We had a really great start to the day by heading up to Jingshan Park, just to the north of the Forbidden City. Apparently Feng Shui dictates that Imperial Residences should be constructed to the south of a hill. When the capital was moved to Beijing many hundreds of years ago they realized that following that particular edict would be difficult since Beijing is one flat pancake of a city. Of course, being Imperial and what not they solved the problem the way true royalty does: they had a hit built. The immediate result of that was a satisfaction of the demands of Feng Shui. The benefit that we reap in the modern times is that there's a really nice hill in Beijing where a person can go for a great view. The land surrounding the hill has been made into a really terrific park where it seems that locals come to just hang out. There are several points along the main path where you can start heading up:
There are a few small temples along the way:
And it's not really a very long hike until you're up to the top. Man-made hills tend not to make for terribly arduous climbing.
Once you reach they summit of this mighty peak you're treated to some spectacular views of Beijing... I think. I've only been here a few days, but from what I've seen you're most likely going to be treated to a spectacular view of Beijing's smog:
Anyway, it was still pretty nice up there, even though this really is the haziest city I've ever been in.
After Jingshan we made what seems like an obligatory stop on any Chinese itinerary: a herbal medicine shop. I've watched a few travel shows/documentaries on China, and they always feel the need to drop by one of these places, so I guess it's just expected. The place, like any good hospital, had lots of classrooms for group tours. We went into one and a lady in a lab coat came out and described how to diagnose pulmonary pneumonia by examining your own tongue... or something. Then a bunch of
After satisfying everyone's curiosity about how to cure the common cold with tree bark we proceeded to something that seemed more to everyone's taste: actual shopping. I wasn't in any great hurry to hit a mall, but I imagine I'm a rarity amongst the tour group in that I get to continue my vacation after the tour is over. Our days are jam packed, and I strongly suspect that aside from Euphy and I everyone will be going home once this is over, so they're probably quite happy to get some time to shop for souvenirs. We were taken to a mall and turned lose for a few hours to go where we pleased. The tour guide was very clear about the fact that he was taking us to place where we could buy knock-off goods at ridiculous prices. I love the honesty. I also loved this sign as soon as we walked into what was touted as a bastion of piracy:
Not. Fooling. Anyone.
I actually tried my hand at a bit of haggling, but that was going nowhere for two reasons:
a) I really was trying to bring the price down obnoxiously low
b) I was with Euphy, and no Chinese salesperson, no matter how used to dealing with foreigners they are, is going to willing sit there and banter in English with me when they can get down to business with a professional haggler in Mandarin
Given that situation I just got frustrated and pulled the plug.
Later in the evening we headed to a theatre to catch some more Chinese performance art. This act was a bit more ballet and a little less pure circus acrobatics than the last show we saw. It was magnificently done with a complex stage full of moving platforms that even turned into a full-blown waterfall at one point. We had great seats too, which was really nice. The sets and costumes were fantastic; I wish I could have got some pictures, but that was another one-way ticket to a non-surgical laser beam to the cornea. I'm curious about Lasik, but I don't think I'll have it done by a theatre usher with a laser pointer.
Once that was all wrapped up we headed for dinner. The food situation on this tour has been really good so far, which has beat my expectations. It's something I intend to discuss further when I'm able to blog without the the constant feeling that every word is depriving me of sleep. I did have a really fun experience this evening though. I was eating a dish with chicken and peanuts that very clearly had some peppers in it because it was good and hot. I didn't realize as I was eating it, but apparently there were Sichuan (Szechuan) peppers in it as well. I'd seen Sichuan pepper on TV, and read a few things about it; it's quite famous for having a numbing effect on the tongue, but I'd never experienced this first hand. It wasn't until after I'd had a few bites and was just chatting with Euphy that I realized what I'd eaten because one side of my tongue suddenly felt like I'd just been at the dentist. The effect lasted for maybe 10 second and then was gone, but I thought it was pretty cool all the same.
Anyway, like I mentioned earlier, I'm really feeling the pressure to get to bed tonight, so I'd better wrap this up. With any luck I'll get an evening in the near future when I have a bit more time to write so that I can expand on a few random topics that have been on my mind before they escape me completely. Until then, I hope everyone is well and I'll talk to you all again soon.