Sunday, April 28, 2013

Final Thoughts on Beijing

We enjoyed Beijing, we did, but 7 days there was a bit much when you don't know the language and have to rely on the tour books.  We were surprised at how provincial Beijing felt--a city of 22 million people and the capitol of the country most in the US would deem as our main competition.  
Getting our photo taken 
I was photographed countless times-- chased down a few times so someone could have their photo with a "big nose."  When I was walking with Will, we were stared at.  When Will wasn't with me or he stepped back to see what would happened, I was swarmed with people wanting to take my picture or have their photo taken with me.  When Jackie and I were together at the Summer Palace, taking a short break, we caught the attention of an entire tour group all wanting our photo and to pose with us.  Granted, these photos were all taken at tourist locations, so it could be people coming into Beijing for a vacation and they have never seen a Western woman before. It was both funny and interesting to witness.

popular Western ladies are we
 The amount of things destroyed or hidden away after the Cultural Revolution must be mind-blowing.  The artifacts we saw at the National Museum were astonishing and beautiful and so amazing, but when you went to the main tourists sites, they were missing or replicas or noted as destroyed.  For a culture as old as China to have lost so much of historical objects seemed incredibly sad to me.  Maybe (hopefully!) I am mistaken and there are warehouses full of amazing ancient Chinese sculptures, etc.  I hope so,  but the impression I had was that the pre-Revolution China is ignored except in the form of palaces.
2nd Century BCE bronze rhino at the National Museum

 We also couldn't get our heads around the pollution.  Part of it was construction dust, as every part of Beijing is being rebuilt or renovated to make way for the constant stream of people coming into the city from the country-side.  But, there is also the pollution from the factories north of the city.  The lack of regulation is disturbing, as well.  You can't trust the food, the products, the infrastructure to have been made with any regulation or inspections.  At the end of the day, feeling the pollution grime on your clothes and face, tasting the metallic coating in your mouth, you understand why everyone spits constantly (trying not to swallow the poisonous materials in the air) and you --at least we were-- quite relieved to know that there was an EPA/FDA in the US watching out for the water, the air, and food.
the concrete lot being built and the Olympic torch (and the pollution)  from our hotel room

the Bird's Nest and Olympic Park by night
 We were also surprised at how little people spoke English-- especially after hosting the Olympics.  The metro-- which was outstanding and so easy to get around, and so extensive-- has English signs and announcements but to find someone to carry on a conversation in English was rare.  Specific words needed to conduct a shopping transaction were known, but many times beyond that, we were at a loss to communicate, very frustrating when I got lost a few times trying to find a particular museum or shop.

Warning signs in  the metro 

and on the train 
However, it is an amazing place.  We don't have to go back to Beijing but we want to go to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Xian.  Seeing the Forbidden City and the Great Wall were something I never thought would happen, and to have been there is truly awesome.   Yea, China!  Yea, homeward bound!
beautiful writing

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Qianmen Emperor's Avenue

South of Tiananmen Square is the Emperor's Avenue-- Quianmen street.  It is one of the oldest shopping streets in Beijing and completely revamped since the days of the Cultural Revolution and before.  A renovation of more than a year occurred before the street was reopened in time for the 2008 Olympics. On the street are traditional Chinese shops as well as international brands, like Starbucks, where we grabbed a cup of tea (and a Western toilet--a welcome break from squatting) and KFC (which I only photographed). After walking down the street, where you can see how hazy it is with the smog and pollution in the area, we wondered into the hutongs again.  These hutongs were more a collection of artists and calligraphers instead of retail shops.  After that walk, we returned to our hotel and finally decided that it was time to walk up to the Bird's Nest.  We were staying right next to it, after all.  

an entrance into the hutongs

candies at one of the shops

looking north towards Tiananman Square-- and one of the original gates of Beijing


A trolley going up and down the avenue

traditional children's slippers for sale at the shoe shop

A hotel with copper pots for a hot pot meal 
a nearly empty metro train-- a rare occurrance in Beijing. 

The Bird's Nest

The Bubble

Our last dinner in Beijing: a hot pot meal
 South of Tiananmen Square is the Emperor's Avenue-- Quianmen street.  It is one of the oldest shopping streets in Beijing and completely revamped since the days of the Cultural Revolution.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Hutongs and Night Life

Just another crazy set of signs 

Nice metal motorized metal box

Beijing has lots of narrow alleys that were once houses surrounding courtyards.  Most of the hutongs are disappearing as major roads and buildings are being built and the ones that have survived have converted into shopping areas with restaurants, bars, and coffee houses (lots of Starbucks!).  Near the Drum Tower, there are several hutongs that are both residential and retail, including one residential one where the hutongs were brand new, just made to look old.  It seemed to us, that those who lived there had a bit of money. 

converted Hutong into a shopping haven for both tourists and Chinese

the newly redone Hutong, made to look old and authentic
manhole with the map of the Hutong
fishing in the lakes
 Close to the hutongs are Lakes Houhai and Quinhai, once where the royal and imperial families played on the water--and near Beiahi Park.  We wandered over there for an evening meal and a bar to watch the night life of Beijing.  It was a Monday evening, so it was fairly quite. But, you could tell that in the evenings on a weekend, this was the place to be,

a decked out golf cart

bars and restaurants surrounding the lakes

people watching

one of the many karaoke bars 
 We sat down at bar near a convenient store that sold a typical drink: yogurt in a clay pot.  You would return the container to recycle.  I never had the courage to try it, but Will of course did.  He side it was just like drinking yogurt  To be honest, I was more intrigued by the cotton candy spinner.  She was making cotton candy twice as big as my head!

Look at the cotton candy!!
newer hutongs with shops underneath
a mess of rickshaws for hire
Yingding Bridge-- names such because it looks like a silver ingot
rented paddle boats 
where we had to have dinner, of course!
people watching as night falls by the Silver Ingot Bridge

having a few of the local beer

night on the lakes

all the shops' lights reflecting on the lake