We landed in Beijing on Dec. 31, got to the hotel, and immediately headed out to take in a site or two before it got too cold. After wishing our taxi driver “Happy New Year” in Mandarin which got a huge grin, we were off to see Bei Hai Park and White Dagoba. The lake in the park was frozen and people were ice skating, ice bumper boating, and ice chairing. I’m not sure if they do this because it’s easier, don’t know how to skate, or it’s just too cold to stand. It looked like fun but we were too late to take part.
The grounds of the park were beautiful even in their winter starkness. I think the setting and the novelty made me appreciate every detail. The temples and courtyards along the way were so pretty. There was incense burning everywhere and the smell will forever remind me of Buddhist temples in Asia. As we climbed higher and higher to the White Dagoba we were able to see the rooftops of the Forbidden City. In one of the temple courtyards there were red wooden squares hanging on trees. You purchase them, write a wish on them, and hang them up. They were so pretty and they made a wonderful clinking sound when the wind blew. I took way too many photos of them but I loved them!
We then made our way to a park just north of Bei Hai called Hou Hai. We decided to walk after being unable to hail a taxi. Andrew and I were so glad as we kind of maybe got a little lost and ended up walking along a hutong (ancient alleyway). We definitely were not on one of the tourist hutongs. This was very local and very real China. I don’t know what was cooking for dinner but there were some amazing odors. We were the only Westerners and the funny things is that we did not get a second glance. These residents just smiled and went on with their business.
We stumbled our way to the lake and park where there were more people ice and chair skating. It was a different atmosphere here. It’s just a place to have fun, no religious significance and therefore no solemnity. Their were men doing water calligraphy on the park stones. They have gigantic brushes, a bucket of water, and they just write Chinese characters on the walkways. I was watching a very old man do his thing and caught his eye. We had a bit of a staring contest. I wasn’t sure if he was irritated or not so I smiled, he smiled back, and I was being motioned to take the brush. Oh dear, I know even less characters than spoken Mandarin but I couldn’t turn him down. Where was my class notebook when I needed it? Oh yeah, in my backpack but I couldn’t very well whip that out. I would look stupid 😉 Alright we’re talking degrees of stupidity. I wrote the only one I knew and it couldn’t have been simpler. He appreciated the effort. Anders and Andrew watched the whole thing and didn’t take a picture!!! Losers.
We walked around the lake, snapped photos, and tried to keep warm. It was a losing battle as the sun had disappeared by this point and that ice was throwing off some serious cold vibes. Andrew chose a Vietnamese restaurant for dinner and I had a big bowl of Vietnamese comfort soup. It was not only delicious but hot. We decided to go back to the hotel and ring in the New Year in the comfort (and warmth) of our hotel room. My poor body was extra tired from the amount of shivering that it had to do to maintain some heat. We may have been asleep at midnight but we told ourselves it was okay because it had been a long day.
6PM – 61°