As I was saying in my previous post I was in search for the perfect bar around though with the every passing minute I was getting less and less confident about it. After the sex shops, dodgy bars and the like I arrived at a range of street-eat stalls where everything from fried scorpions to to crocodile heads (okay that was an exaggeration, but not that much) could be found. But I was so hungry I could eat a croc in whole (I said 'croc' you bastards!), not just a head, so I let it pass too and walked a little more. Then I spotted a white dude, followed by another one and then a hot chick, also white. Looking around I spotted a bar, named The Den which to be honest wasn't much to look at. But it's not for nothing they have said that don't measure a book from it's cover; don't let the looks fool you folks. I entered it to find just what I was looking for, scratch that, to find things exceeding my expectations. It had all the awesome foreign beer you could hope for, not to mention the strong stuff like Whiskey, pretty reasonably prized yet very tasty food and, wait for this, huge ass TVs showing nothing but sports. There was the Tri-Nations match between All Blacks and the Wallabies which I missed, a Manchester United (I think) match, an NFL game and some tennis match. I was in heaven, people.
Fast forward to next day.
By now I had decided that I can find my way around by myself which was the original plan anyway. My plan for the fourth day was to first visit the Temple of Heaven followed by The Summer Palace and if possible, in the evening, either Ancient Observatory or The Bird's Nest. I had read the Lonely Planet as well as Wikitravels like a good traveler should, so as they had instructed I asked the hotel staff to write down the names of those places as well as the directions back to the hotel in Chinese so you could show it to largely non-English-speaking taxi drivers. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had taken care of that already; the hotel had this card where on one side they have the names of some of the major tourist attractions in Beijing (including those places I mentioned above) written down in both English and Chinese, and on the back of it they had a small map of the area around the hotel and instructions on how to get there, also written down in both languages. Very convenient I must say. So with a couple of those cards in hand I walked out, asked the dude at the door to find me a taxi and was on my way to the Temple of Heaven within a couple of minutes.
Upon arriving at the entrance I was faced with the daunting task of buying myself a ticket. Even though I've lived twenty something years in Sri Lanka, a land where chaos is no stranger, still the orderly smooth fine ways of Japan have spoilt me a little. In Japan, buying a ticket is a pretty straightforward task - you join the line at the end and buy the ticket when your turn comes. It doesn't get simpler than that. Neat, fair and efficient. But it's a whole different ball game in China which I did not have to worry about up until now because of my tour guides who took care of it for me. To begin with, there was no line to join at the end. Instead there is a bunch of men women and kids flocked around the ticket counter and finding your way through to it is a task that can be matched to breaching an All Blacks defence when they are not playing in the World Cup. When you do finally make it to the counter they also need you to have change since they can't change a 100 RMB note at a place where a gazillion tourists visit each day. However finally I managed to get through all those hurdles and emerged victorious with a ticket plus a map of the place in hand and headed towards the temple.
The garden around the temple was pretty cool, green and relaxing but it was no match for the temple itself. I will not try to describe you the place for I'm pretty sure that the words will fail me so instead you can check out a few pics I've taken here, here and here. But I'm not sure even if those pictures can do the justice for I'm only an amateur photographer, so maybe you should Google for better pics. To put it simply the place was serene and awe inspiring. No wonder they called it The Temple of Heaven. After being amazed at this marvellous piece of work for about half an hour, I set to work. I set up the tripod in a place where I thought would give me a good composition, mounted the camera, took out the lens cap and looked through the camera. Big mistake. I had forgotten to take into account the population of China. There was absolutely no way I was going to get a decent picture without a gazillion heads in it. I realized it was a damn wise decision to travel there by myself without joining a tour program though they were pretty cheap compared to what I spent for the whole trip. The main reason for me to go alone was that this could very well be the only time I'd ever visit China and I did not want to just glance the places. So since I had ample time in hand I found a little less crowded place, placed the tripod and camera in front of me, leaned on a fence, put my sun glasses on and started people watching which is sort of a hobby of mine.
Then a funny thing happened. Though the place was less crowded by no means it was empty so there were a few people near by, among them an oldish looking guy and a young girl. Probably father and daughter. With the advantage of sun glasses I could see that they were sort of staring at me though they probably didn't know I saw it. A moment later she came to me with a point-and-shoot camera in hand and asked, in broken English, "take photo?" while pointing at the cam. I thought she wanted me to take a picture of the two of them so I said "yeah" but before I finished saying the word even she handed the camera to the father, put her arms around me and posed for a picture! The dude took a picture and before I knew it they were walking away while uttering a hearty "thank you". There were a couple of young girls nearby watching all this drama and they decided they too wanted a picture, and this time they posed on either side of me even without asking really. I didn't have any other option but to comply, and comply I did. This followed by another chick nearby posing for a picture and I was starting to be worried by now. What the hell was going on, thought I. There weren't anymore girls left and luckily the few guys around did not want a picture, so I was left alone to be confused about my new found celebrity status.
After a while the area got a little more less crowded (see what I did there?) so I finally decided it's time. From then on I spent about an hour or probably even more photographing it. However the place was still very much crowded and I had to put some great effort to take the shots I desired, working the angles. I wished very much that I had an accomplice so I could have asked him or her to chase away the people nearby while I took the photos without any people in them. Trey Ratcliff is a photographer - who was introduced to me (not in person) by a good friend - that I like very much and he had put up this awesome picture of the place sometime ago on his G+ profile. He was lucky enough to get the authorities to clear the place for him so obviously he had a very decent shot at it. I tried to reproduce it but it was much much more difficult with hundreds of people in, so I couldn't even get a picture that's close to it. Probably about a hundred or more pictures later I decided that was enough, packed all the equipment and headed for the exit.
A snack and a bit of a rest later I got into another taxi instructing the driver to take me to The Summer Palace. He took me there alright, but the bugger dropped me a little way off the main entrance so amidst thousands of people I was left wondering how the hell am I going to go in. Few minutes later I met an American couple who were faced with exactly the same problem so we set about looking for it together and luckily found the entrance quickly. The first thing I can say about The Summer Palace is that it's vast. It's not just one palace in one place, but a whole lot more spread across a vast area which included a huge ass lake and a steep hill. I quickly realized that there was no way I was going to explore it all with the little time I had (it was past 4 in the evening when I got there) so headed for the top of the hill hoping to get an aerial sort of view of it all and a few decent pictures with it. I was not disappointed with my decision; the view from the top of the hill was spectacular. I took a different route downhill exploring the area a little more before finally deciding to call it a day.
Rest of the day comprised of heading for the perfect bar which I told you about at the beginning of the post, having a delicious Chinese noodle with a few beers and heading back to the hotel to find out that the bunch of wonderful 'friends' I have had spread all sorts of false rumors about me trying to defame my name on G+, though of course not at all to my surprise. The surprise would be if they didn't.
Await my account on probably the best day I spent in China on next post.