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Showing posts from July, 2014

Prohibited zones, or, The Imperial Palace

There are two things I've associated with Chinese history for many years. The first, of course, is the Great Wall. The second is the Forbidden City.

But I didn't realize just how big this thing was. I thought, really, that it was just a humongous courtyard surrounded by about four buildings, each connected to its neighbor by a high wall.

I didn't know it would be this high.

I didn't know that it would have a moat around it.

And I didn't know that the outer wall surrounded several courtyards.

The Meridian Gate (see picture) was impressive enough, bigger than I'd imagined. It also looked more Chinese than I ever thought authentic Chinese architecture would really look.

See, I've seen examples of Mexican restaurants that are pretty well overdone. Think "Cinco de Mayo" (which is in fact a pretty minor Mexican holiday, on the order of Flag Day here). So I figured the most, what I'd call garish, Chinese restaurants I've seen in the U.S. were sim…

On hostels in China

Consider me sheltered. I'd neither seen the movie "Hostel" nor spent much time in said lodgings (with the exception of a couple of nights in a Costa Rican hostel). Come to think of it, I still haven't seen the movie. All I know is that it freaks everyone out when I tell them I stayed at hostels.

Our first Chinese hostel was a few subway stops away. Subways, for the record, are not like New York subways. They're clean, like Washington subways, and new, like no other subway I've ever been in -- there are light-up displays of the train's route above every exit in a subway car, with the stops on the map in red lights and turning green as you pass them. (The coloring choices threw me off every time.)

Once off the subway, we walked to the street our hostel was supposed to be on. If you could call it a street. It was narrow, the road just barely wide enough for a car and a half, maybe. Sidewalks were for all intents and purposes nonexistent, whether because peop…

Breaking the silence, or, How to travel without language

Yes, I realize the most recent post on this blog is now more than a month old.

I've kept you in suspense long enough about my China trip.

It's the first time I've ever been wandering around a country whose language I couldn't at least make out a few words of. When I got there, I also realized that I'm not very good at reading the faces of people in Asian cultures. In other words, I'm not sure I could have even pantomimed my way through ordering a meal at a restaurant. Even with a pictorial menu.

My friend met me at the airport. She'd given me detailed instructions on what to do once touching down on Chinese tarmac (which is the same as American tarmac) -- follow the crowd to the customs kiosks, hand over your documents and basically just wait there. I wouldn't have to say anything, she said, and she was right. The signs were even in English in addition to Chinese.

Past the "Foreigners" sign at "Immigration," I just followed the hallwa…