Beijing – June 4, 2011 (Day 4)
Mr Liu showed up this morning (those of you not familiar with Mr Liu should check out the Renmin Park blog). He is a remarkable man and it was a great pleasure to see him again. He is eighty four years old and a twelve hour train trip from Shanghai didn’t even faze him, he could teach us all something about growing old and staying young. He brought along with him his “comrade” Mr Chen, who served with Mr Liu in the air force in the 40’s and 50’s. Mr Chen is a native of Beijing and he was keen to show us his city, so Margo and I headed off on the subway with these two octogenarian PLA vets in the lead. After a very good and cheap lunch outside the Temple of Heaven we said goodbye to the two of them at the Performing Arts Center (a spectacular building) and Margo and I continued on to Tiananmen Square.
It was an interesting day to be walking around Tiananmen Square (check the date and check your modern Chinese history). Unfortunately, the vast majority of the people walking on the square were, no doubt, oblivious to the significance of the day, a testimony to the PR powers of the Chinese Government. Despite it all, Tiananmen Square is an overwhelming space: with the Forbidden City at one end, Mao’s Mausoleum at the other and enormous government buildings running down the sides. The size and scope is hard to get ones head around. Going from the gigantic to the ginormous we headed over to the Forbidden City which is unbelievably vast and on a day like today hot as heck. Open courtyard leads to open courtyard and there is no place to hide from the sun. By the time we emerged from the Palace we were exhausted so we opened ourselves up to the extortion practiced by the cab drivers waiting for the sun-stoked tourists emerging from the City gates and we agreed to pay a driver four times the going rate to take us back to the hotel.
After a couple of hours rest, Pete, Jared, Blair and I headed back out in search of a brew-pub that we heard was hidden somewhere deep inside the same Hutong where we had dinner last night. Blair and Jared used their best Boy Scouts of America tracking skills and found the place. It was tucked away, deep inside one of the residential corners of the Hutong and it was well worth the journey. A very funky little place populated by Americans, Canadians and Brits all jonesing for something other than the German style pilsner that is served exclusively in this country. Bags of hops piled in the corner and tiny little home-brewing kegs scattered all about the place, and man, that IPA tasted good. Our luck ran out when we decided to try an Indian restaurant that we stumbled across on the way out of the Hutong. Horrible, horrible food. Luckily the IPA had dulled our senses. We bribed another cabbie to take us back to the hotel and we put another excellent day in the books.