I arrived in Beijing last night for the start of a two-week stint in China. This morning I spent a few hours sightseeing. Work doesn’t start until tomorrow, and I figured that rather than spend the day in the hotel room, I should get out and sample the sights and sounds of Beijing.
I started out in Tiananmen Square, which is where the little Chinese guy stood in front of the army tank in 1989 and had his picture beamed around the world. (Apparently they still don’t know what happened to the fellow. In China, that’s not good.) There’s not much to do in Tiananmen Square other than stand in line to see the body of Chairman Mao lying in a glass coffin, so I cranked up my iPod and put it on “Shuffle.” Soon my walk was being spiced up with such classics as “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones, “Turn to Stone” by Joe Walsh, and “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas. It added a whole new dimension to Tiananmen Square for me.
Beijing isn’t as westernized as cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai, and people like me stick out like a sore thumb. You’re often approached by Chinese people who want to have their picture taken with you. It happened to me twice today. I often wonder what they do with these pictures. Do they take them home and show them to their friends and say “look, I touched an American today?” One guy threw his arm around me as if I were a long-lost friend. I checked my pockets after he left, but everything was still there. Beijing doesn’t seem to have the problem with pickpockets that some places (like Spain) do. Hey…where’s my watch?
After Tiananmen Square, I crossed under the street to the Forbidden City, which is probably Beijing’s most famous attraction. I didn’t tour it because I had done that before, but I did snap a couple of pictures outside.
I then walked about 10 minutes to Wangfujing Street, which is one of Beijing’s popular shopping districts. It was chilly and a little smoggy there this morning, but pretty nonetheless because many of the shops were still decorated for the Chinese New Year.
There are lots of places to eat on Wangfujing Street, including a KFC. (KFCs and McDonalds are a dime a dozen in Asia. Inside Incheon Airport in South Korea yesterday, I saw a life-size statue of Colonel Sanders.) One little side street was lined with shops selling “stick” foods. I saw a lot of folks eating what looked like roasted tomatoes on a stick. I got closer and realized it wasn’t tomatoes, but strawberries and other fruits coated with hard candy (like a candy apple). I didn’t try them, but I was tempted to, because they really looked yummy. There was also something I wasn’t tempted to try—squid (or baby octopus?) on a stick. And then there was…well, click on the third picture:
If it looks like scorpions on a stick, that’s because it is. They had some kind of glaze on them, I suppose to make them sweet. People really eat these things. I looked closely and verified that yessiree, they still have the stingers on them. I suppose you just have to be careful not to eat that part. If crispy scorpions aren’t your thing, however, there were other delicacies on a stick, such as seahorses and bugs. I think the bugs were locusts or Japanese beetles, but I couldn’t be sure and was too embarrassed to ask.