Beijing: the city of spontaneity (Post #6).

During the first couple days in Beijing, I didn’t leave the premises of the school because I still hadn’t retrieved my debit card from the Bank of China Headquarters – the ATM machine had swallowed it the first night I was there. I felt safe exploring the rest of the city once I got it back.

Today’s post is about a single [typical] day in the city.

At 0900 hours, the entire UCEAP group boarded a bus with Professor Ding 丁教授 and departed for Beijing Capital Museum 北京首都博物館。

The place is huge.

There were six floors of accessible exhibitions. The museum is divided into two parts on opposite sides of the museum: galleries on one end, and models/sculptures on the other end. We first went to the top most floor of the former and worked our way down. We were inside the black protruding dome in the picture you see above.

The center section of the Museum is mostly open space that is used for gatherings in special events; otherwise, it’s what a lot of people consider wasted space.

The exhibitions we saw included jade ornaments and sculptures, samples of rooftop styles, scroll painting and calligraphy, and pottery. Professor Ding explained to us how just how difficult it was to paint with brushes, as many long lines are painted with a single stroke.

The lines you see that make up the torso of the people are all done in a single stroke. There’s no room for mistakes, else the piece is ruined.

The super long escalator to the other side of the museum.

The opposite side of the museum consisted of model opera houses, miniature sculptures of men carrying carriages, and doors and walls from various dynasties.

After the museum trip, we were to find our own means of transportation back to school grounds. Except no one wanted to go back. People broke off into groups and sought their own exploring for the day. Alex, Stephanie, Michael, Karina, Devante and I headed towards Qian Men 前門, a subway stop close to TianAnMen Square 天安門。

We exited the subway in between two enormous buildings/gates. After walking around a bit, we entered a historical walkway called GuYuTianJie 古韵天街. It reminded me of Main Street in Disneyland, as well as Wild West towns.

The two gates that enveloped us.

The entrance of the walkway.

There were a lot of foreigners inside this street. Shops and restaurants filled both sides of the street. Locomotives were functional and gave tours.

We ate Peking Duck in a popular tourist restaurant.

A few of us needed to run errands – get SIM cards, phones, and get our ATM cards back (ahem) so we headed back to our housing units. Afterward, I went out with John, Alex, Yan, Tara, and Kaitlyn.

We originally went to a small underground vendor to go shopping/bargaining, but we arrived just as the place was closing. We then walked around and found an alleyway to eat some food. The scenario and experience of this alleyway was parallel to my conceptions of Beijing: a narrow alleyway with parked scooters and bikes; small stores and cooks on the side; people sitting on small chairs playing cards, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer.

Meat and vegetables were spread out on a long table. People picked out whichever ones they wanted which was then cooked for us. We ate chicken, lamb, pork, peppers, squid, and hot dogs on skewers.

As we walked back to the subway stop afterward, a near-empty plaza that we had passed by originally was now filled with thousands of people. There were several separate groups of people dancing, exercising, and practicing tai chi 太極拳. Several kites were being flown, people roller skating in a large circle, musical instruments being played, and a karaoke machine stood on the side where people sang songs. It was an entire community of people just relaxing after the day was over. We all felt a sense of Gemeinschaft and joined in the mix.

John, Kaitlyn, Alex and I sang a couple English songs at the Karaoke booth and attracted a large crowd. So embarrassing, so fun.

The night turned out to be a spectacular one. I’ve never witnessed such a strong sense of community before, especially in the public. Were this to happen in the US, I’d think that such a dense population of people in a given area would warrant a proportionate amount of police officers and firefighters to be on standby in case of fighting or rioting. There was no such perceived threat or fear here.

I’d like to conclude this post with a reminder: everything in this post was within 12 hours of each other. The subway was so efficient that traveling was incredibly simple. I’m glad that I was able to utilize it fully, to be able to see so much given my limited time here. ‘Twas one good spontaneous day of the six weeks I’m here.

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