Meeting Old Beijing
I gave my body a favor and lied down on my bed. That was the first time I comfortably stretched my body in the last 42 hours. It was a glorious moment and I just want to retire to dreamland, but it was not that easy, my mind is not cooperating, I was too excited to walk around and start my date with Beijing and I can’t keep my mind off the pre-conceived images in my head. So I procrastinated on sleeping, it was 3 in the afternoon and 3 PM is 9 AM in backpacker time.
Late afternoons in Beijing during early spring can still be freezing. With temperature dropping to 5 degrees, it can truly hurt tropical dwellers like me. FYI, I have never experienced a spring before. I grew up in a country with two shifting seasons: Dusty and Muddy. That was why experiencing spring for the first time is more of exciting than excruciating.
The visuals of spring season in this part of Asia is magical, specially when the blossoms are starting to come back to life from a long winter sleep. The foggy (or smoggy) city scape added up to the drama when it is photographed. And the diffused surrounding and gloomy feel are another characteristics of the city that made my walk a very interesting one.
Qianmen or locally known as Zhengyangmen means the “Front Gate” is the first to greet the tourist if you are heading to Tiananmen and the Forbidden city. The mere presence of its grandeur and unique design will definitely give you goose bumps and will let you realize that you are indeed in China. The Qianmen remains one of the enduring symbols of old Beijing.
Behind the Qianmen is the Tiananmen Square, the largest city square in the world (440,000 m² – 880 m by 500 m). It has been the site of many events, among them a gathering of pro-democracy protesters in 1989. The protest ended when hundreds of these protesters were killed by government troops in the streets leading from the square. Very ironic that the name Tiananmen means the Gate of Heavenly Peace.
Today, thousandths of visitors flock to the square to visit Mao’s Mausoleum. Mid-day when it gets really crowded and 85% of the tourists are Chinese, a fellow backpacker told me that it is always like that every single day of the year. That’s when you will realize the magnitude of the country’s population, well, I guess that’s 1/5 of the earth’s population for you.
It gets pretty freezing in the morning and afternoon due to the fact that it’s an open ground and nothing will break the blowing winds. It was the time that I actually walked to explore and not run to catch a train or bus schedule, so I made sure to enjoy every single moment of it by taking my time.
Here’s another tripod shot right behind Qianmen
The newly restored Qianmen street has a cultural feel as if you went back in time to the Ming and Qing dynasties. Imperial arches, bird cages, street lanterns and traditional architectures were reconstructed to capture the mood of old Beijing. And when the sun goes down, the whole stretch of this city axis transforms from nostalgic to a magical town right before your eyes.
It was eight in the evening and the city is still very much alive, my hostel is just right behind this main street and I want to maximize my waking ours while I’m in China. So despite the fact that my earlobes and lips are so crisp it feels like it will shatter anytime soon, I still decided to just sit on a bench and start my favorite past time–people watching.
Is it just me or it really feels like Christmas in the middle of April? With the lights studded street, I kind of feel like a Coca Cola Christmas truck will come running across the busy street.
Slowly, while munching on some rice cakes I bought from the street carts, sleeplessness started taking toll on me. That’s the point when I just want to teleport back to shanglin. I walked as fast as I could, one by one the stores started closing down on me. I checked my watch and it was half past ten in the evening. The moment I reached the hostel, I went up straight to my room bypassing my routinary chitchatting with the receptionists. Without changing my clothes and taking off my shoes, like a marionette I let my body drop freely on the cold comforter. And I immediately spiralled down to the rabbit hole.