What I like about you (from the other side)

Only one day left until I leave Beijing, and already the apartment is getting echoey. I’ve given away a bunch of stuff, and packed other things. The movers came yesterday and took away many boxes – I’m really glad I didn’t have to do it all myself.

Before I left Seattle, I made a list of things I thought I would miss and not miss about the city, so now it’s time for the same list about Beijing.

Things I will miss about Beijing

  • My friends.
  • The food, both in quality and price. And it’s cool you can have roast duck without planning ahead.
  • The ancient culture that is never far away.
  • Ease of transportation. Between my bicycle, the subway, and buses, getting around is generally quite convenient, even with the ridiculous traffic.
  • The chance to practice speaking Chinese with native speakers every day.
  • How amazing it can look after a good rain.
  • The sense of freedom you have when you don’t have to worry about crime.
  • How cheap things are if you’re looking for cheap things.
  • Having someone come clean the apartment twice a week.
  • The challenge of trying to think of ways to explain English words and expressions.
  • The vibrant music scene and all the great bands here, plus the ones I haven’t discovered yet.

Things I will not miss about Beijing

  • The quality of the air, and I’m not just talking about the odd odors that sneak in occasionally when the breeze changes direction.
  • The bone-chilling winter temperatures.
  • The energy-sapping summer temperatures.
  • The Great Fire Wall.
  • The ridiculous traffic.
  • Office politics.
  • The hideous desk my landlord provided for my computer.
  • The hassle it can often be to deal with seemingly simple things like electricity, mobile phones and internet.
  • Having to register with the local police station so they know where I am.
  • The feelings I have on the occasions when I do think about politics.
  • Never really understanding what’s going on, even when I think I do. Not that this is necessarily different from the situation in the US...

In a very unusual bit of luck, I have never really experienced one of the famous Beijing spring sandstorms, so that didn’t make either list.

Final note

I created this blog when I found out I was coming to China, and now that I’m leaving, I’m not sure what I want to do. In the interest of keeping it to its topic (not that I’ve stuck to it strictly so far!), I don’t really want to continue writing about my life as it involves things other than China. However, I still have lots of China experiences and pictures I haven’t shared, so there’s material for many posts waiting for me to have the time to take care of it.


Short visit to the land of the departed

One of the places listed in most guide books for the Beijing area is the Ming Tombs. In the Eyewitness Guide it says “best visited by taxi” – and maybe I should have believed them. But that would be really expensive (it’s quite a distance from town), and there’s the hassle of arguing with the driver about the price for basically a whole day off the meter, so I decided to go the “local” way and use public transportation. After all, there are bus routes that go there. But the simple truth is that there really isn’t a “local” way to visit this place – locals just don’t go there.
As you can see, there are no other passengers on the bus, just the driver and the girl who takes the money, since this bus isn’t equipped with a card reader. The ride all the way to the Ming Tombs cost Ұ2, less than US$1. The catch is that it took well over an hour, and in this picture you can see one of the reasons why. We’re sitting still with the engine off on a narrow road that has a fence along one side and cars parked haphazard along the other, making it impossible for traffic to go in both directions at the same time, even though it is a two lane road. This is apparently a popular picnic spot (there’s a lake at the bottom of the hill on the right side) and there is no proper parking. So the bus and everyone else has to wait for a break in the oncoming traffic in order to grab the available lane. I didn’t see anyone directing the cars, it was just a free-for-all. Previous to this, we’d sat still for a long time at a construction site where they were working on a bridge.
As I said, locals generally don’t go here, but the place was far from empty. It’s a standard stop on many tours that go to the Great Wall at Badaling, since it’s on the way. The bus will swing by here in the morning, let the tourists have an hour or two to look around, and then continue on to the Wall.
As it turns out, 2009 marks the 600th anniversary of the building of the main tomb, which is called 长陵 (Changling) and houses the remains of the Ming Emperor Zhu Di (also called Yongle), who died in 1424. You might notice that 1424 to 2009 does not make 600 years. The tomb was built in 1409 when the empress died, and when the emperor himself died, he was brought here as well.
The main mausoleum is a very large building, the largest mausoleum in China.
Inside, there is a museum of relics from Zhu Di’s time, and this statue of him.
This is an incredibly elaborate crown made mostly of tiny gold wires woven into shape.
And these are some “household” objects carved of jade.
After passing out the back of the mausoleum, you continue on to another building. If you look closely through the arched opening, you can see a group of people stepping over the threshold of a gateway. Tradition has it that when you approach the grave area, you walk around the side of this gate, and when you come back from the grave area, you step over the threshold while loudly saying “I’m back!” so the spirits will know that you belong in the land of the living.
The last building contains a large stele. Zhu Di is buried somewhere in the tree-covered mound you can see out the back. The tomb has never been excavated, and is believed to be untouched since the burial. The tomb of one of the later Ming emperors was excavated back in the 1950s, but the projct was such a disaster that China has shied away from this kind of archeology since. That was in the days when the country was closed to the outside world, and the were quite a bit behind in scientific excavation techniques, and even more behind when it came to preserving the artifacts uncovered. Thousands of precious silks and scrolls were lost because China at the time did not have the means to save them.

The Chinese name for the Ming Tombs is 明十三陵 (Ming Shisan Ling), which means Thirteen Ming Tombs. There are twelve other mausoleums scattered around the area, but the distances between them are too great to be practical on foot, so I wasn’t able to see any of the others. I also missed the famous Spirit Way with its line of statues. I’m told it should have been possible to see it from the bus if you knew exactly where to look, which I didn’t.

As it was, the round trip transportation time was more than three times what it took to actually see what was there. The museum was nice, and would certainly be worth visiting if it wasn’t so hard to get to.