New Years Eve in Beijing was awesome and awful. We experienced the awful part first.
Although they have fireworks and drinking in common, New Years in China is a little different than in New Zealand. It's a time for Chinese people to visit their families and celebrate together (read the Wikipedia article for more detail!) So many people travel during this period that the process has a name: Chunyun. Work days are altered in order for people to make it home in time for the Eve, and many of the local attractions close early. We didn't know any of this when we woke up early to continue our exploration of Beijing.
The first stop was Tiananmen Square, a 'short' walk from our hostel. The square had been closed for the past few days so we were able to look around for the first time. The reports are true, it's really big. We were hoping to see the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall (as the Aussies had recommended it over Christmas) but we were in for our first disappointment of the day. It was closed, and it wouldn't be reopened until after the 15-day holiday period was over.
|Still full of tourists.|
Disappointed but not defeated, we crossed the road to give the Forbidden City a go. The entrance was teeming with people - one of them was helping his kid pee on the gate - and following the advice of the Lonely Planet we walked through the first two gates until we reached the proper entrance to the city itself. There were a few men standing outside the gate, preventing people from entering much to the befuddlement of Chinese and Western tourists alike. After failing to find an open ticket booth or any answers, we flagged down a German tourist and he suggested we give the north gate a go.
The Forbidden City is HUGE, so instead of walking around we caught a cab to the far end and tried to get in again. After deciphering a sign written in Chinese, we realised that the City was closing for the day and we wouldn't be able to get in. Damn.
A little defeated, we consulted our list of attractions-to-see and got on the subway towards Lama Temple and Ditan Park. The park has a festival over the New Year period which sounded awesome, and it's a little harder to close a park.
Are you picking up a theme? The festival was a bit of a disappointment. Aside from some cool food stalls and lantern displays, it was more like a carnival. There were shooting galleries and clown games and hoop games, it just seemed cheesy and Western. Here are a few pictures of the good bits:
After spending a few yuan on some food at the stalls, we walked towards Lama Temple. The temple is one of the largest and most important Buddhist temples in the world, and guess what? It was closed too. The incense stalls which lined the street outside were open though, and this is where Beijing started to become more awesome.
According to Chinese mythology, the New Year period began with a fight against a beast called the Nian. The Nian would attack and devour crops, livestock, villagers and delicious juicy children. To protect themselves, villagers would wear red and make heaps of noise. The solution: red fireworks! Chinese people roll out metres and metres of firecrackers and set them off throughout the day outside their stores and apartment blocks. We wandered away from the temple feeling dejected and entered a bit of a warzone - gunpowder filled the air, all we could hear were loud explosions and the ground was covered in burn marks and red paper.
|Incense lined up for sale.|
|This little Chub was sooo cute!|
In the interests of keeping my blog posts short(er), the awesome part will be continued in the next blog entry.