The first time I went to Tiananmen Square I was too late in the day to see Chairman Mao. Today I went back to try again, but I couldn't find the left luggage office to drop off my bag until it was too late. Instead, I chilled in the square in the hot sunshine for a while, only encouraged to move on by the frequent attentions of 'arts students'. Every time I went anywhere near Tiananmen Square, it would only be a matter of time before I was accosted by someone who would turn out to be a member of a group of arts students from some remote province of China, visiting the capital and with an exhibition near by. The first time, I thought this sounded quite cool and went along to where their exhibition was, saw some moderately interesting art, refused to part with wads of cash to buy any, and went on my way. I realised there was more to this than met the eye when another arts student started talking to me only half an hour later in a different part of town. Almost every time anyone started a conversation with me, they would turn out to be an 'arts student'. Sometimes they'd give me the spiel straight away; other times we'd chat for quite a few minutes before the truth came out.
As I wandered south with no particular plan in mind, one particularly persistent arts student walked with me. He was quite a bit too old to be a student, and probably, where all the others were only partaking in the mildest of scams, he was actually trying to rip me off. I walked into the narrow streets around Dazhalan, and managed to shake him off in the crowds.
I walked randomly, buying the occasional street snack from a vendor, until I ended up on Qianmen Dajie. I walked down this main road until I got to Tiantan Park, and went to explore the Ming temples in there. Most of the park was very relaxed and pleasant, but the main sight of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests was probably the most crowded place I visited in Beijing. I got caught in a flow of visitors and swept through rapidly. I escaped from the crush and headed over the Bridge of Vermillion Stairway to quieter parts.
I headed north again, and walked to Wangfujing, one of Beijing's oldest shopping streets. There was an excellent night market here where I bought some great food, my favourite being deep-fried octopus. Once I'd filled up there, I headed home. I'd been getting taxis everywhere so far, as they were cheap and very convenient, but I decided it was time to get acquainted with the public transport system. I got the metro to Xizhimen, the closest metro stop to the university at the time, and got a taxi home from there. My next target was to work out the buses.
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