This is the second report in my China and India trip series. My previous report covered the outbound journey from Las Vegas to Beijing via Vancouver, on Air Canada rouge and the mainline service. You can find it here.
Upon arrival in Beijing, our guide took us to our hotel, the stylish Pentahotel in the city center. The next day was when the tour really began. For the next two full days plus Sunday morning, the longest time we would spend in one city, we were in the magnificent city of Beijing! The city is filled with well-preserved historical sites, with the Great Wall a 2 hour drive away. We sure did a lot of walking here, strolling about in Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and elsewhere.
After visiting the Temple of Heaven, we were on our way to Xi’an, catching a high-speed train from Beijing West Railway Station. We were up late that night, visiting the ancient city walls and downtown shopping district. The next day we drove to the Terracotta Army, what Xi’an is known for. The train ride and sightseeing in Xi’an is covered in the second post of this report.
A great vegetarian lunch concluded our short time in the beautiful city. Then we headed to the airport for our 6:20 pm China Eastern flight to Guilin. The actual flight will be covered in the third post of this report. I hope you enjoy this second installment!
Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper -copyright © Karl L. Swartz.
Sightseeing in Beijing
Welcome to the capital of the People’s Republic of China, Beijing! There are so many historical sites, such as the one I was most interested in, Tiananmen Square. This meant our next 2 days in the city were going to be jam-packed with activity. Beijing is also a somewhat “flat” city, i.e. there aren’t many tall buildings or the skyscrapers you’d expect in a big city. Our guide had told us the reason, but unfortunately I can’t remember it.
Speaking of our guide, she was very informative. I probably learned the most information from her on this tour. It was sad to bid her farewell at the train station on Sunday morning, but we still had 3 more guides to meet! Now, let’s move on to the first destination of the tour.
We woke up early and headed down to an unexpectedly delicious breakfast. Some of the staples at a Chinese hotel breakfast, it appeared, are fried noodles and fried rice. I also regularly came upon sausage and baked beans. And of course there were the traditional breakfast pastries, like danishes and croissants. Anyways...
We drove through Beijing’s morning rush hour, bound for the gallery. Jade is a green colored stone that is supposedly very popular across China. First we saw how the stone is transformed into some really intricate pieces, then we entered a large gallery displaying the finished products. We ended up buying some souvenirs, but a few days later, one necklace we bought there just fell and broke! And I thought jade was supposed to be pretty strong...
The Sacred Road
This is basically a long path that is lined with ancient Chinese sculptures, like animals, mythical beasts, and Emperor Ming’s officials. Surrounding the path is some beautiful greenery. One interesting tidbit of information: the Chinese depict lions with curly hair because they are “foreign” animals. “Native” animals feature straight hair, corresponding with the straight hair that all Chinese people have.
We proceeded to our very first true Chinese lunch, at a restaurant near the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. My sister and I had some kung pao chicken, orange chicken, and other dishes; the food just kept on coming! My parents, who are vegetarians, had an eggplant dish and some spiced green beans, which tasted equally as good as our dishes. But my favorite was definitely the succulent kung pao!
And as you can see, no chopsticks for me...yet. Still, I felt bad for not knowing how to use China’s most important eating utensil! But I finally learned how to use chopsticks during our visit to Guilin and Yangshuo, which is covered in the next report.
Great Wall of China
Now we’re headed to one of the 7 wonders of the world: the Great Wall of China. Or more precisely, the Mutianyu section of it, which I believe is the closest to Beijing. It felt so weird to actually be standing on this wall! Our guide told us that we were double-lucky today, for the following reasons. First, there were clear blue skies today, as it would be again tomorrow (most visitors have to deal with China’s infamous fog/smog). Second, we were visiting the day before a new parking lot opened, where all private vehicles would have to stop and you’d have to board a shuttle bus to the wall.
We took a short cable car ride up to the wall, during which the views were already beautiful. There was lush greenery below and all around us. As we began walking on the wall, though, we realized how hot it was (approaching 100ºF / 38ºC), and I started sweating like crazy. We rested in the shade for a bit before heading back to the cable car station.
However, the cable car had broken down during the short time we were up there, so we now we needed to take the toboggan. My family was so scared of it for whatever reason, but I really enjoyed the ride! At the bottom, there were a lot of souvenir sellers under the tents, but we were too tired to purchase/bargain for any items.
Then we drove to a small pottery factory and gallery. The pottery pieces made here involve carving a sort of frame on top of them, then filling the cavities with bright paints. You can tell how tedious it is to sculpt and decorate these pieces from the below photos. After observing how the pieces are made, we were released to a large gallery, but we didn’t want to purchase anything so delicate on our big journey.
Soon we were heading back to the hotel, just in time for the evening rush hour. But tonight for dinner, we desperately needed Indian food again. Fortunately, my parents had printed out directions in Chinese to an Indian restaurant nearby. But when we finally hailed a taxi and showed the directions to the driver, we had the same problem that PlaneHunter experienced in Shanghai: the driver stared at the paper for a bit, then shook his head and drove off! Eventually we returned to the hotel and ordered delivery from the place, but the food wasn’t that good. Still, why hadn’t we thought of delivery before...
The place I was most interested in visiting on this whole tour (I won’t say it was my “favorite” place...) was Tiananmen Square. It felt like jumping back in time to the Cold War era: the red flag and yellow stars, Zedong Mao’s mausoleum, the statues, the national emblem, the giant portrait of Mao on the Tiananmen. Our guide, expectedly, didn’t mention the infamous massacre that took place here 2 decades ago.
The Forbidden City
We walked through the Tiananmen to enter the great Forbidden City. I couldn’t believe how gigantic this place is (there are 9,000 rooms), all constructed for the Emperor and his family. (Well, the Emperor’s family was pretty big, considering the thousands of wives he had.) Everywhere you walk, there are these elegant buildings with intricate paintings under the roofs. One of the big buildings I saw turned out to be just a waiting room for the Emperor’s guests! At their entrances stand two dragons, a male and a female. But sometimes you find a dragon and a phoenix (not the one from Harry Potter...). And on top of all this, a wide moat surrounds the palace.
Also, you’ll notice in the below pictures that many people are holding umbrellas, even though there are clear skies today. Well, the Chinese use umbrellas to shield themselves from not just rain, but the hot sun’s rays, as well. It seemed odd to us, but it’s actually pretty smart!
We kept on walking and walking throughout the city until we finally reached the cool palace garden, then the exit. I say “finally” because, just like yesterday, it was really hot today and we were all sweating a lot. Plus the place was crowded with people and tour groups. But I was still able to enjoy this amazing palace!
Traditional tea house
Before going to the Summer Palace, our guide took us to a tea house for a traditional tea ceremony. We all sat around a fancy wooden table, and an employee taught us how to hold our tea cups like the ancient peoples (it’s different for men and women). Then she specially prepared several different teas for us, such as jasmine tea, oolong tea, a pungent fruit tea, and pu’er tea (which my sister and I childishly laughed about). It was all a very interesting experience!
We purchased a few teas, including the fruit tea, which happened to be my favorite but my family didn’t like the pungency. We also got to take home two free “pee-pee boys.” You dip the clay figurines into some cold water, then pour hot water on them, and out squirts “pee”!
The Summer Palace
As another demonstration of his power, the Emperor had this entire palace built for him by the lake so his family could enjoy the summertime. It includes several gardens and a really long corridor with beautiful paintings all over the ceiling, so people could enjoy a stroll by the lake even when it was raining. After walking all the way down the corridor, stopping for some cold water and ice cream along the way, we took a ride on a dragon boat to the exit. A lavish place, indeed!
“Legend of Kung Fu” show
Our tour also offered the option of attending a night show, which were available in almost every city we visited. However, we did have to pay extra for the tickets. We decided to see the “Legend of Kung Fu” show at the Red Theatre on our last night in Beijing. It was a great show, with nice music and several fast-paced moments. However, since I was still adjusting to the time difference, I was really sleepy and couldn’t fully enjoy the show.
Temple of Heaven
We’re still not done with Beijing. Just before heading to the train station for our high-speed journey to Xi’an, we visited the Temple of Heaven in the morning fog. During the walk to the temple, we traveled down a wide, tree-lined path upon which many locals were playing an interesting game with their feet. A Google search reveals that it’s called “jianzi,” a traditional Asian game. My parents and sister even jumped into one game (I was too shy to participate), and we bought a shuttlecock to play at home.
Soon we reached the temple. Then we walked down a long, wide path to the Temple of Earth. Another interesting fact: the middle stone path is reserved for the “King of Heaven,” while the Emperor must walk on one of the side paths.
[Edited 2014-07-20 13:51:40]