A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about family travel

Our last days in Beijing

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

sunny

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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...
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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)

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