The compound turned into Phelpsapalooza today after Phelps won his last gold medal and made an appearance with Bob Costas. I was running across the street to my hotel to grab my jacket since ya know, it's Siberia here. I knew something was up when I heard this huge loud "whoop!" coming from down the hall. I couldn't even get out - all of the halls were blocked with people
People were materializing out of the walls. The halls are usually busy but never packed. People just run from place to place - no one just stops and stands in the hallway. So when someone is standing still here, you know someone cool is in da hizzle. Today, I bet there were about 100 people lining the halls waiting for Phelps. Way to play it cool NBC! In their defense - all the people here are total sports nerds - I've seen 50 year old men getting excited about Bela Karolyi being in the halls. Ahh.. my people!!
Last night I broke one of my golden rules - "Use the buddy system"... but for a good cause! And a great field trip. Yesterday was a totally thrilling competition that drained me emotionally and physically. The trampoline prelims. And by thrilling, I mean lame. Oh - although the Chinese girl who was expected to win totally BOMBED!! She didn't even advance to finals. She literally had a mini-freak out in the air on one of her last flips and landed heaped up in a ball on the tramp. (man - that sounds way dirty). So that was fun. Trampoline is like Nascar - you only watch to see who crashes. Because when they crash - they crrasssssshhhh.
Anyway - I'm digressing. Again,
Fun field trip - Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City! Because the completely thrilling trampoline prelims ended at 2pm, I ended up getting to head out of here at a normal time - who-hoo for leaving work at 5. What a wild concept. I forgot what a sunset looks like. I hopped into a cab and said "tea-an-men xie-xie" because I totally rock at chinese now.
I got to the ticket office by the gate of the square and I couldn't see a price anywhere so I pulled out 100yuan (approx 15 dollars) thinking well, this outta cover it. The woman looked at the bill and said, "No, no, 2 yuan". So I pulled out another 100yuan bill. The woman laughs and goes, "No, TWO yuan!" Ohhhh... wow - it costs about 15 cents to get into the Forbidden City! And I was about to lay down approx. 30 bucks. I laughed and she laughed and we shared a special "Americans so dumb" moment.
I have absolutely no idea what I actually saw at the Forbidden City. I may have progressed in my chinese speaking ability but my chinese reading skills still have a ways to go. Whatever it was that I was looking at was pretty cool though. It reminded me of Central Park - it just all sort of seems the same at first, but then you start looking a bit closer and suddenly there's all sorts of interesting stuff to see.
My favorite part was this rock garden I found. There was a sign in front of one of the rocks that looked a bit forbidding and I thought for sure it said "stay out or we'll murder you with our giant machine guns" but the path in front of it looked pretty worn so I was hoping I was wrong. I walked a bit farther and ta-da! A path that was paved and led right up to the rocks, clearly welcoming me to climb and play and not at all threatening me with death by machine gun. Wheeee! (there are security cameras everywhere... they don't even bother to hide them or make them blend in. They're huge and obvious.)
As I left the forbidden city, I noticed a huge group of people gathered along the square looking like they were waiting for something to happen. I thought maybe a race or something was going to come by. I looked back over towards the gate and realized that the sun was about to set... oooohhh....sweet!! I realized that I was going to catch the changing of the guard thing - that's what everyone was waiting for. Of course, I don't know what actually happened when the gaurds changed - all I saw was a bunch of soldiers out-kicking the rockettes with their goose stepping.
I was pretty close to the front but because it was packed, I couldn't see when the soldiers came out - I sure heard it though! There was a huge rush of "ooohh!" and a crush of people moving closer to the front when the soldiers made an appearance. Every one's hand shot up in the air to take pictures. There had to be at least a thousand people watching - a lot of people were lining the streets so they could see the guards walk across - it would have been a great vantage had I know what the heck was about to happen.... oh well, next time!
After the guards did their thing (walked across the street) the place started to clear out and I realized that I was going to have a heck of a time catching a cab. So I started wandering down a side street with the hope that I would catch one away from the crush of humanity. Um, no luck. Catchign a cab in Beijing.... not the easiest thing to do! I stopped into a couple of cute little stores while I was waiting and met a shop owner who told me loved Michael Phelps by waving his arms in circles and going 'schwimmin! schwimmin! man!' 'Ooohhh... Phelps!' 'Yes, Phelps! Phelps!' I eventually caught a cab about an hour after leaving the square - it was getting dark and the street lamps didn't go on for the longest time! That's about when I regretted not using the buddy system. Luckily, there was shopping to distract me. So mom - don't worry, I may have broken the buddy system rule and accidentally ended up on a sketchy Beijing back road - but I totally got you some good stuff!