A Travellerspoint blog

China

Finishing Beijing with a Bang

The Great Wall of China, The Summer Palace, and the Olympic Village

overcast 90 °F

The typhoons in Shanghai gave Beijing an 80% chance of rain for today, but given our luck in Tokyo (knock on wood!), we decided to go forward with our plans. We had a private tour of the Great Wall of China, the Summer Palace, and the Olympic Village lined up, and all three turned out great (and dry)!

Echo, our personal tour guide, showed up in our hotel lobby at 8am, and brought us to our driver, who drove the three of us 1.5 hours to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China. Despite our tour guide offering (read: begging) the cable car, we decided to hike up to the Great Wall. The smile below is because he didn't actually realize how many stairs would be involved!
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After many, many stairs, we arrived at the Great Wall, and it was just as incredible as we had imagined. The Wall, which was started as early as the 7th century BC and finished around 600 years ago, stretches between 8,850 and 21,196 km (estimates vary because so much of it is in poor condition). It was used to protect Beijing against Mongolian invaders, who according to Echo wanted the silk, spices, and other treasures.
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We hiked around the Great Wall for a while, exploring the watchtowers, climbing more stairs, and pretty much standing in awe of our first of the 7 Wonders of the World! (OK, after I Googled "7 Wonders of the World," I now realize that there are dozens of lists of 7 Wonders, but we still consider this a biggie!)
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After descending and leaving the Wall, we headed to a tour-company-operated restaurant attached to a cloisonne (French ceramic shop). We got a tour of the very in-depth ceramic making process, and then got to explore the showroom, which contained a few items worth over $10K (US dollars)! This is my "I think this is cool, but I'm really hot, sweaty, and hungry, and I feel kind of awkward taking a picture with this guy" face :).
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The lunch they served us was amazing, but tons of food. They swear it is normal to have 3 dishes (chicken with peanuts, sweet and sour pork, vegetables) plus sides (rice, soup, tea, watermelon) for 2 people - but it was far more than we could handle!
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After lunch, we drove to the Summer Palace, which was used mainly by the Qing Dynasty as a place for the Emperor to get away during the summer months (1750-early 1900s). Like the other Chinese palaces, this was more like a village of smaller buildings, which each had different purposes (reading, relaxing, praying, receiving visitors). Kevin is standing in front of the Emperor's mother's quarters, and we learned that she actually had all the power, but the Emperor was the "puppet" or figurehead.
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We passed through the Long Corridor, which has more than 8,000 of these gorgeous paintings and overlooks the water - the Emperor had a huge private lake as well, which the temple on Longevity Hill (also pictured) overlooks!
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The first "boat" below is made entirely of marble, and is immobile but was constructed to show the strength and power of the Dynasty. We rode on the second boat across the lake, which was very relaxing!
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Finally, we drove to the Olympic Village, which we had requested be added to our visit. It was so fun to see the Bird's Nest, the swimming building, and the whole area which was constructed just for the Olympics - Echo said that it cost Beijing 18 billion yuan (~$2.8 billion US), which seemed high to us, but after a bit of non-scientific research, it looks like estimates go all the way up to $43 billion, when all is said and done - WOW! (Yes, we each got our obligatory Usain Bolt photo, and by the way, Echo mentioned that she "only" got to go to one event during the 2008 Olympics, which happened to be the men's 100m!!!! She had no idea who Usain Bolt was, though ... ). That is Echo in the photo below, although we were stopped for a few photos with random people as well, who may not have ever seen foreigners according to Echo!
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After an exhausting day, we came back to relax, work out, and head to dinner (the same place as last night because it was so good!) I again ordered the tofu and vegetable hot pot again, and Kev got shrimp and cashews. Delicious!
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Our 4:30am wake up call is going to come quickly, but relaxation in Thailand awaits ... !
-Megan and Kevin

Posted by megandkev 06:18 Archived in China Comments (1)

Discovering Beijing

Temple of Heaven, Tianmen Square, Forbidden City, Jingshan Park, and Chinese food

overcast 88 °F

I'm tired just thinking about all that we packed into today, so hopefully that will make me not drone on and bore you all. It was a jam-packed day and we got to see a lot of Beijing's treasures!

Our day started off with a workout and breakfast, and we snapped this picture from our hotel window to show some of the haze that is constant in the city.
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We took a cab to the Temple of Heaven, which was built in 1420 as a place to offer sacrifice to Heaven, and was used until 1918 to pray for good harvests. As seems to be the trend in China, the Temple was not just one building, but was a complex of many buildings all linked by walkways, bridges, and covered halls. The buildings were incredible, and each one had a particular purpose (a building to choose the sacrificial animals, a building to sacrifice the animals, a few buildings for ceremonies, a building for the Emperor to rest while walking in between buildings, a building for the Emperor to change clothes, etc.).
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The Temple of Heaven also had some beautiful parks surrounding the buildings, and we walked around for a while enjoying them.
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When we left the Temple, I was dying to buy this huge stick of melon from a street vendor. We negotiated from $0.60 to $0.45, but another vendor told us afterwards that we should have gotten it for $0.30 ... oh well :). We began our long walk to Tianmen Square from this point, and were getting really hungry so we decided to try this "off the beaten path" restaurant since it was the only one we could find. It looks a bit scary, but it was actually amazing! I got the "Healthy Vegetarian," which was a bunch of mushrooms and veggies, and Kev got "Spicy Peanut Chicken" and rice. And all this food (plus bottled water) was about $7! We made "friends" with an adorable little Chinese boy who could NOT stop staring at us (and, incidentally, this seems to be the case in general - we had several people point, take photos of us, laugh, giggle, and stare ... we're not sure if it's the blonde hair or something else, as there seem to be a fair number of white tourists here!).
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After lunch, we continued our walk, and stumbled across this huge hotel and some kind of government building.
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Finally, we reached Tianmen Square, which is the 3rd largest city square in the world (behind Merdeka Square in Jakarta and Praca dos Girassois in Brazil). It has been the site of several historical Chinese events, and now holds the remains of Chairman Mao (which we didn't go visit due to time constraints). The Square was huge and there were so many people milling about! The police coverage was very thorough, probably due to the many protests that have occurred here. The poor workers in the picture were scraping the grout between tiles - that's a big job for a 440,000 sq. meter square!
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Directly across from the Square was the Forbidden City. We accidentally bought tickets to an exhibit rather than the City itself, and a clever man was waiting right past the ticket booth ready to buy our tickets from us for $3 (we paid $4.50) ... wonder how many dumb American tourists he's gotten with that trick? The Forbidden City was another enormous complex of buildings that served as the home of emperors and the center of politics in China for almost 500 years (~1420-1912). We read that the complex took 15 years and over a million workers to build! While we obviously didn't make it into all 980 buildings in the city, we enjoyed exploring as much as possible.
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The Forbidden City was the home to 24 emperors, and again had buildings for various purposes, including different religious and political ceremonies held by the emperors, homes for their servants and concubines, and more. The Palace of Heavenly Purity in the picture below is where the emperor would receive audiences.
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Upon exiting the Forbidden City, we saw another pretty building on top of a hill, and realized that this was in Jingshan Park, which was next on our agenda. More than a few stairs later, we were at the top of the hill in a pavilion overlooking the Forbidden City. There was a large Buddha in the pavilion there, and we also came across the very central point of Beijing!
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On our walk down, I made a comment that a noise I heard sounded like a dragon ... well, imagine our surprise when we stumbled across a bunch of moving and "talking" dinosaurs! We still have no idea what they were doing in an imperial garden, but they were fun to look at (walking for 6+ hours at this point had me going a little crazy!).
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After showers and a few emails, we made our way to another authentic restaurant that we happened upon near our hotel. I ordered the vegetable and tofu hot pot (which was soooo good and so big!), Kev ordered steamed dumplings, and we shared broccoli and fried rice. It was way more food than we could eat (for $15) but it was great! Since I know everyone cares, I'll let you know that all this cheap food is making up for the $40 running shorts I finally caved and bought tonight. We're clearly looking in the wrong places for these things, but after 7 days my long orange men's shorts and tiny men's bike shorts could use a little replacement! Anyway, after watching some Olympics (trying to stay up to catch women's floor exercise!), I'm going to join my better half sleeping shortly - one more big day in Beijing tomorrow!
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-Megan and Kevin

Posted by megandkev 06:20 Archived in China Comments (0)

Beijing Beginnings

Travel to Beijing, Lama temple, Chinese restaurant

overcast 85 °F

Here we are in China, and good news - our blog works! Only a few sites (Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, MSNBC.com) seem to be shut down.

Today started bright and early again (the only part of this vacation that I'm not upset to give up!) with a 5:15am wake up call to meet our Airport Limousine (bus) that would take us to Tokyo Narita Airport. The ride and flight were both without issue. We slept a little, did some very balanced reading (Us Weekly and Newsweek for me!), and ate this meal, which was a pretty neat concept of 6 mini appetizers in a box (and yes, I ate "Japanese Hamburger Steak" from a plane ... something I'd never thought I'd say!).
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By the time we got through customs, into a cab, and to our hotel, it was around 3pm. In that short time we had the chance to make several observations about Beijing: first, while the people certainly aren't rude, they do not have the constant bubbly happiness and genuine humility of the Japanese. Most store employees look straight ahead and don't make eye contact with you, there is very little bowing or smiling, and people definitely stare at Americans as if they are intruding (we knew this from some pre-reading before coming here). Much of this has to do with the Chinese concept of "saving face," which I read a bit about before coming, and which causes the Chinese to express very few emotions. Second, what we had heard about the pollution levels in Beijing unfortunately seems to be true. The sky seems to be in a constant state of heavy fog - even though you can't really feel it as you breathe, our eyes have been stinging just a bit and looking out at the horizon lets you know that it is definitely there. Finally, driving around here is a bit chaotic! We haven't had seat belts in any of the 3 cabs we've been in, and have had a few instances of grabbing onto our seats, but everyone seems to know what they're doing and understand "the rules," so I guess it works out!

After arriving at our hotel, we quickly hopped in a cab to get to the Lama Temple (or the "YongHeGong Lama Temple," or the "Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple") with enough time to explore before closing (last entrance at 4:30, closing at 5). I wasn't feeling great at this point and kind of wanted to skip it, but I'm really glad we ended up going. The Temple was built in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty and served as a residence for Emperor YongZheng when he was a prince. When he took the throne in 1722, half of the Temple was converted into a lamasery (a monastery of lamas). Since that time, the Lama Temple has undergone several restorations and has remained one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world.
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The visit was a great one - the Temple is composed of several buildings, each holding various Buddha statues and shrines. Buddhists present three sticks of incense to give thanks for the Buddhist teachings, and kneel and bow in front of the statues. We were very impressed by the first few Buddhas we saw, but as you go from building to building, they keep getting bigger, more elaborate, and more beautiful!
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By the time we got to the main building, the Buddha inside was unbelievable - it stands 18 meters tall, and was supposedly carved from a single sandalwood tree, which took several years to transport from Tibet. It is the Maitreya Buddha, who is believed to be a future Buddha that will appear on Earth to achieve enlightenment and teach the pure dharma. Behind the Maitreya sit 10,000 smaller Buddhas within the building, which is called the Ten Thousand Happiness Building. Because pictures were not allowed inside the buildings, I've borrowed some from a few websites to post here. You can't even imagine how enormous this was, though!
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After wandering around the Temple and struggling to find a cab driver who would take us back to our hotel, we hit the gym for a workout. We then headed to dinner - we intended to meander around the area until we found something that looked good, and we stumbled upon a restaurant whose menu had pictures and English words - jackpot! I think we missed the memo that this was a family-style restaurant, though, because we ordered enough to feed many more than ourselves! I ordered the "braised vegetables with mushrooms" and the "tofu and vegetable soup" ... and check out the size of that soup (relative to Kevin's body in the background). Seriously, it was as big as both of our heads combined. It was delicious, and so wonderful to have some vegetables, but I obviously couldn't finish it all. Kevin got the shrimp fried rice and dumplings (which I didn't get a picture of).
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After dinner, we wandered a bit more and headed to a mall/ department store to continue the quest for running shorts (no luck, but my men's shorts will survive another day!). We found a supermarket in the basement and picked up some water and goodies for tomorrow's breakfast. After a bit of Olympics watching, we are going to call it a day and get ready for a big day in Beijing tomorrow!
-Megan and Kevin

Posted by megandkev 06:56 Archived in China Comments (0)

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