Taxi! Taxi!

We saw the Forbidden City on Monday which was the home of the Chinese Emperor for almost 5 centuries starting in the 1400s.  If you want to know more about it, I recommend the Wikipedia article.   This entry is not as much about the Palace as my feelings about it as we visited it.

Typically, I enjoy history including the significance and symbolism of places and artifacts.  With that said, our visit to the palace was not a session of soaking in the centuries of Chinese history and culture.  Although we tried to get out early in the morning, with the nap schedules and phone calls to home, we finally got out of the house around 11:30.  By the time we ate lunch (again at WangFuJing which is right by the Forbidden City), it was 1pm.  By the time we gathered up the babies, bought some waters, caught a subway to go 1-stop, it was about 2:30pm as we entered the Gates of the Forbidden City.  As we were coming out of the subway station, a nice Chinese lady started talking English with us.  She said that she was very excited because she had an opportunity to exhibit her work at the Palace today because she is an artist.  She told us that she hoped that we would go and see it.  We wished her the best of luck.  She told us that if we go, she’d be happy to write our names in Chinese calligraphy for us.  This is where things started smelling a bit fishy… She suddenly became very aggressive and started insisting that we visit her exhibit right now! 

Look lady, I’ve got about 2 and a half hours to go through a 7.8M sqft palace that was built by tens of thousands of people over several decades.  Is your calligraphy (which I can’t even read) better than that?  That’s what was running through my head.  What came out of my mouth was, “I’m sorry, we had our heart set on seeing the Forbidden City.”  It came out 4 or 5 times, before she gave up on us.  We went through 2 more enormous gates and 2 enormous courtyards.  It must have taken about 15 minutes to finally get to the place where we got tickets to actually enter into the Palace.  On our way to the ticket booth, a Chinese lady came up to us, and very excitedly asked us, “Today I am having my art exhibited.  Will you come and see my calligraphy?  I can write your names for you!”  Hmmm… the first lady was pretty good. This one really needed to work on the approach.  She got a pretty firm, “No thank you” and she was off to proudly exhibit her art to some other foreign tourists.

We got our tickets and coupons for the self-guided audio tour.  Andrew woke up and Caleb was starting fizzle.  So I carried Andrew in the front pack and Tenille started to push Caleb in the stroller through the palace.  It ended up that Tenille’s blood sugar was running a bit low, so I did a bit of double duty and pushed Caleb, also. 

A few things that was plainly obvious:  1.  The palace was enormous!  It’s mind-numbingly enormous.  In some ways it reminded me of Versailles.  The purpose of its Grandeur was to impress upon its visitors that this was the center of the universe.  2.  When they were building the Forbidden City (in the early 1400’s), they didn’t pay particular attention to easy stroller access.  No ramps to the choice parts of the Palace.  Caleb had fallen asleep in the stroller, so Tenille and I took turns going up enormous staircases to the various halls.  There were huge ornate stone carvings along the stairway of flying dragons dancing among the clouds.  The halls were each ornately decorated with animals and mythical creatures.  But, honestly after seeing three of the halls, I passed on hiking up the stairs to see the other halls.  After you’ve seen one Chinese Emperor Palace Hall, you’ve seen them all.  Again, same as Versailles.  After the first 10 luxuriously decorated royal rooms, they all start looking the same and you start wondering when is this thing going to be over so I can get a drink of water.

I think the real reason you come here is just to feel the grandeur of the place.  It’s difficult to describe the feeling of smallness you feel when you’re standing inside.  Also the garden and the big bronze vats of water (used as fire extinguishers) were also worth seeing.  My understanding is that there is a museum somewhere in the palace, but that will likely be another adventure for another day. 

It took us a while to get packed up, and we exited the palace on the North side.  We stood on the street for several minutes on the busy street trying to hail down a taxi.  We started walking down the street to see if there was a less busy street we could find.  After about half a mile of walking, we turned in and hailed a cab for another 10 minutes.  Finally, a cab pulled over and we showed him an entry in a book for where we wanted to eat dinner – Grandma’s Kitchen.  It was a chain and there were three of them.  We made our best guess hoping it was somewhere between the Forbidden City and our home.  He stopped at a random intersection and seemed to be indicating to us that this was it.  We didn’t see Grandma’s Kitchen anywhere, so we didn’t leave.  He sighed and asked for our book again.  He drove about a 100 feet and pointed to Grandma’s Kitchen.  Whew!

Grandma’s Kitchen is a Chinese version of American food.  It seemed like Tenille was aching for some American food, and this was going to cure.  We ordered a couple root beer floats, some Fried Chicken, Chicken Fried Steak, and a hot dog for Caleb.  It’s amazing how delicious mediocre food can taste when you’re desperate for it… Andrew got his usual baby treatment and the waitresses played with him the whole time, parading him around the restaurant.  After cleaning our plates, we headed out to the street to catch another Taxi. 

Several taxis went by, but none would stop for us.  A couple that was “upstreet” from us snagged one.  After about 10 minutes of trying to catch a taxi, we went out to the “BIG” street.  The “BIG” street was more like a slower freeway, and we weren’t quite sure how where a taxi would stop even if we did get it’s attention.  Sure enough, after about 10 minutes at this corner, we decided we needed a medium size street where there was sufficient traffic, but not so much that a taxi couldn’t stop.  We walked down the street about 10 minutes and turned into a medium sized side street. 

We tried to flag down the taxi at the corner, but an older gentlemen came up to us and shook his finger and said something pointing deeper into the side street.  Perhaps he was saying the obvious.  “It’s too dangerous to catch a cab at this major intersection.  You should go further into the side street.”  We decided to take the self-interpreted advice.  After another 10 minutes of trying to catch a cab (and many cabs went right by us), we decided to split up.  Tenille and Andrew worked one corner, while Caleb and I worked another.  By this time, Caleb had also learned how to hail a cab.  He was reaching out into the street with his hand, yelling “Taxi!  Taxi!”  After another 10 minutes of futility, we gathered up again and restrategized.  Tenille noticed that the Taxis with passengers in them had their taxi sign light off.  She said that once people got in a cab, she noticed that the taxi light goes off.  (By this time, we’ve seen several parties catch cabs… but we were yet unable to crack the code.)  And another issue added to the urgency.  Tenille had to use the restroom.  We decided that we would try and find a subway station and walk towards it.  Along the way, if we catch a cab, great!  Only if we knew where we were… After studying the map, we finally figured out that we were on Chang’An Ave which is one of the biggest avenues in Beijing going right between the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.  We started walking.  I asked some people in a guard station where a subway station was.  Well, I pointed to a subway map inset on my map, and said “Where?!”  They said a bunch of things I didn’t understand, but one of them pointed in the direction we were walking.  We renewed confidence, we started walking. 

There was one more corner where we saw a stream of taxis – all with lights on!  So we tried to catch one there.  No luck.  They just wouldn’t stop.  We couldn’t figure it out.  Apparently, there is some secret to catching Taxis that we don’t understand.  In front of our apartment, taxis are typically stopped everywhere, so it’s pretty easy just to hop in a cab.  It seemed there were some different rules at play here.  We finally made it to the subway station and got off near our home at Liangmaqiao Station.  We came up to the street level to find that we were kitty corner from the side of the street that we need to be on to walk home.  It’s probably appropriate to remind the reader that as this was all happening, Tenille’s bladder was finding some new limits.  We sighed and went back down the subway, what seemed like three story.  We went around a big underground maze and came back up.  As we re-oriented ourselves, we figured out that we just walked about a quarter of a mile underground to cross one street – the wrong street. 

We give up!  I hailed a cab.  The curse was lifted and a taxi stopped.  We got in and after some hand gestures and showing him the incompetent card, we were off.  He drove toward our building.  Then as we approached, he seemed to indicate that he couldn’t take a left.  We’ve been in many cabs that have, but that’s ok.  He can do whatever he wants as long as he gets us home.  It ends up we made a big loop and we drove by exactly where we got in the cab.  He made a U-turn, then headed back to our apartment.  It didn’t cost any more than if he would have just taken the left, because the minimum fare is 10 Yuan ($1.50).  I guess he was just a really cautious taxi driver…

What a tedious day… and what a tedious entry.  If you’ve made it through this entry, you might be ready for Beijing.  Come on over!

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