Olympics was too evident, as there in one corner were oversized versions of all the Olympic mascots. Five to ten minutes later, we got our tickets to enter the Forbidden City, sans map or guide (a mistake you shouldn’t make, ya hear? Get either one). One thing’s evident: this wasn’t the majestic Forbidden City I saw in movies. This place was made for tourists, and again, a large reconstruction effort is currently being implemented, as its obvious from the nets and bamboo cages enveloping the buildings. This is in anticipation of the hordes of tourists coming in for the Olympics, right?
There were dozens of rooms exhibiting photos, costumes, and other items significant to the former inhabitants. Restricted rooms where rulers, their families, and their concubines lived in were behind dusty glass windows. And though we started going around at a reasonable time in the mid-morning that day, I believe we still missed a good portion of the place.
My expectations were actually lowered weeks before, when I meat a French-born rock chick at a rock concert: she noted that Beijing disappointed her, specifically the Forbidden City, where vegetation found their way through the pagoda roofs. I won’t go as far as sharing the same sentiment, but the venue was far from magical.
As we were going back to get dinner and head for the hostel, we saw people fishing around the Forbidden City moat: a relieving sight for my camera, indeed. A few minutes later, the sun disappeared, and with overly tired feet and starvation setting in, another lovely landscape greeted me: Tiananmen Square with random patches of people, and just the right amount of artificial light illuminating everyone else’s paths.