Today I took off on my own again, while Christina went around with her mother. Armed with a better idea of where the bookstores Jim had pointed me to were, I went in search of them. The first one I went to was called The Bookworm. It's a bookstore/cafe that's really quite nice. The food and things were very expensive, and I wasn't hungry yet since I had eaten breakfast recently, so I didn't order anything. I did, however, pick up a book called The Peace Correspondent by Gary Marchant, which has turned out to be a great investment. The title comes from the fact that he calls himself a peace correspondent, as opposed to a war correspondent. He's a Canadian journalist who spent quite a bit of time traveling in Asia and the book is filled with stories from his travels. He's very funny and vivid in his descriptions and it's been very fun to read so far. After that I wandered around San Li Tun, which was the shopping district that was in, but it was extremely western and therefore fairly dull, so I headed back to the metro (which, since I don't think I've mentioned it, is super easy to follow). On the way back I walked back through a bunch of embassies and was stopped by a group of European teenagers, all of whom looked a bit confused. The boy who approached me asked, "Hello?" as though unsure that I would speak English and not entirely confident in his own ability. When I responded in English, he relaxed and asked if I could point them to the nearest cinema. I told him I didn't know, but there was probably one in San Li Tun, and explained to them how to get there. Then I went on my way.
The next stop was a bookstore called Page One, which was in the Chinese World Trade Center (or World Mall, I couldn't quite tell which). It was a traditional bookstore, no cafe or anything like that. I wandered around in search of the books that Jim had recommended to me, but couldn't find them and after a while took my leave of that shop and headed off. I decided to go up to the street level to see what was in the area and saw a huge, interestingly shaped building several blocks away. Curious, I wandered over to it, since I didn't have anywher to be. As I walked, I realized that everything around me was varyig shades of grey. The buildings were steel and glass, the sky was darkly overcast, and the streets were black and dirty. When I finally reached the building (which I think is the CCTV broadcasting center, since there were about a dozen CCTV satellites on it), I realized that it was surrounded by flowers that were the brightest thing I had seen outside of the stores in the mall. I headed further down the street and there came an abrupt end to the shiny glass buildings. Suddenly it was run-down storefronts and little street stalls, many with signs that were once brightly colored but now dull from dust. It was an incredible juxtaposition. There were also a bunch of signs along the road around the construction that was going on (between the steel and the stalls) that were full of pictures of a grand, shining city, which fell rather short in the dull, overcast Beijing that seemed to surround me today.
After that I had considered coming back, but I realized that I was at a subway stop where I could get to Line 1, which would take me to Tiananmen. Despite the grey day, I wanted to check it out, even if I went back later for better pictures. So I got on that train, which was packed, and headed off to see the square. I got to the square and took a few pictures, trying to ignore the stares I was getting. I wound up in front of Mao's mausoleum (which is enormous) and while I was there a Chinese woman approached me with a "Hello." I responded in Chinese and she and her friend both were amazed. "You speak Chinese?" I said that I spoke a little, and they wanted to know where I had studied it and for how long ("Only a year?!") and where I was from and what I was doing in Beijing. They couldn't believe I wasn't afraid to travel by myself to a foreign country. Occasionally they would speak English, but most of it was Chinese. Finally, they invited me to tea on a nearby street. The street reminded me of Chinatown because it began with a big, intricate gate. They took me to a tea shop and we sat down at a beautiful wooden table that they explained was handmade. We sat and drank tea and chatted for over an hour. They quickly stopped trying to speak English unless I didn't understand something that they knew how to translate. I know that I was slow and awkward when I talked, but I was proud of myself for how much I understood. I've gotten to the point where my biggest frustration is my microscopic vocabulary, but that will just take time. Unfortunately it will take a fair amount of time. Oh well. I guess that's part of the fun. After all of this, they dropped me off at the subway station and I headed home from there.