Touring Beijing, ie. Puke Crawl 2011

Starting right where I left off, Casey, Tam, Derek and I (Kyle opted not to come) woke up bright and early Tuesday morning at 6:30am and hopped on a tour bus that would take us to a couple of Beijing’s popular landmarks. We met our tour guide David and he was hilarious from start to finish! He could tell right away that we were hungover but that didn’t stop him from scolding us for being late to get on the bus! We picked up 4 other tourists, two women from the Philippines and a couple from India, and headed towards the Forbidden City.

We were very fortunate that it was a nice, sunny day because we ended up waiting outside the Forbidden City entrance for close to 2 hours (or, at least it felt that way). David left us to go and purchase our tickets/entrance passes, and he warned us that it would take a while and to not move or he would never be able to find us. We were outside the palace around 7:30am and it was absolutely insane. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people were waiting in line of all different ages and cultures, but mostly Chinese, of course. Even though Beijing is the capital of China and thousands of foreigners live there, many of the Chinese people at the Forbidden City (and at our other destinations that day) were tourists from different parts of China and were just as fascinated with us as they were with the attractions. As we waited to get in, we were gawked at by the people surrounding our group, our photos were taken with babies, families and passerby’s, and the image of us as caged, foreign species on display at a zoo was frequently brought to mind during this segment of our tour.

After what felt like ages, David phoned us from inside the city and told us to join the cue that was heading through the gates. Easier said then done. We timidly entered the large, rather aggressive line, and I had a small fright as people at the back started pushing and I found myself in the middle of a mob! There were officers at the gates trying to fight people back, but no matter what I did I couldn’t stop the progression forward as people at all sides were pushing towards the entrance. I could do nothing but move my feet and go with the flow! Once we got through the entrance people mercifully scattered, and our group waited for David to come find us with the tickets. After about another half hour, he found us and we finally got to enter the Forbidden City and take a look around!

*Side Note* One of the funniest, most memorable moments of our trip happened on this day. Remember how I mentioned the hangovers we were nursing, some more serious than others? Well, Casey was having a particularly rough morning and her unfortunate alcohol-to-stomach ratio led to what we now call Puke Crawl 2011. She puked just after we left that aggressive line through the gates, right into the middle of the circle we had made and all over the pathway leading into the Forbidden City. This wasn’t the last we saw of the puke throughout the day, so I will be adding a **side note** throughout this blog if any readers wish to follow Puke Crawl 2011 and not read the details of the tour (and I wouldn’t hold it against you. Puking on World Heritage Sites is not something you witness everyday!).

The Forbidden City, or Imperial Palace, is stunning. There are numerous massive courtyards (not sure if thats what they are actually called) that have an entrance and an exit that lead into the next. There are something like 1000 ancient buildings that all had a specific ceremonial or political function for the Emperor, his concubines, the staff or visiting leaders and politicians. Some of the monuments, buildings and pathways have been fixed for more modern use, but a lot of the city remains the way it had been built back in the 15th century. **After venturing through a couple of courtyards, Casey began to feel queasy and projectiled in the corner of one of the ancient staircases. We weren’t respectful enough to not take pictures. Outstanding** David would stop us now and then to tell us something significant about certain staircases, statues, buildings, rooms or history, and we had plenty of time to take pictures. Most of the courtyards looked similar, with white brick grounds and surrounding Chinese buildings with beautiful red banisters, orange tiled roofs, and green and yellow painted designs. But the last area we came to before leaving the city was something different entirely! It was an extravagant garden with gazebos, large ancient trees, flowers, and a fascinating grainy rock-like hill that I’m at a loss for words to describe what it looked like. It was very crowded in this area of the city, so we left shortly after without really taking a look around, which I now regret. We were in a hurry to make it to our next destination so we headed to the tour bus and on to the next one!

We arrived at Summer Palace shortly after leaving the Forbidden City. It felt even more packed there than at the city because there was less room to spread out, as Summer Palace can be viewed across the lake on a pier that leads to a narrow bridge. Summer Palace, in case you didn’t know, is where the Emperor goes to live for the Summer and is a very popular tourist attraction in China, let alone Beijing. After a brief bathroom break **where Casey did what she does best** we took pictures on the bridge in front of the palace and it really was a beautiful sight to see, even though it was very crowded and the lake was unfortunately full of floating garbage. David gave us the option of staying at Summer Palace longer or heading to our next destination, and we opted to leave because we were getting hungry and lunch was to come after we finished our next tour spot.

Our next stop was random but I’m really glad David brought us there: a jewellery store that specialized in pearls. We were given a brief but detailed explanation of how pearls were collected and sold in China, and they even used a real oyster in the demonstration to show how pearls grow inside. I learned about the different colours of pearl and what those colours represent, and that the bigger the pearl, the more valuable. They also explained how we could decipher genuine pearls from fake ones: simply rub 2 pearls on the same necklace together. If they omit a powder, it’s the real thing. If they merely slide away from each other, then it’s a fake. After the demonstration we were free to wonder the store, where they sold everything from gorgeous pearl jewellery (necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings) to cosmetics like organic pearl skin cream for aging, skin whitening, or the bags under your eyes. I actually love pearls, as the pearl is my birth stone, and I already have a beautiful necklace of white Chinese pearls, and a few pairs of pearl earrings. I prefer them to diamonds, anyway. I’m really happy that I was able to go there, random as it was. **Casey puked here too. In the bathroom, respectfully**

Lunch time at last! The bus took us to a nice restaurant that wasn’t too far a drive from the jewellery store. **Casey practically flew off the bus to puke on a rather unfortunate tree in the parking lot, before opting out of eating lunch and sticking to 7up and a little bit of rice. Bless her. And with that final display of shame, Puke Crawl 2011 came to an end** We ate a nice Chinese lunch with our tour mates, who were surprisingly understanding and chill about Casey’s condition and our antics, as we were much younger than they were and…lets say…animated when it came to asking and answering Davids questions and being giggly from lack of sleep.

Next stop! The Temple of Heaven. It’s really something special to look at, and David explained to us how the colours and the shape of it is significant to the Chinese religion. The temple symbolizes the connection between Heaven and Earth, and is a very sacred site for many worshippers. **Lucky thing Puke Crawl ended before this particular destination!** It wasn’t as crowded as the other destinations, maybe because it was later in the day. At that point we had done and seen so much that we felt like it was 6pm, but really it was closer to 2:00pm! We took a lot of great pictures at the Temple of Heaven but didn’t linger too long.

Our next stop turned out to be one of the greatest experience of my trip. We visited to a beautiful tea shop and were privileged enough to watch a Chinese tea demonstration. The women giving the demonstration explained the significance to health, body, and soul for 5 different kinds of tea (White, Old puerh, Jasmine, Oolong and Litchi). We watched them brew each type as they explained the benefits it has on the body, how to drink it, and the significance of the taste. The teas like Jasmine and Litchi tasted deliciously sweet and I was amazed to learn that no sugar was added to create the sugary taste. “All nature, natures sweetness” the woman kept saying. I’m not an avid tea drinker but I actually bought a box of Litchi tea to enjoy when Hohhot gets unbearably cold (which I suspect will be sooner than I think). The Oolong and Puerh tea were bitter but nice; what I find Chinese tea normally tastes like. But the health benefits for them are incredible! They have been proven to help cholesterol and blood pressure, and the woman explained how tiny Chinese girls climb enormous trees to hand-pick the leaves that we were drinking. Fact. The demonstration was so informative, I feel so grateful to have witnessed this particular Chinese tradition.

After this, we were brought back to our hostel and sadly said goodbye to David. The time was now around 4:30-5pm, so we had about an hour before we headed to the Acrobats show we were seeing that night. We were exhausted, so we didn’t bother dolling up to see the show this night. We met up with Kyle and headed to the show, which began at about 7ish, and it was awesome. The things that these tiny Chinese men and women (and children) could do with their bodies was insane! We saw people flip, throw, dive, roll, and balance on top of, around, over and through various objects such as barrels, hoops, hats, and people. The wildest event was at the end though: A giant, metal, egg-shaped object was pushed on stage and not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 motorcyclists on motorcycles drove insanely fast inside, driving in coordinated patterns round and round and round for up to 10 minutes. It was nuts!

To be honest I can’t remember what we did directly after this. I want to say that we headed to a mall near our hostel to eat food (I remember nothing was really open so we just ate a normal, fast-food like Chinese dinner). Then we headed back to our hostel and got ready for bed, almost in complete silence because we were all so exhausted. We also knew that we were heading to the Great Wall the next day and needed to be up for 5:30am to meet our tour bus by 6:00am. Brutal! So sleep came quickly to our little group in preparation for the momentous day we had following this one! Until next blog!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ian Copland
    Oct 17, 2011 @ 07:18:49

    I was ROTFL during this entire post!


  2. Lois Christianson
    Oct 17, 2011 @ 23:34:25

    Awesome Steph. What an experience. Keep the blogs coming. and don’t drink too much that you forget where you have been etc.
    Love Aunty


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