Taking the one of the two underground metro lines - the Loops - we arrived at Qianmen Gate station, across the infamous Square and it's namesake gate, Tienanmen, and the Forbidden City which it has long guarded. In this part of the city, which for centuries was the heart of the Universe for imperial China (and is currently equivalent to the U.S. National Mall district in Washington D.C.), these gates were actually used as such - security gates, control points for flow of people and things into important places. Now they stand as island-relics of a long, pround, and immodest history. And lucky for me, epic landmarks for wary travelers!
It was here where, among the many nearby, we found an amazing museum about really just Beijing - the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall. I was seriously in my element: running wild through this museumreading & watching exhibits (in English!); recalling snippets from some of my favorite classes, essays, and documentaries; foaming from my brain with ideas & knowledge about sustainable human development, better energy efficiency & production, public works, international municipal cooperation, natural resource conservation, and effective city planning, and equitable social stratification! [OK so I made that last one up, but its supposed to be a 'communist country' (marx & trotsky must've turned in their graves) so a guy can dream, eh?]
Aside from an awesome 3D movie flythrough of the cityscape, the giant the bas-relief map of the entire city (circa 1956) to scale entirely of BRASS, and the exhibits on public transportation and waste/water infrastructure (my current career field!) - aside from all that, AND a scale model of the Forbidden City, this place rocked my reference for cool museum shit with the 1:750 scale model of much of the city layed out in 1m^2 blocks on the floor in a whole wing of this place. I'm talking seriously awesome exhibit, a whole room where anyone looks like Godzilla romping through, and where ceiling blinds opened & closed to mimic day/night cycles, and the city & infrastructure light up to correspond! Cheesy maybe, but fuckin sick.
And like it's sister district the D.C. National Mall, the area around the very center of Beijiing area houses the more visible cogs of the national government (Legislature) and icons of civic significance (museums, monuments). The actual Square, sitting between Qianmen & Tiananmen Gates, is reputdely the largest public square on Earth - and it feels that way when you're in it. In a strange juxtapose of my developing ideology & sheer awe, I almost felt a desire to want to identify with China & its history, if only to be part of something so great, so enormous that one of the oldest and certainly the largest civilization - in short, I experienced a sense of nationalistic pride, for China. Of course, awareness of Chinese (and almost every culture's) brutal imperialistic history seeped back in pretty quick. I now have hope I may actually be breaking through that doctrinaire patriotism we're imbued with in America (it seems to be as strong in China, too...) and moving closer to really embracing a sense of internationalism!
One of two large statues flanking Mao's Masoleum, in tribute to the Workers. While only rather symbolic today, its working-class focus is a perspective we should take.
Finally, after taking pictures with Mao, a transmutation from trio to duo, and perambulating through the hallowed ground of imperial & national China's soul, Tim & I made our way to a nearby example of its emerging soul (one closer to that of the West): the Market, at Wanfujing. A tourist trap any city treasurer & commerce chamber would envy, this single side-street featured a way over-priced but multifarious selection of food, trinkets, & other traveler 'essentials' (items WAY cheaper if not free with good planning & forethought for a trip on a budget). But also wacky, funky things - like grilled scorpions, insects, & shahorses on sticks, local candy & drinks , 'unique' 'antiques', books, & more - all in one alley. Then after exploring a few districts by foot, we finally ambled our way toward the Uni district, home, and a great evening with a few good people, if I recall, at hotpot!