Homeward Bound (via China): Beijing

Posted: April 22, 2011 in Photography
Tags: , , , ,

Far be it for me to tell the good folks at Amazon how to do their job, but when I click “Group my items into as few shipments as possible”, it’s generally an indication that I don’t want them to murder FernGully: The Last Rainforest when one box would have sufficed. The best/worst part? Another box came just as I posted that picture. A friend on Facebook commented that Alf looks justifiably shocked and indignant in the photo (he’s quite the conservationist) and another wrote, “That’s actually quite impressive. My sympathies to your postman…pretty sure he hates you.” If it’s the same cunt who doesn’t ring the doorbell thus making me pay redelivery fees for parcels I could have taken, I have no regrets.

So, having acquired sufficient emotional distance from the events, I think I can now regale you with Lindsay’s and my travels through China without succumbing to the crippling sorrow of knowing there’s now an ocean between us.

August 3rd. When last we left off, I was crying at the airport and bemoaning my departure from Japan. Cut to the flight itself, where our trip to China got off to an auspicious start when we were seated next to the only TV on the entire plane that was in black and white and served by the single biggest bitch of an air hostess imaginable. I’m not kidding – she was so hilariously awful; and with her for entertainment, I soon forgot about the TV situation altogether. Every time she eye-rolled a passenger’s request or threw our meals at us, my heart skipped a beat. My personal highlight was whenever the Mongolian girl across the aisle from us would question her about the array of malfunctioning sounds the plan was making, which she responded to – each and every time – with increasing hostility and contempt.

Our arrival in China was largely an indication of everything that would follow: foremost, the people pushing and shoving us out of the way in the queue to buy bus tickets into the city, and the general fear that our possessions were under constant threat of ‘misplacement’. The Mongolian girl from earlier even walked us out of the airport, all the while warning us to basically trust no one. The next morning, we awoke in our hotel and opened to curtains to be greeted by the beauty of the Beijing skyline. This was the same hotel we were chased into the previous night by a hostile street vendor who mockingly repeated everything Lindsay said to him. (“No thank youuuuuu” became one of our most quoted phrases for the entire trip.)

Smog levels varied over the course of our stay. Sometimes we could see this building on the other side of the road from our hotel. Others? Not so much. Taking stock of our surroundings, we discovered that the Beijing Central Youth Hostel was in the heart of Dongcheng, opposite the Beijing Railway Station (which, granted, we never used) and within walking distance of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.

After our first, frantic experience with the Beijing Subway (what? I said it was within walking distance, not that we were actually planning on walking there) we stepped outside to find ourselves before the Zhengyangmen Gate that would lead us into Tiananmen Square.

We figured this had to be the right place, but just to be sure we asked the girl at the tourist information counter, who promptly pointed us in the complete opposite direction from where we should have been headed. And yes, in retrospect you can quite clearly see Tiananmen Square between those arches, but without actually knowing what it looked like, we took it on good faith that the girl in charge of tourism there would actually know what the fuck she was talking about.

So began our epic trek in the wrong direction entirely, through a solid mile of retail chains and Starbucks. Gwen’s Harajuku Lovers perfumes were huge while we were out there, and this store was proudly displaying its giant models of Love, Angel, Music and, erm, Love.

Yes, I know what it actually means. And I still laughed, dammit!

(…wouldn’t this make an amazing drag name?)

And then this happened. Just as we reached the end of the street and realised that the only thing we were going to find here was moderately overpriced designer clothing, the heavens opened and left us stranded in the most bone-drenchingly awful rain imaginable…a mile from where we started. We recouped in Starbucks for a while, but – facing the painful realisation that it wasn’t letting up any time soon – we eventually armed ourselves with umbrellas and all-over-body-condoms (all conveniently hocked by local street vendors) and headed back to the Square. Look how much fun we were having.

Not only did the rain succeed in ruining any enjoyment we might otherwise have been having, it also successfully destroyed all photographic opportunities. Unbeknownst to me at the time, that building behind me is the Chairman Mao Mausoleum. Had we known that his embalmed body is on display inside, we might actually have paid it a visit. Or not. I don’t know. I was pretty much hating life at this point.

And then, just as all seemed lost, a glimmer of Mao-shaped hope: the eponymous Tiananmen itself (or, more dramatically, the “Gate of Heavenly Peace”) – entrance to the Imperial City.

Cute Chinese couple enjoying the scenery.

Inside: the Meridian Gate, southern and largest gate to the Forbidden City. This picture turned out moderately less horribly than the others.

Purdy, communist railings.

It was all terribly impressive. So impressive, in fact, that we didn’t bother to buy tickets inside the Forbidden City itself for the same reason that we didn’t visit the Summer Palace or Temple of Heaven: namely that we just didn’t care anymore. Nothing personal, China, it’s just that – after three years in living in Asia – I really can’t get it up for your endless stream of fortresses, temples and castles the way I used to.

We were, however, terribly enamoured of these big, red walls. We even had our matching, dirty commie raincoats.

And then, just as we were leaving, beneficent Mao smiled down upon us and the sun broke out from behind the clouds.

Somewhere in hell, Chairman Mao smiled.

Aaaand that’s quite enough radical free speech for one entry.

Back at the hotel: hot showers and cat naps. Lindsay, at least, had had the foresight to wear flip-flops. I had to wring out my socks and leave my boots next to the heater for the next two days before I could even wear them again.

Then out to the Sanlitun Yashow Clothing Market (…via Hooters). Linds was in fugly, discount heaven. I…was not.

Our first traditional, Chinese dinner: steak in peppercorn sauce! Mmm, feel the rich layers of tradition and history…in this European steakhouse. This was also where I tried my first grasshopper – the cocktail, not the insect; though given our location, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

And then hotelward bound, via a sex shop with anatomically-improbable merchandise. (Surely there comes a point at which these things are just medieval weaponry?) Also: our second tourist information fail in one day:

Lindsay: Excuse me, what time does the subway close?
Man [peering up from his book in irritation]: I DO NOT KNOW.

We later filmed a video re-enacting our various failures of asking for help/directions, which you can look forward to in the coming months. Slash sometime in 2011. Hopefully. I mean I am writing about a holiday that happened in August here.

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