Category: Beijing


The Great Wall…and some temples

Day 2 in Beijing, and we had one thing on our mind: The Great Wall. We got a private car for the day, which is only about $80, and that will take you anywhere you want to go in an 8 hour period. This cab driver was only 1 of 2 people that were sincere to us while we were in Beijing. There are really no traffic laws in this city, and he made sure that he was the fastest on the road at all times and never got caught in traffic jams. In other words, he was the greatest driver of all time. We decided to hit a part of the wall in the town of Mutianyu. It’s about 60 miles from the city, and a lot less touristy than the closer part of the wall. It took us just over an hour to get there, and we were not disappointed. You really have no idea how immense this wall is until you see it up close. Some parts are so steep that if you slipped, you’d be going down quite far with no chance of stopping yourself.

Ladies dancing at the Temple of Heaven

One cool part of the wall in Mutianyu is that you can take a ski lift to the top since the area is so steep, and then take a toboggan ride on the way down. We of course had to take this opportunity. How often can you toboggan down a Wonder of the World?  I was kind of surprised to see how many people were out at the wall in March, seeing it was still a bit cold for the average traveler, but visitors from all walks of life were there. The weather was also suprisingly clear, and supposedly if you are looking in the right direction, you can see Mongolia from one part of the wall. Maybe we saw it, maybe we didn’t, who knows.

At the Great Wall in Mutianyu

At the Great Wall in Mutianyu

After we left the Great Wall, we figured we’d knock out as much of Beijing as we could in one day, and while we had our driver. We headed to the Lama Temple (most elaborate temple in Beijing), the Olympic village, which honestly was a huge disappointment. The facilities are in an area of the city that is near……nothing!! And unless they can book big events like the PanAm games, those buildings will rot pretty quickly, especially with the amount of pollution in the air. Everyday we got back to the hotel from touring all day, it felt like a film of dust and sand was on your face. I guess the city is having major issues with sand deposits from the nearby Gobi desert, which dumped over 300,000 tons, yes I said tons, of sand on the city last year. As Beijing expands, it encroaches on the desert more, and like in every other situation where cities grow too far, nature wins. Lets just say being “green” is not on the top of the priority list in China.

We hit a couple more small temples in the city, before heading to a small market area in search of Peking Duck for dinner. The Chinese eat duck like we eat steak, albeit at much cheaper prices. Annemarie and I are huge fans of duck, so we had to find a decent place to have some. Well, we did, and we ordered duck, and it was amazing. They carve the whole duck right in front of you onto three plates (dark, light, and skin). They then came back 10 minutes later with the rest of the duck cooked and seasoned. Just imagine everything you normally wouldn’t eat, that was course 2 of duck dinner that night. Annemarie had a few pieces, and said it was tasty. I was too busy having mini bowls of soup from the huge bowl (meant for a family) that I ordered. I really didn’t care that I didn’t touch it seeing it only costs $2.00, which was a blip when we got the bill for our pot of tea and whole duck. I’m just kidding, the whole bill was $18, ridiculous. There are some things in China that I enjoy, and cheap food is one of them.

Peking Duck

Peking Duck

On our last day in Beijing, we just hit some markets and saw some financial buildings that were put up for the Olympics as well. We also hit the Temple of Heaven, which was more like a carnival with all the karaoke and old people dancing all around the monument. I then lost all respect for the people who think the building is a very important historical piece to China when I saw a huge jumbo-tron bolted onto the side of it. There are jumbo-trons on everything there, and they are so bright at night they blind you, but rumor is that’s the only type of advertising that the Chinese respond to. Not sure on that, but that was the last straw for me. We called it an early day since we had an early flight to Hong Kong. Here’s a shot from the Temple of Heaven:

Temple of Heaven

Temple of Heaven

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We are sitting in the Cathay Pacific Pier Lounge in Hong Kong waiting for our flight to Dubai, which is a 9 hour jaunt. So I thought I would do the recap on Beijing before we take off. As noted in previous posts, there is a lot of censorship in mainland China, so I was not able to get on my blog at all or update anything. On top of the Internet costing $20/day at the hotel, it was that much more prohibitive to do anything online there, except talk on Skype with some family members. By the way, Skype has been the best invention that we’ve used on this trip for more than one reason. I suggest you get a free account and use it with anyone you know that lives abroad.

Anyway, we hit Beijing on March 13th. The airport they built for the Olympics is massive, and quite an engineering achievement. I felt like we walked for days before we reached immigration, but I’m used to that with O’hare. Naturally, we got held up at immigration. I’m not sure if it was because we had US passports, or the fact that Annemarie’s hair is completely different that her picture, as the agent checked her out about 15 times before letting her through. We hopped a cab to downtown Beijing, which is about 30 minutes from the airport. Let me tell you, Beijing is not a pretty city by any means in the daylight. It’s very run down, and none of the landscape is very spectacular. We get dropped off at our hotel, and my memories of China from 3 years ago are sparked immediately as soon as the cab driver takes off without giving us all of our change, awesome.

I really didn’t care at that point, because I just wanted to check in to our hotel, the Novotel Peace. The lobby was quite nice, but that all ended once we got to our hotel room, and realized that we’d be given a room with two twin beds!! It was an end room, which was nice, but extremely tight, and kind of run down. I think we were put on the wrong side of the hotel honestly, but again, didn’t really care. We dropped our bags and headed out since we were in a good area (only highlight of the hotel was location) and wanted to get some sights in. The first sight was the outdoor food market, where Annemarie finally got to see, and taste, the fruit on a stick in which I’ve told her about for 3 years! I think it lived up to it’s billing as we probably both ate about 15 sticks worth over our 3 days in Beijing. We then were eager to leave the area because all the merchants do is haggle you, scream at you, and if they can, pull at you to buy something. After about 15 minutes, it’s beyond annoying, so we got out of there.

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Little did we realize at the time that about every 100 feet in Beijing you are haggled for something, whether it be food, money, gifts, fake copies of something, rickshaw rides, tours, etc. It immediately turned us off of Beijing, and we’d only be there for about 2 hours. We tried to go walk through the Forbidden City, but it was closed, and we were reminded it was closed by about 25 rickshaw drivers, yet they still wanted us to pay them to give us a tour…of a place that was closed? Yeeeeeeeeeeeeah, OK.

We ended up finding Tianamen Square and seeing the front of the Forbidden City where the large picture of Mao Zedong hangs. You wouldn’t believe how many locals flock to this area daily to see the Communist Flag that stands in the square drop everyday, it’s incredible. You also wouldn’t believe how big the square is itself. That along with everything else in Beijing is large in scale, but also worlds apart. It’s not a walkable city, as every monument or tourist stop you would want to see is miles apart. Tourist maps make it look like they are a block or so away, when they are actually 1-2 miles away. We really didn’t want to take any taxi’s on this trip, but after realizing things were not close together, and taxi’s cost about $2 max to go anywhere in the city, we figured it would be easier just to swallow our words and hop taxi’s everywhere. It saved us tons of time, and tons of agony on our feet.

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So that pretty much summed up our arrival into Beijing. I’m going to try to separate this into a couple posts since Day 2 & 3 were much more enjoyable in Beijing.

Cheers