May 24:  Beijing, overnight train to Xi'an


I slept well.  My knee was OK, but my calves were very tight, probably from walking down from the Wall.

We checked out of the hotel in the morning and kept our bags in MJ's room because our train to Xi'an wasn't leaving till I think 9pm.  At checkout they tried to charge me Y20 for the big bottle of water in the room, which was clearly labelled Y10.  After a lengthy internal discussion, they came back and said it was Y10 for the water and Y10 for the bottle.  I told them I left the empty bottle in the trash can in the room.  They sent someone up to confirm, and finally took the extra Y10 off the bill.  All that for $1.25.

After checkout we walked over to Tiananmen Square, the world's largest public square.

Chairman Mao mausoleum.  It's bigger than I expected.  (That's what she said!)  The line was long albeit moving very fast, so I could have gone in to see the corpse, but you have to check your bags across the street and no photography is allowed.  And anyway, nothing will beat seeing Ramses II.

Monument to the People's Heroes and Great Hall of the People.

Chinese History and Revolution Museums.  Note the Olympic countdown clock.  I saw a few of these around town.

Mausoleum again.  People were coming up to us here trying to sell Chairman Mao watches.  I thought of buying one, but not from some guy in the square.  Many people have commented on the irony of Mao's image being commercialized capitalistically.  Anne Marie added:  "If Mao knew, he'd be rolling over in his grave.  And you'd know about it right away because he's right over there."  Nice.

Tiananmen Gate.

Tiananmen Gate.

Wide shot of Tiananmen Square.

We continued on through Tiananmen Gate into the Forbidden City.

Tiananmen Gate with Jinshui River (moat) visible.

Closeup of Chairman Mao.  Carrying this photo on my camera ruined my chances of making it with anyone anyhow.

One of the gates inside the Forbidden City.

Another gate.

Another gate.

Here we go.  This is the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Inner Court, where the imperial throne is.

Throne.

Imperial couch.

Imperial bed.

We stopped in the Imperial Garden on the way out.  While waiting there, MJ pointed to my legs and asked why Western guys are so hairy.  I should have said it's because Western guys have something called "testicles" that produce "testosterone" which in turn stimulates "hair growth" after the onset of "puberty", but I didn't think of it at the time.  Also he claimed all Westerners look alike and appear not to age between 20 and 40, and I of course said that we think the same of them.  Also he thought I was much younger than 37, like grad student age.  I'm getting a lot of that now.  Maybe somehow I've reversed the aging process, and that's why I seem to be attracting more attention these days.  I assumed it was kavorka, so this is a bit of a relief.

Rear (north) entrance to the Forbidden City.  But we exited here and I'm not sure if you can buy tickets here and go in.  Nearby there was a noisy group insisting that it's an exit, not an entrance, but it turns out they were anti-gay protesters referring to an entirely different issue.  OK, they weren't really there.

We went to a nearby restaurant for lunch.  It was the same traditional style, but with this interesting item:

These eggs are prepared in some way such that they turn dark.  They look like negatives.  I had several and they were good (tasted just like eggs) but no one else tried them.

After lunch we took a rickshaw tour of the hutong ("alleyway") area, home of the old old Beijing neighborhoods.  Not exceptionally interesting.

Mind your pace, boy.  Chop chop!

Later in the afternoon Terence found a cheap Internet cafe, so I went there and caught up on some stuff.  The American Idol final performance show had just taken place; I read that it was close but Simon picked Taylor to win.  (It airs in Ireland a couple days later and Anne Marie has been following it.)  Bonds finally hit #714, my gold and stocks were up a little bit, there was no real news, and Merkle's Boners (my rotisserie baseball team) had fallen to 3rd place (of 11).  My advice to all you rotisserie baseball owners (or "fantasy" baseball, if you're a poof):  If you're gonna steal a free-agent catcher who's suddenly moved into the top 10 and add him to your UT spot, don't do it and then immediately go to China.  You won't be able to act on the numerous trade offers, which negates the main benefit of the move.

Oh yeah, on the way to the Internet cafe a local girl approached Terence and chatted him up a while, then asked if he wanted to join her and her friends for tea.  So I think it is a scam.

Before returning to the hotel for our ride to the train station, I looked around for dinner.  I wanted KFC and thought I remembered where one was, but I found only that Chinese imitator Mr. Lee's Chicken.  So I bit the bullet and went to McDonalds.  The menu was all in Chinese, and didn't even have numbers so I could just hold up fingers to order, so I wasn't sure how to pull it off.  But the cashier chick said "welcome to McDonalds" in English, so there was no problem.  I got a chicken-ass sandwich combo (just like they serve at the Lucky Bastard Casino!) for Y17.50, or about $2.  But it turned out to be spicy, which in theory was the wrong thing to eat before a 12-hour ride on a train with questionable toilet facilities.

At the train station, many people were waiting with their belonging stuffed into large grain sacks.  The biggest sack there was the 2nd-biggest sack I've ever seen.

I managed to have one "beer" on the train, but it was warm and sweet and in a can.  It was worse than Natural Light.  Worst Beer Ever.


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