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Summer Palace and Badaling

I haven’t been keeping very good track of happenings here, so I’ll dump some to this page before I lose more. Yesterday I took a ridiculously cheap Y1.5 bus to the Summer Palace (the new one, not the burned one) which is more of an outdoor attraction. Fortunately, I’ve found myself in a spell of spectacular, clear, warm weather this week (warmer and clearer by far than Hong Kong on Tuesday-Thursday). The palace grounds are mainly a gigantic lake, surrounded by paths and pavilions and towers and temples and you name it. When I came back, I puttered around Tian’anmen Square for a while, where I saw the big flag, the Great Hall of the People, lots of guards, and acres of concrete. A bit creepy. I didn’t go into the Forbidden City because it was too late when I arrived: more on that in a bit.

Today I went to the closest, super-touristed section of the Great Wall at Badaling. It’s as overtouristed as it’s cracked up to be, but I made it through easily enough. There are two ways to walk on the wall once you get up there (Y12 bus, Y25 student admission), and taking the one less traveled by got me out of the crowds quickly (after I’d gamely suffered through the more popular section for about three hours). It’s… hard to describe. In Nixon’s words, “This is a great wall.” I’m glad I went there, even if Nixon was there first.

It’s funny how tourist price inflation works. In the US, if you’re buying an overpriced hot dog at a game, the seller is going to use his government monopoly (or collusion) and refuse to serve you if you don’t play ball. Here, even at the Great Wall, a little walking away quickly gets that Y10 drink down to a more reasonable Y5 (where I stopped: I’m sure I could have gotten it to 3 or 4, same price as the city, but I’m willing to pay a little for convenience even when the shopkeepers don’t realize they can make me do that).

In a more classically East Asian treatment of the problem, I was presented with an English menu where my beef noodles from lunch were priced at a silly Y48. Comparing characters and prices with the local menu quickly found a local rip-off price of Y15: at least twice what you’d normally pay for that sort of thing in the PRC, but a lot more sane.

Now I’m back in the hostel and caught by Beijing’s early closing times (often an hour earlier in the “winter” which ends on the 15th). Getting back from the Wall around 3 or 3:30, it’s too late to try going to the Forbidden City or Temple of Heaven (my top two remaining sights here) because they’re immense and even if you beat the ticket booth to closing time (3:30 at the Forbidden City in this winter with which I’m discontented), you won’t see nearly enough to justify the trouble of getting there. I did enjoy a few blocks of street food to console myself, and it was a great idea: the supremely important Pineapple Price Index finds a new low in Beijing with a stick of fresh pineapple going for Y1. This beats Thailand’s B10 sticks, though those are much more flavorful. I also had some sort of clamshell meat/spring onion type bagged sandwich thing and some bread that smelled better than it went down. No complaints, though.

I’ll be going to both the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City early tomorrow, if all goes well. Traffic is frightening me so I’m going to be concentrating on getting to the airport early on Monday.

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