Palaces and Bathhouses

As I headed through the crowds, I did so with determination.

On Tuesday, as I attempted to visit the Forbidden City, it all became too much me, as I found myself inundated with people who wanted to be my tour guide, who wanted me to see their artworks, who just wanted things, and so on, that I actually gave up.

I’d read a number of guides – including Lonely Planet – which had advised against using the “unofficial guides” who would come up to you as potential scam artists. Even if half them aren’t, I certainly don’t have the language skills to get myself out of a potential problem, I thought to myself, should it arise. So I said “no” firmly, but still politely to everyone who offered their services, and went straight to the ticket booth, and then to the booth to obtain the electronic guide.

The electronic guide which costs 40RMB (currently about $6AUD) plus 100RMB deposit was quite good. As you walk around the palace, the guide uses GPS to identify where you are, and then automatically begins to give you background information. The level of detail was probably more than I needed, and to be honest, after a while I listened less and less as the guide recounted which hall was which, and what level of imperial intrigue had occured there.

I found myself getting more and more into the moment of being in the incredibly massive grounds of the Forbidden City. Although I tried not to think about the imperial system of government – not my preferred system of government for the way in which people were treated – it was interesting to imagine the kind of life those living the imperial life may have enjoyed.

Or as much as I could surrounded by tens of thousands of other people. I don’t know how many people visit daily, but I really do think it would be in the tens of thousands as everywhere I looked and everywhere I went I was surrounded by people. There were only one or two quiet places I found: in a gallery exhibiting flags and fans (where I was the only person), in the gardens where I found a nice quiet spot for contemplation, and as I sat down to make a few adjustments to my camera. But even then, a young woman came up to me and started chatting. Oh no, I thought, she’s going to ask me to see her exhibition. But she didn’t, thankfully.

I spent over four hours wandering around the grounds and enjoyed it very much.

Also today, I spent some time in the morning market near Kate’s place which was enjoyable, and where I picked up some breakfast.

And then this afternoon, I hopped on a bus and went exploring. One of my favourite things to do when I travel is to grab a local bus, any bus, and see where it takes me. It’s a bit of a pot luck, but it’s a really great way of discovering new non-tourist places in a city, and also to see some of the locals “close up” in a non-tourist setting.

As I sat on the bus I noticed the large number of people who looked really, really tired. The conductor seemed to be in an almost permanent state of sleep. Whenever he wasn’t doing anything, his head was flat down on his table. The other person I noticed, and who intrigued me, was a young bloke at a cafe in the CBD who served me mid-late afternoon. After serving me, a couple of other blokes came in and opened up their MAC with a massive screen. As he went about his work, he kept staring at them and looking at their computer. I don’t know how to interpret either story as I haven’t been here long enough or know enough about them or their lives, but for some reason, these two blokes and their daily lives touched me.

After a brief return to Kate’s place, I headed out again in search of another adventure, something I could never do in Australia: I went to a nearby “bath-house” for a “scrub down”. Located not far from Kate’s place, near the KFC, there’s a hotel-like facility where you can go, have something to eat, watch tv, have a massage (no happy endings) and receive a dam good scrubbing.

I’d been warned the people there spoke no English at all. And as I walked up to the reception, this became instantly clear, as we resorted to very bad sign language to conduct the negotiation. Having removed my shoes, I was then taken upstairs and removed my clothes which wasn’t anywhere nearly as scarey as I thought it might be.

Inside the adjoining room there’s a sauna, a few showers, three giant pools, and four massage/scrub beds.

The scrubdown takes about thirty minutes and involves a combination of fairly heavy massage, scrubbing with a rough towel, and some clay-like treatments. It’s both relaxing and cleansing.

Although there was no common language between us, I’m pretty sure I understood when the bloke said, “you’ve never had this before, have you?”. I know this because I’d looked at my arms and had seen the large amount of “gunk” that had come out of them. Seriously, I thought I was “clean” before I went in. But as I came out, I was REALLY clean. My skin felt great, and I felt relaxed.

Although there was nothing sexual about it – as the man scrubbed and manipulated my body – I must say, the place still had a bit of a “vibe” about it, if you get my meaning.

For dinner, Kate and I went to the nearby Italian restaurant, Annie’s where we had pizza. Yeah, I know I should be eating Chinese all the time, but it was still a nice thing to do. Over dinner we chatted to the really lovely, attentive staff in a combination of English and Chinese.

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4 Comments

  1. Hey James, I love reading your blog. You are so much more adventurous than I every could be. I was too frightened to go to China but there you are. Keep these wonderfully descriptive blogs coming so I can lve vicariously through others.

    Ian

  2. On the road again, and for a change no Swedish is spoken.

    I know that feeling you had at the restaurant, went myself to a Chinese one while in Milan. Missing out on the richness of the Lombardic cuisine.

    1. Hi Ian – I don’t think you need to be brave to visit China, though obviously the language barrier is a significant one. There’s quite a gap, though, between a more ordinary Beijing lifestyle and the “western lives” that many people leave. And there’s apparently quite a gap between Beijing and other parts of China. I think you could visit Beijing with all of the usual creature comforts :)

      Hi Peter – nothing like the creature comforts from time to time.

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