Scorched / Day 22 of 64 / 31 May
After a wonderful sleep in my slightly musky room, I left the hostel for Tiananmen Square [天安门广场, Tian An Men Guang Chang] at 8.30am. I was headed to the Mao Ze Dong Mausoleum [毛主席纪念堂, Mao Zhu Xi Ji Nian Tang], which should really be called the MAOsoleum. You missed an opportunity of a lifetime here China.
Security is extremely tight around the Tiananmen area. Entering the square is almost like boarding a plane, with passport and security checks. Also, bags aren’t allowed inside the mausoleum, so I had to drop my bag off at a building across the street from the mausoleum, on the east side of Tiananmen Square. The building is rather inconspicuous, but just follow the crowd using the zebra crossing on the east side and you’ll find it. The building faces the zebra crossing. The cost of my bag drop was 10 CNY, but prices differ based on how big your bag is. By the time I was ready to enter the mausoleum, it was already 9am. The queue to the mausoleum wasn’t particularly long, unlike the one for Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. Most of the visitors were locals, and some bought flowers from vendors located along the queue.
The mausoleum, viewed from the bag drop on the eastern side of Tiananmen Square.
Once inside the mausoleum, it was a short walk to Mao’s glass casket. You aren’t allowed to stop moving, so I probably looked at his body for a whole 30 seconds. It was still rather impressive though. By the time I was outside the mausoleum, it was only 9.15am.
It was still too early to begin heading to other attractions, so I walked around Tiananmen Square until 10am. The square was packed. Not only with tourists but also vendors trying to sell you their photography services.
Me and my best bud Mao.
My next destination was the Capital Museum [首都博物馆, Shou Du Bo Wu Guan], located a few subway stops away from Tiananmen Square. The exterior of the museum was really modern. And, the building itself is gigantic. However, the number of exhibits on display didn’t really live up to the museum’s size. But that’s not to say the museum isn’t interesting. The museum is an excellent place to discover more about Beijing in particular as opposed to China in general. When I visited, there was an exhibition on Beijing’s development from separate villages to international metropolis, and an exhibition detailing everyday life in Beijing’s traditional hukous or alleys. There was also an exhibition on Tibetan culture, but it didn’t seem to be a permanent exhibit, unlike the other two exhibits. Overall, the Capital Museum is a good place to develop a deeper appreciation for this former imperial city. Furthermore, admission is free!
The small yellow piece of paper on the left was used by imperial examination candidates to cheat. Somethings just never change.
My final stop of the day was the architecturally-amazing CCTV Centre. The building really does look like a pair of giant pants when viewed from certain angles: living up to its name of “Big Pants”. One thing’s for sure though, I don’t think I could ever work in an office that’s located in the overhanging parts of the building. Way too much faith required of me to entrust my life to some metal trusses, no matter how well-engineered they are. Sadly, the building doesn’t allow visitors, nor are there any building tours available.
Strangely absent in this photo: clouds.
So, after I was done marvelling at this impressive feat of engineering, I headed to the nearby China World Mall for some lunch, and to get out of the scorching Beijing sun. In the summer, Beijing gets extremely hot. Unlike Vietnam, Thailand, or other Southeast Asian countries, the heat in Beijing is dry. Instead of feeling sweaty or uncomfortable like in SEA, you feel like you’re being microwaved. You won’t sweat much here, but you can feel the UV rays cooking you slowly from the outside. Cloud apartments must be really expensive here because there are no clouds at all in Beijing. Everyone always talks about how nice clear blue skies are until you realise that those white balls of cotton candy in the sky are basically what prevent you from turning into roast chicken. I miss clouds.
After lunch at China World Mall, I headed back to Leo Hostel to relax and prepare for my train-hopping journey to Ulaanbaatar the next morning.