Friday, October 26, 2007

Beijing miscellanea in pictures

My honest reaction to my first ever sip of er guo tao. I have no idea how I came to like the stuff by the time I made it my birthday drink.

Our introduction to Beijing was basically a series of disgusting drinks, ranging from the 5 yuan (65 cents) bottle of er guo tao at dinner to a 70 yuan (about US $9.40) cocktail in Houhai, a pretty-but-overpriced district of totally generic bars and clubs arranged around a series of nicely-lit lakes in the north-center of the city. Every drink we ordered at this bar was so bad, we started trying to combine them to see if they'd improve. They didn't...this picture is not staged.

Britt looks lustily at a tree in the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park inside the Forbidden City. So low, so smooth, so flat, so inviting. So what if we climbed it a little? Look at how it was dressed! It was asking for it!

Take two at Beijing nightlife was substantially more successful. This picture was taken at Alfa, a club in Sanlitun, another Beijing bar-and-club district with far more personality and far lower prices. If I look happy, it's because it was 80s night. Oh, yes...fingerless gloves come in handy. Also, I was still on a high from earlier in the night, when a bar we were patronizing was very suddenly and very amusingly shut down by the police, allegedly on "fire hazard" grounds. Given that we saw police officers pouring bottles of liquor down the drain, perhaps the "hazard" was created by the flammable alcohol? Hard to say. Also pictured in this photo are Kathleen (in pink), my friend from high school and college, and Nuno and Marta, a Portuguese couple living in Beijing who we met on the boat between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia. That was another awesome thing about the night? Who am I hanging out with in China tonight, you ask? Oh, just a guy I met studying abroad in Hong Kong, an old friend from my hometown, and my new Portuguese friends I met on a boat in Indochina. My life is kind of ridiculous sometimes.

Another imperial garden that makes up part of the (huge) Forbidden City grounds. Massive areas of beautifully-manicured green space is not something I associated with Beijing before arriving there, and it was one of the pleasant surprises of the trip. Britt and I agreed that, if we lived in Beijing, this would be our place to come for relaxing walks and outdoor lunches.

At the Forbidden City, Britt looks on as a little girl crosses a barrier and prances around on an intricately-carved, 500 year-old marble slab embedded into the staircase of one of the palaces. There was, of course, a guard nearby looking on. Apparently, the rule in China is that you can't get away with anything (see our experience in line at Mao's tomb), unless you are a small child, in which case none of the rules apply to you.

I couldn't find a good picture from my camera of a hutong, so I stole one from the interwebs. Hutongs are traditional neighborhoods in Beijing with old buildings and narrow alleys. They're dimly-lit, a bit run-down, immensely charming, and being systematically destroyed as part of Beijing's urban makeover in preparation of the Olympics. Inexplicably, some of the hutongs are being torn down and replaced with essentially identical buildings in the same old style, except they're new. I'm going to get to odd Chinese predilections about renovation and cultural preservation in another post, but in the meantime, I'll just say, what the hell?

The saddest rose garden in history, at the Temple of Heaven in southern Beijing. What roses, you ask? Exactly.

Okay, once you get past the pitiful rose garden, the massive amounts of huge Chinese tour groups, and the incredible redundancy of the architecture, the Temple of Heaven wasn't all bad. That is some damn fine lacquering. Plus it featured some of those amusingly-translated signs.

At the Lama Temple, the largest Tibetan-style temple in Beijing, the big story is supposed to be the huge, 88-foot Buddha carved out of a single trunk of white sandalwood. And yes, he's pretty cool. But to me, the real draw was this pattern, which was made completely out of sand. Mercifully, it is protected by some pretty thick glass. But apparently, in Tibet and Nepal, it is common for Buddhist monks to spend a full year putting together one of these masterpieces, and then invite local children to trample through and destroy it. It's supposed to teach a lesson about the transience of all things and the importance of unattachment, but I just know I'd be the one monk flailing about, being restrained by the other monks, desperately trying to protect the sand from those damn ingrate kids. I would be a terrible Buddhist.

There is no commentary here. I just wanted another picture of the Great Wall (in widescreen format!). Again, cannot be oversold.

A blurry but oddly-inspiring picture of our kites sailing through the night sky over Tiananmen Square. In this photo, it's almost like we're setting the sky ablaze. In some very abstract way, at the time, it felt like we were. That is one of those random travel experiences I will always remember, even though it actually has very little to with travel as such. If anything, that just makes it better.

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