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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

N. China - Day 8, Part 1 - Beijing: Temple of Heaven

"I have only one superstition. I touch all the bases when I hit a home run." - Babe Ruth

***

N. China
Day 8 - 6th November - Beijing: Temple of Heaven
(Part 1)

I was awoken with an annoyingly chirpy song remix. Apparently someone thought it was a good idea to wake the passengers with modern beats and a background track.

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Sign for Pirated Disneyland. It's rated a AAAA tourist attraction. Amazing.

For breakfast we went to Mr Li's, with more than 350 outlets nationwide (this isn't that impressive when you consider how big China is - Singapore had 125 McDonald's outlets in 2004).

I asked for 凉面 (Cold Noodles) but was told this was only on their summer menu. Yet it was on the normal menu. Maybe most people know that it's a summer food. Most people certainly wouldn't order it just before 7am in November.

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Fragrant spicy beef noodles

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清汤炸酱面 (Clear soup fried sauce noodles)
This was the worst 炸酱面 I'd ever had.

Mr Li's was quite expensive. We paid 14¥ and 16¥ - in Singapore you'd pay about the same for 炸酱面, and you'd get a lot more meat (not to mention that it'd taste much better - perhaps it's the Cantonese culinary influence); meat in China is expensive.

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福: 财神特优香蕉 ("Fortune: God of Wealth Special Bananas")

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"Clio Coddle"
This knockoff of Crocodile has in its turn become an established brand in China, and has its own imitators.

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The ominous-sounding "Biomedical Base" subway stop.

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"We love Mao"

My hostel for this evening, Sitting on the City Walls (Beijing) Courtyard House, was a real pain to get to. There was no subway stop within walking distance (unlike for the other 3) so I had to take a taxi from one. I was wondering why I'd chosen it, but only remembered when I got there - it'd gotten a lot of awards, being rated #1 in China and #1 in Asia even.

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Guide given by hostel: "Hope you have a nice stay here and feel the warmth and honesty of traditional Beijing local people"
Notice the emphasis on warmth and honesty. Presumably all the crooks who tried to cheat me were not traditional Beijing local people.

Also: "Countless guards from army, police, and several security dept who have uniform or not are watching this area day and night. Along with Tian'anmen Square, here is considered to be one of the safest place in Beijing."

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"Don't take Rickshaw or illegal car
Don't purchase from the famous painter
Don't Chat with English learner
Don't believe Cheap Tour Card"

In other words, don't have "authentic" engagements with local culture. I wholly endorse this, since local culture consists in trying to swindle you in as many ways as possible.

I was considering leaving for a day trip immediately (to the Eastern Qing Tombs, of which Qianlong's was one) but was too late - at 9:53am I was told the train was at 10:03am, and the next would be at 1pm (3 hours to Tangshan, then I'd still need to take a bus - the instructions I got online were wrong). An alternative I considered was the 13 Ming Tombs (much more touristy but a lot nearer), but the tourist bus to those ended at 10am, so I decided to stay in Beijing. I will view more tombs the next time I am in BJ!

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Hutong Alley in 北池子大街 (South Pool Large Alley)

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Someone's house. The hutongs were quite overrated - it's basically people's houses, in cramped conditions.

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More hutong scenes

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"Exchange The Love Communicate With The True Feelings"

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A mysterious atmosphere at the rear of the Forbidden City (it's the Pollution)

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Tree-lined boulevard

Around here, touts on 3-wheeled electric vehicles kept pestering me. I said I was looking for the subway, not a tourist attraction. They said the subway was very far. Eventually one offered to take me to the Temple of Heaven for 3¥. Given that the subway cost 2¥, and I would have to walk there, this was a very attractive proposition, so I said okay after repeatedly confirming that it'd only cost me 3¥.

I ended up being kicked first to a second 3-wheeled vehicle and then a third with lame excuses (one of which was the new driver was a better guide). I was very suspicious - and found out that suddenly my fare had become 3¥. Per minute, not period. The probable reason why the crooks had shuttled me from one vehicle to another was to put a lot of distance between me and the original driver with whom I had made the contract, so I wouldn't have any practical recourse. Once I realised I'd been cheated (again) I hurriedly got off - with a bill of 57¥ (a taxi going the same distance would have charged me 10-11¥ - I'd underestimated both the cost of electricity in China and how devious the conmen were). Presumably these 3-wheeled vehicles were the "rickshaws" the hostel's guide had warned me about.

In retrospect 3¥ was a ridiculously cheap fare even for non-crooks to offer, but I thought that they would at least respect the letter of the agreement, not anticipating their devious tricks to extract money from me.

Ad: "爱自由,爱网络" ("Love freedom, love the Internet"). Considering this was one of the most regulated Internets in the world, this was hilarious.

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"The Overcoat. Get the coat, get the girl, change the world..."

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Entrance to Temple of Heaven

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Information plaque. 4 times the size of the Forbidden City, this place was finished in 1420.

Qianlong renovated a lot. No wonder the Qing Empire went bankrupt.

The audioguide talked about "scenic spots". I think this was a not-too-accurate translation of "景点" ("Points of Interest").

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Map of place

Here I saw more people doing water calligraphy.

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"Time flies like an arrow,
Fruit flies like a banana"

I gave this man a special request:

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"毛主席万岁" ("Long Live Chairman Mao")

I was SO happy that my special request had finally been fulfilled (unlike the guy at the Summer Palace who'd denied me - and then tried to ask for money)

The guy was amused at my request - he said Singapore would arrest me, and that I should request "李光耀万岁" ("Long Live Lee Kuan Yew"). He also said that very few people in China said this sort of thing anymore. I wanted to give him 1¥ for his trouble, and he TURNED ME DOWN. I was even more delighted by this than his acquiescing to my request - perhaps I had finally found one of the "traditional Beijing local people".

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The Not-So-Long Corridor. After the Summer Palace this was not Long at all.
The audioguide was supposed to sound here but it failed to - at Pingyao mine had been overly sensitive. Here it was making up for its compatriot's faults by being under-sensitive (it didn't work at the Animal Killing Pavillion either - the place looked closed anyway). Gah.

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"Dear Guests: Please observe the following rules on your visit.
Do not strike drums or gongs, play music loudly, shout.. crowd the paths or entrances... No... hide-and-seek"

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Seven Star Stones/Big Dipper. Yongle dreamt that the Big Dipper fell to earth, and he found these stones. He then built the Temple of Heaven. Apparently the stones used to be bigger.

The observant will notice that there are 8 stones - Kangxi added one to symbolise a Manchu mountain in the Northeast to justify his dynasty's rule of China.


Behold how the Chinese treat their cultural heritage.

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Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests: Front

There is a lot of symbolism to do with agriculture. For example the number of pillars symbolises the months (12).

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Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests: Side

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Double Phoenix carving

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Dragon Carving

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Danbi Stairway plaque explaining the previous 2 carvings

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The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is eternally blocked by people posing

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Interior of Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

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Notice the cows

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Kid on steps whose pants split and diapers are showing

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Hall of Imperial Zenith (as called by Audioguide)

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Imperial Hall of Heaven

The audioguide said the first 8 Qing Emperors' tablets are here. Daoguang was ashamed and didn't put his own here, so his son Xuanfeng thought he was not qualified to enshrine his here either. Nor did his offspring, who died out of Beijing due to the Anglo-French invasion.

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Inside the Imperial Hall of Heaven

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Inside the Imperial Hall of Heaven

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Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (other side)

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Wearing jeans for your wedding shoot is SO UNGLAM


Beijing has the most consistently crowded subway I've ever been on; more crowded than Singapore's, for sure, even with people moving to the centre of the cars.


I think China was the place where the most people have tried to cheat me in my travels; in Pingyao the bag deposit guy had told me that I could pay later, but I was told that if I paid later, they'd likely jack up the price so it would be wiser to pay upfront. In 2 weeks in France, people tried to cheat me twice (at Montmartre and Pigalle, and both times by people who looked like they came from the colonies rather than bona fide locals). In Jogjakarta, people tried to cheat me four times a day. In Northern China, people tried to cheat me twice. Per hour.

Third World Countries are cheaper than First World ones, but there are a lot of hidden costs. Besides food poisoning, there's the cost of people swindling you. And the psychic costs of swindling, which go beyond the purely monetary ones.

The thing about bargaining is that it is most effectively done if you know what the right price should be. In a foreign country you don't have that information most of the time (for example, a Mao poster I got at Tongli in 2007 for 30¥ [down from 40¥] started at 20¥ in Pingyao - and I'm sure I could have knocked some off if I tried).
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