Part 6: A day off in Beijing
I wrote this entry sitting on the steps of the Forbidden City in the travel journal that I bring with me on every trip. (TIP! I always bring a spiral notebook with me wherever I go when I travel. It\’s great to record memories, jot down contact information and collect recipes.) I am overlooking a very charming red gate that leads to the outside world of Beijing. The Forbidden City is completely amazing; it\’s one of those places that you always see in pictures, and you never dream that you would have the chance to go.
It is really easy to get to as it is right in the middle of Beijing and is accessible by their amazing subway system! The subway is super-cheap, and all of the signs are in English, which was a complete shock to me. When you come up from the subway, you are only a few streets away from the front gate of the city that overlooks Tiananmen Square. Above the front gate, is a large picture of Chairman Mao, and the place is just flooded with tourists from all over the world.
As we made our way through the center courtyard, I snapped pictures of the people just hanging around here. There were school children out on a field trip, mobs of tour groups and random people selling everything from bottled water to T-shirts and bags with Chairman Mao\’s face. There were also a lot of Chinese military groups. I remember turning to Sam and saying, \”Wow, we are in China!\”
We walked through the various palaces and gardens that make up the Forbidden City. You can spend hours in this one spot, so make sure that you have plenty of time to explore it. The one thing that I took away from this experience was that, as an American, you can never really grasp a five-thousand-year history. Americans talk in decades and Europeans talk in centuries; the Chinese talk in dynasties. It is just too much history to really grasp in one trip. (TIP! Make sure that you do a little reading on Chinese history before your trip to bring all of this amazing history to life.)
Reader beware: I am about to take you on a \”real adventure\” in this blog. So, please do not say that I did not warn you! In the middle of our walk through the Forbidden City, I started to feel a little sick. I realized that I had a bit of an \”issue\” and I needed to find a bathroom — quick! There was no getting around it this time, I had to use a public toilet in China! I found one right in the middle of the Forbidden City, and I found an open stall and there it was: the dreaded hole in the ground. I said a quick prayer and closed the door behind me. The rest is travel history! Lori Rothschild Ansaldi has now officially pooped in a hole in Asia! (I immediately called my mother.) I have to say that it is really not that bad. The squatting seems strange, but it really is a very natural position to poop in. So, try it — ya just might like it.
After the Forbidden City (yes, I am feeling much better by now), we walked a few blocks and entered a hutong. Hutongs are the most authentic Beijing experience you can get, so be sure to set aside plenty of time to explore them. Sam, Caroline and I walked for hours into tiny shops, explored hidden alleyways where we could peer into real Chinese homes. We even stopped for lunch at a small cafe and ordered pizza and fries! The pizza was of the frozen variety, but a welcome departure from the Kung Pao and dumplings that we had been eating at every other meal.
After a bit of walking, we decided to hire a rickshaw and have a real tourist experience. The tour through the hutongs was great, and the driver even brought us into a typical Chinese home where we could walk through the rooms and a central garden. They even served us tea before we made our way back to the bike.
At this point of the day, we were all really tired and ready for a nap. So we walked over to a main street to hail a cab back to our hotel. This might have been the hardest part of the entire trip! Here\’s what a guidebook will not tell you: taxi drivers in Beijing do not pick up anyone who does not look Chinese. Why? Because they know that you do not speak Mandarin, and they do not want to try to negotiate with you in English. It\’s that simple. That is why you should always carry cards with you with the name and address of your hotel or destination in English and in Mandarin. Those cards are the only way to convince a driver to give you a ride!
After all the excitement of trying to find a cab, Caroline and I decided that we wanted to go over to the silk market to do some shopping before we headed back to the hotel. So we dropped off Sammy, and we went to the Silk Market.
The market is like a huge indoor flea market. If you are a New Yorker, think Caesar\’s Bay Bazaar or The Busy Bee Mall. There are hundreds of vendors selling everything from fake Prada bags and Seven jeans to perfume, shoes, Chinese art and jewelry. The vendors all yell at you as you walk by their stalls. \”Hey, lady … Hey, lady! Come over, and buy from me.\” If you stop or even catch their sight, they will walk right up to you and pull you over to their stalls. It was so loud and chaotic and, after a long day of exploring Beijing, I was just not ready for an evening of shopping. However, I did pick up a few knock-off bags, which are definitely the best I have ever seen. Chinatown, eat your heart out!
Caroline and I decided that it was definitely time for a drink. So, we headed back to the hotel and met up with Sam and the crew at the Italian restaurant located right inside of the Ascott. Now, I was a bit weary of eating Italian food in the middle of China, but they did a good job. I had a mushroom risotto and a glass of Merlot.
After dinner Greg, the director of the show, suggested that we all get foot massages at the 24-hour massage parlor located right in the lobby of the hotel. Now, listen up people: this is one of the must-dos when you are in Beijing! You must get a foot massage! Think of it this way, it is a 90-minute full body massage (fully clothed) where they concentrate on your feet, and it costs $17! The best part? They are always open — 24/7! So right after that nice dinner and wine, I went in for an hour-and-a-half massage before taking the elevator up to my room to my cozy bed. I woke up eight hours later for another shoot day.
In the next blog, we head out to celebrate Thanksgiving in China and experience our first Peking Duck.