blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Day 4 in Beijing: Wangfujing and Zhongshan Park

Written May 13th, 2015

Chris had a productive day today, meeting the “Director State Key Laboratory of Rail Traffic Controland Safety,” Mr. Tang, for lunch at the campus hotel (Hongguoyuan) with all four of the local QNX men. They had roast duck plus dozens of other dishes, apparently. Chris' training course is going well; they'll probably finish the training half way through tomorrow, but then Chris will spend some extra time with the university people.

Today, my day was going to be shopping, but it's never my favourite pursuit, so I lingered in a park again.

I set off straight after breakfast with good intentions, buying a tube ticket that would allow me to reach Wangfujing station (a ¥4 ticket) on Line 1, change at Xidan. The trains were crowded today, but twice I was politely offered a seat by a young man and accepted gratefully both times. When you arrive at one of these stations you need to pay attention to the map of the exits and choose the right one for your purposes, or you could find yourself the wrong side of an 8-lane highway. The exit I chose this time brought me up to ground level in the middle of a huge department store, so finding my way out took a while. Wangfujing Dajie is the Oxford Street of Beijing, wide and largely pedestrianised with booths selling soft drinks in the middle. It sells clothes ranging from Prada outfits to kitschy straw hats and plastic flip flops. There are two enormous bookshops, both of which have English novels for sale, precious art books, computer manuals and maps of Beijing, and a huge children's books and toys section, but of course most of the shelves are copiously stocked with Chinese literature. In the corners of each floor they sell souvenirs––tea sets, bangles, placemats and such. I browsed through these big stores, wasting time rather, because I didn't find anything that appealed to me. A friend in Ottawa had asked me to try to find a plate-display stand for her, a sort of wooden easel. I found some, but they weren't for sale without the object to be displayed, so the shop assistants wouldn't let me buy one. I am too embarrassed to describe my attempts at making myself understood in Chinese; in the end I gave up. I went into an Emporium too, tried and gave up again, but bought a fan and a silken tissue box cover there. I should perhaps have bought more things made of silk, but being a poor and uninspired shopper, I didn't.

Yi wan kung pao ji
Many things on the Wangfujing Dajie are expensive; many are rip-offs. The fan I'd bought in the Emporium was the twin of the ones I saw in a souvenir shop further down at a fifth of its price. Rip-offs annoy me, so I cheered myself up (?) by going to look at the alleyway selling the unforgettable scorpions on skewers as snacks. Some were still wriggling, I'm afraid. The alleyway was indescribably noisy, scruffy and crowded. I could also have bought some baby octopus legs with spring onions. It was getting extremely hot and smelly--the temperature rose well into the 30s today--and I needed lunch, so I left the shopping area for a side street where there were restaurants and sat down for a fast bowl of Kung Pao Ji with rice, along with crowds of young office workers on their lunchbreak, five of whom shared my window table.

That's enough, I thought, I'll walk back to one of the stations near Tian'anmen Square and then go back to the hotel for a siesta. I found a walk through flowerbeds and trees beside a canal on one side and on the other a row of exclusive looking, sealed-off hutongs, a residential area for VIPs, I think.

Tiananmen Square from the northern side
In order to walk across the north side of the famous Square (more of a rectangle, really) I had to join the queue to have my bags scanned. “Please accept the Security Check for your own and other people's safety.” The young girl in uniform ran a wand over my legs too. Soldiers and police were posted everywhere again. Once through the barrier and past the street vendors frantically trying to sell rainbow umbrella hats and Chinese flags, I could pass the grand entrance to the Forbidden City with its stone lions, flagpoles and Chairman Mao portrait still prominently central. I liked the roses planted in front of the forbidding walls; they softened them.

Inside Zhongshan part
In the mid-day heat haze (smog that can be smelled) I was heading for the Tian'anmen West station, but on the way came across a nice surprise: another garden I hadn't seen yet: Zhongshan Park. This place, named in honour of Sun Yat Sen, is combined botanical garden and place of refuge, with an ancient “altar” to the gods of land and grain in its centre, with a square of five different coloured soils, symbolising all the earth below heaven that the Ming Dynasty Emperor ruled. The building behind it was hundreds of years old, and so were the giant cypress trees. I sat in various corners of this park, including a bench by the moat (tongzi he) that surrounds the Forbidden City, watching the hired boats go by, and at an outdoor table by a drinks booth, drinking a very sugary drink; because I was so thirsty, anything would do.

Moat round the Forbidden City, seen from Zhongshan Park

A respite from the city in Zhongshan Park
This evening, after the inevitable sleep on the hotel bed, Chris took me for a walk round the Jiaotong university campus to an obviously popular restaurant he'd visited for lunch yesterday, where we ate some more roast duck. We had a glimpse of the life on campus, people doing all kinds of sports on the sports field, indulging in a dance class, or cuddling in the courtyard pavilions. Looking through the upstairs windows of their halls of residence we observed that the students sleep in dormitories, in bunk beds.

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