Tag Archives: Beijing

Beijing

10 May

Beijing has changed a lot since I last visited in 1994 and Jeannie in 1999. Beijing has transformed from a traditional Chinese city of bicycles, hutongs, small markets and street vendors, to a large metropolitian city of cars and huge shopping malls everywhere. Alongside this unchecked massive growth comes smog: thick heavy smog that blankets the city and reduces visibility down to 500 yards on any given day. You can’t go to Beijing without immediately noticing it in your throat and lungs. A stay-indoors bad air day is declared in the US when the smog index hits 100. During our time in Beijing the smog index averaged 350! Now I understand why all Chinese people are hocking loogies and spitting on the street.

In spite of this, we managed to visit the main sights of the city and eat at some really great (and cheap) restaurants!

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Da Dong peking duck restaurant. Probably the best peking duck restaurant in the city. The duck is lean, crispy, and juicy. Great reputation among tourists and locals alike. We actually ate peking duck 3 times over a course of of 11 days. We dine at a Peking duck restaurant called Jin Zun, twice, because it was across the street from our hotel. Generally we wouldn’t gorge like that, but we hadn’t had Peking duck in years, and we weren’t really fans of the northern style Beijing food. In nearly every Beijing restaurant we ate at, each veggie dish was incredibly oily and greasy. Da Dong was the only place in Beijing we ate at that didn’t serve veggies dripping in oil. FYI, if you want to eat at a Peking duck place, call ahead and make reservations! If you just show up the wait might be long for getting seated, and you’d also have to wait longer for your duck.

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Water Cube. Half of the cube has been turned into an indoor water park. The competition swimming side is under construction as well, but we don’t know what it’s turning into.

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Bird’s Nest. See that fog? It’s not fog. You can barely see from one side of the stadium to the other. In only 4 years, you can already tell the National Olympic Stadium is already suffering from neglect. Paint is peeling everywhere, rust is showing, and the roof is dirty. There’s rumors of turning part of it into a shopping complex.

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The Forbidden City remains unchanged since who-knows when. It’s sad that even the Chinese citizens have little respect for their crown jewel. I witnessed a woman toss a corn-on-the-cob right on the ground here, when a garbage can was 50 feet away. I also saw a family let their 4 year old kid pee right on the sidewalk in front of Mao’s portrait in Tiananmen Square. The rest of the grounds are littered with corn cobs and a variety of trash.

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Wangfujing shopping street. A mix of modern mega-malls lining the street, with traditional style vendors less than a block away.

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Summer Palace

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Acrobatics show. We bought tickets off a scalper and saved 40%, and got prime seats.

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Temple of Heaven

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We tried Din Tai Fung in Beijing. A different dining experience than the one in Arcadia; these dumplings tasted better and the prices were cheaper.

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Mango shaved ice from a dessert place down the hall from Din Tai Fung.

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iTea. The purple drink was kind of gross but the mango pudding was good.

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Beef noodle soup and pork noodle soup from the food court at Raffles City, a department store.

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We drank Happy Lemon quite a bit to soothe our throats during the day. It’s a boba/pearl/tapioca/bubble chain with a great selection of drinks. The QQ Brilliant Fruit Tea was a winner, we must have had it like 4 times!

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Our Great Wall Adventure

9 May

There’s no shortage of tours to various sections of the Great Wall that leave from Beijing, but we decided to try to get there ourselves via the public transportation. And against all odds/despite information of varying accuracy, we actually did it!

First, we had to decide which section of the wall to visit. Our friends gave us a heads up and told us to visit Mutianyu over Badaling because although Badaling is closer, it is much more crowded. The difficulty in seeing Mutianyu is finding transportation to take you there; if you take the wrong bus or get off at the wrong stop, you’ll be stranded a long ways away from Beijing.

After quite a bit of conflicting research, we chose bus 867 leaving from the Dongzhimen bus terminal, which is a 10 minute walk from the subway station. We arrived early for the 8:30 bus and were relieved to see a few other tourists in line too. It’s a good idea we arrived 15 minutes early because the bus ride ended up being 2.5 hours, and quickly filled up to standing room only! The actual mileage is not that far, it’s just that the bus makes frequent stops.

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After getting to Mutianyu, we took the ski lift up.
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We then hiked up to three towers. The terrain is so steep that some of the stair sections look like sheer walls right in front of you! You have to essentially climb them using your hands as well as your feet.
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After walking/climbing for an hour, we turned back and took the toboggan back down. This was the highlight of our day. The toboggan is a sliding cart that rides on a stainless steel bobsled track, complete with banked turns. All you have to do is release the brake and gravity takes care of the rest. We ignored the various slow down signs waved by the flag men and zoomed down to the bottom of the mile-long track.

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After getting to the bottom, we saw the 867 bus leaving so we ran to it and barely got on. Buses only run at 2pm and 4pm back to Beijing. It ended up being a 3 hour ride on the way back on a packed public bus! We unfortunately didn’t get a seat at first, but about 15 minutes later a couple people got off at the next stop and we got seats. Whew!

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All in all, the Great Wall at Mutianyu is a great place to see, but only if you have some time to spare and don’t mind riding the bus for six hours. Otherwise hire a private driver or join a tour group. We saved some money but we certainly didn’t save any time!

The part where the guy uses his hands to propel himself is hilarious. FYI, speaking of cutting in line, the couple in front of us let 4 of their friends cut in line, and he was one of them. Not cool! Lucky for them we were in a good mood and didn’t feel like calling them out on it. However, we cannot confirm or deny if the *ahem* bump at the end was intentional or not. *wink*

Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game?

6 May

After being on the road for over 2 months now, we’ve learned to either embrace, adapt, or at the very least, accept customs of cities that we visit. But in Beijing, when it came to situations where we had to 1) stand in line, 2) ride a train or bus, or 3) cross a street, we found ourselves in situations where we’d have to act accordingly or 1) get cut in front of, 2) get crushed or pushed off the subway, 3) get injured by a moving vehicle.

Examples:
People freely cut in line whether it was to buy subway tickets, ask for directions, or see Mao’s body at the mausoleum. In other places such behavior would be considered rude but in Beijing it seems to be the norm.

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See the woman in the pink? She was originally behind us in line. She managed to elbow her way that far up. Probably in the 1.5 hours we were in line maybe 4 dozen folks cut their way in front of us.

Sure, we could cut back, but as being overly aggressive is not a skill we practice day to day, it didn’t feel comfortable or right to continually reciprocate the behavior. It’s also tiring!

What is also tiring is also the amount of concentration it takes to cross a street. Beijingers seem to treat the art of crossing the street/driving as a game of chicken. Well, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Which brings me to the next image.

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See the shoe wedged under the tire? Now, I don’t know what really happened here as we showed up after the incident happened. Either party could have been at fault. But I do know cars/bikes and pedestrians alike don’t obey traffic lights here. Cars will turn, or even go straight even when they have a red light, even when people are in the intersection. What’s sad is that the lack of yielding to pedestrians has nothing to do with road rage (not that I’m condoning road rage as an excuse to drive recklessly), but rather the behavior is deemed normal.

No doubt we hate the game.

Has anyone experienced anything similar to us or have differing experiences to share?

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