Posts/November, 2008/

Biking in Beijing: A day of Contrast

Sunday, November 30th, 2008
Bike Lanes

Bike Lanes

Friday morning, Nik and I set off on our second full day of biking through the city.  This time, our goal was to get up close and personal with the CCTV Tower designed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA).  But first, we took another ride through the hutongs, and here is what we found….

Neighborhood Fuel Storage

Neighborhood Fuel Storage

Gardening Corner

Gardening Corner

Bike Taxi

Bike Taxi

Songbirds

Songbirds

Beauty Shop Laundry

Beauty Shop Laundry

Dry Cleaning for Gowns

Dry Cleaning for Gowns

And their respective Storage Bags

And their respective Storage Bags

As we were getting closer to the modern side of town, we stopped by a favorite lunch spot that the locals frequent…none other than a little burger joint with golden arches!!  The moment we walked in, we were greeted by the manager and asked to have a seat.  We chose one near the front so we could people watch as we chowed down on burgers and fries.  Then the manager proceeded to hand us menus, take our order, and serve us our food!!!  Yep, that’s right, we were waited on at McDonald’s.  At first we thought everyone was given this service, but as we watched, we reallized we were the only ones.  We suppose that the manager is the only one that speaks English, and since we came in the middle of the lunch hour, she figured we would just hold up the line if we ordered the old fashioned way.  This was our first visit to the American super-franchise in Asia, and it was strangely comforting.  My quarter-pounder was much better than I remembered, and came served with cucumbers instead of pickles.  Nik’s chicken sandwich looked pretty good, and the fries were top notch.  The final little surprise in store for us was that McDonald’s serves the cheapest fresh coffee in town.

We walked out to unlock our bikes, and as we did, I took a look around at our surroundings.  We could have been in any mid-sized American city.  5-30 story buildings lined both sides of the street in between long, flat strip malls with huge parking lots.  Across the congested street there was a large shopping mall, and I did a double take as I noticed the sign.  “SILK MARKET”  I remembered the name, and turned to Nik and asked, “Do you think that’s the one Jaime and Tim went to?”  Indeed it was.  The Silk Market is 8 stories of knock-off merchandise ranging from Barbie dolls to Nikon cameras to Coach handbags to Levis jeans to Nike shoes where foreigners and Chinese shop and bargain.  I convinced Nik to go in for 30 minutes just to say we were there.  2 hours and several hard bargains later, we walked out with shoes, a hat and a wallet.  If daylight wasn’t a precious commodity on our bike rides, we probably would have stayed longer, but Modern Beijing was waiting for us.

CCTV Tower

CCTV Tower

CCTV Tower

CCTV Tower

We wound our way to the CCTV tower, which is still under construction, and stopped a few times along the way when we saw bizarre buildings.  The area was so dense and divided by busy highways and congested streets that it was hard to get anywhere fast.  To add to that, the tower was under construction, so standing next to it did us no good because there were huge construction barricades.

The exhibition building next to the CCTV tower

The exhibition building next to the CCTV tower

Contoured Facade office building

Contoured Facade office building

Olympic Media Headquarters

One of the many buildings that claimed a relationship to the Beijing Olympics

Crazy black box hovers over ugly office box

Crazy black box hovers over ugly office box

Polka-dots

Polka-dots

Building facade

Building facade

This day was one of my favorites in the city.  We experienced the vast contrast between old and new, and enjoyed one of China’s greatest past times….knock-off shopping!!

Two Places at Once: Thanksgiving in TN and Beijing

Friday, November 28th, 2008

This Thanksgiving, I wished that I could have been in two places at once.

On Thanksgiving day, my entire family gave thanks at my parents’ house in Tennessee.  My parents, siblings, grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings and nieces were all there.  Thirty people, nine different family groups from four different time zones.  In other words…everyone but me.
I wish I had been there the week before to help decide on the menu and do the grocery shopping.  I wish that I could have been there the day before to bake with my mom.  I wish I had been there the day of to make the cranberry sauce and baste the turkey.  I wish I had been there to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  I wish I had been there to pick my brother and his family up at the airport.  I wish I had been there to hug every single family member as they walked into the house from the cold.  I wish I had been there as my father said the prayer.  I wish I had been there as we all sat at the makeshift banquet hall in my dad’s shop.  I wish I had been there to play games after dinner.  I wish I had been there to eat pumpkin cheesecake.  I wish I had been there after everyone went home.  I wish I had been there to eat leftovers.  I wish I had been there the day after Thanksgiving to help decorate the house for Christmas.

Tennessee Home

Tennessee Home

This Thanksgiving, I wish I could have been in two places at once.

On Thanksgiving day, Nik and I slept in before walking to the Beijing Train Station to buy tickets on the Sunday night train to Shanghai.  Then we went to the coolest grocery/snack store ever!!!  It is right across the street from the train station, and it was filled with nothing but Chinese snacks for the railroad travelers.  There were bins of candy, gift boxes of tea and rows upon rows of sweet drinks and potato chips.  We picked up a few mystery items and headed over to Jaime and Tim’s hotel for a little taste test.

Beijing Thanksgiving Hot Pot

Beijing Thanksgiving Hot Pot

After a couple hours, we got antsy and decided to proceed to our own version of Thanksgiving dinner.  Nik had done the research, and found a recommended Chinese hot-pot restaurant just a few blocks from the hotel called Dong Lai Shun.  We arrived at 5pm, just before the dinner rush, and were seated immediately.  We ordered the pre-set menu for 4, which included 5 trays of thinly sliced meat, 8 prawns, 4 skewers of precooked and seasoned beef, cabbage, rice noodles, egg noodles, tofu, Chinese broccoli, peanut dipping sauce with onions and basil, pickled garlic, and watermelon and tomatoes for dessert.  After the food items were delivered, the hot pot arrived and we began cooking.  Everything was delicious, and we all ate until we were stuffed!  Just the way Thanksgiving dinner is supposed to be!!

before & after

before & after

We rolled ourselves out of the restaurant through the packed lobby of people waiting for our table.  The night was still young, but we didn’t know what to do, so we walked…and walked…and walked.  Pit stops were made at the public toilets, and we eventually wound back to the Night Market.  Nik wanted to stop to take photos of the bizarre offerings, and 5 minutes later we were sucked in.  Jaime had a skewer of candied fruit, Tim and Nik shared a scorpion, and Tim fulfilled his desire to sample starfish.  Watching the guys eat the scorpion was hilarious, and so tempting that Jaime even took a bite!!!  Apparently, scorpions aren’t very meaty so most of the substance was exoskeleton.  The things people will eat on vacation!!!

Post dinner snack

Post dinner snack

This Thanksgiving, I wish I could have been in two places at once.

In fact, I did manage to be in two places at once.  Friday morning after Thanksgiving Day, I woke up at 7 and called my parents at 7:30am.  Because of the 14 hour time difference, it was 5:30pm their time…or 30 minutes before chow time.  I talked to both of my parents, my grandmother, three of my uncles, one cousin, my brother and my sister-in-law.  It was so nice to hear familiar voices, and it was great to hear that they are all following the blog.  Everyone was surprised, and a little sad to hear that our adventure will be ending in just three weeks.  But I think they were happy that we’ll be at home for Christmas.  Also, I heard the biggest and best news ever!!!  My brother and sister-in-law will be extending our family by one more this coming June!!!

For all of my family members that are reading this…I love you and miss you.  I am so thankful for your support throughout this adventure of my life.  It is great to hear that you are all living vicariously through me, because we are truly blessed to have had this opportunity to travel.  I can’t wait to share even more when we get home.

Family (photo taken at our reunion this past June)

Family (photo taken at our reunion this past June)

Hutongs and The Great Wall: 2 more days in Beijing

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008
Welcome to the land of grey and red

Welcome to the land of grey and red

And of amazing structures*

And of amazing structures*

November 25, 2008

Yesterday we picked up our free rental bikes (with a 300RMB deposit), and we were off to explore the hutongs of Beijing.  A couple people had recommended that we ride northeast of the Forbidden City, and that is just what we did.  We wandered through grey walled hutong after grey walled hutong, and couldn’t have been happier.  The weather was amazing, our bikes were functional, and everyone stared.  I couldn’t help but laugh along with them because our bikes really did stand out.

Nik as advertising in front of Chinese grafiti...and we don't know what either says!!

Nik as advertising in front of Chinese grafiti...and we don't know what either says!!

You see, nothing is ever free.  Our bikes were pimped out with grey plastic wheel guards and handle-bar covers which were covered with advertising slogans and company phone numbers.  The sad thing is that we didn’t know what it said, but I guess it worked because everyone on the street stopped to read it!

Here, the hutongs are being demolished presumably to make way for upscale residences in part of a "gated" community...at least that's what it looked like to us.

Here, the hutongs are being demolished presumably to make way for upscale residences in part of a "gated" community...at least that's what it looked like to us.

A lone wall with no roof

A lone wall with no roof

These colorful boxes showed up everywhere, and I wonder what they are.  There is an image of a kid playing baseball...so maybe they house the neighborhood sporting equipment?

These colorful boxes showed up everywhere, and I wonder what they are. There is an image of a kid playing baseball/tennis...so maybe they house the neighborhood sporting equipment?

* Me riding away

Me riding away*

Along the way, we stopped on a neighborhood street to pick up lunch.  Our first item was steamed bean buns…but they turned out to just be buns…no beans…very bland…very chewy.  We were not satisfied, so we went to our fall-back plan of stuffed breads.  We found a stand run by a young guy and ordered four for the road.  We were off again.

* Back up plan

The Fall-back*

It seems like there are public restrooms around every corner of the hutongs.  here, stalls are shielded from the cold with army weight blankets.

It seems like there are public restrooms around every corner of the hutongs. here, stalls are shielded from the cold with army weight blankets.

Mops drying

For some reason, I am fascinated by mops and brooms used here in Asia. Perhaps it is my inner-domestic self trying to peak through.

Robin's Egg blue wall oxidizing beautifully and standing out against the grey buildings and street.

Robin's Egg blue wall oxidizing beautifully and standing out against the grey buildings and street.

Another public restroom tucked in between buildings

Another public restroom tucked in between buildings

Building numbers...the family of signage is rather nice, I think.

Building numbers...the family of signage is rather nice, I think.

It seems that red lanterns signify restaurants or tea houses, and this was no exception.

It seems that red lanterns signify restaurants or tea houses, and this was no exception.

A quiet lake in the middle of the city surrounded with cafes, shops, benches and paddle boats

A quiet lake in the middle of the city surrounded with cafes, shops, benches and paddle boats

I'm a knitter, so I fell in love with this seat cover!!!  Wouldn't it be so nice and toasty in the winter?

I'm a knitter, so I fell in love with this seat cover!!! Wouldn't it be so nice and toasty in the winter?

Next, our goal was to see some of the huge buildings along the first ring road.  After crossing a few larger commercial streets we emerged into the middle of a highway interchange, and we were beside ourselves!!  We were riding bicycles on the highway…and it wasn’t scary!  Only in Beijing.  As you can tell from the photos, we were successful in finding big buildings, but it started getting late and we had dinner plans with Jaime and Tim, so we started to head back to the hostel.

Big buildings

Big buildings

On the way we took a slight detour through some bizarre office parks to go to the Beijing Train Station, and ended up riding in the middle of the 5 o’clock rush hour commute.  It was exhilarating, and made me realize that I could definitely live here.  We found the train station, parked our bikes, walked up to the entrance only to find out that it was the Train Museum…not the train station!  We unlocked the bikes, looked at the map again and made our way to the real station.  Unfortunately, we were unable to book our train tickets to Shanghai. The reason is that ticketing opens only 5 days before departure, so we were 2 hours early.  Rather than wait around and miss dinner, we opted to take another bike adventure another day.

Busy roads at rush hour

Busy roads at rush hour*

Beijing Train Station

Beijing Train Station*

We rode off into the sunset and made it home just before dark.  We met up with Jaime and Tim around 7pm to go to the Night Market which sells all sorts of meat, noodles, candied fruits and beverages.  The guys tried snake and enormous prawns, but Jaime and I refrained.  We were holding out for the noodle restaurant we were going to for dinner.  Unfortunately, we never found the restaurant and had to settle for a mediocre Chinese place.  We split four dishes and 2 bottles of beer for 110RMB, and the company couldn’t have been better!!

November 26, 2008
Today, Nik and I went to the Great Wall of China at Jinshanling and Simatai!!  We organized the trip through our hostel, and it included breakfast, a bus ride from our hostel to Jinshanling, lunch, and a bus ride from Simatai back to our hostel.  In between, we were on our own to hike the 10km on the Great Wall from Jinshanling to Simatai.  The total trip cost was 355RMB ($60) including admission fees.

As we woke up this morning, we weren’t quite sure what to expect.  We boarded the tour bus, which was very clean and new, at 6:15am, and were joined by about 20 other foreigners.  Everyone slept for the first half, and at our pit stop started chatting and figuring out the group.  I would guess that most of us were under 30, all but two spoke English as our first language, 5 of us were American, most were couples, there was one group of 3 girls and a 3 were solo travelers.

Just before arrival, the leader gave us instructions for the day in decent English.  He basically said have a great hike and if you need me, I’ll be around, but otherwise, I’ll see you at the end of the day.  Perfect!

The group

The group

As we walked through the gates at Jinshanling I noticed that there was also a large group of Chinese people getting ready to go up as well.  They were all very chatty with each other and seemed to be having a good time.  During the walk to the wall entrance, our groups kind of merged and everyone was engaging in small talk.  All of us foreigners had our daypacks, and all of the Chinese had simple over the shoulder bags.  We started chatting with a lady that wore a bright green, red and yellow scarf and spoke only broken English.  Just before the wall, there was a great vista and we all stopped to take photos…or the foreigners took photos, and the Chinese gazed out to the hills.  So why did they stop?  Nik and I walked a little ways up the hill to get out of the crowd and noticed that our yellow-scarf friend just happened to join us.  We paused for a moment more, and noticed that as our tour-mates broke away from the group each couple happened to have a Chinese friend as well.  This continued for about 5 more minutes, and it really creeped me out.  I asked Nik if he noticed it, and he had.  If this is what the Great Wall is going to be like…shoot me now!  Finally, I had had enough, and I turned to our yellow scarf friend and said, “No tour.  Thank you.”  And I turned away.  To my surprise, she left us alone after that.

The window of the first tower.  It was a hazy morning, but soon, the sun came out and the day couldn't have been clearer!

The window of the first tower. It was a hazy morning, but soon, the sun came out and the day couldn't have been clearer!

Now I felt a sense of accomplishment, and it became a game for me to watch my fellow travelers and see how long they would maintain their friendships with the locals!!  Most were walking sans local friends after about 15 minutes, but a few were still hanging on.  I think that at least two locals walked with their foreign friends all the way to the Simatai junction, and I don’t know if the foreigners eventually paid them a tip or what…but after my annoyance wore off, it was amusing.  And all of their shoulder bags???  If the locals made it far enough, and were shed by their foreign friends, they would set up camp in one of the towers selling t-shirts, coca-cola, beer and water to the weary travelers!!!  Nik and I decided that this tout life isn’t half bad: spend your day at one of the most beautiful places in China, make a buck or ten off foreigners now and then and stay in shape!

Nik descends the steep stairs

Nik descending

Beautiful.

Beautiful*

* A tower that endured the attack.

A tower that endured the attack.

Mid-hike snack*

Mid-hike snack*

View of the countryside*

View of the countryside*

Nik ascending.

Nik ascending.

Incline! Caution!

Incline! Caution!

Nik waits at the top*

Nik waits at the top*

Let me set this one up…I was climbing the longest and steepest set of stairs yet. I was in a rhythm, and couldn’t wait to get to the top. 10 more steps. 5 more steps. 4. 3. “Jamie, Stop!” Nik yells. I stop, out of breath, I look up to see why in the world he stopped me right before I reached my goal!! We laughed about it, and he took the shot. It was worth it.

The path*

The path

Stunning*

Stunning*

The final tower we walked through

The final tower we walked through

The Simatai Great Wall entrance.  We could have continued up this part, but we were exhausted and hungry.  We did get to walk across the suspension bridge below!!

The Simatai Great Wall entrance. We could have continued up this part, but we were exhausted and hungry. We did get to walk across the suspension bridge below!!

Other than that, the wall was amazing.  It was narrower than I had imagined, and there were a lot more towers than I had expected.  It stretched out into the mountains for as far as the eye could see, and this section was not very crowded.  We had a great time cracking jokes here and there with our fellow hikers, and the photo opportunities were endless.  The hike was challenging and rewarding.  If I could, I would go at least once every season!!!!

We were there!!!!  We really walked along the Great Wall of China for 6 hours!!!!!

We were there!!!! We really walked along the Great Wall of China for 6 hours!!!!!

*All photos with “*” were taken by Nik, and you can see his Great Wall blog post here:

Nik’s Blog: The Great Wall: Jinshanling and Simatai

Archives for November, 2008
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