Monthly Archives: November 2011

75Y well spent at Astor & Ivy.  The turkey was surprisingly good, as were all the fixings.  After feasting, I went back to my apartment and slipped into a turkey-induced slumber.


The following morning, I got up, at breakfast, and head out to the Temple of Heaven.  The name isn’t quite accurate, as the area is actually a park with three temples.  Three times a year the Emperor would enter the temple to make sacrifices and talk with his superior (the supreme overlord of the universe).  Today, the temple and park are roughly twice the size of the Forbidden City.  The weather was nice, so I spent most of my afternoon there just enjoying the park.  Unfortunately my camera died and I was stuck taking pictures with my cellphone.

The map doesn’t quite do the scale of the park justice.

Lots of greenery and lots of space.  It was quite nice and very easy to find a sunny, quiet spot to sit down and watch the world go by.

When the Emperor needed to ensure a good harvest, he’d make a sacrifice at this temple.

When he needed to talk to his boss, he’d stand directly at the center of this mound.  I stood there for a bit, that’s all I heard was tourists.  Maybe the supreme overlord of the universe was busy or maybe my cellphone dying was a sign that someone was listening?

This weekend I’m headed to Hong Kong.  From what I’ve heard, I can get good batteries there, most of the signs are at least somewhat in English, and real (as opposed to fake Chinese knock-offs) electronics are cheap. Till then, keep your flames well dressed, and safe travels.


I was up and out the door early Saturday morning, and man was it cold.  It was going to be a long day.  My plan was to get on the earliest S2 (local express) train to Badaling and spend as much time as I could at the wall.

Badaling is the most restored and most tourist-y section of the wall.  It’s been restored twice in the past 40 years.  Additionally, when Chinese folks visit Beijing they’ll often make a day trip out to the wall at Badaling.


After a short train ride, I arrived at Beijing North Station.  Booking a ticket for the S2 was really straight forward, 6Y and your ticket is good for the next train.  Unfortunately, I missed the 9:30, so I had to wait till 11:00.

Badaling is incredibly accessible.  The train was 6Y and took about an hour, but I could’ve taken a bus for 2Y or had a personal driver for around 200Y.  Options abound!  The train ride took me through a the outskirts of Beijing into the hilly terrain beyond the city limits.  In a strange way the area reminded me a lot of the parts of Arizona and New Mexico along 20.

I can’t really explain this.  I’m not sure what’s going on in California that would require a beef noodle.  Unless they’ve called another recall election… moving on.

Entrance to the wall was a reasonable 45Y (25Y for students, 0Y for people under 1.2m).  Two things became immediately evident as I approached.  First, it was cold and windy out here.  Second, the wall is not particularly straight.  It doubles back upon itself a few times and snakes its way through the country side.

The wall just stretches on and on and on, as far as you can see, in either direction.

Moving along the wall is tough.  Certain places are very, very steep and when I was visiting, sometimes had a thin layer of ice.  Some people pay extra to take cable-cars from the ground to the top.

At this point in the climb, I was exhausted, cold, and covered in sweat.  Luckily the other end of the Badaling wall was only an hour or so away.

Contrary to what Carl may think, the wall was more than ‘alright’.  Although the bears were definitely a bit out of place.

As you can imagine, I slept quite soundly on Saturday evening.  I could hardly walk when I got up on Sunday, which made for interesting grocery shopping.

I don’t have any big plans for this weekend, so it may be quiet and restful.  In reality, I’m sure I’ll find something to do.  Till then, safe travels.  And cause no disorders.

As you saw, I had some trouble seeing all the major parts of the Forbidden City.  Well, after another 4 hours, I think I’ve seen most of it.  Making it to the rear gate was quite the adventure.

As you can see, the Forbidden City was no less Forbidden.

After paying the admission, I made my way up to the top of the entry gate.  Quite the view of the entry plaza.

I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, the Forbidden City is aptly named.  The place is the size of a city.  It’s staggeringly big.

With so many massive wooden structures, covered in paint and enamel, fire was a major concern.  Scattered throughout the Forbidden City, there are these bronze, steel, or iron cauldrons.  These would be filled with water at all times.  During the winter, they were covered with furs to prevent freezing.  On particularly cold days, fires were lit beneath them to stop icing.

I think one of the reasons I had trouble going through the Forbidden City quickly is that there are so many little details.  Yeah, there are the massive gates and water cauldrons, but for each of those huge things there are hundreds of little mosaics and paintings.  Too much to accurately capture in pictures and words.

Alright, so the big stuff is pretty cool too.

It was a long and windy trip though courtyards, plazas, and alleys, but I eventually saw most of it.  Each area had a major theme or focus like The Hall of Mental Contemplation.  Everything followed the same orientation I mentioned last time.  Major building has a southward facing entrance, flanked by smaller buildings to the left and right.  It’s a nice way to organize things, in a strangely OCD way.

The Garden was quite large (are you surprised?), with massive rock structures, multiple goldfish ponds, and a few souvenir stores.  At some point, before tourists, I suspect that most of the brown earth that is exposed beneath the trees was grass, which is sort of tough to picture.

After another 4 hours at the Forbidden City, I felt like I deserved a medal or something.  One of my travel guides recommends 2-3 hours for it; I’m not sure if I covered everything and I more than 8 hours there. 

Unfortunately, Sunday was much less eventful.  I wasn’t feeling particularly great, so I rested most of the day.  As exciting as that was, I didn’t take any pictures of strange signs or come up with any witty quips. 

This weekend, I’ve got two things roughly scheduled, and I think they’re both certain to be adventures.  I’m getting a haircut and I’m going to the Badaling section of the Great Wall.

Badaling is the most visited section of the Wall.  It’s also the place where, when visiting their nation’s capital, that the Chinese visit.  There’s a few other sections I hope to visit, but for this weekend, Badaling should keep my busy.

Till then, safe travels (and clip your nails, no scratch!)

After spending Saturday roaming around the hutongs, I headed out to explore Tiananmen Square.  A 45 minute train ride later, and I was there.  I figured there’d be some good people watching in Tiananmen Square, and I wasn’t wrong.  Unfortunately, there’s just not that much to do.  It’s a square, it’s really big, there’s a bunch of history, but that’s kind of it.  It’s not exactly like China is proud of what happened in 1989, nor do they even acknowledge that anything was amiss.  To put the size of Tiananmen Square into perspective, when Mao seized power, one million people stood, on numbered tiles, in the square.  It’s huge.  And right across the street from the Forbidden City.

Now, I half expected the Forbidden City to be a bit of a misnomer.  Sort of like how the Garment District in Cambridge is a store, not a district.  I was only half wrong.  The place is the size of a city, easily, but it is far from Forbidden.

After walking over a bridge, you headed through a gate into the first open area.  Around this area, there was a pretty big huddle of people trying to take the shot of Mao from just the right angle.

Inside the first gate, there was a humungous open area.  I’d guess it was 800m by 1200m.  A good 10 minute walk from the first gate to the second gate, to buy tickets.  Also, this area was packed with tourists, folks selling all kinds of souvenirs, and a base for the guards of the city.

After paying my 60Y for a ticket, I went through a second gate, and into the paid portion of the city.

A friendly reminder to comply with the rules.  I had planed to be in non-compliance, but luckily this sternly worded sign changed my mind.

Here’s a little feng shui for you.  All of the major gates face south.  Also, each court yard has a major gate (opening south, middle picture) and two smaller gates (1st and 3rd picture above).  This layout helps balance things, and keeps your focus.  It’s also repeated over and over again throughout the city.

There is a moat around parts of the city, and some of it runs into a stream/river that cuts through part of the city.

First up, the China gallery.

Humidity controlled, with written descriptions in Mandarin and English, the China gallery was pretty awesome.  As I explored deeper into the city, the crowds thinned out a bit.

Unfortunately, there was no photography allowed in the painting gallery.  Now had I not seen that sign about complying with the rules, I may have taken a picture.  But I did, and I planned to abide by the rules.  The gallery was breathtaking.  Calligraphy and painting started out as the same type of art and gradually grew apart.  Throughout the gallery, you could see the evolution of each form and the combined form.

You’ve been reading this for maybe 4 minutes, but after the calligraphy gallery I had been at the Forbidden City for nearly 2 hours.  Remember, this place was a City.

Forbidden City fun fact – only eunuchs were allowed in the inner sanctum.  This practice ensured that all of the Emperor’s consorts, who were pregnant, carried royal blood.

After nearly 5 hours of exploration, the Forbidden City again became forbidden.  Closing time was a huge sea of people heading for the main gate.

After existing the Forbidden City, I headed over to Tiananmen Square.  While standing around, watching people, I was approached by a woman.  Now, I trust all of like 6 people, so anytime anyone approaches me, I’m immediately on guard.  I figure there is a scheme or I’ll leave with no kidneys or no keys, or something equally awful.

In China, when you’re a goofy looking bald white guy, people want to take your picture.  It’s kind of like being a celebrity, just without that annoying dude from Paris.  So this woman practically tosses her baby at me, smiles, and points at her camera.  When I nod, she giggles with delight and snaps the picture.  Of course, I make a face like I’m going to eat the baby’s head, which just draws more laughs.

The moral of the story?  The Forbidden City is big, Tiananmen Square is big, and some people like to take pictures of goofy white guys pretending to eat their babies.  On tap for this weekend – possibly Richard III staring Kevin Spacey and I’ll probably do another visit to the Forbidden City.

Till then, safe travels!

In lieu of going to the Wall I spent most of the day Saturday exploring the hutongs and getting to find my way around the Sanlitun area of the Chaoyang District.

Sanlitun was awesome, not much in the way of tourist-y stuff, but it lived up to its billing as an ex-pat district.  Within two blocks of the train, I had walked past a Turkish restaurant, an Indian restaurant and a French bistro.  I spent some time at The Bookworm, and for a few minutes I could’ve as easily been in SoDo in Seattle or at Trident in Boston.  I was glad to have found an area where I could go grab falafel, grab a good book, and watch the world go by.  Plus, it just so happens to have the largest Adidas store in the world and a street vendor who sold delicious baked sweet potatoes.

As an aside, I must say, America needs to step up its game in the street fare arena.  I mean, in China, if it can fit on the back of a trike, you can buy it from a street vendor.  Omelet? Check.  Corn on the cob? Check.  Hotdog coated in pistachios? Check.  Fresh roasted chestnuts, egg rolls, chocolate dipped melon, honey covered cherries on a stick?  Check.  In the States, we’ve got sausage, hot dogs, and maybe something fried.  Can we get someone on this?  Is there a Senate sub-committee on street fare vendors?

Now, what’s a hutong, I hear you ask?  Well, you can wikipedia it, but they’re essentially very old neighborhoods with narrow, winding roads.  And when I say old, I mean old.  Not Boston-my-apartment-was-built-before-FDR-old and definitely not Seattle-it-didn’t-smell-like-new-paint-anymore-so-we’re-tearing-it-down-old, more like 800-1000 years old.  The residences themselves are single-floor apartments and, from what I could tell, built up around a central court-year. 

I was hesitant to take pictures during my walk, because most of the residents I saw looked a bit down on their luck.  In the end, I’ll have the memories and you can check out the wikipedia article for pictures and such, so I think we both win.

Tomorrow, I’ll cover my first visit to Tiananmen Square, my second “token white dude” picture, and my half-day at the Forbidden City.

Till then, safe travels.  And study hard?


After getting settled on Saturday, I headed out to explore more on Sunday.  There’s a train station not too far from the apartment, so I took the train up to the Summer Palace.

The smog was pretty bad on Sunday.  By around 3:00 it was so dark that my camera was using the flash.

This area was built initially as a series of gardens in 1707, known as the Yuan Ming Yuan or Gardens of Perfect Brightness.  Later, a palace was added, built in the Imperial English style.  The palace itself was razed during the Cultural Revolution.

For 25Y (about 4$), I purchased access to both the gardens of the park and the ruins of the Imperial Palace.  The gardens are under constant renovation while the ruins are left, generally untouched, as a reminder of a shameful time for China.

I’m not sure exactly how big the park was, but it made for quite an afternoon adventure.


Water features prominently as part of the garden.  Oppressive humidity is common in Beijing during the summer months, and the large lakes and pools offered some escape.

While there was a ton of water, the park also had some cool plants and wildlife.

With a bit of exploring, you could find ruins scattered about.

It’s tough to capture the scale of of the place in pictures.  One of my tour books claims that it is 5 sq KM, I’m not sure if that number is accurate, but the park is huge.

This weekend I hope to head out to the Wall, which is even grander in scale.  Till then, safe travels.