Shortly after writing the previous entry we left for the train station. The bus ride to the subway station, and the subsequent subway ride were both uneventful. The train station was not as nice as the one from which we travelled to Hangzhou. It wasn't bad though, the other one is newer. We were early, and had to wait for about an hour before being allowed to board the train. Neither of us knew anything about the train that we were to take to Beijing. All we knew was that the trip was going to take twelve hours, and that we would have to sleep on the train. I was a little nervous, as I've seen some travel documentaries featuring long train rides, which didn't look like much fun. I was prepared to not eat or drink until we arrived in Beijing, so that I would be less likely to want to use the toilet on the train, in case it was absolutely filthy.
When we were finally allowed to board the train, we saw that it was absolutely immaculate. It had been recently refurbished, and will be used to ferry people between Shanghai and Beijing during the Olympics, as some events will be held in Shanghai. The toilets were better than those on the plane we took to China. The cabin, while small, had everything we needed, a table, a floor, free slippers and beds. Everything was clean and tidy, and the staff were excellent. Each cabin slept four, and we were surprised to find that the couple who shared our cabin were in the same tour group as us. Like all Chinese people I've met, they were surprised to find that I could understand Chinese, but didn't understand me when I tried to talk. This is really common, and quite irritating. I'll attempt to strike up a conversation by asking a question, like "How did you like the Palace?" The person with whom I am attempting to chat will then say something totally different, like "Please, eat." Often I repeat myself a few times, but the response is usually the same. To be fair, it doesn't happen so much with people under 30 (recently forced to use Mandarin every day at school), or Beijing natives. I think Shanghainese are so accustomed to speaking their dialect that they find my stumbling Mandarin (Beijing origin) impossible to understand. Regardless of the reason, it is extremely frustrating.
Digression over - back to the train. I watched Yvonne play Zelda on the NDS for awhile, then we went to sleep. It took ages for me to get to sleep because of the noise, but the experience was enjoyable. I got up during the night to use the facilities, and saw that each carriage had a staff member slumped in a chair in the corridor sleeping. I do not envy them. Woke up again at six, watched the scenery fly past through the window (Yvonne claims the train travelled at 200 km/h+, I'll check that when I get the internet again), but only saw a little snow. Train stops, we get off and find the tour guide, who is frozen solid outside the station.
We waited for the rest of the group to assemble, then went to the hotel. Hotel is nice, slightly better than the one we stayed in during our Hangzhou visit.
After a very short stop, we went on our first sight-seeing trip. First stop was the People's Hall, which would be better name: The Important People's Incredibly Massive and Opulent Hall of Splendor. Even that doesn't do it justice. It is GIGANTIC. When a new Premier comes into power, a reception "room," itself the size of a small theater , is created, decorated according to the new Premier's native province. That we saw there was a reception room for Guangdong, Hunan, Beijing, Shanghai and Sichuan. They were all magnificent. The Important People's Incredibly Massive and Opulent Hall of Splendor is also home to the biggest banquet hall I have ever seen (which is not saying much), complete with world-class stage and equipment. The place was truly massive, hard to believe even when standing inside it.
Next, we crossed the road and viewed Chairman Mao's corpse. The mausoleum itself is an impressive structure, and guarded by a large number of armed soldiers and unarmed policemen. Entry to the mausoleum is free, but the line was long. After waiting for about half an hour we were allowed to silently file past the leader's coffin, which has a glass cover, which enabled us to see his face. There were two armed soldiers standing beside his coffin, one at each door, and one patrolling the area. In addition there were about three civilians ensuring we didn't stray to near to the coffin. Why don't the soldiers do that? This task is below them, the only time they touch civilians is when they hug their families, and even then only in private. They were armed with handguns, sorry to say, no pictures of wonderful assault rifles. Well, no pictures of real assault rifles, I did take some photos of the statues outside the mausoleum, some of the figures were holding AK-47s.
The mausoleum is situated on the edge of Tianamen Square, and we were allowed some time to wander about before lunch. There isn't much to say about the square, other than it is vast, has history that China doesn't like, and there is a memorial for all of the Chinese (good) who were killed by the Japanese (bad). Don't see many Japanese in China.
Lunch was eaten in the palace restaurant, which is alright, nothing special. As the guide said: "Don't expect the service to be as good as in privately owned restaurants, this is owned by the government." She is a good guide.
After lunch we walked around the palace, for hours. As I think I ran out of superlatives describing the Important People's Incredibly Massive and Opulent Hall of Splendor, all I can say about the size of the Palace and its grounds is: the palace and its grounds are much, much bigger than the Important People's Incredibly Massive and Opulent Hall of Splendor, only more old. 580 years old, to be precise. My feet are very sore from walking around the palace. It is so big that the buildings just run together in my mind, and I have terrible difficulty trying to construct any sort of map of it in my mind. Oh, Beijing has crows, which are my favourite bird. They are jet black, perch on rooftops and "crow" in their own unique and sinister manner. They are also very intelligent. It has been shown that they can count, and determine different humans from one another. One study showed that if a crow has a piece of food that it wants to hide, and said crow knows that it is possible that another crow could be watching it, it will wander around, waiting until it thinks the other crow won't be watching before hiding the food. Then it will wander around some more, to appear as if it still has the food. Also, they can problem solve, using sticks to reach otherwise inaccessable areas to get food. Lastly, it has been shown that crows can reason, with a series of experiments where a crow is placed on a perch that has a piece of string fixed to it, with an item of food tied to the end of the string. The birds will try (unsuccessfully) to fly at the food, then stand on the perch for awhile. They birds will then get the food by pulling up the string. This experiment was repeated by placing the crow in more and more complex environments. Go google it. Uh... The palace was nice, look at the pictures.
The final destination (crap movie) was an acrobatics show, which was extremely good. They jumped and flipped about like... acrobats. Apparently the performers are all gymnasts who failed to win medals. So really instead of being called the "Acrobatics Macrocosm," it should be "Gymnast's Graveyard". Has a nice ring to it. The show ran for about an hour. The pictures describe it better than I can textually, so go and have a look at them.
Tomorrow the Great Wall.