Day 4: What a rainy, gorgeous, groggy, dark Tuesday morning. Tuesday meant 798 Art District, a trip to the Summer Palace, and an optional 6am wake-up call to watch the flag-raising ceremony at Tienanmen Square. While translator Jim, our professor Lars, and his wife, Annette, slept in, all of us students borrowed hotel umbrellas and walked a mile through the pouring rain to Tienanmen Square.
Even through the pouring rain, or perhaps because of it, the flag-raising ceremony was hauntingly beautiful. All those soldiers in dark uniform, marching in a line from one side of the road to the other while morning traffic patiently watched and waited from either side of the barricades, was so intense. It didn't seem like a repeated, worn out performance, but rather a tradition with meaning.
After we were all completely soaked, we headed back to the hotel and sat down to a quick breakfast before heading out to 798 Art District. The rain-soaked streets and foggy sky surrounding the area just gave the district an even more dreamy, artsy feeling, and as soon as we hopped off the bus I was instantly in love. Life-size headless statues, metal trees, chairs made of sticks, jumping animals and wild murals painted on the outsides of buildings were just a few of the remarkable and bizarre art pieces that dotted the district. The outlandish installations continued both inside and out, and even the gift shops had odd little trinkets and figurines for purchase. I loved everything about the place, and it was my most favorite stop on the trip.
After three days of non-stop traditional Chinese, we gave our stomachs a break with some good old-fashioned American food at a place called the Cave (cahv-AY) Cafe in the Art District. Our full course meal included two salads, snapper & prawn (fish & fish), lobster risotto (the lobster was cooked but sat intact on the plate, eyeballs and everything), spaghetti, pizza, and a chocolate lava cake w/ ice cream for dessert. Needless to say, we were absolutely stuffed. However, because that was a meatless month for me, I ate the risotto around that giant lobster, nixed the fish, and got a delicious cucumber salad all to myself instead. Mmm!
Before leaving, we loaded up on gift shop items, as they provided the most creative and decorative souvenirs we'd be bringing home with us that week. From there we headed back towards the hotel by bus and spent the rest of the late afternoon exploring Wang Fu Jing shopping street (and the huge mall located nearby) during the daytime. After shopping in a four-story Forever 21 in Beijing, me and the girls I was with were completely satisfied, and we headed back to the hotel to shower before the acrobatics show we were all attending that night.
From the seventh row, we had a perfect view of the award-winning Chinese acrobats as they each performed their different stunts. The show was phenomenal...I had to catch my breath more than a couple of times. I especially couldn't believe the motorcyclists that all ride around the inside of that big metal sphere....if you've ever gone to the circus, you should know what I mean. Usually, where I'm from, they fit about four or five guys total in the sphere...at this one, they crammed in seven before stopping! Freaked me out big time, that stunt did. Whew.
The talented cyclists and all of the other incredible acrobats in the show made that Tuesday night end on a lovely note.