After yesterday’s shenanigans on 2 trains, we slept in for about 3-4 hours before having to wake up for a 7:10am arrival at Beijing Railway station, thus sadly concluding our Trans-Mongolian Railway journey.
After picking up our night train tickets at the ticket office, dropping off our bags at left luggage, and grabbing breakfast at the nearby Kung Fu fast food joint, we walked about 30 minutes south to Temple of Heaven.
After nearly 5 times in Beijing, I finally make a visit here.
After about an hour people watching, singing along in a public Chinese opera, and checking out the other sites here such as the Echo Wall (where you can hear someone from the opposite side of the complex given the acoustics of the wall), we walked up about another30 minutes to Tiananmen Square.
There are tons of people here no matter what time of day you come, and there is an equal amount of bureaucracy to get around: We had to wait in line to get through security, then get through security again to drop off our bags at the tourist information office, and then another round of security across the streets to visit the pickled, preserved remains of Mao Zedong at his Mausoleum in the middle of the square. Although similar to that of Lenin’s Mausoleum that we had visited a week earlier in Moscow, the mausoleum here is much grander, more celebratory, and less creepier.
Photography is not allowed here, obviously.
We then headed north to visit the Forbidden City (also known as the Palace Museum), the former home to China’s emperors and the largest palace complex in the world.
This place has to get served too.
Then it was nostalgia all over again when I took the group back to the pedestrian-only area of Oriental Plaza a few minutes east of Tiananmen Square, the same place I took a few fellow monsooners when I was here 6 years ago.
Once again among the bustling food markets by the plaza, and egged on by JC, I ate my live scorpions. How I’ve missed you.
We then had lunch at the place famous for creating the famed Peking Duck, Quan Ju De:
Saying our sad prolonged goodbyes to LaiYuen and David, we’re now about to meet up with the last traveler to join our group, Shanika, as we take the Z19 overnight train from Beijing to Xi’an leaving at 8:45pm.
To end on a poignant footnote that I’ll remember for the rest of my life — Perhaps it was the lack of sleep or the copious amounts of alcohol the night before, but I felt a range of complicated emotions the past 11 hours. And yet, the whole time I most struggled with taking this shit-eating grin off my face as I was finally seeing a place that had been so familiar to me, through the new lens of my wide-eyed fellow monsooners who were exploring Beijing for the very first time in their lives.
— EDIT —
We just missed our train by 1 minute, no joke, (who knew that Beijing has over 5 TRAIN STATIONS and even their own train booking services get confused in directing us where to go?) and now we have to take morning flights to Xi’an instead. Fuck up is on me so I deserve the last 5 nerve-wracking hours of logistical hell.
No time is lost in the itinerary, really, but man is it difficult having to organize hostels, taxi cabs, airport pickups, flight purchases, check-ins, and etc. for 6 people all at the last minute. This group has been amazing with their patience and sense of humor this whole time, so I’m glad to be part of this collective experience, to say the least.
On the bright side, we finally all get to shower tonight.
“the glass half empty situation is that we missed our train by one minute and are scrambling for an early flight out tomorrow.
the glass half full situation is that YESSS, we finally get to rinse off 4 days of sweat, horse hair, yurt smoke and train stink off of us from over half a week of not bathing. all of our fingernails are equally covered in soot.” — Melissa Weinmann, 31 minutes ago
– At time of posting in Beijing, China, it was 42.8 °F – Humidity: n/a | Wind Speed: 4km/hr | Cloud Cover: mostly clear