Posted by: daradoodle | December 31, 2008

Beijing (北京)

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The capital of China, host city of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games and home of the Peking Duck. Four months ago, I was sitting in my living room in Los Angeles glued to the television watching Michael Phelps swim himself to golden glory. I couldn’t wait to get to China to visit Beijing (北京). With a few days free at the beginning of November and the upcoming weekend being my buddy Paul’s birthday, I felt the need to venture up north before the winter temperature set in.

Train tickets to cities in China are only available for purchase 10 days in advance. I’ve never done the whole backpacking through Europe thing and the only time I’ve ever been on a train before going to Hangzhou was the New Jersey Transit to Hoboken, so train lingo is new to me. Traveling from Shanghai to Beijing is a 12 hour journey via train, so you want to make sure to purchase a sleeper ticket. There are “hard sleepers,” which are cheaper than the more comfy “soft sleeper.” We wanted the “hard sleeper,” but they were all booked, so we opted for the “soft sleeper.”

Our soft sleeper tickets put us in a small room with two bunk beds and a small table in between. Paul and I the had the top bunks and a cute elderly couple from Beijing had the lower bunks. After the old man fell asleep, his cute factor decreased by about 90% because I’ve never heard anyone snore so loud in my entire life. OK, I take that back, my roommate Jenn is also in the running for this prize, but it’s too close to call. I must say though that the bed on the train was much more comfortable than my bed at Fudan, but due to the noise factor, I only got about three hours of sleep.

The train rolled in to Beijing at 7 AM. We took the metro to the closest stop to Aaron’s apartment then jumped in a cab. When we arrived at Aaron’s, he had coffee waiting for us. After getting cleaned up, Paul’s college buddy, Oli, met up with us then we set off for the Summer Palace.

Located northwest of central Beijing, ancient architecture, beautiful gardens and a sparkling lake is the draw to Yihe Yuan (颐和园), or the Summer Palace. The weather was brisk, but the sun was out. We walked along the dock bordering Kunming Lake (昆明湖) and roamed about some of the pathways up Longevity Hill. Take a look at some of the photos from the day.

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Marble Boat

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I have been an avid fan of Summer and Winter Olympic Games for as long as I can remember, so being able to visit the site of the 2008 Summer Games was a big treat for me. I hopped on one of the tourist buses set-up for folk to get around the city and as soon as the bus turned onto the Ring Road putting the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube into sight, I gasped. I knew that the two complexes were big, but they looked absolutely massive from a drive-by perspective.

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I got off the bus and walked around outside for an hour before making my way into the Bird’s Nest. I hesitated paying the 50 kuai entrance fee thinking that it was probably a tourist trap, but you only live once and I really wanted to see the inside. I was pleasantly surprised to see costumes from the opening and closing ceremonies on display as well as drums from the memorable traditional drumming routine.

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Two of the Fuwa

Fou drums

Fou drums

By the time I exited the building, it was dark outside and both the Nest and Cube were lit.

Birds Nest

Bird's Nest at night

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Water Cube at night

Pretend like you were there with me by watching this video from the Olympic Village at night.

To celebrate Paul’s birthday, we had a traditional Peking Duck dinner with some of his fellow classmates from the University of Edinburgh.

How to eat: Spread some hoisin sauce on a crepe looking thing, throw a few spring onions on top then polish it off with a couple slices of duck. Roll it up and enjoy!

Peking Duck

Peking Duck

Happy B-day Paul!

Happy B-day Paul!

Another MUST while in China is climbing the Great Wall. There are quite a few ways to get to Heibei, which is about a two hour drive north of Beijing. We opted to hire a driver for 450 kuai to drive us there and back.

We started out at the Jinshinling part of the wall and finished up at Simatai. The weather was perfect and there weren’t many people on this route, so we had most of the wall to ourselves. Near the end of our journey, two locals followed us (and chatted us up) the rest of the way then tried selling us souvenirs before heading home. All they got out of us was a Cola purchase from Phil.

I have to mention that at random points along the wall, you have to pay to carry on. When the Jinshinling portion ended and Simatai began, we had to hand over a few kuai. Then when we crossed a suspension bridge and had to fork up more cash to an old man on the other side. Weird. I wonder what happens if you’re traveling alone and you run out of cash? That would not be cool.

When we started our hike, I anticipated reaching the end to do what many people had told me about; harnessing up, jumping off the wall and flying over a river. The flight ends on a dock where a boat ferries passengers to a parking lot. We found our driver waiting for us just as the sun began to set. An unbelieveable way to wrap up a day on the Great Wall.

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Our driver

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Phil & Paul

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Ready for launch!

Ready for launch!

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After a day of climbing the Great Wall

After a day of climbing the Great Wall

If you’ve heard about Tiananmen Square (天安门广场), or the Gate of Heavenly Peace, it’s probably due to moments in history that have something to do with protests or demonstrations against the Chinese government. You might recall the event that the Chinese government refers to as an “incident” that went down on June 4, 1989 when many (the exact number is still disputed) intellectuals and students were killed after a series of pro-democracy outcries. If your history is a bit fuzzy, perhaps this photo will ring a bell – The Unknown Rebel.

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A sweet treat on a stick aka candied hawthorns

Walk toward the larger than life painting of Mao Zedong and you’ll find the entrance to the Forbidden City. This enormous compound was home to emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties. It would take forever to cover every square inch of these grounds, so we stuck to a leisurely jaunt around the premisses and saw much of the carefully crafted architecture as well as some of the emperor and concubine chambers.

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By exiting the Forbidden City’s south side, Jingshan (京山), or Prospect Hill, is easily accessible by crossing the street. Climb up the steep stairs to get a bird’s eye view of the whole city. Although the thick haze distorts much of the landscape, you don’t want to miss this panoramic view.

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Jingshan (京山)

You know… in the few minutes that I spent soaring off the Great Wall, I couldn’t help but flash back to the beginning of 2008 when I was stressed out beyond belief with work and school (I don’t miss napping in the back of my car between work and class at all). For a split second, I didn’t have a care in the world. Some days I still can’t believe that I’m living in China.

A big thanks to everyone for reading the blog over the past few months. If you like what you’ve been reading, click here before the end of 2008 to VOTE Ambassador Doodle for ‘best personal’ blog in China.

Happy New Year everyone!

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Responses

  1. Awesome stories and pics!!!

  2. I’m so glad you’re enjoying yourself & making the most of it. These are travels you will treasure forever! Love you, Mom

  3. So glad to read your excellent, entertaining blog and see all the wonderful pictures. Most of all to see my son and know that he is having a great time……I do not have to rely on the odd email. Thanks – it brings back my memories of China.


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