Today was a humble reminder why I really suck when travelling alone.
Although my roommate gets up a good hour earlier than normal, I decide to follow her lead and come with her in the morning to see the crystal coffin of Mao Zedongand then the National Museum of China. I decision I start to regret when we actually get outside.
It is BALTIC. Honestly haven’t been this cold since I was in Mongolia – the storm of last night has apparently morphed into a wind chilly enough to ice anything not wrapped up. This is made even worse by the fact that – since the Chinese are VERY protective of this tomb, bags aren’t allowed and as such, we weren’t taking any…and I’d left my gloves and hat and scarf in the room as I hadn’t needed them and needed the pocket for my passport. Hands were blue within minutes.
The tomb of Mao is in the centre of Tianamen Square, and has some of the most stringent security checks I’ve had to go through in China. No bags, cameras off, full body scan like at an airport – they take it very seriously considering you’re in there for all of a minute.
Mao Zedong was the Chairman of the Communist Party of China, and although he wished to be cremated after his death, China had him embalmed and placed in this mausoleum. The Crystal Coffin had to be specially designed for him, and includes lighting inside to give his face a living pallour.
Got to say that doesn’t really work – I can see why some people think he’s been replaced with a wax statue because the lighting makes his face look as if its glowing yellow. Admittedly I’ve never actually SEEN a dead body so I have no frame of reference, but the lighting is a major failure.
It was also slightly hysterical when we walked in, walking around this coffin in respectful silence…when somebody’s phone started blaring the Alton Towers theme song at top volume. Honestly don’t know how we got out there without bursting into laughter.
We’d thought the Mausoleum would take longer, so we actually had about 45 minutes to kill before the museum opened. We chose to wander around part of Tianamen Square that we hadn’t seen the day before, and came across what must have been a brand new development for the Olympics. It was a large shopping district just to the North, filled with shops, cafe’s and restaurants. Ended up inside a small take-away restaurant for some hot drinks and just watched life go by outside (while also taking the time to regain feeling in our fingers) before heading back down to the museum.
Its just to the side of Tianamen Square, and its a statement to Tianamen’s size that I honestly hadn’t noticed it – despite it being a very big building. If you have your passport, its free entry – so we slipped in and headed for the basement floor, hosting an exhibition about the History of China.
We made the mistake of going through the exit instead of the entrance, so instead of going from the Neolithic Era to the current, we ended up going in reverse. Took us 3 rooms to actually realise this though, so we just kept going. This floor was thankfully billingual, and its also huge – within an hour I realised I was only about halfway through. Since other girl had plans for the afternoon, we started to speed through it more. Kind of wish I’d had more time, but I had plans for the afternoon myself.
Afterwards we headed up to the top floor to check out the ‘Gifts from Foreign Officials’ exhibition – that hosts a collection of presents from visiting dignitaries. I got the most fun trying to seek out the British presents – we really suck at gift giving, they included a glass jug with an etching of Downing Street and a little tin box. Some countries had given these huge statues, vases, paintings etc, and we had little trinkety things. Though at least we weren’t as austentatious as Richard Nixons giant swan statue that was large enough to require its own box (and admittedly was very awesome).
Headed back to the hotel for base layers once we’d finished up – though got lost looking for the right alley to slip down. My tourmate headed off for the Olympic Stadium, while I layered up and then researched my map for a park I’d been wanting to visit – Ritan Park.
It didn’t look too far on the Subway, and it was free to enter, so I seemed like a good choice. My biggest issue was the weather – it was still bitterly cold. But I was planning on doing the Summer Palace the day after so it seemed wrong to do two parks in the same day…so gathered myself and headed out.
Turned out to be a huge mistake. Not only was it icy cold, but I couldn’t find it! This park is supposedly huge, but I scoured the area that the map insists it should be, and didn’t find a trace of it. For 3 hours I was exploring this chunk of Bejing – found an observatory, got trapped by 5 bridges of traffic, saw a car accident (astonishingly the only one I’ve seen in Beijing) and generally got very cold. When it started to get dark I admitted defeat and headed back to warm up.
I double checked my directions afterwards just to make sure I hadn’t made a mistake – and I got off at the right station, went in the right direction…honestly don’t know what went wrong. Think my legendarily bad sense of direction is coming into play again.