Day 8: Everything awesome. Awesome includes, but is not limited to, the Forbidden City, Bei Hai Lake, Hou Hai Lake, Drum Tower/Bell Tower, Hou Hun Dun, and Hot Pot.
This was by far one of the greatest days I have experienced to date. That sounds dramatic perhaps, but it was the day that I realized in full how desperately I need to travel and see the world. It feels bigger than just having a nice vacation or a change of scenery. I’ve experienced that before. This was the day that reminded me that simply walking around a lake in a country I had only seen in film, could completely change and shape the way I view people.
We began at the Forbidden City which was one of my favorite places I have gone. It is a whole web of buildings and walls, filled with furniture that the old emperors used to use. Of course, you view the furniture through the window so you don’t have the full pleasure of laying on the bed of an Empress, but it still fuels the imagination. The architecture was breathtaking and I felt that same old quiet tranquility that I felt so often in China that for whatever reason, I rarely have felt in the United States. Perhaps it is my personality and circumstance, but I feel as though China is pulled towards the calm, balanced nature of their past and the USA is pulled towards their passionate, headlong rush into the future. We ate lunch we had packed in a small, exquisitely carved gazebo; I felt like I was in a dinner theatre and the entertainment was watching all the other tourists gawk at me and my American face.
We moseyed our way through the intricate web of the Forbidden City, pausing on a bench to rest and in the process, getting our picture taken with a couple of bold, adorable Chinese toddlers. We also counted how many matching couples we saw. It’s some kind of trend in Beijing. You can see in the picture the affectionate pink garbed couple. They were two of many.
We continued this mosey pattern until we reached the exit and proceeded to make our way to Bei Hai lake. Oh, dear readers. If you have ever imagined a world of fairies, mermaids, and water sprites, I believe I could have found them at Bei Hai lake had I hidden myself in the lush green until nightfall. There was that familiar Chinese calm hovering around the place. We explored around a little island in the center that was rich with a million different versions of green and discovered another richly ornate pagoda which of course, sparked an impromptu version of The Sound of Music, specifically “I am 16 Going on 17”.
We then went to a lake a little more chic, but a little less magical lake entitled Hou Hai Lake. In a culture where money is tight and space is even tighter, they find ways to cut corners and give people the luxuries of life. It often results in a communal creative solution such as posting the newspaper up on the wall where people stand and read the events happening in parts of the world where people read their newspapers on a computer or on a couch.
And then, that’s where it happened: we saw the old men in Speedos. I am not sure where this event falls in the scale brushing one’s teeth to the dawn of a new millennium, but it seemed fairly typical for old men to be swimming in Speedos. Mari and I located a multi-generational playground (their playgrounds are for the elderly to loosen their joints instead of children to scream bloody murder) and began swinging our legs on one of the devices. In true, American pervert fashion, we giggled as we watched this incredibly fit old men trounce around in their Speedos. During this fit of amusement, a middle aged Chinese woman with a camera began to laugh heartily and made the motion of taking a picture, to the which I of course conceded. Somewhere out in the universe, there is a precious picture of me until my heart is sore on an old Chinese person’s playground with my dear best friend.
I did not want to induce hair-pulling frustration by adding even more pictures, but if you would care to see more from this day I would be delighted to share and have an occasion to talk about myself further. After Hou Hai Lake, we walked past a fresh flowers shop that had the extra perk of delivering those flowers to you by clown. Yes, I said that correctly. A clown would bicycle on over to wherever your hutong was and give you those flowers you ordered. I then walked into Hou Hun Dun, a restaurant that has become like a torrid, long lost lover for me. The taste of those dumplings will follow me to the grave. Whenever I eat a dumpling or a boiled peanut, I see the ghost of the quaint, rainy restaurant.
We paid our dues to the Drum and Bell Towers, which used to be the method of telling time or denoting special holidays in Beijing but has now become a simple walk up a painful flight of stairs to stare out over the city.
The day concluded by a trip to a place whose name I do not remember, but I believe translated to Goat’s Head in English. Or perhaps that was the alternative restaurant that we did not find ourselves in. Either way, Mari, myself, and her family all went out to a restaurant which was akin to our Western fondue. You chose the ingredients you wanted to deep fry to oblivion, shoved them all into the boiling pot of oil, and then chopsticked your selections while avoiding clashing hands and spitting oil droplets. I discovered monto in this outing, which is a sweet, spongey bread that one dips into sweetened condensed milk. I will locate a recipe for this bread and conquer it once and for all. It was magnificent.
And that concludes the day of Speedos, food, and magic.