Beijing, December 18th
Trip to China 2019-2020

I begin the day early in the morning. As I already have my tickets and arrive early at the station, I have time to grab breakfast. I eat what appears to be a very popular dish and I enjoy it.

As I embark on my train journey, I notice familiar patterns repeating. There are many small towns and new neighborhoods under development, its buildings are all designed in the same fashion and hosting large shops. Some of the buildings seem to have been empty for a long time, while others, located just a short distance away, are opening new shops. The more modern buildings, half-empty, seem to be waiting for more shops to open.

The train arrives at Beijing South Station close to noon. I have an afternoon ticket for the Forbidden City, so the timing works out well.

As I enter the Forbidden City, I am struck by its majesty, just as I had expected. As I cross thru pavilions and large squares, I notice details that remind me of scenes from movies like "Kung Fu Panda" or "Mulan". Artists usually do throllow investigations of the subject matter of their films. The Imperial Palace has inspired art and media for centuries, and I am grateful for the opportunity to see the original materials in all their historical glory.

Crowd of tourists taking pictures at the Forbidden City
Traditional Chinese clothes

I stay until we are told that it is time to leave. A large crowd of visitors exit the palace in an orderly fashion. I regret not being able to see a couple of exhibits, but I remind myself that it's not a problem to leave some things unseen. I will have something new left for my next visit to the city. Outside, a new surprise awaits me.

As I leave the palace, a Chinese woman starts talking to me in English. Her husband and daughter also join the conversation. They have a strong accent, but their English is relatively fluent. I wonder what they want, but I continue talking with them. Suddenly, they ask me to go for tea so they can practice their English more.

Aha! So, that was their goal. This puts into context a conversation I had last year in Shanghai, which followed a similar pattern of polite questions without any concrete goal. As someone whose native language is not English and with an accent of my own, I am not surprised that people want to practice their English. Or maybe, it's just that my accent is not noticeable to someone not accustomed to standard English.

After continuing the conversation for another ten minutes, I declined the invitation. I need to wake up early tomorrow and I want to focus on learning the ins and outs of moving around China during this trip. But, I think practicing English would be a great way to meet people and learn more about Chinese culture during my next trip.

(Some people has had the experience that the English practice is just a trick to get tourists to expensive tea houses where they will be overcharged. One needs to be careful in this situations.)

View of the outside of the Forbidden Palace at dusk