Ancient Areas of China and also Karaoke Night
Our first touring today consited of Tienamen Square and also the Forbidden city. We parked near Tienamen and were warned to be careful of pick pockets. Rocky explained a lot of the history of Tienamen and also we talked a lot about Charimen Mao, the cultural revolution and also how the Square is the heart of China. Once we got close to the huge painting of Mao, I talked with some random girl who was taking pictures and we decided to get a shot together. It was a funny photo because Mao is exactly in between us. We crossed the street underground and headed toward the Forbidden City that is directly across the street from Tienamen.
There are three corridors that are open to the public and the rest of the city you need to pay for a ticket. There were many peddlers and also a few bums asking for money. Toward the end of the public space we encountered some troops playing basketball off duty and also a group that walked in front of us off duty. Those troops were taking photos with our group in the background. Apparently we were the attraction. People in my group told me to join with them and get my photo taken. Once I took my photo with two of them, I urged all of the others to take a photo with me as well. It was me and about 25 soldiers in a photo. Unfortunately the guy using my camera for the picture couldn’t figure out how to take it, but gladly people in my group like Michael Sevilla took one (Don’t forget to send me that one). It was hilarious. Most of the time you cant take photos of them or they would lose their job, but today we were lucky to find this group.
Going into the private area we saw all of the huge buildings including the Hall of Supreme Harmony which was the center for the Emperor. There was a lot of renovations of the rooftops of the buildings on the side; a fifty year renovation that wont be finished until like 2025. The Hall of Supreme Harmony was very impressive, but looked so much better on screen in “The Last Emperor” with all of the ambience and beauty of that film. What was the most impressive was the city behind that building. This “city” was where a lot of the concubines would reside. The record of concubines for one emperor was 10000. It was crazy. I really enjoyed this part of the tour because the back alleys were all original and unrenovated and also were magnificent looking. We went into one room where they had original pieces of Cloisonne (a very interesting type of beautiful and colorful copper relics that are extremely difficult to craft). After we were finished with the Forbidden City we went to lunch.
We waited for Stamps and the Ruperts to show up to meet us, but they were not to be found so we left. Arriving at the Hutong tour, we got a call from them and we waited for them to arrive. We had ten minutes of free time, so I walked down the street to find a museum involving ancient Chinese medicine. I walked around fro a bit and then turned back around. Arriving back, there were peddlers surrounding and attacking our group to make sales. Once Stamps and company arrived, we started our trip down the famous Hutong alleys. These alleys were quite interesting and many of these have been torn down due to the massive building of high rises in the city. We toured the Hutongs by a newer type of Rickshaw and our driver drove by bike. I wish that we had been able to ride a traditional Rickshaw that would be pulled by a runner. Maybe I can start a business and go running by pulling people. We had a local guide for this segment and Joe and I talked for a bit…. I even guessed his age exactly. He thought I was 18 though and didn’t believe that I was 23. We got of the Rickshaw bike and walked in some back alleys to our destination. We had the great opportunity to be invited into Mr. Wu’s house. I am sure he gets paid to have us look at his house, but it was a great experience to see how the Chinese live. Most of you that are reading this will probably get a DVD of my videos and picture slideshow and if I don’t have your home address please give it to me. Most of what I experienced and learned while visiting with the group is documented on the video, so it doesn’t need a long explanation in my journals. But overall it was an amazing and exciting experience. We all learned something here about Chinese life.
After we got back onto the rickshaw, we got stuck into a large traffic jam of automobiles and rickshaws. It was quite the interesting experience and our rickshaw nearly got taken out by this car. Once again throughout this trip I had mentioned to Stamps how this was just as nerve wracking as driving in a car is. Half of the time we nearly side swiped other rickshaws and pedestrians. When we stopped and walked a bit, I bought some more Rolexes for 2 dollars a piece. Our next stop was the Bell tower. We walked up 70 large steps to the top of the tower to find the 55 ton bell, which traditional was rung to tell the hour. I’m not sure how many years old it was, but they way they got it to the top of the tower was by creating a hill and in the winter slid it up a huge sleeth of ice. I hitched up with a random informative guide and took photos of the couple who was being informed by her. She had a lot of good information about the bell and even an interesting fable (of which I believed at first) about how a woman threw herself into the bell while they were melding the metals. She committed suicide because she felt the bell had no spirit and when she jumped in the her father tried to save her; only getting her shoe. For many years people thought when the bell was rung that they her a calling “Give me my shoe” in Chinese. The guide thought it was hilarious how I joined up with them and was eaves dropping on them, but our local guide didn’t say anything to us as we toured this bell.
Once we were back to ground level, we wandered into our next destination THE TEA FACTORY!!! It was so weird because this huge shop was located inside the bell tower building. Once we sat down they set up each person with these small and cute little tea cups. There was a funny girl who explained the different flavors of tea we were going to drink and also demonstrated the Chinese tea ceremony. The tea ceremony consisted of a small shot glass that you would first pour the tea into, you would turn this upside down inside the small tea cup and then flip it. You would then smell that shot glass to let your sense of smell take in the scent and then you would take three sips from the tea cup. The first sip is for long life, the next for happiness and I think the last was for riches or something. We tried three types of tea; a jasmine based hand rolled tea, a black tea with these red flowers and also a green tea. I took notes as I drank as to my favorites and I ended up purchasing two of them along with two really cool tea and coffee mugs that when used, change from Chinese symbols to different things like the great wall and pandas.
Once we got back on the rickshaw I gave Wei Ling a call for I was really running late in our meeting. Our tour today was expected to get done with at about 3, but because we spent a lot of time talking with Mr. Wu and asking questions, we were running a bit late. Now since I spent all of my money that I had on me on my tea purchase, I had to take the bus with the group back to the hotel because I needed to cash a travelers check. But since it was rush hour, I didn’t want to sit in traffic for a long time and be even more late to my meeting. So I asked Stamps if I could borrow some money. Once I got enough for the night, I had the bus drop me off in the middle of a street. A few people mentioned how they wished they had a camera when I jokingly looked worried as I waved goodbye to them.
I hopped in a taxi and gave him the directions to Wei Ling’s university and once we got there a few minutes later, he couldn’t break my hundred Yuan, so I went into a barber shop to get it broken. I gave the guy a small tip and went into the building he pointed at and found room 103 only to find that the taxi driver took me to the wrong place. The guy at the hotel helped me a bunch and explained to the next taxi driver where I needed to go to. This taxi ride lasted a long time, for apparently this place was very far from where I was at. The first driver screwed up bad.
I finally made it to the school and walked in the front building. I found room 103 again, but it was once again the wrong building. Not getting too frustrated I found a class room and spoke with two people about my situation, they pointed to the building that I needed to be in and I tried to find it outside. I couldn’t find it, so I asked a student (Rocky) if he could help me find it. He escorted me to the correct building and I had him give me his email so we could practice English together on the email. So I finally met up with Wei Ling and she gave me a bit of a tour of her university she teaches at. It was still raining hard and after the tour of her university we walked toward her apartment. On the way we had pleasant intellectual conversation about the Chinese government…. I mostly complimented it and had nothing but good things to say about some of the programs I have learned about. Some of the things I have learned about I disagree with, but there are many things that the government does that is very smart. Once we got near her apartment she called her husband and he came out to the street to meet up with us for our Mongolian Hot Pot dinner. Wei Ling and her husband rarely cook inside and almost always eat out. This place we ate at is called Hot Pot because they have an open flame at your table which boils Mongolian herbs and spice sauces. You toss in your meat and veggies you order into these sauces and they cook in about 30 seconds because the meat is sliced soo thin. All the things they ordered for us looked as if we would never finish it, but sure enough we just about did. Throughout the great meal we had I was sweating up a storm because of the steam from the meal and also because I was eating the spicy stuff as well as the room didn’t have air conditioning. We had good conversation throughout dinner (Wei Ling translating my thoughts to her husband) and she and her husband picked up the tab which was very thoughtful.
After dinner we went back to see her apartment and I thought it was a very nice apartment. Roomy enough for two, but they also have their daughter who lives there as well so I am sure it doesn’t feel large enough. I loved their white tiling on the floor. We looked at some great photos of their wedding and also of their daughter and relatives. I saw an interesting photo of his grandma and they pointed to her feet which were formed in the traditional way from birth and we really short and stout. Upon leaving, he gave me a can of tea and we were on our way to the karaoke bar. Once we got to the karaoke place, I was completely shocked to find a traditional asian karaoke setting. If you have ever seen lost in translation you would know what I am talking about. One small room with a huge TV, that is hooked up into a computer where you can select your karaoke song. So it was just Wei Ling and I singing away for an hour. At this point I had a few beers in me and was ready to sing. I found a lot of songs of which I would never sing in front of a group of strangers, but I enjoyed singing them and we both had a great time! It was just so interesting to sing in a setting like this. But it totally makes sense when you understand the differences in both cultures. Our culture wanting to be the center of attention and to be the popular one, their culture being a bit more shy as a whole. It was a great experience once again and I had a lot of fun trying to work the computer interface that was all foreign to me.
We next went to a bar and I had to pay 20 Yuan, whereas Wei Ling got in for free (similar to the US). I had another beer and we both sat and listened to the live band that was playing. They played a lot of popular Chinese songs and were all paced at a slower tempo. Apparently in most bars in China, there is almost always a live band playing. I enjoyed these plastic clapping hand things that you would shake to clap, it was hilarious. I particularly liked the bands last song which had more of an edge to it. Once we were done with that bar we just went next door to another bar. It being a Sunday night, both were pretty dead, but we still had a great time. This next bar had music with more of an edge like how I prefer. We only stayed until I was finished with my drink and they played an American blues song. I gave the guitarist the punk rock hand and he acknowledged it with a huge smile. The guitarist reminded me of one of the members of pearl jam. We finished the night up at about 11 and my drunk ass got back to the hotel safe and sound. This would cost me one tired morning the day of the great wall trip, but all in good fun.