Another action-packed weekend just flew by (technically I still have today, Sunday, to enjoy though). Next week is our mid-term so the teachers canceled our Friday test and watched a movie instead, Beijing Bicycle. I really don't like that movie, I'd seen it before in the US and the characters are all just too roundabout for me to handle. I can't help thinking, when I watch the movie, that if they had just been more direct none of their problems would have happened. I guess that's one difference in our cultures that I'm just not a big fan of. Sooo, if you want to watch a movie and end up extremely frustrated, I'd recommend Beijing Bicycle.
Anywho, Thursday night we ended up in Houhai (hai means lake, it's one of the 7 or so lakes to the left of the Forbidden City) which is an awesome shopping and bar-hopping (sorry mom) area. The stores were so cool though! I definitely will have to go back to buy you guys some souveneirs. The whole lake is surrounded by bars with live music and it was fun to just walk around - the bar employees all stand outside their bar and try to get you to come in, "Ladies! Upstairs, drinks half-off. Pretty ladies!" My favorite was the guy who told us, "Ladies, come in! I sing for you!"
Friday night was our "Epic Wanshang (Evening)." But first, during the day, we went to the Llama Temple and Ditan Gongyuan (Park). The Llama Temple was a really pretty area with temple after temple of Buddhist statues that worshipers could kneel in front of and burn incense. It was all very hushed and relaxing. There was one building with a huge 3-story Buddha in it. Other's had Chinese-style statues of other Buddhist deities. I don't know enough about Buddhism to really be able to tell you all about it. Here are a lot of pictures - and one of me! (I'm narcissistic)
After the Llama Temple, we went to Ditan Park, a smaller park that was pretty close by. We passed shop after shop selling bundles of incese and buddist figures on the way. Seriously, I could smell the incese as soon as we walked out of the subway. It really put the whole area in another place. My favorite place in Ditan Park was the Slaughter Pavilion (great name, I know). Ditan Park is home to the Temple of Earth, one of the 4 temples around Beijing that the Emperors of old used to travel to to make sacrifices. Standing in the center of the big square felt like I was in a movie. There were a bunch of flags in rows all around and there was a nice breeze so they were all flapping too.
After that we walked around the park itself (the Temple of Confucius was closed because all the buildings in the park close at 5 (or it might have been 6)). Everything closes in China earlier than it does in the US, it's hard to get used to. We tried to go to a Starbucks last night at around 10 and it was closed. I don't know if its the same in the US, but there were still a lot of people around and I was really in need of coffee.
There were old people out and about doing old Chinese-people things (which are different than old American-people things): people playing mahjong and cards at the little tables scattered throughout the park, there were croquet games going on in these little dusty, dirt areas, also this hacky sack type thing that I've mentioned before. It's crazy, I don't have the skills to kick that little thing up and over to another person, but these grandparents were just killing it! I'm impressed everytime I see it. The base is some coins tied together and then there's a feather sticking up on top and it makes a chinck sound everytime it's kicked.
That was our day, after eating, resting and showering up, we got ready for our "Epic Wanshang" which included: a return stroll around Houhai, dancing for however long we felt like it at Wudaokou, karaoke if there was time (which there wasn't), and finally getting to Tiananmen by 4 in the morning to see the changing of the guard.
My envisioning of the whole Tiananmen changing of the guard thing was completely different from what actually ended up happening. Every night at 11pm and morning at 4am the guards change. We decided to go at 4 because we figured there'd be less people. Lisa's Lonely Planet guide book also said it was more of a foreigner thing to go to too. So I was picturing a relaxed, easy viewing of the changing of the guard and an opportunity for me to break the language pledge and chat with some other English speakers. Not so. Definitly not so.
I forgot, this is China, it's also a Friday night/Saturday morning. The place was filled with Chinese tour groups and we basically had no chance of seeing what was going on. At one point, before the actual event happened, we could see the guards standing there, but then, when it started everyone's kid went up on his/her parent's shoulders and it was game over. I did get to see the flag being raised while they played the national anthem. That was cool, I guess. So, if you're ever in China and want to do this, I'd recommend a weekday.
We were all totally beat afterward and headed back like zombies to go to sleep. We didn't even make it to McDonald's to eat breakfast like we had planned.