Saturday, December 25, 2010
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Monday, October 18, 2010
Monday, October 11, 2010
Saturday, September 25, 2010
DAY FOUR (Free Day)
We started our last day in Beijing with a bit of a sleep in (always great on vacation) and then we asked our hotel to get us a few taxis. We hopped in and headed out to the CCTV tower. This was potentially not the best choice for the day as it was the ONE cloudy day we had the whole time but it was fun to look out as far as the eye could see (not far) and gaze down at the wedding below with a really cool tent that sorta looked like a flower. Also being up there allowed us to espy the park across the street so we took off in that direction when we finished acting like news anchors and weather people.
In the park we decided the best use of our time would be to rent an battery powered boat (a nice follow up to our battery powered car ride). We spent our time trying to get as close to things we weren't supposed to and trying to position the boat for a perfect background.
Next we hopped cabs over to the Lama temple. (one L, not two). It was gorgeous. Favorite parts? Gazing at the three story buddha carved from ONE tree while listening to the the monks chanting drift in with the breeze. wow. Beautiful.
After this we decided we wanted to wander back into Old Town so we found this really cutsey cafe on a side street. Dutifully occupied the two chairs oustide and drank a lunch of beer while reading the English Newspaper and trying to ignore the seven old men staring and talking about us.
After finding the fun Art Section with every other closet sized store selling some homemade art/food/clothes we made our way back to Hotel area.
Hotel and Birthday Party
We had a fun shopping district near our hotel so we wandered there for a bit for a few end of the night beers before finding a restaurant near out hotel for dinner. This was a great find! There happened to be a birthday party happening and one for them 8 young men "LOVES foreigners!" and convinced the restaurant owner to go out and buy us noodles because they didn't have any in the restaurant. Then he ordered us cold beef (delicious) some amazing chicken dish and some fried dumplings. Finally they gave us two beers, shared their cake and left us with more food than we could possibly manage between the two of us. It was a pretty awesome end to a great trip!
Exciting things about Beijing:
Chopsticks: Chopsticks are larger-both in length and width. The end doesn't really taper to small. I found I was not so proficient at chopsticks in Beijing.
Bikes: In Beijing, they have bike lanes on all the major roads, and we're not talking tiny little bike lanes where you're afraid of passing someone. We're talking like a full lane of traffic full of bikes. And it is FULL of bikes. People of all ages, clothing styles and bike maintenance.
Traffic Management: There's lots of cars in Beijing as you can imagine so in an effort to limit cars on the road they have certain days when different cars can't drive. It's organized by the last digit (or maybe the first) of your license plate. For example, on Mondays 1 and 9 can't drive, on Tuesdays 2 and 8. and so on. However, our tour guide pointed out that most people get around this by owning two cars.
Subway: Which we unfortunately managed never to ride-only costs 2 yuan. Pennies.
We started our second day with the Buffet in our hotel- A lovely combination of Chinese and western breakfast ideas. You could eat eggs and toast or noodles and vegetables. You choose!Anyway, we left the hotel at 8am to get to the Great Wall early.
On our way to the Great Wall we stopped at the “Jade Factory” AKA live informercial and store. Little did we know this was to be our fate throughout our time in Beijing. ANYWAY, we got this unintelligible history of Jade in China and then were harangued to buy jade. While no one in our group bought anything we did get to heAr the difference between cheap and expensive jade bangles. Literally hear. When you chink them together the cheap one clinks and the expensive one chimes. Also we learned that Chinese love Jade. Women wear jade mostly on their left wrist because that’s closer to the heart and jade is good for circulation. Also we learned that jade is usually passed down through families. The jade absorbs things from the earth and therefore from people so it is best to pass it through families and not to wear a strangers jade.
ANYWAY, after our Jade infomercial (but don’t worry, we’re not jaded-ha!) we went off to the great wall.
We arrived at the great wall around 9.30 and were given two hours to wander about as we pleased. The section we visited is, essentially, a big circle. The part of the wall that we walked encircles a valley which housed troops and soldiers to protect Beijing from Mongolia, it’s one of the new sections of the wall. 400 years old-you know, still older than America. . Hiking the wall was so interesting. Maybe you know, but the wall travels along the tops of mountains so there’s a lot of stairs. And just to make it more fun, each step is a different height. They go from 4 inches to 2 feet. CRAZY! You couldn’t look anywhere other than the steps you were climbing or else you would fall. At times if felt like you were walking STRAIGHT UP! It was pretty cool.Otherwise the wall was, well, a wall. If we had more time and could have done the entire loop I think it would have been more amazing, but the section we were in didn’t really allow us to see the wall wandering away into the distance. It just looked like a circle filled (packed) with tourists. That’s not to say that it wasn’t remarkable. It was still remarkable.
After the great wall we piled into the car to go to lunch. Lunch was on the second floor of a vase factory. You know those beautiful Asian vases that look like everything is outlined with metal paint? Those are the vases we saw and let me tell you the process is remarkable! So, you have the vase and then you glue on the detail that you want with copper wire so the design is raised up from the vase. And then you hand paint the detail, but because the copper wire is raised, you have to paint it up to 7 times so that the paint is level with the copper and then you fire it.Wow. I had no idea. I was so impressed. Anyway, when our infomercial was over we went upstairs for our buffet lunch. Delish. Nothing crazy or way out there- just good savory deliciousness.
When we finished with lunch we headed back into Beijing to visit the summer palace. The summer palace is where the emperor used to live in the summer. It was beautiful. There’s a750 meter covered walkway so during super sunny or super rainy days you can still walk outside.There’s a huge manmade lake and lots of green space. It was beautiful. The strangest thing we saw was this bizarre building, shaped like a boat and half in the water – made out of 100% marble. One of the empresses had it made for her 50th birthday. Oh to be that demanding.
After the summer palace we were brought to the pearl store. The talk beforehand was interesting. Many of the oysters come from the summer palace pond. She had us guess how many pearls would be inside. Wanna take a guess? Go ahead. Let me tell you it was the biggest oyster we could find in the tank. Ok. Done guessing? More than 20! Wow! Because they are in it to make a profit, obviously they force the oysters to make the pearls. How you ask? Well, they insert muscle from another oyster INTO one of the oysters they want to harvest. The foreign material annoys the oyster so they coat it. In a similar way that we make tears if something annoys our eyes. Anyway, the oyster coats the foreign material and that coating makes the pearl. Neato. We all got a small pearl as a consolation prize for guessing the wrong number.
After pearls we went to dinner-back to the same restaurant of the first night- and then we went to a Kung-fu show! The show was about a little boy who joins a monastery (much to his chagrin) but then goes on to study King-fu and become a master! The audience was filled with foreigners. The show was actually in English with Mandarin subtitles. It was pretty fun.
At the end of the night we came back and collapsed into bed.
We decided to go to China when we realized we had a week off for the Korean holiday
Cheosok. The only problem was that we didn’t want to plan a trip so soon after getting back from Japan. Feeling lazy, we looking online and-lo and behold- we found a 4 day package trip to Beijing! And that brings us to our trip.
We arrived in China to our first ever experience of having someone holding a sign with our names on it. It was very exciting and a wonderful way to start our journey. Our tour group is only 5-us and three other NSETS from Korea. Our tour guide is a Chinese woman who’s English name is Wendy. She’s lovely. She herded us to our van and we met our driver, Mr Saun
CHINESE CIRCUS SHOP
We started day one with a Chinese Circus Show at the Heaven and Earth theater. It was a wonderful show in a charming little rundown theather. We saw general acrobatics made more exciting with the use of Diablo and spinning plates. We saw
a balancing act where a 10 year old girl was thrown (and then balanced) onto a three high tower of men. The three main attractions were a juggler, umbrella juggling, and a bicycle act. The juggler bounced, at one point, 9 balls-WHILE tapdancing. The umbrella juggler spun four umbrellas, one in each foot and hand, and the bicycle act had 12 women on one bicycle! It was a fun way to start our evening.
Afterward we were taken to dinner. We had duck. Apparently the way the duck is prepared is very special. They are all smoked in a huge oven, many many ducks together. They have no
seasoning added so they use fruit tree wood to smoke the duck and when it comes out it gets cut into exactly 120 pieces. The duck has three layers of delicious. 1st layer-skin, 2nd layer-fat, and 3rd layer-meat. It’s an excellent combination! They serve it with a thick version of soy sauce (imagine the consistency of A-1). We at our dinner and then went to wonder in our area.
At the end of our street is a lovely church and on the black stone steps in front of the church this man was using water to paint words. He wasn’t using a small paintbrush, it was a large-almost comically sized brush. Imagine the size of a child’s broom. Anyway, the whole processwas beautiful because the water made the stones a nice dark color but by the time he got to the the last step the words on the first step would begin to fade and he would start again. He had three paintbrushes so periodically people on the street would add their words to his.
After watching him for a while we went on a hunt for a sweatshirt. China is cold! Apparently they’ve gone from 90 degrees to 60 in a week! Anyway, we needed to find Jamie a sweatshirt so we braved the mall, found a department store with a hugely aggressive woman who sold us a nice long sleeve shirt for more than half the original price she quoted us.
Warm and ready for adventure we wandered out into the night, found us a little beer stand and drank a beer while watching the female weightlifting championships that were being shown on a massive screen on one of the buildings. When we tired of that we decided to brave the night food market. WOW! Live scorpions on sticks, starfish, flayed geckos, duck fetus, and seahorses-I think that’s the end of the crazy list. Everything else was pretty normal, but it was so crowded that it felt like a fair. We wanted to try the scorpion but had no camera. Soon. Soon.
TIANANENMEN SQUARE and THE FORBIDDEN CITY
We started the day at 8:30 and headed over to Tiananmen Square. We knew it was a large area but the enormity of it was impressive. Wendy told us that it could hold as many as 1.2 million people. She also told us that the trip to Tianenmen square is, for many Chinese, a place they feel they must go at some point in their lives and there are as many people traveling there from within china as there are foreign tourists. Right next to Tianemen square is the Forbidden City. We took about an hour to walk through the residence of the last Emperor. The forbidden city is 1 square kilometer and separated roughly into four sections. The first area is where the guards stay, protecting the palace. The next area is where the politics happen, behind that is the residences and sleeping quarters and behind that are the gardens. The emperor could, obviously, visit all the areas but mostly they were separated by gender. The first two being only men and the second two being only women. Aside from the Emperess there were around 3000 concubines living in the palace.
Some of the more interesting stories we were told about the Forbidden City and it’s inhabitats. The emperor chose many of his concubines from the daughters of his ministers. Many of them would only see the emperor one time-the time they were chosen to be concubines. The life of a concubine was often fraught with danger as there were many schemes and plans to get close to the emperor. The concubines often lived in the midst of murder plots, conspiracy, and distrust. When an emperor finally died the concubines were all sent to become Nuns. As they had belonged to the Emporer they could no longer belong to anyone else.
After the forbidden city we were taken to another live infomercial but this one was participatory and tasty. A tea store! We sat in a little room with a pretty table and a pretty woman and she told us all about different teas and what they are good for and how to drink them and what temperature you should have them at. It was so captivating that I was convinced and bought tea! We bought the pretty one that is a roll of three dried flowers and it opens up to beautiful in water! Oh. And they gave us a little ceramic boy that you pour water on and he pees if the water is hot enough.
Lunch was a buffet. The food was fine-nothing spectacular or crazy. We ate a lot.
TEMPLE OF HEAVEN
We spent all of 20 minutes here but the time we spent was lovely. There’s a massive temple in the middle (a temple to heaven) and the building is so important to Beijing that it’s the symbol of the city. It’s a three storied circular building painted mostly blues and whites. Beijingers believed that heaven is a circle (hence the circular shape) and that it covers the earth (a aquare). The park is supposedly huge, but-well-we can’t speak to that.
After the temple of heaven we went to a silk store. This was riveting! I had no idea how silk was made! So, there are two kinds of silk worm cocoons. One kind it used for silk tread and the other for silk stuffing. It looks like (and is used for) comforter batting. So, the silk thread is taken from the cocoons. Literally the pull a strand of the cocoon off and then just keep pulling to make a thread. The thread from one cocoon can be 650 meters. WOW! But it is so thin that the combine the threads of about 6 or 7 cocoons to make a thicker strand.
The other cocoon is used for silk batting. They wet the cocoon and then just pull it apart! That’s it. The stretch it into a thin cloth and put it over a wicker frame (shaped like an inverted U.) the do that with 10 cocoons because it’s so thin and then take that and put it on a larger frame and put 10 more to make a thick batting. Once they have that done, you take it over to a big bed frame. Four people stand around the frame and they put the silk batting in the middle and the women then pull it to stretch it out to the size of the quilt. WOW! Just wow. While I was sufficiently impressed, I still didn’t buy any silk.
The silk store was our last organized stop for our tour so our driver dropped us off at Olympic Park for us to wander around. It was lovely! The olympic area in beijing. There's the places everyone know and reconginzes like the Nest and the Watercube, but the whole area extends way past that. Behind (or infront of depending on your direction) is the Olympic Green which is this lovely walkway along a maintained river and then farther on is The Olympic Forest. We almost didn't make it to the forest. I'm glad we perservered through the hardships of the green. what hardships you ask? Well, although Olympic Green is beautiful apparently China and Korea have the same habit of broadcasting pop music thourgh speakers in beautiful settings. Although unlike Korea this particular park only had 3 (THREE) songs that it played on repeat. Anyway, we beat a hard and steady path through the Green to Olympic Forest.
Once in the Forest our day took a turn for AWESOME when we rented Minature electric cars and cruised through park. Amazing. It was so fun. I'm glad we overcame the fear that we felt upon standing in line for the cars. We were so worried (unnecessarily) about how to get one. Oddly, even though the olympics were only two years ago there is almost no English in the Olympic area. Of course, there were almost no obvious foreigners. We saw only one obvious foreigner and he was with his family who all seemed to be Chinese so that doesn't really count. ANYWAY, becuase of that many people found us Hilarious (as we found ourselves) and we many people enjoyed watching us as we PutPutted around the park in our tiny green car.
When we left Olympic Park/Green/Forest we hopped a cab over to Hutong, Old Beijing. Our tour guide recommended the lake front area as a place to go for an evening and oh did it turn out to be fun. It's like any bar scene in any country-you know, except for being in China-with lots of overpriced bars and tons of people wandering around and a variety of smells wafting around every corner.
Our first bar was a rooftop scene-great view of the lake and people and awesome view of the Motorcycle gang that cruised through the area about halfway through our dinner.
Jamie wants you to look at this photo and say:
Who has one thumb and drinks more beer? THIS guy
Our second bar was a hooka bar on street level. This was lovely and pleasant and turned awesome when the people next to us started taking our picture. THEN the guy came and sat next to us to take a picture. THEN he gave us cigarettes. THEN he went and got cold roast beef to share with us. Awesome. It was super fun. Actually, many people were taking our picture while we were sitting there. I hope my hair was OK.
Anyway, we wandered home early. Well, it would have been earlier if we didn't keep getting lost in the tiny little back streets of Hutong but by the time we got back we were wiped from our day of sightseeing and excitement.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Monday, August 23, 2010
Day 10, August 20, 2010
Our penultimate day! Having sort of burnt ourselves out on the city of Tokyo, we had arranged yesterday to go on a day trip out of the city to the famous Mt. Fuji! Mt. Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan, weighing in at about 12,500 feet. It holds significant cultural value to many Japanese as it is the residence of one of the major Shinto gods (a goddess, actually). We woke up at about 6:30 and made our way down to the southern part of the city to meet up with the tour group and they picked us up there. Our tour guide was really interesting – very serious about her job, yet quite funny. She talked a lot about Japan and its culture on the way there and back, which was actually really nice to learn about about.
Fuji is about 120 KM outside of Tokyo, so we had a little over 2 hours of a drive. Unfortunately when we got there, the mountain was just covered in cloud, so our view was limited to a few hundred feet! We weren’t too disappointed though, as the air quality was superb and it was actually nice and chilly there, an excellent break from the heat of Tokyo (and the heat of Seoul). There were a great many hikers who were starting off their journey up the mountain from our stopping point (we stopped at station 5, about 2000 meters up; the top is station 10, and it takes from 4-6 hours to get there by foot – cars cannot go past station 5).
Luckily our tour was by no means finished! We drove for about an hour to the beautiful mountain town of Hakone where we first had lunch and then took a gondola up towards the top of a beautiful mountain. There we found a bunch of hot springs – REALLY hot springs, one of the only examples of volcanism in Japan (although there are 3000 hot springs, perhaps this is the most visible on the surface?). It looks (and smells) a lot like portions of Yellowstone park, for anyone who has been there. In some areas the scent of sulfer is extremely strong. We walked up towards a little hut at the top of the trail and purchased “black eggs”. These are eggs that have been hard boiled in the hot springs, which turns them black. Legend has it that eating one will make you live seven years longer, two will make you live fourteen years longer, and three will make it so you’ll never see a doctor again. We bought a five pack and tasted one while still near the mountain (they were SO HOT); tasted pretty good actually!
From the volcanic, we took a “pirate” ship (a ferry) across the lake in the middle of the town. It was GORGEOUS, set right in the middle of the mountains. It is fed by a spring, which makes it so it does not freeze during the winter, which is pretty interesting. It turned out to be a really lovely tour and we’re glad we took it.
We arrived back in Tokyo around 8:45 and found a really funky Japanese-Korean food place (although it didn’t seem very Korean). A lot of different kebab dishes and our waiter spoke English and had some good suggestions for us. A fantastic last dinner in a fanstastic food country
We leave tomorrow early afternoon, so we are hoping to get one more sight seeing objective accomplished in the morning.