A Taste of China: Beijing Sights

by spiceaholic on February 6, 2011

**This was actually posted a couple weeks ago, but the publish date was showing as December, so I’m bumping it to the top so you guys don’t miss out!**

And at last we approach the end of our China trip!  This post has taken me forever to write!

Over the course of our trip, the weather had been steadily getting cooler.  When we landed in Beijing, I was really glad I’d started to layer!  Instead of packing huge bulky winter coats, we brought lined jackets but layered underneath, and I had gloves, scarves, and these cute earmuffs that went behind my ears under my hair.  I loved those earmuffs.  Sadly, I think I lost them in the streets of Xi’an our last night.  This wouldn’t be the last time I lost things in China!

First stop on our itinerary was Tiananmen Square, which I think most of us know best from the infamous protests in 1989.  I was only 9 when it happened, but I remember seeing all the media coverage.  But we’re not going to focus on that, there are other things to learn!  For instance, Tiananmen Square is the largest city square in the world, flanked on all four sides by the Tian’anmen Gate to the north,  the National Museum of China to the east, the Qianmen Gate to the south, and the Great Hall of the People to the west.

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One of two monuments in front of Chairman Mao’s mausoleum.  They are supposed to represent the Chinese workers.

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Shot of the mausoleum.  Apparently Mao’s body is preserved inside and on display for those who want to go in to see it.  There’s our tour guide, Frank with his Friendly Planet Travel flag!

As we were taking pictures of the monument and mausoleum, we noticed a group of Tibetans come by in their bright and colorful outfits.  I tried to snap a couple pics but people were swarming in front of me to do the same thing.

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Now we were about to approach the square itself.   I don’t know why I imagined it would have walls surrounding it on all sides, it was completely open!

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Monument to the People’s Heroes.

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Tiananmen Gate guarding the entrance to the Forbidden City.  With a picture of Chairman Mao looking right at you.

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He’s keeping an eye on you!

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There were street vendors everywhere hawking their wares — these panda hats seemed to be everywhere!

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We all posed in front of Tinananmen Gate for a group picture, drawing attention from passersby who took pictures of our group as well.

Then it was getting close to time for the ceremonial lowering of the flag which takes place daily.

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We didn’t get to see it, unfortunately. We had to get back to our bus so that we could get to our next destination — a pearl factory!

I don’t really know if it was a pearl factory per se, but there were certainly lots of pearls to be seen!  (And bought!)

We got a demo of how the pearls look inside an oyster:

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And then we were set loose to browse and shop for pearls. Luckily for the guys, there was a bar and sitting area nearby. We’ll just say I stimulated the economy a bit that night. 🙂

On our way to the hotel, we passed what was described as a pedestrian mall —  every evening, some of the streets are blocked off and stalls pop up selling foods, handicrafts, etc.

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I was exhausted when we got to the hotel and wanted one night to rest up, but others in our group went exploring and ended up at the pedestrian mall. I hear there were scorpions and snakes that were eaten! It sounded interesting to see, but my feet insisted on rest that night, especially since we were going to see the Great Wall of China the next day.

Bright and early we woke up the next morning because we had a LONG day ahead of us:  we were going to see some of the 2008 Olympics venues, visit a jade factory,walk along the Spirit Way, and then see the Great Wall of China! Talk about action packed.

This was definitely the day to layer up against the cold weather!  It hadn’t been too bad, but it was getting steadily colder as our trip went on.  We had at least 3 layers of clothes on and I was desperately wishing I hadn’t lost my ear muffs in Xi’an.

First stop was to see some of the 2008 Olympic games venues.

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View of part of the Beijing National Stadium.

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Beijing National Aquatic Center. I’m told this looks spectacular at night when it’s all lit up.

Next stop was a jade factory.  We had long learned by now that factory = shopping! It really was interesting to learn about how the jade is painstakingly carved to create such beautiful creations.  I’m truly impressed by the artisans’ skills.  But I won’t lie, I also enjoyed the shopping part!

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Next were the Ming Dynasty Tombs, where 13 Ming Dynasty emperors are buried.  We were going to concentrate on the Spirit Way/Sacred Way, which was a road leading to the tombs, lined with statues and archways.

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We were told that for the animal statues, they were in pairs with one standing and one resting. Apparently they take turns guarding the way.

And finally we were on our way to see the Great Wall!

Since I was a child, I have been fascinated with ancient history and cultures and the Great Wall of China has been on my list of places to visit.  Just the history of it leaves me in awe.

There are certain portions of the Great Wall that are open to tourists, and we were at Badaling, which is the most visited section of the Great Wall.

I started snapping pictures from the bus as we approached, I was so excited.

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When they said we would be climbing the Great Wall, they weren’t kidding.  We weren’t even trying to go that far, but the steepness, sheer amount of stairs and the brutally cold wind had me stopping every few minutes to rest and catch my breath.  I hadn’t thought to bring my inhaler with me (I get exercise-induced asthma), so I was hoping I wouldn’t start wheezing.  And let’s face it, I’m pretty out of shape too!  If you want a workout to blast your butt and thighs, I highly recommend the Great Wall for all your stairmaster-hell needs.  🙂

But the view was so worth it. And you have to excuse my babushka look, it was really really windy and cold!!

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What a day! And if that wasn’t enough for us, after we got back to our hotel, we and another couple decided to go exploring and find one of the infamous shopping markets that was a couple miles from our hotel. Even though we would be going to a much bigger one the next day, we felt that we needed a practice run to see what it was like and to practice our haggling skills.  And by we, I mean me and the wife of the couple that went with us.  The men were there just to escort us and be bored to tears.

Oh yes, this was one of those haggling markets that have thousands of stalls selling electronics, jewelry, clothes, shoes, bags, etc. Unfortunately, we didn’t get past the bags! The girl I was with was in bag heaven and the stall-keeper suckered us into staying a long time by having us sit down while she brought different bags to look at, as well as catalogs of different brands and styles. I have no idea if these were counterfeit bags or the real thing, so I just looked and helped narrow down her selections to a few. I think we spent a couple hours looking at bags when the stall-keeper decided it was time to talk money. The price she quoted for 7 bags and 2 wallets was over $800! Oh no no no. There was one bag that had caught my friend’s attention and we heard someone say it was 200 yuan, which would be something like $30. No, that was a “mistake,” it was actually $200! I don’t think the stall-keeper liked us very much after that, because we nixed the bags and decided we really only liked a couple wallets. We finally got her down to $15 each and that’s after she told us we wasted her time.  At least now we would be prepared for the next day!

Our last full day in China was here at last. I was sad to see it coming to an end, but I was also looking forward to going home. We had a lot to cram in that day because we’d had to rearrange our schedule a bit due to timing.

First up was a tour of the Forbidden City, traditionally the home of the Chinese emperors and forbidden to pretty much everyone until recently.

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Since we didn’t have time our first day to see the Forbidden City, we had to squeeze it in this morning.   After this was an optional tour to see the hutongs, which I would describe as the old, traditional residential neighborhoods and the alleys that connect them.  It’s a way of life that’s fast disappearing to make way for modernization.  To explore the hutongs, we rode in rickshaws to maneuver through the narrow streets.

But first, an important message!

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As part of our tour of the hutongs, we were able to visit the home of one of the residents. This particular family had owned their home for several generations and had made some modernization changes over time, so it was a good way to see the past and present combined.

We then walked through the alleys to reach our bus, which was going to take us to see the Temple of Heaven.

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The Temple of Heaven is part of a temple complex where the emperors would pray to Heaven for a good harvest.  We were told that symbolically, Heaven is represented by a circle, and Earth is represented by a square, and that this motif was repeated in the layout of the complex.

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The Temple of Heaven marked the end of the official tour for Mr. Spice and me.  Later that afternoon, we would be dropped off at the Pearl Market to do some shopping, and we opted out of the optional tours the next morning so we could sleep in our last morning.

So was that practice run worth it for the haggle market? Absolutely.  Someone in our group had managed to find a how-to-haggle-in-China list online which listed all the things you were likely to see for sale, what the vendors would quote you for a price, and what the maximum was you should pay for each item.  That list was like gold, everyone wanted a copy of it!

Using that list and the brand-new set of haggling balls I’d grown overnight, I’d say I did pretty well at the market! I ended up with several scarves (one was supposedly Burberry!) and a silver chain to go with a locket I’d bought at the jade factory.  I didn’t even try with the purses, it was very overwhelming — think stands with all sorts of purses and wallets, and people grabbing your arms or screeching for you to come look at Prada, Versace, etc.  We looked at some cases for our iPhones, but I didn’t see any I was crazy about.  All in all, I probably spent less than $20 for 4 scarves and the chain. Not a bad way to end our last night.

I woke up our last day in China with a scratchy throat and that I’m-getting-sick feeling, which made me glad we had opted out of the optional tour to the Old Summer Palace and the zoo.  It would have been great to see them, but we needed some chill time.   Plus we needed to pack!  But I managed to down enough Airborne and Zicam to where I was feeling okay enough to suggest one last trip to the market that was near our hotel.  Mr. Spice wanted some fountain pens, and we hadn’t been able to find any the other day, so us crazy fools bundled up and walked over 2 miles to the Silk market.  And yes, we found the fountain pens and I managed to haggle some good prices for them.

We got back to our hotel and began packing, since we were checking out at 4 and would have to get to the airport to check in for our flight at 9 pm.  As I packed, I felt sad that we were at the end of our trip.  We had met so many great people and made so many great memories.

At the airport, I made the obligatory visits to the duty-free stores and did a lot of email exchanges. And then it was time to board our plane to LA.

It was as I was settling into my seat as the plane was taking off that I realized something.

I had left my jacket and gloves in the transit lounge at the airport!  I told you that losing my earmuffs in Xi’an wasn’t the last time I’d lose something in China!

After our long journey, we were finally back in the U.S.!  We said final good-byes and headed off to our hotel for the night.  We could have caught a late flight to Atlanta, but we decided not to in case our flight was delayed.  The next morning we had the first flight out to Atlanta and now we were home.

I think the reason why it’s taken me so long to write this second-to-last post is that I still wanted to feel like we had just been there instead of 2 months ago.  But that’s silly and now I realize it.  The memories aren’t going to go anywhere, and writing about it not only allows me to share our trip with you but allows me to re-live those experiences.

The last stop of this re-cap will be the Beijing eats post, which I promise you will not take another 6 weeks to write!

Be sure to visit all my other Taste of China posts and check out the podcast interview I did with Friendly Planet Travel!

Shanghai Sights

Shanghai Eats

Xi’an Sights

Xi’an Eats

Friendly Planet Travel Podcast Interview

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Theresa January 24, 2011 at 10:54 am

What a fantastic post! You saw such GORGEOUS things. I love the lion statues, with their super-curly hair and near-human faces. I am in awe that you climbed the Great Wall. And you totally made me laugh with your “brand-new set of haggling balls.”

Thanks for sharing your fantastic trip with us! I look forward to seeing your eats. Too bad you didn’t get in on that snake and scorpion action. 🙂

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