Foolish Pre-Travel Decision #1: Not seeing a doctor about my swollen lymph nodes/neck/sinus problems, resulting in several vacation days spent in a self-medicated haze
Foolish Pre-Travel Decision #2: Drinking at a work party until one on the eve of my departure. DUMB, dumb, dumb. Karmic payback = state of general mindlessness/a 6 pm bedtime my first night in China
Lodgings: Sanlitun Youth Hostel
- Pros: nice bilingual staff, delicious Western-style breakfast served in the morning with really good coffee, proximity to subway
- Cons: proximity to dubious ex-pat frequented bar district (Sanlitun), the in-hostel bar packed every night with dubious traveling folk eager to talk at length about things like black holes/the space-time continuum
Seeing as I was by myself, I wanted to make sure I accomplished all of this "Important" stuff--so I booked two tours via my travel agent--a City tour + a Great Wall tour.
I had eight different tour mates on each day:
City tour = three Tanzanian-Indians, three South Africans, two Colombians, + me
Great Wall tour = three middle-aged female marine biologists (one German, two American), their Chinese friend/ex-coworker, four Cantonese-Canadians from Vancouver +me
Being in Beijing made me realize how few tourists you run into in Seoul...Beijing has a much more international feel because of its tourist attractions, for better or for worse.
- The Forbidden City (The world's largest surviving palace complex, seat of the Ming Dynasty)
Chinese emperors sure love their porous rocks; this stuff was everywhere
- The Great Wall (World Wonder, older than Jesus)
Did you know there's a cable car? I sure didn't, until I was on it
It was a little bit foggy/smoggy, but still epic
Epic, or rather, EPIC
It was windy and I kept on having Marilyn Monroe moments with my skirt; wardrobe FAIL
- The Summer Palace (Royal retreat for one of China's most infamous empresses/badasses, Cixi)
The weather was PERFECT, the cross-lake views were amazing
Everything is more ginormous in person
From the water taxi
- The Temple of Heaven (Royal Taoist temple where sacrifices were made regularly by emperors)
Note the hordes of jumpsuit-sporting Chinese tourists--most of the tourists in Beijing are Chinese, I think
- Tienanmen Square (Largest city square in the world)
There was inspirational symphonic music playing, no joke
Me and Mao
Plus Some Equally as Impressive But Less Frequented Stuff
I had three days of non-touring to do whatever I wanted. I met up with my fellow teacher buddy/fellow Uijeongbu-inhabitant Justin for some of the time, which was cool/allowed me to complain about Korea Being Better with someone.
- Yonghe/Lama Temple (The Biggest/Most Important Tibetan Buddhist temple in the world)
Inside the building on the right, there's a 150-foot Buddah statue, carved from a single piece of sandstone that I was not allowed to photograph
- Bei Hie Park (ancient Imperial garden from the 10th century)
The big white thing is called a Dagoba--it contains the remains of a bunch of dead monks
- 798 Art District (A new-ish center for contemporary Chinese artists located in a refurbished factory district on the outside of the city. The Meat Packing District of Beijing, you could say)
A lot of Beijingers think the area is really gentrified now--there are lots of cafes/shops catering to tourists
Artist = Pan Lin, paintings on rearview mirrors
Artist = Surasi Kusolwong
A room full of bikes covered in yarn!
This was a huge, foggy, warm, glowing room of varying colors. Artists = Olafur Eliasson and Ma Yansong
There's lots of Mao-inspired/ironic/political stuff around 798; kind of surprising to me
- Hou Hai (an older area of the city filled with hutongs--old style, home-lined alleyways of sorts which all Beijingers used to live in)
Hutongs are disappearing, as most modern Chinese prefer to live in apartments these days
Around Hou Hai, most of the "preserved" hutongs are now lined with bars/shops/touristy things...some are apparently know for their raucous nightlife, which seems a bit wrong
- Wangfujing (one of Beijing's most famous shopping districts, known for its night market which sells all kinds of weird foods)
The lights really reminded me of Seoul here^^
Definitely didn't eat this stuff...speaking of which...
- Peking duck
It was served with crepe-like pancakes/cucumbers/tiny spring onions for wrapping. Delicious.
- Korean food--Bibimbap on my first night, when I was too crabby/stressed/upset to deal with weird Chinese food
- A really, really delicious hot dog while out late one night drinking w/Justin Teacher
- A variety of street foods
I bought this rice-pudding/red-bean stuff because I saw hordes and hordes of Chinese people eating it. It was tasty.
Tang hu lu, candied hawthorn berries
I wanted to try a weird food in Wangfujing--these mysterious BALLZ were porky/salty/delicious
My favorite meal in China: On my last day, I bought a mysterious sandwich from a street vendor. My research tells me it was probably shaobing: Chinese flatbread, between which was sandwiched fried egg, pork, lettuce, and spicy paste which tasted like it has anise in it. My vendor wrapped it up in a plastic baggy, and I hopped on the subway and went back to Tienanmen Square and had breakfast on a park bench. It was perfect.
The meal about which I will feel no shame: a goat cheese/roasted veggie sandwich served w/ a huge mesclun salad. Purchased at a fancy tapas restaurant in the ex-pat district near my hostel
I also really liked the tea in China, which was served loose-leaf for the most part:
Stuff Purchased: A cheesy "I Climbed the Great Wall" T-shirt, a pearl necklace (for $29), knock0ff Converse ($25), a sweet new handbag ($20) (the last two I bargained for at the knockoff market--I am so pro at bargaining)
A Favorite Home Away from Home Moment: At the Temple of Heaven, I was standing around taking pictures. I noticed/heard a Korean family close by--I creeped closer to them. Dad was art directing a family photo, and clearly looking around for someone to take a picture. Dad makes eye contact with me and turns to his son, saying something to the effect of "I don't spend all that money on your English lessons for nothing. Go ask her to take a picture." Son comes over to me with the camera and says, in perfect English, "Excuse me, can you take a picture of us?" Delighted, I say "Of course!" and then, like the creeper I am, add "Are you from Korea? Anyeonghaseyo!" They all laugh, and are dazzled when I count in Sino-Korean: "Hannah, Duel, Set" while taking their picture. Just a warm fuzzy with MY Eastern Asian people of choice, is all