Written by pabrams52 on 28 Apr, 2011
There are many revelations to behold in China. As this was my first visit, I was in complete awe of them all. I could, and probably will, describe the usual suspects to which all visitors flock with great curiosity: the seemingly endless…Read More
There are many revelations to behold in China. As this was my first visit, I was in complete awe of them all. I could, and probably will, describe the usual suspects to which all visitors flock with great curiosity: the seemingly endless Great Wall, the imperious Forbidden City, the now historic Tiananmen Square and so forth. But there was something more impressive that hit me almost literally between the eyes – its massive population. The CIA’s official count puts it at near 1.4 billion. You will not hear me drone on about there being too many people and that China’s "One Child Policy" was a good idea – it was not! China is paying in more ways than it imagined for that dreadful attempt at managing human behavior.
No, I was simply trying to mentally absorb the reality of the numbers. Everywhere we went, there were masses of people. Yes, one expects to find them at major sites, particularly since China has moved quite near the top of favored countries to visit. Anyone who has made the trek to China understands why that is – it holds much fascination in the West and is rapidly rising on the world scene. If you easily feel claustrophobic or just don’t like crowds, this is not the destination for you. I would urge you though, to reconsider and try, as the undeniable pluses far outweigh the negatives. Yes, China has its challenges, not the least of which is their population. They have nearly four times the amount of people that the U.S. has, yet their land mass is nearly the same as ours (being only a bit smaller than the contiguous United States). But, one has to consider that much of their land mass is uninhabitable, being either desert or mountains, compressing their population onto a smaller area of land in proportion to ours.
Another interesting aspect of this great population is watching human behavior. On several occasions, I heard comments by other visitors that were surprised and occasionally put off that the Chinese do not stand in orderly and equitable queues. Though it was a little startling when it first happened to me, what came to mind was that 1) we’re in THEIR country and 2) it is a very different culture. Those are important facts to remember as visitors travel throughout China, particularly Americans, who (like it or not) think that everyone should abide by the same "rules". I saw it as a valuable learning experience and only perceived it as an essential observation during our short time there. It can be quite the eye-opener, but that is a good and necessary thing.
With such a large population, it is not surprising that the Chinese are as assertive as they are. But even with that necessary behavior, it was always civil. I never witnessed open hostilities in spite of the tight spaces. I also continually saw their genuine interest in and curiosity about us – us, meaning Westerners. One has to remember that until recently, much of the population lived in the rural areas and simply did not have the means to travel. But as China develops economically, many of its people are moving to the major cities where industry holds the promise of better economic opportunities. That transition has occurred in the history of many Western countries over time, as they developed. The same holds true for China. As a result of their economic development, many Chinese now have the ability to travel within their own country. I dare say, it won’t be long before many more of them are traveling internationally. I remember when I saw the first wave of Indian tourists in Europe and thought to myself, "this is a good sign – it’s proof of growing prosperity". One of the most vivid examples that occurred to me was during my visit to The Great Wall. Our savvy tour director took us early in the morning so as to avoid the peak visitation time and minimize the crowd impact. Nevertheless, we weren’t the only people there. In the one section of The Wall that we visited known as The Badaling, there were several thousand other people there too. The tourist count grew steadily throughout the morning. As my husband and I climbed a section of The Wall, unbeknownst to me, I was being watched by some Chinese tourists. They seemed utterly fascinated by my light skin and blonde hair. Before I knew it, they eagerly maneuvered me into a photo being taken of them by their friends. No doubt, I will end up on someone’s living room wall or in someone’s photo album as a novelty of sorts. But I can tell you I didn’t mind a bit and it was a pleasant, if not humorous experience! Though we could not share any conversation, they smiled graciously and we tried to communicate with facial and hand gestures as best we could. It was a lovely moment I’ll long remember.
In closing, without a doubt, the best part of all this people watching, were the children. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. They were sweet and curious and when the opportunity presented itself, I took photographs, always being mindful of their "space". As a tourist, I personally try to consider the privacy of others and make an effort to gain the consent of the subject(s) before snapping away in close range. One does not like to be guilty of committing what I call "animal in the zoo" syndrome. To my joy, many of the mothers of children I wanted to photograph were honored that I wanted to take their child’s photo. I would show the resulting image to them with appreciation. I could have made my entire trip out of this delightful venture, but alas, I would have needed far more time than our tour allowed. Now there’s an idea – a photographic study of the children of China. I fear, I will not be the one to take those precious photos, but it is lovely notion and certainly a bridge into another culture.
Written by pabrams52 on 27 Apr, 2011
Who needs Calgon, when one only has to sign up for Tauck tour to see the world. The many adventures that Tauck offers are truly some of life’s more pleasurable experiences. If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford such a…Read More
Who needs Calgon, when one only has to sign up for Tauck tour to see the world. The many adventures that Tauck offers are truly some of life’s more pleasurable experiences. If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford such a vacation and experience the wonderful skills of this highly seasoned tour company, you are in for a treat. That is what my husband and I discovered when we recently completed our first Tauck tour to China. We had first heard the name Tauck on a recent cruise, which came up in conversation by some friends we made during that sailing. They had taken several Tauck tours and raved about the company. I consider myself fairly travel-savvy but had never heard this name. So, I was highly intrigued to find out more.
Tauck’s website is well-organized and reflects the level of professionalism they bring to each of their tours. Whether you are looking for a small group experience, river cruise or in-depth educational tour, there is something for everyone. Their 86 years of experience has helped them hone their approach to a fine art. It didn’t hurt that they began on the right track and have gone on to perfect their formula to "beyond perfection". Anyone who has taken one of their tours will tell you that it felt seamless and amazingly organized. The traveler is never aware of all the arrangements that go on behind the scenes, both before and during the tour. It is a comforting feeling being in the hands of tried and true professionals.
So, by now, you’re itching to know about the Tauck experience. The traveler is greeted at the arrival airport by one of their local representatives. This was particularly reassuring for us as neither my husband nor I speak Mandarin. She made sure that our bags arrived and walked us to our private car that took us to our first hotel on the itinerary. I would like to add that all Tauck hotels are either five-star or the best available. In the first city on our tour, we stayed at the Regent Beijing, a gorgeous and unquestionably comfortable hotel in the center of the city. Another great touch is that Tauck makes every effort to reserve rooms at hotels that have popular amenities such as a generous-sized swimming pool, spa and fitness center. These services can be more than welcome upon arrival after a long flight or after a long day of touring. This was especially important to me, as I love to swim, and find it most relaxing doing laps to either start my day or wind down after being on my feet. On all Tauck tours, there is always a director that manages all details and keeps a very close headcount on the group at all times. He or she is literally the "go to" person for just about any issue you can imagine. Once the problem is conveyed to them, they take responsibility to follow up to the best of their ability. An example from our trip: one of our participants discovered that someone on an intra-China flight had taken her backpack from the overhead bin by mistake, thinking it was his. His was left on the plane. This was immediately reported to our director, who in turn reported it to the airline as well as the local guide in that arrival city. Every effort was made to make an exchange while we were still there. Though I do not know the ultimate outcome (which of course depended on the other passenger returning her backpack for his), I have no doubt that Tauck went to all possible lengths to insure this could be transacted.
After many years of experience, Tauck has developed a wide network of professionals in the cities they tour. The bus guides in each of the cities we visited were local, highly informative and easy to understand. They select the best restaurants that convey the local cuisine and ease their tourists in/out of highly popular sites without lines, delays or any frustrations. The locals know the Tauck name and respect it for its repeat business and appreciative clients. Another example: in one point on our tour, I was seriously contemplating a rather expensive purchase of Chinese embroidery. On a prior vacation, with another company (cruise line), I had been "burned" by a merchant on one of the cruises recommended shore excursions, and ever since have been skittish and have since used great caution when making such purchases. But, I found some pieces in China from which I simply could not walk away. I went to the Director of our tour and asked him, point blank, "do I have any reason to be nervous about this investment or suspicious of the merchant?" He reassured me with a "absolutely not!". Tauck has a reputation to uphold. Though we may never go to China again, other tourists will, and Tauck cannot afford to have their good name sullied by mishaps that can ruin vacation memories and could otherwise have been prevented. Word of mouth travels FAST and both Tauck and the merchants with whom they do business know this fact well.
Tauck takes pride in each and every venture. At our farewell dinner, on the last evening of our itinerary, we gathered to enjoy each other’s company one last time. Our Director revealed to us that it is one of his personal joys watching the wonderment on our faces and listening to the pleasure in our conversations as we discover new places. My husband has long had a favorite motto, which I still believe rings true: "the first day in a new city is magical". I think that was what our director wanted to enjoy as he shared his love of travel with us. Some participants got up and spoke of how much they enjoyed the tour. I had to ring in with my own observation. At the opening dinner, we were mere strangers - 37 people from the U.S., Canada, South Africa, Mexico and England. But as we said our goodbyes, we were no longer strangers. We had formed friendships, exchanged helpful information and lively conversation, and had enjoyed a great adventure together. We left the tour better for it.
No doubt, there are many more examples of Tauck’s exemplary professionalism, but I dare they must be too numerous to mention. I encourage you to view their website and save up for one of their adventures. It is money well spent! Bon Voyage.
Written by meiji15 on 25 Apr, 2010
China, besides the Great Wall, this country is famous for its awesome gadgets and other electronic goods, though, these are not the only items China has to offer. Its cultural heritage as well as history of barters and trades makes it the idyllic place to…Read More
China, besides the Great Wall, this country is famous for its awesome gadgets and other electronic goods, though, these are not the only items China has to offer. Its cultural heritage as well as history of barters and trades makes it the idyllic place to acquire crafts, arts, and other similar goods. I mean, items one can purchase for oneself, for friends, and for relatives range from food, clothes, antiques, and everything in between. One can find almost everything here. Beijing, the capital of China, not to mention its commercial hub, is the best place to begin shopping. Its extravagant markets spread out all over Beijing, and have a lot to offer to everyone. In here, one can shop for goods like painted fans, painted masks, handmade dolls, traditional clothing, and similar bits and pieces. Wangfujing Street is one of the finest markets if one is inclined to purchase branded jewelries, clothes, and the like. This particular street has some of the oldest and premium shops in Beijing. In Maliandao, the biggest tea market in the city, is a must visit for tea-aficionados. Here one can sample a wide, very wide, variety of tea from all-over China. But if you do not want to shell out a few bucks, the aroma of the fresh tea leaves will be worth the trip and is something worth experiencing. Another item which people rarely connect with China is silk. Though this is doubtful, because I have watched a few old Chinese movies and they did display the wonderfully woven silk robe and other garments made from the same material. One can find all sorts of silk-made products in Xiushui Street or the aptly called the Silk Street. Neiliansheng shoe shop, one of the most renowned olden street shops in the city of Beijing, offers a variety of cloth shoes. These shoes are like snowflakes, they have a unique and distinct pattern and design. A particular shop, Majuyuan, is famous for its hats, not to mention its silk shoes that are skillfully crafted for the royal family. A visit to China, well, to any foreign land, would not be complete without a visit to a local shop offering souvenir items. Personally, the best souvenirs one can bring home from a trip in Bangkok are the famed Chinese fans. One can locate these wonderful hand-made crafts in Liulichang Street, which, as I was told, translates to Glass Street. This is also well-known for its jewelries, its Chinese antiques and ornaments. Nanluoguxiang, which can be found in the South Gong and Drum Lane, as well as Panjiayuan Antique Market are two other places to buy such items. Moreover, one can also score some lovely handmade pottery, books, paintings, and traditional artifacts.Another item China is known for is its medicinal herbs. These have been used and passed down from generation to generation. If one wishes to find a cure for an ailment, it is good to stop in the Tongrentang Drugstore, which is recognized all over the world for its handmade pills, herbal medicines, etc.With all of these mentioned, I recommend, for your next visit to China, to explore the winding streets of Beijing. For sure, one will find something worth keeping and worth taking home. Close
Written by nofootprint on 28 Dec, 2009
We are surprised at how modern the city is as we drive in from the airport. There are lots of skyscrapers with brilliantly lit lights. In the morning the smog is heavy and everything looked gray. As we drove through the congested streets of Beijing…Read More
We are surprised at how modern the city is as we drive in from the airport. There are lots of skyscrapers with brilliantly lit lights. In the morning the smog is heavy and everything looked gray. As we drove through the congested streets of Beijing during the morning rush, I couldn't help but notice the locals , of all ages out taking their morning exercise. Every little available space it seemed would be used for Thai Chi or other types of activity!!This city of 16 million has been working hard to get ready for the 2008 Olympics and when we visited there are countdown clocks all over the city. There is construction going on everywhere and we are told heavy industry has been relocated to help clean the air. They still have a lot of room for improvementSummer Palace (Yihe Yuan) -The park is massive , with 716 acres and has a beautiful lake known as Kumming Lake located on the South side. We took a boat ride across the lake .It gives a good vantage point to see the willow draped banks and the amazing opulent palaces on the hill tops. Located in the lake at the Summer Palace is a strange boat is made of marble and not surprising it can't float . Simply put ,it represented power.We were told the story by our guide about the lady for whom the garden was built . She was the stepmother of the Emperor ,was strong willed and known to many as the Dragon lady. This garden was rebuilt for her around 1860.Its truly lovely with many ancient trees lining passageways and wonderful gardens. One of the most beautiful sights at the Summer Palace is the Long Corridor. The half mile long corridor is painted with different scenes taken from Chinese history and culture. Originally it was painted especially for the Empress when she had grown to old to travel to other parts of China. The thinking was China would be brought to her through this art. We were told there are 10,000 images in all. I was somewhat skeptical about the statistics that came our by various guides...but none of the less it was an amazing sight!And of course there are beautiful gardens. For me its always about the gardens. Next to traveling, gardening is my passion. I loved the ancient gardens at the famous Summer Palace and I especially loved the masses of lotus floating in the lakes. This was an incredibly rare sight for me to see. HutongThis is a preserved area of the city where people live just as they have for hundreds of year . The low rows of houses line narrow passageways. Today in fact there are not many of these areas remaining as the way is cleared to make room for huge skyscrapers. Our group was invited into the home of Mrs Wong who lived in the Hutong area of Beijing.She had a historic house with many little rooms and a courtyard with many birds in cages . We were surprised to here that no one in the Hutong has a toilet. They use a public toilet in the neighborhood. Even more surprising is the fact that the house we visited was worth several million dollars . I guess it comes down to location !Hutong Pedi-Taxi We felt like we were in the amazing race when we rounded the corner and all these uniformed bike drivers were there waiting to take us through the village. It felt a little silly but it was fun and relaxing being driven around through the narrow streets. Close
Written by EsslingerBrian on 22 Nov, 2009
Finding your way around a foreign city can seem like a daunting task, especially when all the signs are written in a language that you don’t understand, but Beijing is a very traveller friendly city, and an ease to navigate. With an extensive metro system…Read More
Finding your way around a foreign city can seem like a daunting task, especially when all the signs are written in a language that you don’t understand, but Beijing is a very traveller friendly city, and an ease to navigate. With an extensive metro system and a plethora of taxis, any place in Beijing is a quick and cheap trip away.Walking is by far the best way to understand and explore the city of Beijing, but depending on the distances, it is not always the best option. Although taxis are plentiful and quite cheap, Beijing traffic (which gets more and more congested by the day) sometimes makes it quicker to just walk. Plus, when travelling by foot, you’re able to discover a lot of off the beaten track locales and are able to see much more of the city. All road signs are clearly marked in both Chinese and English, so you shouldn’t have much difficulty determining where you are, as long as you have a map. Some of the best restaurants that we ate at in Beijing were the hole in the wall shops that we passed whilst walking from one place to another. Although I don’t remember the names of any of them (or whether they even had names), you’re bound to run into many traditional (and cheap) restaurants when navigating Beijing by foot.Whether it was intentional or not, the Chinese created a new sport in recent decades. Crossing the Street. In much of the Western world, when the little green walk sign is on, you just need to look both ways to make sure no traffic is coming, and if cars do approach when you are already in the intersection, then they’ll yield to you. This is far from the case in China. If you wait until the little green person is on and the traffic stops, then you’ll likely never make it across the street. The traffic follows their own set of rules that each driver determines themselves, so the only way to properly cross a street in Beijing (or all of China), is to cross the street weaving your way between the incoming cars. It’s kind of like playing Frogger, but in real life. Although there are zebra crossings throughout the city, cars pay no attention to it, so keep your wits about when crossing. Of course, some intersections are worse than other, and in central Beijing, where most of the tourist sites are, there are many underpasses and bridges over the roadways so that you don’t even have to worry about traffic. This is usually only something to be concerned with when crossing the street outside of the immediate city centre.For longer distances, the easiest and quickest way to get around Beijing is by using the extensive subway system. Having undergone a lot of expansion and improvements in the last decade, largely due to the Olympic Games, Beijing’s metro rivals that of many other cities around the world. All the facilities are extremely modern and well marked, and only cost a fraction of what one would expect to pay in New York, London, or Sydney. Currently, a total of nine lines are in operation to zip you anywhere in Beijing, and regardless of how far you travel and how many times you transfer, you’ll only pay a flat fare of ¥2 (about $0.30USD). However, in order to reach the Beijing Capital International Airport, the fare is ¥25 (about $3.50USD), but is very fast and efficient. Pretty much all the main sights in Beijing can be found along lines 1, 2, and 5, and transferring between these lines are very easy and quick. Signs (in both Chinese and English) are abundant throughout the stations, directing you on how to find your next line. When transferring, make sure that you don’t go through a turnstile which requires you to insert your ticket because if you do, you’re exiting the station and will have to buy another ticket to get back on. When buying tickets, the automated ticket vending machines are in both English and Chinese and are extremely easy to use. If you are travelling with large pieces of luggage, the station attendants might stop you and have it x-rayed, but this is relatively painless and they often don’t even care about scanning the luggage of foreigners. People often have the impression that the subways in East Asia are jam packed, but in Beijing, due to the frequent trains and efficiency of the system, Beijing’s metro system is not overcrowded, but you likely won’t be able to find a seat.Taxis in Beijing are also plentiful and extremely inexpensive (a ride of typical length across town will cost you about ¥20), but as the drivers usually do not speak English, you need to find other ways of communicating with them. Have your hotel write down the location where you’re going in Chinese characters and show that to the driver, or bring a map and point to the place that you want to go. If you know the general whereabouts of where you want to go, it’s often easier just to take the metro and walk to where you’re going. Although some fake taxis do exist, the official taxis are easily distinguishable as they have a large yellow stripe on the side with the taxi company’s name on the front doors and a "B" as the first letter on the number plate. Even if you find yourself in an unofficial taxi, likely the worst thing that is going to happen is that you are going to be charged more than what the standard fare should be.Although buses are existent within Beijing, understanding their schedules (written only in Chinese) and knowing when to get off make them very difficult to use. Unless you are extremely proficient in Mandarin, don’t mind getting completely lost, and have a sense of adventure, then the buses are probably not for you. Through my experience travelling in Beijing, I’d definitely recommend walking if possible, using the metro/subway if travelling longer distances, and taking a taxi as a last resort. Always carry a city map and a subway map with you, and you’ll likely not find yourself lost. Close
Written by happysh2009 on 15 Oct, 2009
Advantages: many choices.Disadvantages: westerlized.There are more than 400 bars around Beijing. Most of them are located in the northern and eastern areas of the city. The most famous areas are the top 3 listed below. 1. San li Tun & Worker's Stadium Since the first…Read More
Advantages: many choices.Disadvantages: westerlized.There are more than 400 bars around Beijing. Most of them are located in the northern and eastern areas of the city. The most famous areas are the top 3 listed below. 1. San li Tun & Worker's Stadium Since the first bar opened in the southern street of San li Tun in 1989 this area has developed into 9 sq.km. It was most popular and still is especially with foreigners. Around San Li Tun there are more than 70 foreign Embassies and a famous silk market(now the market moved inside and is called Ya Xiu Market). Here you can find many bars with different themes. Some are very big. Some just have a couple of tables. The bars in the southern street are more simple, quiet and popular with people who are interested in art and music. The bars in the northern street are more noisy and popular with foreigners especially single men. Twice my husband and I visited a bar cum restaurant in this area called One Thousand and One Nights. It provides Middle Eastern food and has belly dancing after 8pm. My husband worked in the Middle East for many years. He rated the food highly. 2. Hou Hai (also known as Shi Cha Hai) Shi Cha Hai is a lake located behind Bei Hai. That is why it is also called Hou Hai by locals. Hai in Chinese means a sea. In the past emperors usually referred to their lake as a sea. Traditionally from the Yuan dynasty this area has been a summer retreat for Beijing residents. Even now locals still like to spend time there and it is also appealing to tourists especially foreigners. Here tourists can see traditional local houses called Si He Yuan and walk along Hu Tongs. By the way, Hu Tong means an alleyway. Along the lake there are many bars reconstructed from Si He Yuan. So here you can walk through the alleyways, sit in the traditional local houses and have your favourite drink whilst your favourite music playing. 3. Chao Yang Gong Yuan & Xing Ba Lu I'm most familiar with the bars in this area. Don't get me wrong when you read this. I'm not a frequent bar visitor. It is just that I have lived in this area for more than 10 years. It is located in the CBD(central business district) and also near to the newer Embassy area. There used to be a bar called the Goose & Duck by the western gate of Chao Yang Gong Yuan(it's a big park). The owner came from Scotland. Many foreigners especially British, who love sport drank there. It provided traditional British meals. It was in this bar I first tried fish & chips and had a British breakfast. I have many good memories from my visits there before it moved to the eastern gate of Chao Yang Gong Yuan in 2007. Xing Ba Lu has a big lake too. There are many bars including one called Pilipili, the only African themed bar in Beijing. It provides African food, and you can hear African music played by African bands. I went there once and I found it very impressive. Summary: you can have a good night in some bars when you visit Beijing. Close
Written by Bill Pfeffer on 04 Apr, 2009
Beijing appeared to be a bloated metropolis all gussied up for the August Olympics, scrubbed clean with colorful potted plants lining the streets, with not a speck of litter marring the immaculate avenues. Volunteer booths were conspicuous at subway stops, manned by enthusiastic young people…Read More
Beijing appeared to be a bloated metropolis all gussied up for the August Olympics, scrubbed clean with colorful potted plants lining the streets, with not a speck of litter marring the immaculate avenues. Volunteer booths were conspicuous at subway stops, manned by enthusiastic young people eager to demonstrate their newly minted English phrases. Police and military stood everywhere, with security checkpoints at all bus and subway entrances, x-raying all packages and giving everyone a good once over.During the two weeks of the Olympics, the government restricted cars from many of the roads, closed many factories, and seeded the clouds with chemicals to induce rain and wishfully wash away the expectant hazy cloud of pollution. Yet, when we were there, the sky could not have been bluer, the air more fresh. In a dramatic display of double standards, Beijing Olympic official memorabilia (t-shirts, medals, envelopes, stamps, etc) were only available in designated stores, yet it continued to turn its back on blatant copyright infringement, and allowed everyone to flagrantly market knockoffs. Many articles in the papers trumpeted the enormous pressure to present China in the best light, and proud banners were displayed everywhere – Olympic fever was boiling over.We stopped at the China Post office less than a mile from the Olympic venue to purchase postcard stamps to America. This created a little stir, because, due to limited supply, the clerks only allow five stamps per customer for each visit. After thirty minutes, we finally did leave with a stash of ten hard fought stamps, although even those were difficult to acquire. Not surprisingly, the clerks kept trying to sell us Olympic envelopes, Olympic medals, and Olympic mascots from the officially designated item case – just no postcard stamps.Beijing reminded me of Los Angeles, big and sprawling, with many new districts crowding out the historic sections of the city. Shiny new skyscrapers, so common throughout China, rise above the ancient narrow alleyways (hutongs), which form the historic core of this great metropolis. Transportation is adequate, although certainly not at the same level as Shanghai or Hong Kong. Expansion of the subway lines is ongoing, as the suburbs bleed outwards from the city center. The Metro circumnavigates the core of Beijing, so expect to pick the closet location on the grid square and walk from there. Fresh and clean, it certainly has a week’s worth of attractions to satisfy even the most jaded traveler.The number one highlight is the Great Wall of China, built centuries ago to keep the marauding Genghis Khan and his Mongolian invaders at bay. Rising from the sea, it follows the natural contours of the hills for another 4200 miles inland, with most of the sections in expected disarray. The closet section, the restored Badaling, is the most visited. However, this is ground zero for vendors and their cheap wares. We chose instead to hike a five-mile section from Jinshandling to Samatai, a section light on tourists and mostly vendor free. Here, the Great Wall exists in its original state, with very little investment in upgrades. As far as the eye can see, the ancient wall ascends and descends the hills, and you scramble along the surprisingly wide and well-constructed walkway as best you can. Passing through thirty-one guard towers, and along crumbling ancient bricks set in centuries old mortar, I kept reflecting on how cold and lonely it must have been for the poor guards assigned as sentries. The engineering and surveying of this wall is amazing. The effort to quarry and haul rocks up the steep hillsides is Herculean. The combined efforts of thousands of workers over so many years and the incredible ongoing longevity will impress anyone so lucky to visit. Tours leave from the Peking Downtown Backpackers Association every day at 6:30 AM in a comfortable air-conditioned minibus. It takes three hours to get there; the hike itself is four-five hours (one-way), with a three-hour return. I would not classify is as an easy hike, as you do follow the contour of the wall up and down over the hills. A few hardcore vendors will surprise you in the darkened towers, as they push cheap t-shirts, bottles of water, and in one case, warm beer. Our group for the day consisted of fifteen people of all ages and nationalities. Highly recommended, and a good value at $30/person.Many people spend a day or more in the Forbidden City (Imperial Palace), but two or three hours is plenty. It is the same building over and over, surrounded by concrete courtyards. The best parts are the tree-laden gardens just before you exit, which unfortunately, is where most of the tourists clog together. It would be so much better to collect some of the ancient furniture and artifacts and stock them in some of these buildings. Now, the interiors are dingy, not well lit, and poorly furnished. Pressing my face against the dirty window, I thought I was looking into grandpa’s darkened garage. Why not open these great halls and create better displays? This could be so much better – it still feels forbidden. A must see, but prepared to be under whelmed.Tiananmen Square, the symbol of freedom for many young Chinese, indeed for the entire globe, is enormous. Allegedly the largest in the world, it is flanked by oversized government monuments – The History Museum and Museum of the Revolution, The Great Hall of the People, The Gate of Heavenly Peace, and the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao. Teeming with people lost in the utter spaciousness of this historic plaza, I was amused by the roped off groups of workers who sat on squatty little stools and scraped gum from the square. Who can ever forget that stirring scene of the young man standing up to the tank in this celebrated square? Talk about bloated, why Chairman Mao deserves this humungous monument is lost on me. From an early age, kids are brainwashed into believing Mao is the reason for today’s prosperity, which is ludicrous since he killed many of the intellectuals and capitalists. Nonetheless, it is a must see, as you move quickly in the line – no cameras, no bags, no hats, move quickly – past his embalmed corpse, all rosy cheeked and lit from above. Then, to add insult to his ‘great’ legacy, after viewing the Chairman, you exit to a cheesy souvenir section, where you have an opportunity to honor his communist memory by purchasing capitalist trinkets. Regrettably, a must see, but probably not worth it. Uncle Ho in Hanoi is better and more inspiring. Later, we will report on how Lenin stacks up in Moscow.On a 100-degree day, we could not believe our ears as we descended down from delightful Jingshang Park. Walking downhill, the refrain became clearer and louder, as we curiously followed the melody to its source. Winding past temples, well-manicured flower patches, and emerald lawns, we finally arrived at the scene, where flirtatious groups of people were joyously practicing their dance steps to the riotous and implausible tune of ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’. This is a common scene in public parks throughout Asia, where people of all ages meet and dance to western tunes. Pretty funny.I thought the narrow alleyways – hutongs – were the best part of Beijing, places to get lost as you wandered around, poking your head in interesting shops, and walking wherever your curiosity takes you. The area around the Drum Tower and Houhai Lake felt like the real Beijing, not the bright shiny urban sprawl it has become.We shipped another box of souvenirs, sampled Peking duck, had two-dollar haircuts at the famous Wenfeng salon, shopped for tacky goods, saw all there was to see, and prepared for the next leg of the journey, the Trans-Mongolian train across Russia. Beijing certainly is an excellent city, worthy of three to five days, although it would rank behind Hong Kong and Shanghai as destinations. Whereas, we would return to Shanghai and Hong Kong, we probably would not to Beijing – once you have seen everything, there is nothing to bring you back.I hope that when we return, homogenized concrete buildings and shiny skyscrapers will not dominate China, and the government will maintain and encourage the historic and cultural aspects of this wonderful civilization. Perhaps China will stop trying to be so much like Westerners and embrace their unique heritage. While challenging for the independent traveler, it is certainly rewarding when you succeed. With the right amount of time and patience, you will see things you will not see anywhere else in the world – the snaking Great Wall, the majestic and sacred Yellow Mountain, the millions of people on their one-speed bikes, the smoky incense coils in the temples of Hong Kong, and the rice paddies of Yangshuo. Profound, spiritual, everlasting - China, even better than the real thing. Close
Written by blueskygirl on 17 Dec, 2008
Shopping: We went to the Silk Street Market twice. The first time, it was just way too crowded for me. No thank you! The second time, honestly I tried to find something I wanted to buy but I just couldn’t. I hate fake bags and…Read More
Shopping: We went to the Silk Street Market twice. The first time, it was just way too crowded for me. No thank you! The second time, honestly I tried to find something I wanted to buy but I just couldn’t. I hate fake bags and I’m just not into pearls. I did buy a cashmere sweater (well, who knows if it is real cashmere but it did feel very nice) for 200 RMB (starting price was 600RMB). Shopping here was an interesting experience with various styles of sales pitches. They went from guilt ("please miss, I haven't made a sale today. You are my first customer. Please buy"), to shameless flattery ("You are so beautiful. Please come inside and look at my shoes. Real leather"), to threats ("You said you would buy if I give you good price. Now you must buy" combined with physically blocking the entry way with their bodies to stop customers from exiting).Silk Street Market is extremely crowded so come prepared to fight the crowds and ruthlessly bargain. We quickly got tired of girls grabbing our arms and endless arguments with sales people. There are a couple of coffee shops outside the market and a Macdonalds across the street just to regroup and take a break. The B1 floor has shoes, bags and other accessories. We saw knock-off Samsonite, SWISS and Tumi suitcases on this level which might be a good thing to remember if you ened up buying a lot on your trip. Level 1 has outdoor mens and womens wear. Level 2 has womens wear. Level 3 I think was a combination of men's and women's clothes, including knock-off designer jeans such as Seven for Mankind and Diesel. Level 4 was where you could find silk filled duvets, linens, rugs and a fabric section where you could make suits and Mandarin-style dresses made. Actually, yes I did see something I loved (since I don't like fake bags or pearls)… on the 4F there was a store in the corner selling beautiful Tibetan and Hunan carpets. Made of silk not wool, they were thin, soft and oh-so-gorgeous. They also had combination of silk/wool which were also nice because they had less of a 'sheen' to them. But even the small ones started at about 4000RMB. Apparently they are hand-made and a rug can take up to two years to make. Art: Had read a NY Times article, I believe, on the art scene in Beijing. There is a new area called Factory 798. Essentially, old factories converted into art studios and galleries. Galleries are intermingled with coffee shops. There were some great exhibits going on with up-and-coming Chinese artists. We spent a nice Saturday afternoon there. I especially enjoyed seeing some amazing photographs of rural China now and black-and-whites of China in the 70's. The photos were fascinating. I recently heard it being described as "Soho and Greenwich Village with Chinese characteristics", whether that is a stretch or not, we still thought it was a nice way to spend half a day. It's not intimidating at all to just walk into one of their galleries. We didn't encounter any high-pressure sales pitch anywhere. Just as an example of how down-to-earth it is here, while wandering, we were invited to an opening of a new gallery showcasing a Dutch artist who has been living in Beijing for four years. Of course we were curious, so we went and enjoyed having local beer and potato chips while introducing ourselves to the artist and her friends. Close
Written by LAFRAGIA on 29 Nov, 2008
We journeyed to China for a week. While in this huge land, we were fully escorted by personnel from China Pac Tours. During our stay we had the chance to visit the Great Wall of China. This is a must. Especially now it is also…Read More
We journeyed to China for a week. While in this huge land, we were fully escorted by personnel from China Pac Tours. During our stay we had the chance to visit the Great Wall of China. This is a must. Especially now it is also a Seventh Wonder of the New World. When you arrive at the great wall, there are shops and shops and shops with great deals for souvenirs. Haggle when you come back down and if one won’t give it to you at the price you want, another one will (etc. we got ten key chains for eight US Dollars when one shop was trying to sell 1 keychain for four US Dollars) Anyways, make it pass the shops and cafes then climb the steps to the main tourist entrance. There are just rolling hills of the Great Wall...... as far as the eye can see. Plus there are plenty of locals to take your pictures in front of the Great Wall so don’t worry if you forgot your camera. We traveled in October just after the Chinese New Year Holiday. So even though are tour guide said it was not peak season, the bountiful of crowds showed otherwise. You will rest against the wall while climbing upward (trust me..lol) While resting you will take in the views and really wonder how many years, how many people and how many stones did it take to create such a thing. There are plenty of photo ops as you journey farther up the mountain. People are along the walls selling hand made crafts, key chains and statues...etc...My husband and I were directed to a tree and told it was the highest point in the area we were in. Also the safest point to climb to and get a fabulous view of everything. We tightened our Nikes and headed up that way. Forty minutes later and quite a distance from the main entrance, we thought there was only one more hill to climb. We reached the top of the guard tower took a deep breath of accomplishment ...then our shoulders just slumped down, our smiles turned upside down, for we saw the Great Wall divided into three more walls...hahaha … it was quite a disappointment to see the tree there, possibly still thirty more minutes away from us at a steep incline. We looked behind us, and then in front of us, then behind us and to the side of us and noticed a small rollercoaster to take you down the wall for a fee, then once more in front of us. We admired the trickle of people who had almost reached the tree. We laughed at each other, and then congratulated each other; we decided to call it a day. Out of our tour bus of fifty people over half said they would climb to the tree, but no one completed that climb. But it was just the joy of seeing something so great, the colors so beautiful and the people so many. It was worth every bit of the pain of the burning thighs, calf’s cramping up, toes pressing against the shoes and bulging out because of the rapid decline down the hill, the smell of rust and stone from trying to keep a steady grip to the wall or rail while going back down. There was even one point we sat down on the steps from fear of falling and scooted from step to step. I would not trade my experience for the world! In closing I wanted to mention what I observed as a common thing while taking tourist stops and bathroom breaks during our week long journey. Most the bathrooms only had squatters (females be aware because I had no idea what that was and when I walked into the stall I thought my bathroom was broke because there was only a hole in the floor and the toilet was missing) there was NEVER any bathroom tissue or hand soap. I am soooo serious. I always take a fanny pack with me fully prepared so this is just a word of advice Thank God for Kleenex, babywipes and Purell! Close
Written by phileasfogg on 08 Sep, 2007
Gugong – the Forbidden City – was at the top of our list of must-sees in Beijing. Unfortunately, it seemed (though I must admit, with justification) to top everybody else’s list as well. We arrived at Wu men, the Meridian Gate of the Forbidden City,…Read More
Gugong – the Forbidden City – was at the top of our list of must-sees in Beijing. Unfortunately, it seemed (though I must admit, with justification) to top everybody else’s list as well. We arrived at Wu men, the Meridian Gate of the Forbidden City, at about 10 in the morning, to find long queues snaking their way across the courtyard from the ticket windows. Working our way to the front, battling beggars, guides, and sellers of pamphlets, ice lollies and mineral water, we finally bought our tickets (a steep 60 RMB per person) and followed the crowds through the main gate.
The Forbidden City was once taboo for outsiders; the imperial household led luxurious and often unbelievably ostentatious lives within the secluded halls of this vast palace complex. Built in the centre of Beijing during the early years of the 15th century (specifically, from 1406 to 1420), the Forbidden City was occupied over a period of 500 years by 24 emperors. It sprawls in a series of gardens, splendidly decorated halls and pavilions, and vast courtyards, across 720,000 square metres. The Forbidden City, according to a plaque we saw, originally consisted of 9,999 and a half (?!) rooms. Today, it’s down to about 8,000 rooms, but they’re all quite breathtaking. Curving eaves are covered with glazed tile, almost throughout in imperial yellow. Stone, wherever used, is carved in auspicious shapes – dragons, phoenixes, and clouds – and colourful floral patterns are painted onto wood just about everywhere, including the ceilings. Interestingly, all across the Forbidden City, you’ll see huge metal cauldrons or vats. There are 308 of these, made of either copper or iron. Water was stored in the vats for fire fighting (remember that most halls are wooden), and the vats were wrapped in quilts during the winter to keep the water from freezing. When it got too cold, fires used to be lit under the vats – which may, I felt, have been a fire hazard itself. Anyway, an interesting bit of trivia is that you can tell which vat was made by which dynasty simply by looking at the handles on the sides. Ming vats have plain ring-shaped handles, while Qing vats had ornate handles shaped like animal heads.
We walked through the first gate, the wide stone staircase beyond milling with tourists, as was the courtyard below. Having crossed one of the five-stone bridges that span the Golden River (a broadish stream, really), we turned to the buildings on our left, and continued along that way.
A brief word of orientation before I proceed. The Forbidden City is built on a north-south axis, with courtyards all down the centre, punctuated by huge halls that stand at right angles to the central north-south axis. On either side of the central courtyards, to left and right, are more halls, smaller courtyards, gardens, and more. Many of these are still out of bounds for visitors. Since we ended up spending over five hours within the Forbidden City and still couldn’t see it all, I guess this didn’t really make much of a difference to us. We’d not have had time to see them in any case.
Beyond the Inner Golden River Bridges stands the Taihe men (The Gate of Supreme Harmony); on the left of this huge hall and the courtyard beyond are a series of pavilions with exhibitions related to imperial China. The first we saw was Weapons and Armors of the Qing Dynasty, a collection of helmets, uniforms, swords, guns, powder horns, cannon and the like, mostly pretty dusty and poorly labelled. The next exhibition – Qing Dynasty Imperial Music – was housed in the Hongyi gye (Pavilion of Spreading Righteousness), and consisted of outsize musical instruments used in religious and imperial ceremonies. The display here was as dusty, dull, and uninspiring as in the previous pavilion, but beyond this, things started to look up a bit.
Beyond the Taihe men, we crossed a vast courtyard, which is supposed to hold 100,000 peopl