Saturday, October 17, 2015

Beijing (revisited)

I've been across the world and back since my last post. My sweetie and I spent a madcap week in Beijing, China, taking in as much history (and delicious food) as we could manage in 7 days. I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to come back to this blog, but it's probably a combination of not wanting to admit the trip is really in the past, and being a bit frustrated with myself for not getting my travel blog off the ground.

My first view of China after a long flight

I took several postcards with me, as always, as a backup. Ideally, I prefer to get postcards from the place that I'm visiting, but sometimes I am too busy experiencing a place to search out postcards. I did manage to find some decent postcard packets early on (although I found better individual postcards on our last day that will have to go out later). We spent our days walking walking walking and returned to our rented room utterly spent, and I was focused on trying to write down what we'd done and seen in my journal, soak up some internet to let friends and family know we hadn't dropped off the edge of the world, and then we would spend time with our amazing hosts in the evenings. This made it surprisingly hard to carve out a few minutes to write postcards - my facebook posts were basically what I would say anyway, so what was the point? Exactly the mindset I'm trying to combat, great.

Exploring the hutong alleyways
I did manage to write two postcards (to people who are not on facebook) midweek, which led to the next challenge: getting them stamped and in the mail before we left the country. I asked our host about mailing postcards, and he said it was really expensive and not really worth it. I didn't care about that, since it was only two, but he didn't offer up information about how or where to go. So I carried these two postcards with me the rest of the week on the off chance we saw a post office - although admittedly our daily adventures were so vast, and Beijing is so huge and a little overwhelming, that I wasn't really looking that hard.

Our favorite street food vendors, making pork belly sandwiches
 On Sunday, our final day, I was kicking myself for having missed out AGAIN on mailing postcards from the road. I thought about leaving some money with our host and asking him to mail them, but he'd really gone above and beyond for us already - and that would be kind of cheating, wouldn't it? We headed out for our final day of exploring, taking a bus to the 798 Art District and wandering through graffiti-lined alleyways, art galleries, and boutiques (finding gifts for home and better postcards), willing our trip to extend just a little longer. When we got off the bus back in our neighborhood, I spotted something that had the words "post" and "bank" in the title and it was open. On a SUNDAY. I yelled out "Post Office!!!", alarming my girlfriend who had no idea I was even looking for one, and made a beeline for it.

Art + tourism in the 798 District

Inside, there was a handful of customers and a few postal workers, none of whom seemed in a hurry to wait on us. I should point out that we were staying well out of the main part of the city, and most locals we encountered spoke little-to-no english. But this was a pretty simple transaction, after all. It cost ¥4.50 to mail each postcard, which seemed spendy (but worth it) in the moment, but it's actually less than 75 cents in USD, less than it costs to send an international postcard here.

Obligatory Great Wall photo.

The rest of the day I was high on having finally succeeded in mailing a postcard from the road. Thank goodness for communist work schedules.

Hastily taken cell phone photos of the postcards mailed:

Both of these show parts of the Forbidden City, which is probably 10 times larger than we anticipated. Missing: the thousands of people visiting at the same time we were there. The day we visited the Forbidden City was probably my least favorite - the walled former palace itself is undeniably impressive, but the air quality was quite bad that day and we just didn't set ourselves up well for the crowds or the level of walking that this site requires. It felt like a slog rather than an adventure. By the time we got through the Forbidden City we were far too wiped out to see Jingshan Park just across the exit, which would have been a good way to balance out the tourist saturation of the preceding hours. I'm glad we went, but I would structure that whole day differently based on what I know now.

Post from China can take a few weeks, as it all gets inspected before leaving the country. I was surprised less than 3 weeks after we returned to get this in my mailbox:

I was so focused on getting my postcards mailed that I didn't notice my girlfriend in the background, madly scribbling away. I knew she'd sent something too but was not expecting one to show up at our door. Nice! It reminds me that I've been wanting to try mailing myself a postcard a day from the road as a way to remember my trip. Considering how hard it is for me to get any postcards sent from the road, however, this may be beyond my capabilities.

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