Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Entering the Forbidden

Today, with the air quality very good after yesterday's thunderstorms (Frank, Pingu and Eva had to go back to their accommodation under the cover of umbrellas which thankfully Beijingers carry everywhere with them), I organised a couple of 'school photos' with the other guys learning Mandarin at our school. In truth, the Kazakh students didn't fancy coming along so it was just the English-speaking friends who I like spending time with:

Jennifer (Aus) - Asia (Poland) - Leslie (USA) - Me
Carmen (AUs) - Ken (Japan) - Iolo (UK) - Benedikt (Austria)
Kiko (Japan)

And the obligatory silly one:

We were joined by another Kazakh student, this chap spent most of his first morning in class asleep though, which wasn't as much as a surprise as his age - only 15 years old! I was perplexed as to why he wasn't in normal school...

This is because we got onto the subject of ages and gave us the perfect opportunity to learn that our Speaking teacher was 26 years old - though I thought she must be younger, Chinese people seem to age really really well!

This day we managed to get onto the subject of tongue-twisters. This is one in Pinyin:

"si4 shi4 si4, shi2 shi4 shi2, shi2si4 shi4 shi2si4, si4shi2 shi4 si4shi2,"
"four is four, ten is ten, fourteen is fourteen, forty is forty"

And while our teacher mastered:

"She sells seashells on the sea shore, the shells she sells are sea-shore shells"

She really struggled with:

"Red lorry, yellow lorry, red lorry, yellow lorry".

After all, it is true, that native Mandarin speakers find it difficult to distinguish r and l!

After lunch, Iolo and I met up with Frank, Pingu and Eva again to explore the Forbidden City, which was as yet not-done on my list of things to do in Beijing. I had been to the Tian'anmen Gate with Ann, but never into the Forbidden City itself. Interestingly, neither had Frank nor Pingu, blaming the often-heard reason that you never visit the attractions in the city you live because you always think you can do it another day!

Me and Iolo at the gate of the City.We proceded inside and also bought another GPS-based English guide to the attraction. But I can't say I listened to this much and it seemed somewhat faulty so it stayed in my rucksack most of the time!

The Forbidden City, and its heart the Palace Museum, are simply huge. Enormous and perfectly flat squares, interspersed with magnificent halls and palaces. Perfectly symmetric and very grand, I was thoroughly impressed, especially considering that all this was done over 600 years ago and in a city centre in which land must be incredibly valuable at the moment!

Oh and we also found some girls in traditional dress. With their permission, I snapped a pic!

We went through the garden in the north of the palace and suddenly found ourselves absolutely mobbed by fellow tourists! Eva and I lost Iolo and the others in the garden, and when we got back in touch with them, they had already left through the North Gate! So we followed them:

and elected to go up Jingshan Park, you can see it in the background above, from which there was a magnificent view of the whole city:

Views of Iolo and Eva can also be found:


After failing to get duck on Monday, we vowed that we MUST get duck on Wednesday, my penultimate night in Beijing. Frank had helped us find the telephone number of some duck restaurants that morning, but we discovered that the (famous) restaurant in Wudaokou could now only be reserved in person after 5:30 pm.

It was 5pm by the time we left Jingshan Park and the Beijing rush-hour was in full non-flow. Being able to get neither taxi nor tube back to anywhere in the vicinity of our hotel, we couldn't work out how to get our duck that enening, until we called up Liz (another American staying in our accommodation, teaching in a local school, who had been there for a year previously) who immediately knew how to sort us out! She walked to the restaurant much closer to the hostel, which our tutors had recommended earlier, and got us a table for 14 at the time we wanted! Top marks for party organisation prowes...

Eventually we got on a tube and then a bus back to the hotel, and somehow we all made it to the restuarant and had one of the best meals I've had in Beijing! So much food, so many people, so much fun...

And there was 7 Yuan change from the bill, which Liz made us work for in a variety of truth-or-dare challenges - many of which I would not have wanted to attempt, though I was given the arduous task of downing a cup of beer (to avoid telling a truth) and those who know how much I like dislike beer will understand why I would have preferred to snort the sugar, lick the floor, eat a chilli etc...

Because it was my last night I requested to go to KTV again in the evening - though we all agreed it could never be the same without Ann!

We had a great night! It was lovely that Frank, Eva and Penny (renamed by Leslie because no-one but the Europeans knew what Pingu was, and it was also too close to the Mandarin word for Apple - Pinguo) could join us and they obliged us by singing some Chinese songs as well! Penny had quite a voice on her too! But by midnight we were flagging a little bit and the lesser party-animals amongst us were soon fast asleep...
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