Thursday, May 29, 2008

China Travel Journal: Day 2-- The Forbidden City, Capitol Normal University, and Duck Dinner

So begins my first full day in China. I'm not particularly proud of this entry, but I think that the scatteredness of the piece shows exactly how exhausted I was. Instead of going into too much description, I was pretty much listing what I saw and was told. I think this changes later.
14 May 2008
8:11 PM

Woke up at 5 AM this morning, even though our wake up call was for 7. My jetlag is such that I'm quickly fading away while writing this, so excuse any incoherence on my part. Anyway, I was startled at the smog fog that hangs over the city. Another girl assured me that this was nothing the way of pollution, but I remain unconvinced. Whatever it was dried out my throat and lips and left my contacts begging for a long soak. I hope they'll be okay for tomorrow.

Breakfast at this hotel is an odd mix of Western and Eastern foods, all shoved awkwardly into a buffet. I settled for Coco Krispies; will be more adventurous tomorrow. Perhaps the buffet staff will pick a new album to play over the loud speaker since the Backstreet Boys don't really aid in digestion.

Dr. Cai then took us the the Forbidden City, which was very impressive indeed. I suppose that it took me a little while to square myself with the fact that I was actually walking beneath that giant portrait of Mao on the Tian'amen and then walking on the same bricks on which emperors once strode. The complex seemed never ending and very, very red. I suppose anyone reading this will have to forgive me, but I have to say that I was picturing that final fight scene from Mulan the entire time.

Tian'amen and the giant portrait of Mao.

The many curved roofs in the Forbidden City.

We were told that the two lions you see traditionally guarding many doorways in the City are not both male, despite the manes. The one holding the globe on the right is the male; the one on the left holding the baby is the female. Also, where the phoenix was paired with the dragon meant that this was the place that the empress inhabited. Finally, never refer to a Chinese man as a soft-shelled turtle, as that means he's being cuckolded. I know that last bit has nothing to do with anything, but it's an interesting fact.

A male lion guarding the door of the gate. He's the big stone guy in the background.

A relief of a dragon, the emperor's special symbol.

The phoenix, the empress's special symbol. She wasn't allowed to wander about the Forbidden City, so we can pretty much tell where she might have gone based on the location of the phoenixes.

A hard-shelled turtle, which is known for tenacity and bravery. Obviously not a soft-shelled turtle.

Again, we couldn't hold still for too long or pose for our own pictures-- the Chinese would quickly jump in. A few of us were standing for a good five minutes while at least ten jumped in and out of photos. I'm not sure if I should feel flattered or like a star of a freak show. Still, I know this could get irritating after a couple of days. Dr. Cai says that we have to learn how to say "Bu" (no), but they don't give you a chance. I really need to start charging.

A scene from the Forbidden City gardens. There is really no point to me including this. I just thought it was pretty.

I learned today that I'm a sucker for a sob story and am really horrendous at bargaining. I'm sure that's not going to come and bite me in the butt later. But carrying on...

After the City, we took out bus to the Capitol Normal University to hear Dr. Shorten give a lecture about water and sanitation. His speech was enlightening, but to us and the Chinese students who listened in. We engaged in a discussion afterwards in groups, though the topics were not limited to those of pollution and water conservation. I spoke pretty extensively to a bunch of English lit students, who seemed very interested in my studies and life in the US. One thing that I hadn't realized was so prevalent was young people picking out English names. I'm not sure how I feel about that. On one hand, they do seem to pick out their own names, which gives them meaning. On the other, perhaps we should be making an effort to learn their given names. I don't see why they should have to take on new names for the benefit of the West.

Speaking of East meets West, I had my first encountered with a Chinese toilet today. It's little more than a porcelain hole in the ground that you have to squat over. I've never wished harder to be a guy in my life. Ultimately, I had to visit the facilities twice-- once to get the feel for it, another to actually do the deed. As a kid, I used to be deathly afraid of public toilets. I would have never survived in China.

Our final stop was dinner for Beijing Duck, which is basically what they call crispy duck pancakes in the UK. Our hosts were the Chinese Universities Alumni Association, though the representatives at our table didn't have much to say. They did show us how to make a tasty duck taco, though.

Our duck dinner. I think it's a little gross that they served duck meat from a duck-shaped tray. Gross and morbidly funny.


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