A Travellerspoint blog



Guess we’re not in Kansas anymore…

sunny 50 °F

As foreign as Beijing seemed, there was something familiar about it. Perhaps it was the Hyatt hotel we were staying in, or maybe it was all the English speakers, or possibly all the outdoor advertisements featuring American athletes or film stars, or probably because it shares so much with other mega-cities like New York, LA, or Paris; It always seems to have purpose or directed energy. Our two hour flight to Xining landed at 8:30 and the airport terminal was dark. Literally, the lights were off. That’s not totally true. There were lights, but the lights you might expect in a hallway during a power failure where the exit sign glows. Not the lights of an airport. Our bags met the carousel promptly and we were met by a driver and a local Xining expert whose name was “Lucky” who we all pronounced as Naki or Nochi for the next few days (whoops). We drove an hour to town and it was dark most of the way. We checked into the hotel with some lively discussion with the front desk about the concept of adjoining rooms that I won’t go into, and we settled-in for a night’s sleep in a beautiful room, that featured four spectacular beds of linen covered cement. The whole truth is that sleep followed a visit from an engineer who opened the doors between our rooms, apparently a very complex operation, as well as a visit from the hotel’s general manager who brought water and beer to the room, after a room service call, requesting that I pay in cash right there in the spot. I did. The beer was warm….. and most excellent.

We awoke to 20th story windows, displaying a town shrouded in blue-gray, quietly masking skeletons of buildings that looked like they started with bang and ran out of money… This is the town where we will meet the Beijing to Tibet train that will take us to Lhasa, but while we’re here, we thought we’d check out the surroundings. We were whisked away after breakfast. We drove through the city of more than a million, and were astonished by the difference between Beijing and this town. This urban center is rural. The contrast was palpable. Tall buildings meet tractors that double as hoes. Audi A4s drive along side three wheel work contraptions, over-flowing with Barley 10 feet high. We drove for a few hours, and saw the contrast disappear with every kilometer. We drove through farm lands and bustling tiny towns made of brick and mud. The altitude was now close to 11,000 ft. We stopped briefly at a remote Tibetan Buddhist Temple at Sun Moon Mountain, for some mugging and photos with locals, (sitting on Yaks and the like), and then moved on to Quinghai Lake, (China’s largest saltwater lake), where it snowed, hailed and rained, while shepherds marshaled sheep and cows across the plains like it was 75 degrees in Los Angeles. We met locals on horseback. We ate in a restaurant where you could see your breath. We marveled at the desolation of this place, and the “on water hotel” used in the summer (August – but no swimming) by folks venturing from the big city. The air was thin and made us all dizzy for a few moments, or was it the out of body experience of just being here. This isn’t Kansas anymore, is it?

Tu is better than two...
The next day in Xining we visited our first Buddhist Monastery outside of town about 20 kilometers. It was pretty wild. Photo snapping tourists, old monks with the latest cell phones, and folks that have made a pilgrimage to praise Buddha intermingle in a Yak-butter-candle haze. Pilgrims that have sold everything they had to get closer to Buddha and god, sit on streets begging for money or candy or food, so they can get back home or finish their pilgrimage. We ate at a local noodle shop, and ventured to a minority village. There are 55 minorities in China; Mongols, Manchruians, etc.. We visited the “Tu” minority – whose core economic focus is making barely wine – which we drank upon arriving and leaving. I kept asking where the second minority group was, because we were to see Tu minorities and I had only seen one. Carol pointed out that it wasn’t “two” minorities it was the “Tu” minority. I was so dense that I didn’t get it and belly laughed when I did. Was it the Barely Wine? I dunno…..hiccup.

Before we hit the train to Tibet hat evening, we skateboarded in a beautiful and huge park in downtown Xining, which once again attracted a large crowd, and this time… other skaters…! The boys exchanged tricks and hand shakes. It was cultural exchange at it’s best. The most common phrase uttered by the Xining local skaters, was “Shit!” as they muffed a trick. English is alive and well in Xining! The Xining people were awesome and did try and converse a bunch. But English doesn’t always make sense, like the back of the many buses in Xining… yet it’s vastly better than our nonexistent Chinese… The people of Xining were some of the nicest we’ve met on the trip.

Posted by Blakei 19:24 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Our last days in Beijing

Rapid-fire cultural interchange... well not really...


Our last days in Beijing were a smorgasbord of family activities, drinking in some of the culture of Beijing and introducing some of our own culture to Beijing. We did so much over the last few days, it’s just too much to cover in any detail, so here’s the run through; Shopping at Panjiyuan Market, (a bizarre for local arts and crafts), shopping the Silk Market, (a multi story venue for great bargains on commercial goods), seeing the flags raised at Dawn over Tiananmen Square, (was really fun getting the kids up for this), enjoying Peking Duck dinner, seeing a humorous (and ear piercing) performance of the Beijing Opera, Bicycling around Beijing, and doing a fair amount of skating. We also got to visit Rebecca’s, home and meet her mom, which was great unexpected treat. The past 9 days gave us a relatively balanced view of Beijing for a nine day visit.

The Skating Spectacle
We were told by our guide that the “catherdral” is where we should skate, so we visited the catherdral and skated it up a couple of days. A nice spot for both wedding photos and skating it seems – and the two can coexist. It was quite funny to see the boys be embraced by the Beijingers as “stars” of the skate world. They don’t see many western skaters, and so cameras would come out and folks would take pictures with the boys and some even handed baby’s over to the boys to get their picture taken. The boys got a bit tired of this, just wanting to skate.

Cycling Beijing
We marveled throughout Beijing how taxis, cars, buses, pedestrians, and the millions of cyclists peacefully coexist. Our driver, John was so smooth, that is was like watching an old school long boarder slowly carving a wave, while simultaneously maneuvering around heaps of agro short boarders that continuously drop in on him. We couldn’t understand how this all works. We saw pedestrians calmly standing on the double yellow line while buses passed in both directions leaving a scant few inches on both sides. We couldn’t figure it out…. until we cycled. As it turns out, everyone is so harmoniously aware of everyone else, regardless of vehicle type or lack thereof, that it’s less like the long-boarder in a gaggle of thrusters, and it’s much more like multiple schools of fish swimming harmoniously in a congested stream, never bumpinig into each other, but always knowing the other school is there. We had so much fun cycling around, you felt alive and part of it all, and it all finally made sense. We swam through the city with other cyclists, buses, taxis, cars and pedestrians and never felt like prey. I can’t even say that about riding in our little city – where I have nearly been run down by unaware college students. Truly amazing – the streets of Beijing.

Posted by Blakei 06:35 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (3)

The Great Wall Mutiyanyu

Built by hand – some of ‘em still in the wall!

70 °F

1015blog8_com.jpgThere are a couple of places outside of Beijing where the Great Wall of China has been restored for the purpose of tourism. One is the Badalang section which is the most heavily toured and the second is Mutiyanyu. We chose the latter. Everything you’ve heard about the wall is true. It really is kind of unbelievable that this thing was ever built. As you stand in one of the guard towers and look out over this 20 foot tall wall snaking it’s way for miles across steep mountain sides and mountain tops, you think it just isn’t possible that this was ever done by men, let alone by men who had tools from the 13th century. Ancient rumors abound that a not-so-small bit of the mortar holding the massive bricks together is composed of the good countrymen that built it, believe it or not. Perhaps even more unbelievable is that the emperors who commanded the wall be built, thought that this mass would keep marauding hordes out. We know how that turned out. Well, we took in the sites – restored wall, unrestored wall, and the fun touristy things that have been built there to get you up to the wall and back. (a chair lift to get you there and “luge” to rush you down). We let the kids take their skateboards and let them skate the wall. Our tour guide Rebecca thought “Hey, why not?” The boys did it and actually found sections where they could skate the stairs. Here are ra few pics to record out wall outing...
We went to the Kempinsky compound near Badalang that overlooks the wall and is used for Corporate outings and the like for lunch, in f act, Landrover was having an event there. I wouldn’t include it in this entry, but they had a wall made out of peacock feathers in our little private dining room that was astounding, and the food was some of the best we had as well. We drove a looooong way this day and decided we are going to chill on the driving long distance from Beijing from here on out.

The boys have their own blog now and to get their unique POV on the wall and other observations, try http://twobrotherstravel.travellerspoint.com

Posted by Blakei 19:28 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

The Temple of Heaven

A Beijing community comes to gather

sunny 70 °F

We did homework in the morning, then skated near the hotel at a great little spot for a while, before being kicked out by a security guard. We took the new Beijing subway line number 5 that has been open only three weeks. The entrance was only about 800 yards from the hotel. It was amazingly clean (I guess it should have been after only three weeks) and it took us down to the Temple of Heaven which was as beautiful as the summer palace.
The Temple of heaven is where the Emperors would go to pray for a great harvest among other things. The coolest thing about the Temple of Heaven wasn’t the beauty of the grounds or the architecture. The most wonderful thing was all the locals that were playing checkers, singing in choirs, singing karaoke, crocheting, playing Chinese hacky sack or for that matter, just hanging out with their family or neighbors. The grounds form a park where locals gather to celebrate life. We got a glimpse of “Sunday at the Temple” where folks just hang with their friends. One man was crooning Chinese Opera through a crackling old portable stereo, a choir of older Chinese men and women were belting out folk songs, toddlers waddled quickly with doting parents on the ready for the next tumble. It was fantastic.
We finished the day at the Panjiayuan flea market for a few hours, where antiques are sold, and where Carol picked up a couple of very unique old world (or just plain strange) artifacts from years gone by. We will go back to this place on this trip.

Posted by Blakei 18:28 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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)

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