Tigers Can’t Change Their Stripes – Beijing, China

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Flying to China, Copyright Michael Bencik 2014

It was with great sadness that we left Myanmar, and to be completely honest I was not all that excited to go to China again. Sure, the whole reason we were heading to Beijing was as a birthday present to myself. Though all in all, China had not been that kind to me the last time I was there. I already felt like I might have something coming on, and really did not want to explore another Chinese hospital. Our flight was delayed five hours, so we arrived in Beijing at four in the morning. The info desk at the airport called the San Li Tun Hostel and a very sleepy sounded voice asked if we needed airport pick up and that it was an hour away. Taxi was fine for us but thankfully they did have a room.

We got the most important info even at this hour, how much should it cost to get there via cab, 100 yen. Of course every taxi driver wanted more than 500 because of the late hour. We walked away from a few who actually got a bit rude, till we were able to get it for 125. We were completely wiped out but I stayed awake the whole ride, making sure we were not being driven to an alley to be hacked into pieces. Well we did end up in an alley, but our hostel was at the back of an alley.

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Down the alley to Sanitum Youth Hostel, Copyright Michael Bencik 2014

Even at four in the morning there were three people just coming in from a night out, and after getting our key, two more people came in. Welcome to Beijing, the city that does not sleep. Nothing was more welcoming to us than the sight of our bed. I launched myself into it and was jolted by the impact of the rock-like mattress. Ugh, is it too much to ask for a little comfort.

Next day was a rest and recovery day. Yvonne was fighting off a bit of a cold and we we’re both exhausted. We managed to make it out of our hostel and wander the streets to a mall, where I discovered to buy movie tickets to GI Joe would be forty bucks, not worth it. But that was not the worst of it. We passed some carts selling various Chinese trinkets, statues, charms, and…. TIGER PAWS! That’s right, the cut off end of a tigers paw partially dried out and rotted, with some fur, bones, and sinews. WTF! Of course I was pissed when I saw this, so I did a video, which is below. The owners of the stalls did not like that, and I had one guy chase me away, while the other guy grabbed my arm and manhandled me while trying to grab the camera.

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Tiger paw being sold illegally on the street of Beijing, Copyright Michael Bencik 2014

It was infuriating; we saw at least six different paws, and about three pelts. The Chinese believe that the tiger gives you power, so parts of its body will make you stronger. They even use the penis of the tiger to aid in virility. Truly disgusting, take some Viagra. China had signed the CITIES agreement, which bans the trade of endangered species, but the government allows this to go on in the open. The government states that they have a captive population of tigers of 5000 while there are rough estimates of 3500 left in the wild. So they claim only captive ones are being used. But everywhere on my travels we met people who said China was buying up any wildlife that could be killed, including tigers. A tiger killed in the wild would be worth more than what a hunter could make in year. After months of seeing the lack of wild life in South East Asia, it was really disheartening to see the end product on the streets. I have said this before, and I will repeat it, there is not going to be any wildlife left in twenty years if we don’t do something soon.

“UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax

After my argument with the tiger sellers I was in need of a beer, so we hunkered down in the Hostel to have drink and dinner. The bar was great, with couches and chairs spread out creating a perfect atmosphere for meeting people, but also some nooks and crannies to hide out in also. A giant golden retriever was always there to ignore you, but whenever he backed up a beeping sound came out of him. After drinking some of my anger away, we settled in with the iPad to watch Downton Abbey. What else was I supposed to watch now that the Walking Dead was over and Game of Thrones would not download.

The next day we talked to the wonderful staff at Sanitum Youth Hostel, and they strongly advised against going to the forbidden city because it was Chinas Labor Day holiday, as well as the zoo, because they would be so packed. She suggested the Summer Palace, which might be a bit more calm. We walked to the subway and hopped on. The subways in Beijing are great, you can go anywhere for two yen. They are very clean, air conditioned, and marked very well. Once we left the land of the Morlocks, and felt bright sunshine on our face, a wall of humanity engulfed us. People everywhere, all of them Chinese. We had skipped breakfast in hopes of getting food at the palace, which was a very bad idea. We crossed the street to some restaurants, and we were literally escorted out by force. I guess they are not fans of Westerners. The third one finally let us sit down, but ordering was an ordeal. Yvonne was looking a bit pale at this point from hunger, but after what came out she was white as a ghost. No curdled fat sandwiches for her.

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Summer Palace, Beijing. Copyright Michael Bencik 2013

No one could point the right direction for the entrance, but by choosing the largest migration path, we shambled in. The Summer Palace was 77 hectares of land reserved for the emperor family as a way to get out of the city. The summer Palace has Lake Kunming in the middle, with two large hills over looking it. There were islands with palaces, hills with temples, boats with temples, and some throne rooms. It was very similar to my family’s cabin in the woods; minus all the palaces, temples, and luxuries. But we do have a throne there, a leaning out house with a large D hanging on the door.

All in all, there were beautiful buildings everywhere you looked. I would love to say the summer palace was one of the most beautiful architectural gardens in the world, and that it was awe inspiring to see but truthfully it was so packed with people that we were just locked into the system. Walk, snap a picture, shamble forward, snap, dodge kid, and shamble again. We accidentally ended up in a pathway with the lake on one side, palace wall on the other, with room for two people abreast. It was like Disney World at Easter. We were stuck in this line with all the spitting and picture taking we could handle for an hour. Finally freed of the line we started climbing up the hill hoping to reach to Perfume Pagoda. There were many of us climbing up the drainage ditch on the hill, because the lines were two long. Reaching the summit we were rewarded with a beautiful view and the pagoda. The pagoda was eight sided, five stories high, with every inch brightly painted with dragons and other celestial beings. The view over the lake was gorgeous, but again the people’s heads blocked everything.

We shot down the hill, with only a vague clue where to go. They gave us a pretty painted map, but it’s accuracy was non-existent. Eventually we made it down to the edge of the lake and sat down for some relaxation and the days drawing. People will slow down and glance over my shoulder when I am drawing. Occasionally a kid will poke me and ask some questions, or if he does not understand English, will give the thumbs up. This time a couple stopped to take pictures of my drawing over my head. Eventually they got over their shyness and started talking to me. They were a really nice Chinese couple enjoying the beautiful weather. Through broken English we had a good conversation about their kids, and why did we not have kids. Even in China my mother spies are out to pressure us. Well, after four hours of smothering humanity, we decided to power walk along the back gardens and hopefully out. The lilacs and lavenders smelled so sweet and spring had come to Beijing.

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Sanitum Youth Hostel, Copyright Michael Bencik 2014

We were still planning on having an early night, and were finishing our last beer when an American guy sat down across from us. I noticed he was reading the fifth book from Game Of Thrones, which I had just started myself, but his was a huge, monstrous hard cover edition. He was quick to join the conversation, and the next thing we realized the beers were flowing faster. His name was Flip, and he was starting a new job in Beijing, and had just arrived. I cannot say how exciting it must feel to move into a new country, city, with a strange language. Hell, it was a thrill when I moved into Philly by myself, but that seems tame in comparison. Meeting Chinese landlords, picking out apartments, figuring out a very different system. That is truly living. Well more beers flowed and we met Felix from Amsterdam, who was studying Chinese for a month, and also just arrived. I’m not sure if it was all just some crazy timing of new arrivals, but it became a late night for us. We wandered off to bed drunk, and Felix continued partying till three in the morning.

It was a rough day ahead, mainly spent in bed, and for me a daring excursion out to the theater. After all, Iron Man III just came out, and even at twenty bucks a ticket I could not resist. Although I do feel that it was the weakest of the four movies that he was in. It was interesting that there were large sections of Chinese in the movie. After a little research I found out that they catered the movie to China by adding sections only for them. A little movie marketing goes along way when you have over a billion people to but tickets.

The following are websites that you can go to and learn more about he plight of the tiger.

Tiger in Crisis

World Wildlife Fund

South China Tiger

Save Chinas Tigers

14 responses to “Tigers Can’t Change Their Stripes – Beijing, China

  1. Maybe I was too busy with the Great Wall & the summer palace cuz I didn’t see tiger paws…but I can totally believe that! There is this ancient Chinese saying, anything that walks with the back facing the sky is edible. My ppl are DEFINITELY not the lets save the bird save the whale type. Ppl need more education on that.

    • It was crazy, it was right in front of a high end shopping mall, in the middle of the city. It wasn’t anywhere near where tourist were. Things are changing slowly there though, which is great. I just hope the tiger last that long. Thanks for checking it out.

  2. Good for you, taking a stand on the tiger paws. I’m glad you made them uncomfortable, and I’m glad you got away safely, and with your camera. What an adventure all your adventures turn out to be! Yvonne must have to wear a seatbelt just to walk beside you, ha ha!

  3. Michael, thank you for following my site. I spent some time in Mongolia two different trips. I would advise you to try going there. It is quite different from China…and since they took their government back from the Russians in the ’90’s, it has become quite the place. The first time I went I taught English and the second time was to work with the street children in a Christian mission. You fly there out of Beijing. Best of everything as you find more of the world and yourself. Nancy

    • Hi Nancy,
      I have always had a keen interest in Mongolia, and it is top on my bucket list. There was a year which I went to three different films in the International Film Festival about Mongolia, and I was really smitten. Mike

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