It was with great sadness that I read of the death of Lou Reed first thing this morning. A massive part of my growing up. Taught me everything I needed to know about the seedier side of New York, drug culture and blurred gender lines. I’m so glad I saw him in concert.
But, back to China…
I left my hat in the back of a taxi last night. I am not happy about it. Sheer stupidity. I’ll have to suffer the rest of the holiday with a bare head. I’m definitely not going to buy one of the panda head hats people keep shoving at us on the street!
Speaking of taxis…we’ve read that the taxis are so cheap, you should take them everywhere. Prices as low as 2¥ have been quoted. This is rubbish. It’s 13¥ as soon as you get into the cab. Mind you, 13¥ is about £1.30 so it’s not like I’m grumbling.
Actually, the taxi fares are very cheap and well worth using rather than the overcrowded buses and subway system. However, no-one warns you about the crazy drivers. Yesterday we had a chap who didn’t stop laughing. We’re not sure if he was laughing at us or what was going on around him. It was a bit unnerving.
Then there’s the ones who won’t take you where you want to go. We’ve heeded the advice to take a card with our hotel name and address printed on it but this just makes them frown then declare that we should go away and find some other cab. I have no idea why but it happened to us three times yesterday.
Something else, well worth mentioning, is the amount of excessive packaging on everything. For instance, we bought a tub of chocolates called Dove. Yes, like the soap, deodorant and body cream.
The tub was wrapped in plastic then, as you lifted the lid, you found that the chocolates were inside a big plastic bag inside the tub. Opening this plastic bag, naturally, all the small chocolates were individually wrapped in their own branded wrappers.
Given we stopped doing that sort of thing in the West some years ago, it’s quite odd to see it again.
Mind you, Mirinda did discover that she could squeeze the end of the final wrapper and make a very satisfying pop. I then named them Poppa Chocs.
But, anyway, onto today…
First up, we decided to check out the north entrance to the Forbidden City. Except there is no longer a north entrance. At the north end there is only an exit and about 3,000 people yelling and yahooing at the people emerging from the Forbidden City. I think they’re offering rickshaws or taxis or their first born children. Whatever it is, it’s unnerving.
Then, along the footpath, there’s the beggars. Not at all pleasant. I’m not sure how much money they make but they didn’t make any from me. Humph.
Having walked all the way down there for no reason other than to be yelled at, we decided to find a cab to take us to the Lama Temple. Then Mirinda declared that she needed a toilet.
I’ve not mentioned the toilets in Beijing. Firstly, there’s a lot of them. Just about every street has a block. I suppose that’s a good thing. However, you don’t need to look for them…you just follow your nose. And they’re the hole in the ground, squat over them type of toilet. I guess they’re easier to hose down.
Anyway, I suggested to Mirinda that we walk back to the hotel so she could use our loo and then grab a taxi outside the hotel. This worked perfectly. We showed the taxi driver a map and we headed off into the traffic.
They have an amazing sense of distance, Beijing taxi drivers. This morning’s driver told us, with his thumb up, what a great driver he was, just after guiding his cab between numerous bikes, rickshaws and pedestrians. I agreed he was.
We arrived safe and sound at the Lama Temple and hopped out to be assailed on all sides by hordes of beggars, phony guides and…well, I don’t know what the rest were but they were extremely annoying.
As you walk across the threshold of the site, they suddenly melt away. It’s as if some invisible barrier prevents them from moving across it. Whatever it is, I LOVE it!
The Lama Temple is brilliant. It is the most famous Buddhist temple outside of Tibet. It has five main halls, each with it’s own representations of Buddha and various gods. This is just one of them.
Outside each of the temple buildings there is a large burning metal vat of incense sticks. The incense sticks are put there by the faithful, coming to pray to Buddha. Which is weird, given Buddha is all of us. Still…they all appear to be happy and jolly.
Of course, we made sure to spin the prayer wheels as we wandered around. After our visit to the Crystal Castle we know what to do with them. Not so one little chap who was spinning it anti-clockwise. Presumably he wanted the happy thoughts and dreams to come pouring back to earth.
We wandered all over the Temple, through each building and around each courtyard. It was wonderful. Very peaceful even though there were quite a few people there.
It was then off to the hutongs. Not that we managed to move very far down the first one we came to. We spotted a small sign that said Visit Our Traditional Tea Room and led up a small alley. We looked at each other and decided, what the hell, let’s do it.
We then sat and were entertained by a young Chinese woman as she told us about and showed us how to serve oolong and red teas. It was a wonderful experience. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
Here is Mirinda showing how to hold a cup of oolong tea like a woman – note her bottom two fingers are like the tail of a phoenix.
Following our tea education, we went in search of the Dali Courtyard restaurant. It’s recommended on Trip Advisor so we hunted it down.
It’s not easy to find but find it we did and had a delicious lunch, direct from the Yunnan area of China. They love a bit of chilli in the Yunnan area of China. Not that we had a choice. They just served up the set menu and we ate through dish after dish, from tofu udon noodles to fish.
Afterwards we headed out into the hutong where, eventually, we found a Starbucks! I couldn’t believe it. But there it was. Huddled between the ancient buildings.
It took a few goes and I had to slow it down a bit but I finally managed to tell them what I wanted. And it was perfect.
After lattes, we headed back out into the increasingly crowded alleys. We stopped off at a couple of shops to buy a pendant (Mirinda) and a little rabbit statue (me) and, finally, grabbed a taxi back to the hotel. (While not as mad as some, this driver talked on his phone with his head resting on the window the entire trip.)
A lovely day, wandering through the hutongs but the pollution was no better and the beggars worse. And we just heard on the news that a jeep crashed at Tian’an Men Square, causing all manner of security problems. Not that we were anywhere near it. Still…you have to do these things, don’t you?