This is like in Mulan...
We've finally hit the weather that I remembered from China-- hot and humid. Yesterday morning I picked up some baozi on my way to the subway station (I've said it before and I'll say it again, best 2 kuai breakfast ever) and then decided where I wanted to go after I was on the train. I had no plans and no obligations, so I decided to go check out the Bird's Nest. They were going to charge me to go in and I wasn't that excited about a stadium, so I just wandered around the Olympic Park, which is not as exciting as I had hoped, but full of vendors and people who will take your picture in front of the stadium (and then sell it to you). It was extremely hot and I was getting really tired, so I headed for a shady area, where I noticed a smaller, old-looking wall. I walked around it and realized that it was an ancient temple that they kept up right next to where they put the Water Cube. I went in and took some pictures, but had to stop when someone caught me and told me off. It was small but pretty, and I was amazed that it was right next to the enormous modern stadiums and I had never heard of it. Maybe I never paid attention.
From there, I went back to the subway because I had seen what there was to see and the subways are air conditioned. I'm getting much better at asking and understanding directions. I called Tyler to see what he was up to, since it was Saturday so he wasn't working. He said he needed to get his computer fixed, but some of his friends were going to see the Forbidden City, and they'd be happy to meet up with me there. They were very nice, and much like my NSLI-Y trip, were from all over the country. Best of all, none of them spoke Chinese, so I was the translator (on the occasion that one was needed). Not surprisingly, a lot of Chinese tourists wanted pictures with he Westerners, but in this case, they weren't allowed to let people take their picture because they're working for the embassy. One young woman was particularly persistant and kept trying to pose with various members of the group. One girl kept repeating "Do not want" in Chinese, which was clearly not getting the point across, and when she finally tried to say "We can't," the woman explained that she wanted someone else to take a picure of them together, because she thought that the girl meant that she didn't know how to take a picture. I finally worked out how to explain to her that because of their work, they weren't allowed to take pictures with her. My Chinese was definitely awkward, but effective, and she left without another request.
The Forbidden City is absolutely enormous and quite beautiful. It definitely is a must-see. The buildings are all ornate and the garden-like areas are incredible. I had never realized just how big it was, but now I understand why it's a "city" rather than a "palace." We all took a lot of pictures. In a little pagoda, one of the girls wondered what it was used for. Another girl pointed out that, "In Mulan, this is where they pray to the ancestors for guidance." Who said Disney wasn't educational? To be fair, we actually have no idea if that was actually why the pagoda was there. It could just have been decorative. At the exit to the city, we encountered the pushiest vendors I've ever seen. Many of them were really aggressive, going so far as to corner anyone they thought they could persuade to buy something. We made our way out, though, and realized that the subway stops we had arrived at were back at the entrance. So we went around the city, and after a dozen blocks or so, started to wonder if we were actually going toward the subway stops. While a few girls consulted a map, I asked a traffic director for directions. Like I said, I'm a pro at figuring out where the subway is now. It was fun to be able to be useful in a foreign country.
I met Tyler for dinner a couple of stops from where I'm staying (which is on the other side of town from his apartment) because that was where he had gotten his computer fixed. We were just finishing when Christina texted me a heads-up that Line 10, the line that we both needed to take home, was closing early that night. We ran to the subway station, which was Line 13 that would take us to 10, and were informed at the entrance that there were no more trains. We went to an internet cafe to see if we could figure out which lines were running, and eventually gave up and went back to ask someone at the train station. The reply? "Oh, you can take the tain here." Confused, we went in and caught a train to line 10, which was one stop away from mine, but at the opposite end of the line from his. We went our separate ways, Tyler planning to circumnavigate on other lines, and I asked someone how I could walk to the Zhi Chun Li station, because I knew that I could get home from there. The man gave me directions and, just to double check, I ran down to the line 10 train that I needed. I asked the worker down there if there were more trains. She said there weren't. So I went out and at the entrance asked someone else for directins on how to walk to the Zhi Chun Li station, since I had forgotten the first ones. The woman looked at me funny and said, "You can take the train." I told here that there weren't any more trains, and she said that there were. Convinced that I didn't understand her, she grabbed a coworker who spoke English and he informed me that there were still trains running to Zhi Chun Li. I told him what the woman at the train had told me and he just shook his head and let me back into the station without charging me. I went back downstairs and, sure enough, a train came in less than a minute later. When I asked Christina about it, she said that it turned out that the line 10 trains running in our direction were okay, but the ones running the other way were stopped early. I'm still confused about why so many people told me that there were no more trains when clearly there were. I'm pretty sure that I didn't just misunderstand because the first time they said it, Tyler had been with me and his Chinese is really good. Oh well. The mysteries of language barriers.