On The Pain Meds
I am so sore! All I did was walk yesterday, granted for 8 hours, but it was just walking.
We set off yesterday to see Mao's Underground City. It is about 10 blocks from The Forbidden City, easy walk right? However, the Street Names on the signs, and the street names on the Lonely Planet map don't match, and the lonely planet doesn't list all the alleyways, so there was plenty of wandering around looky dorky. This is a big city, this is an empty city right now. Tiananmen Square was practically empty, or so says Morag. We finally found the alleyway we wanted by accident. We saw some old guys getting ready to let off fireworks, and thought we would watch, looked around and there was a little sign with the name we were looking for. After all that though, the Under Ground City was closed, from the looks of it, for ever. TLP mentioned that they were doing some "research" down there a couple of years ago, I guess it never ended. It was in the totally decrepit falling apart mostly rubble neighborhood. Very Kung Fu style with the narrow doorways and tiled roofing, twisty turny and half of the buildings were just crumbly heaps. Here is my conspiracy theory take on the underground city. Mao had it built in a moment of OMGness and then 35 years later some bureaucrat notices that it is right smack under some old school neighborhood, seconds from the heart of downtown and he/she says, let the houses rot and fall apart, we can raze the whole thing, and put up apartments and malls, someone else says, what about the underground city, and everybody chuckles and says research, followed by a cave in. Too bad, I would have loved to have seen it.
All over the downtown, on walls, on the ground, on busses and phone booths are posters and stickers forbidding people from having fireworks and fire crackers, seriously, once or twice a block. That said, yesterday, New Year's Eve was CRACK-A-LICIOUS. It was like a free fire zone. In the distance the constant thud of mortars, all around us the rapid-fire crack of machine gun fire. The brightly colored tracer rounds skipping along the ground, and the pall of gun powder smoke over everything. These people LOVE fire crackers. The mortar rounds were about 15cm long and about as thick as a roll of twoneys. The whole thing lifted off the ground, about 15 storeys, and BOOM down come the enemy air craft. We were walking along this huge divided avenue, busses, cabs, scooters, bikes and about 8 middle aged men letting off Mortar after Mortar and giggling and giggling. They noticed us watching and many Happy New Years were passed back and forth. I video taped about 30 seconds of of a chain of fire works a poppin, and boy does it leave you sort of dazed. Dazed and stinky, everything covered by smoke.
After not finding the underground city we set about finding a Taoist temple. Looked pretty straight forward on the map, but in the 3 years since The Lonely Planet was printed someone has built a humongous highway and clover leaf type thing, and trying to navigate our way through it and find the tiny side street (which turned out to be a giant divided avenue) took about another hour and a half. We finally found a temple, but it was Buddhist. Beautiful, old, full of pagodas and different aspects of the Buddha, including one gorgeous wooden one that was 15m tall. The big Pagoda was really tall and impressive and all damaged. Still it wasn't the Daoist Temple we were looking for. So back onto the street, out of the quiet side neighborhood, onto a major thoroughfare and suddenly there was the Daoist Temple. Sadly, we had taken so long to get there that it was only half an hour from closing. Still we got to see some monks doing monkish things, lots more gigantic incense and tons of figurines of different Daoist deities. My understanding of Daoism has come from "The Tao of Pooh", so I found the whole pantheon confusing. After that we found a nice restaurant that made us some lovely vegetarian food (if you over look the ground pork mixed in with the tofu - we didn't, but we did pick it out.)
Seven hours of walking and checking stuff out. Cool.