Day 04: Beijing

14/07/2009 //


Our first unguided day, so we decided to go to the Underground City. Stig found it in his Lonely Planet Guide, though it wasn’t mentioned in my Rough Guide. So we walked to Tiananmen Square and decided to try and find it from there. There was another gate we didn’t get to see the other day as well, so we could kill two birds with one stone and hopefully not get eaten by locusts or something.

The sun was out, so it was a scorcher. We found Tiananmen fairly easily, walking the last stretch through a boutique street where there was already an H&Ms and a Starbucks no doubt will open as well.

Stig had a fair approximation of where we were headed, so after getting some more snapshots on the Square, we went in search of the Underground City. Some tourists were ahead of us, so we figured we were on the right track. They were all shunted into a rickshaw, and one of the drivers looked at us and screamed “Underground city?”; we just shook our heads: “That’s OK,” and he hauled ass with his passengers. Stig figured it was the frst or second street, so we walked. As we were about to turn the corner, the driver came back, “Underground city?” We said “No,” but he dragged up a sign “Underground city?” and pointed at the seat. As he grew desperate and near-aggressice, we finally relented and asked how much, knowing it was around the corner, as he had driven the other passengers. “Ten! Ten!” As suspected, it was around the corner. And lo and behold, it was closed. We handed him ten and he screamed “Each!” Then he hauled ass. We walked back to where we had come from, where the guy was sitting. “Close?” he asked, incredulously, then: “Where go to?” and pointed to his bike again. We walked back to Tian’anmen.

After some much-needed water, we grabbed a cab to the Lama Temple, a huge Buddhist temple. It was the site for a 28 meter tall Buddha statue carved from a single piece of sandalwood. It was pretty humongous. I always feel a bit stupid as a gawking tourist at an active site, but the praying people didn’t seem to mind.

We sat down in the shade outside. A pretty girl walked by and I turned my head after her. A boy in his early teens saw me and snorted a laugh. He’d been checking her out too, of course.

We headed back to the hotel after that, where our guide met us to take us to the Red Theatre for a show: “Chun Yi, the story of Kung Fu”. The show is performed by Shaolin monks, and was basically like a live Jet Li flick. The physical prowess of these guys is staggering, and though the show is sort of Vegas, it was no less impressive. Some five-year-olds were doing somersaults off their own head and other crazy stuff. When I was five, I made mud pies and explored my nasal cavity. Anyway, the guide herded us into the theatre, then to our seats. Then explained that show would be performed on the stage in front of us, that the big display with the writing on was for the subtitles and that the door marked “toilet – men” was were we could go to the toilet. Then he sat next to us until the show started, to make sure we were OK. It was a tad ridiculous. I wasn’t sure if he was after a tip, but when I paid the ticket, I said “Why dont you keep the change, for your help today?” but he turned it down. So I don’t know. He was very worried about us. As a matter of fact, when he picked us up, he asked if we’d stayed at the hotel that day. When we told him we’d been sight-seeing, he looked both surprised and concerned. He kept asking if we could manage to take a cab, or if he should wait for us. It was all a bit weird. He finally left, though.

So we walked back to the hotel after the show. He would never know, but I’m sure it would have given him a heart attack.