A February 2002 trip
to Beijing by John Lamb
Quote: Beijing is a city full of ancient wonders and sights. This journal details the tour I went on from Korea. The tour was all-inclusive and cost about 500 US dollars. A tour like this is highly recommended for teachers working in Korea and only have four or five days for vacation.
Taxis are fairly cheap and that is what I used during the free time I had. They sometimes tend to rip you off and take for a ride. I got in one taxi and he wanted to negotiate the price, but I wanted the meter. As a result, he took me the longest way possible. But at least I got to see a bit of Beijing I might not have had a chance to see. But of the four taxi rides I took, only one was a rip, so 1 in 4 odds aren't that bad.
Location aside, the hotel is listed as a four-star hotel but might be considered less so in the States. The lobby is nice, with marble floors and a fountain with goldfish swimming around. The staff at the hotel speaks a little English and is friendly enough. The bell boys are a little too anxious though and it is a fight to carry your own bag. There is a bar with decent prices. A couple of restarants that we didn't bother to try. A store that has water (can't drink the water in China) and few items of food. There is also a swimming pool, a business center with internet, and a billiards room that charges by the hour. There is also a T.G.I Friday's connected to the hotel that was great.
The rooms are decent. The beds are rock hard, but it is fairly clean as long as you don't decide to rearrange the furniture and find the dirt below. There is a television with limited channels. The rooms are big and spacious. The bathroom has all the tolietries and is clean and big, although the shower comes out hard. There are no hairdryers available and the outlets are 220.
Breakfast was provided by the hotel. It is a buffet style with a mix of western and Chinese foods. Nothing to write home about but good enough to eat. There are plenty of options if you are a picky eater and there was a variety of cold cereals available.
The Catic Plaza Hotel is average and a decent hotel. A great deal if you consider the price of the package all together.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 4, 2002
Catic Plaza Hotel
Attraction | "The Forbidden City"
Entrance was provided by the tour I was on, but for your information it costs 32 Yuan. The gates close for entrance at 3:30 and the whole palace shuts down at 4:30. You can get an audio tour and listen to James Bond (Roger Moore) give you the historical background of the temple.
The palace is huge and it is quite a joy to walk through all of it, although maybe a bit overwhelming. If entering from the Wumen entrance, the first major ceremonial hall you see is so huge and beautiful it is hard to grasp that you are actually witnessing it. One can take two rolls of film halfway through the city and not even begin to capture how wonderful the palace is.
My favorite section of the entire palace was the Imperial Garden. Twisted, black branches spring from numerous trees and intermix with jagged rock. There are a few little ponds spotted throughout. We stopped at a tea house there and enjoyed some hot tea (about 40 yuan) while enjoying the scene. There are also some ponds and pavilions to add to the beauty. The best part is Hall of Imperial Tranquillity in the middle of the garden that sits high on a mountain of rock. This is where the emperor Xuan Wu came worship a water diety to keep the palace safe from fire.
The Forbidden City is must-see if spending any time in Beijing.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 18, 2002
North Of Tiananmen Square Dong Cheng District
Beijing, China 100009
+86 (0)10 6512 2255
Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, in the north is the home of the famous Mao portrait that looks upon the concrete square. It is also the entrance of the Forbidden City. Mao stares directly at his mausoleum where his body is kept for viewing. The mausoleum is right in the middle of the square and disrupts the view. I have read that it was built there deliberately to disrupt the laws of feng shui because it faces north. In the center of the square is the large Monument to the Heroes, an obelisk-like structure. On the east side is the Museums of History and the Revolution, a concrete building with the Chinese crest resting above it. On the west side, is the Great Hall of the People, a building done in the Stalinist style. It looks as communist as possible: concrete, opressive and big.
There are soldiers everywhere in the square and they add a nice feeling of oppression, not to mention the cameras that are everywhere. We were there in the winter and all the soldiers were wearing bushy, fur hats with a bright red star in the middle. They stand solemn and firm, like the guards at Buckingham Palace. There is even a changing to the guards every two hours.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 19, 2002
Chang An Avenue
Beijing, China 100006
Attraction | "The Summer Palace"
Although it is quite old, the palace seen today reached its splendor by the Empress Cixi. She basically drained the Chinese government of its money to build this beautiful palace. It is called the Summer Palace because it is a few degrees cooler than the center of Beijing, so the Emperor and his family moved there during the summer months.
At the center is Kunming Lake. On the northern shore of the lake lies some dragon boats. The boats run during the summer months, but the lake was partially frozen over when we were there. There is also a huge two-decker marble boat on the northern shore. It was built from funds that were supposed to got the Chinese navy. The navy lost the war against Japan because of the lack of funds. At least the boat is very beautiful and it wasn't a complete loss.
The Long Gallery runs along the shore. It is the longest painted corridor in the world. Each painting is different and original. It is quite beautiful to stand at one side and watch it continue out of view. Up on a hill is a three-storey theater that is one of the most beautiful buildings I have seen in Asia. It looks out on the lake and dominates the scenery. There are also many other buildings and halls all interconnected and set in the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace is a beautiful and wonderful place to visit.
Haidian, Beijing, China
Attraction | "The Great Wall of China: Badaling"
We had two hours at the Wall which wa barely enough time to hike to the top and down again. There are two ways to go at Badaling. We went south and up to the high point. The Wall might want to think about being renamed the Great Staircase of China. It goes up and it is steep. Most of the steps are very tall, but there are a few shorter ones mixed in to make things interesting. At the top, the wall seems to stop. There is a nice stone tower and it is a good place to take a rest and look out over the Wall before heading back down.
The guidebook claims that Badaling is only good for a small glimpse of the Wall and a "I Climbed the Great Wall" t-shirt. Well, I bought the t-shirt (it costs only three dollars by the way) and even if the area was touristy, seeing the Great Wall was wonderful and beautiful no matter what section it was.
Great Wall at Ba Da Ling
Yan Qing County
+86 (0)10 6912 1235
There are many sights on the way to the temple. First is the Round Altar, which is made of three marble tiers. It is not very high but still offers some nice views of the park. The next group of buildings are part of the Imperial Vault of Heaven. The buildings are encircled by the Echo Wall. From a certain point you can clap and hear it echo three times. But it is hard to tell because the place is full of tourists all trying to clap at the same time, so it sounds more like 100 claps.
The final, and most famous building, is Hall of Prayer and Good Harvest. It is round structure made of wood and without the use of single nail. It stands on top of a flight of stairs and mingles nicely with the sky. It is the good symbol for Beijing; a perfect, ancient building that stands alone with just the sky to surround it. Very much worth the trip.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 2, 2002
Temple of Heaven
Tian Tan North Rd.
Beijing, China 100050
+86 (0)10 6702 2242
The location of the tombs was chosen by the Emperor Yongle because of the landscape. The area is beautiful and there are some nice mountains surrounding the area. The tombs is where all but three of the sixteen Ming Dynasty emperors are entombed in underground vaults. Two of the tombs were excavated in the 1950's and are open for viewing.
The entrance area to the tombs is probably the best part of the tombs. The Soul Tower graces the sight and looks out upon the entrance area. There are also two side exhibition halls that displays some of the objects found in the tombs, like a crown and some jewellry. There is also some nice stonework in the courtyard, like a relief mural and relief dragon leading up a stairway.
The actual tombs themselves are not as bad as I thought they were going to be. The guidebook described them as anticlimatic, so I was expecting a hole in the ground and some dirt. But you actually walk down five flights of stairs down into the tomb. When I first entered the tomb, I did get a feeling of anticlimax because it was just a concrete room with nothing in it. But once we walked around and went through the different chambers it became more interesting. There was some really nice stonework done around the doors. There was also an Indiana Jones feeling of being in a mythical underground tomb 30 meters below ground.
However, in the end, the tombs are probably not worth the visit to see by themselves. They are a nice addition though to a day trip out to the Great Wall though.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 2, 2002
Shi San Ling Te Qu
Beijing, China 102213
+86 (0)10 60761423
The mausoleum was built after Mao's death in 1976 to house the pickled corpse of Mao. Mao wanted to be cremated, but his would-be successor, Hua Guofeng, decided to build the gray, concrete building as a power ploy. Mao supposedly rises from a freezer every morning and is housed in a crystal coffin. His body is draped with a flag and his face is supposed to look unreal, like wax. Our tour guide said that the body is not real, the the real one is saved for politicians to see. I, however, was not able to see for myself what the body looked like. I went on three seperate occassions and each time it was closed. The hall has irregular hours and is not open all the time. I went when it was supposed to be open but it was closed because of Chinese New year. But let me tell you the times. It is closed on Mondays. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday it is open from 8:30 to 11:30. And then 2 to 4. On Wednesday, Friday and Sunday it is just open from 8:30 to 11:30. Good luck and if you see Mao, tell him I said hello.
Chinese New Year (also know as the Spring Festival or Lunar New Year) is a family holiday and people gather together to mark their birthdays. Everyone gets a year older at midnight. They eat dumplings and celebrate as a family. I guess it could be compared to Christmas: a family holiday.
There weren't as many decorations as I thought would be up for the New Year. There were a few red lanterns up and there was a definite festive mood in many vendors. They kept saying that because it was the New Year they would give a special price. I think they would give a "special price" if it was raining that day. Two weeks after the New Year there is a red latern festival and that is when most of the red laterns go up. Things do shut down early for New Year's Eve like the Silk Market which closes at 3PM.
Our New Year wasn't marked with much excitement. However, when the hour struck midnight the night sky filled with fireworks illegally set off. They went on for another 45 minutes popping all over the skyline in sporadic chaos. A wonder to see.
There are fairs held at a couple of temples. One is the Lamaist Yonghe Gong and the other is the Taoist Baiyunguan Si. We passed Ditan Park and there seemed to be some events going on as well. I have also heard that Longtan Park has a daytime fair as well.
Colorado Springs, Colorado