A Travellerspoint blog

October 2007

The Summer Palace

On a not-so-summer like day...

rain 64 °F

After exploring the marvels of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, as well as experiencing the simple pleasures of lunch in a Beijing hutong household, and a visit to a 4th grade class room just the day before, this day was at a disadvantage from the start. On the 13th, we had rain, drizzle and haze to start the day; a bit ironic for a visit to the summer palace. In spite of that, the summer palace was incredible. Built in 1420 and rebuilt after the British burned it down in the late 1800s, it is a “must visit”. It was rebuilt by the reigning empress in the 1800s who spent money designated for the Chinese Navy for this spectacular palace. Larger in sq km than the forbidden city, (though mostly lake) the palace is opulent by Chinese standards and fabulous details and colors abound. We walked in on foot and took a boat out – which should give you some sense of the scale. We climbed hundreds of steps to the top of the Buddhist temple that sits atop the palace. The view was gray and rainy – but you could imagine an empress years ago looking across her dynasty from the temple.
We went to lunch in a cafeteria style restaurant where a mostly “minority” clientele hung out – a Muslim neighborhood as our guide called it. In most of the places we’ve been eating meals. We’re the only light “European” faces in the place or for that matter the neighborhood. This is one of the real treats of having a great guide with an intimate knowledge of Beijing neighborhoods. By the way – all the things you’ve heard about Beijing food being awful is wrong. We’ve been impressed every night by the variety, quality and the great tastes.
We also visited a soho-esque area called “798” art space which is where the Beijing artists hang out. We saw some excellent work and some fantastic talent. We could have spent more time there but the kids …. the kids found some walls to jump off of, if that does a reasonable job of explaining what they thought of the place….. We finished the night with a visit to a kung-fu theatre that was part Broadway performance and part martial arts spectacular. It was a fun show chronicling the growth of a young boy as he transforms into a man in a Buddhist monastery. The athletes in the show did things that make my body hurt just thinking about it. Breaking stones over their heads, laying on spears, and swords performing incredible acrobatics. Ouch.

Posted by Blakei 17:37 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Sooo many sites...

Forbidden City, Tiananmene Square and a Beijing Hutong

sunny 70 °F

Today was really our first day to get out and experience the city with Rebecca, our guide. It was packed. We had lunch with a local family, a visit to a small elementary school, a walk through the Forbidden City, and then across Tiananmen Square.

The lunch was in the home of a gracious local family who prepared a meal for us that was the same type of food they eat day to day. It was charming and delicious with rice from the north (fluffier than what you're used to in the states), cauliflower in a tomato sauce. Who would have thunk it would be so yummy. And the boys were shown how to make dumplings which proved much harder than it looks.
The school we visited was a local elementary school. The grounds were pristine, with shiny little red polka dotted trash cans all over. They were shaped like mushrooms designed by Willie Wonka. Above many of the trash cans, were communist philosophical sayings like “we are better as one” and “strenuousness makes good achievement”. After we walked around the playground, which had a long line of ping pong tables and an Astroturf basketball court sprinkled with white sand, we were invited to visit a fourth grade class. The students were wonderful; friendly and shy at the same time. They could choose to introduce themselves in English. (all students in china start to learn English in the 3rd grade) Their diction was excellent and punctuated with a crispness that makes consonants pop, and vowels smile, and they all said hello (never hi) and some said Hell-o, my name is “your name here” and I like to watch TV and play table tennis.
After a short rickshaw ride, we arrived at the Forbidden City. Wow… A sentence can’t describe it well. Massive. City… Palace... Compound... House... with the juxtaposed contrast of tiny bedrooms and dining areas struggling to maintain some essence of feng shui. This would be something to see on MTV Cribs. The buildings were ornate with beautiful ceramic tile and stonework. It was built in 1420 for the Emperor. His wife, concubines, and a few men sans their private parts also got to live there too. I have never seen such a grand statement to power.
As you leave the Forbidden City, you walk through an arch under the smiling face of “the chairman”. Walking toward Tiananmen square, you look over your shoulder and see the huge painting of Mao which is so infamous. It is hung high on the south wall of Forbidden city looking out over Tiananmen Square. It too is quite a statement. It’s about 28 feet tall and is changed every few years so it always looks new, and he always looks young. Pictures of the painting don’t capture the scale. (We’ll add a photo to show you <g>;). It was a Chinese holiday marking the beginning of the cultural revolution, and people were everywhere taking photos of themselves in front of Mao’s. There were also lots of police and military men (no women) everywhere. There was quite a contrast between the smiling Chinese citizenry with the grim and sober faces of the larger-than-usual military force.

We walked under the street to Tiananmen, and then left the square for dinner. A loooong day.

Posted by CarolHilly 21:48 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Acclimatizing to Beijing

A walking and skating tour… ?


It’s our first full day in Beijing and we wanted this day to be about acclimatization – not “touring of sites”. So today we started our family workout regimen, ate a healthy breakfast, and familiarized ourselves with the immediate area around the hotel. Parker and Griffin rode skateboards for about a 5 kilometer perimeter behind our hotel and did tricks on sidewalks while Carol and I watched passersby gawking, pointing and in some cases, taking pictures. It was cool to bring a little bit of California with us to Beijing and it was appreciated with smiles and waves. We also found some pretty fun little skate spots - one right next to the hotel. We had dinner with some good friends from Beijing, Harry Shum, his wife Ka Yan and their kids Matthew and Michael. Griffin was so tired and time zone wacked that he fell asleep at the table and was covered by the wait staff with a blanket.

Posted by Blakei 04:38 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Arriving in Beijing

You can stay awake – you can stay awake…

semi-overcast 70 °F

Our flight to Beijing was “uneventful”. It’s the best you can hope for in today’s airline industry. We were lucky enough to get free upgrades to business class – so the kids got to sit in the top of the 747 with reclining seats. It didn’t help them sleep. “We’re so excited we just can’t sleep!”… so about one hour before we land, the kids are sound asleep and we have to wake them. Ugh. Walk of the living dead.

Short waits in immigration, baggage claim, and customs, then we pour through frosted glass doors into a noisy mass of Chinese faces, lined up along our entry walkway. Outstretched arms hold hand drawn placards, with western names awkwardly scribbled. We spot our names, held by a smiling bespectacled woman. We introduce ourselves – she is Rebecca and she loves Griffin. We are chopped liver. Arm-in- arm Griffin and Rebecca walk toward the garage and the cell-phone summoned Van. We load our bags into the large (and I mean large) white van and are off to the Grand Hyatt in Downtown Beijing. We pass things that are eastern and unfamiliar, western and recognizable, all seen through the “fog” as Rebecca referred to it. There is such contrast – even though the haze that reminded me of Los Angeles’ fine air quality in 1968.

We arrive at the hotel and we are assigned to a room that I have stayed in a few times before. It’s a great room with a living area and two bedrooms and it will be a great place to hang out for the next 8 days and get accustomed to living out of suitcases. We drove with Rebecca to a “local” restaurant and the kids did an admirable job staying awake through the spinning of the large lazy-susan, looking engaged in the conversation and simultaneously horrified by the unrecognizable food as it passed before them. It was like strange food roulette. Foreshadowing for 35 dinners in China? The lazy-susan slowed and all of our eyes became glassy and a bit empty as we ran headlong into the 16 hour time-zone change. On the drive back to the hotel, our necks went limp, and our eyes shut – awakening for a brief “dead man walking” lobby slog to the elevator and eventually… our beds… o-u-t.

Posted by Blakei 18:26 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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