On Saturday I took the high-speed train from Beijing to Tianjin.  Tianjin is a major port city close to Beijing, it is also one of the ten largest cities in China.  In 1902 the 8-Nation Alliance that fought in the Boxer Rebellion ceded control of Tianjin to the ruling Qing emperor of China.  At that time, each of the nations were allowed to keep troops garrisoned in their respective concession. 

Fast forward to today.  Tianjin is a financial hub in northern China and one of the fastest growing cities in the nation.  Although urbanization is rapid, the concessions remain mostly preserved, replete with necessary tourist trappings.

Not quite top speed, but still fast enough to make the 117 km journey from Beijing in little more than 30 minutes (287 km/h = 178 mp/h).

Tianjin station has more than 20 train berths.  Above the station is a nice park, with this really cool clock.

The tallest building in Tianjin.  The fog/smog was pretty thick for most of the morning, unfortunately.

The shopping in Tianjin is laid out more like strip malls than traditional mega-malls.  Christmas trees and reindeer were out in full force.

Yup, like a big poker chip.

6th largest Ferris wheel in the world.  For 60Y (10$) how could I refuse?

After 30 minutes in a 10 ft square box with 3 of my new closest Chinese friends, I was ready to walk again.

After meandering through the Italian Concession I realized just how cold and tired I was from walking around all day and headed back to Tianjin station.

It’s as delicious as it looks.  Don’t judge me!

20 minutes after getting back to the station, I was asleep on a train headed back to Beijing.

Next weekend I’m hoping to visit Beijing’s 798 artist’s district and I’ll probably also visit the zoo.

Till then, safe travels (and watch out for Fonzie Jr. in Tianjin).

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After getting some sleep, I was up early on Saturday and out the door.  My hotel was in an area known as Kowloon City.  It seemed to be a very posh and alive area.  I saw lots of very nice cars. Rolls-Royce nice.  Bentley nice.  There’s also a lot of money in Hong Kong, so there are lots of very nice stores.  On my way to breakfast I walked past a Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Armani, Prada, and Burberry.

The exchange rate took a little getting used to, in part because it was around 7.5:1 (HKD:USD) and in part because the $ is used as the currency notation in Hong Kong.  Buying a magazine for 88$ or dinner for 400$ never quite feels right.

I made my way to a nice harbor walk outside of a theater.  The weather was a warm 23 with a nice breeze off the water.  Aside from the air quality, it’s impossible to miss that Hong Kong is very tall.  High rise buildings are everywhere.

Near the harbor walk, I encountered the museum of art. Apparently cats are the new ‘it’ animal. Maybe people in art don’t know about the internet?

A very tall city with lots of construction.  If you look closely at this picture, you’ll notice 99% of the scaffolding is bamboo.  That is a 35 floor building.

Getting off the water and heading into Kowloon a bit more was a treat.  Like most big cities, shops and vendors abound.  Plus, I found some breakfast (36$) and some cool street art.  Apparently if you don’t obey the rules, Hong Kong PD will send the Transformers after you.

Kowloon also has some pretty nice parks.  For an area with land at such a premium, I found some really nice (and surprisingly quiet) parks.

My trip to Hong Kong was awesome.  It’s just a really cool, modern city.  The temperature was refreshing, the food was great, and fresh produce was plentiful.  Hopefully I’ll get to spend some more time there are some point.

This weekend I’m going to take the high-speed express train from Beijing to Tianjin.  Tianjin is a major costal city 110 km East of Beijing.  The train makes the 110 km trip in 30 minutes.

Till then, safe travels (and keep your birds safe!)

I arrived in Hong Kong last night around 9 PM.  The air is clean (and filled with familiar ocean smells), the air is warm, and the buildings are tall.

Beijing must be starting to like me!  The city put up quite a fight when I was trying to leave.  Nice cold temperatures and a few mm of snow delayed my flight by about 2 hours.  I was happy to see that Beijing handles snow on par with New England, which is significantly better than what I expected.

And the delayed flight was totally worth it.  This is the view from my hotel room this morning.  Nice and modern.  Plus, I’m posting this blog from my hotel room, since there’s no Great Firewall here.

I’m heading out for the day.  I’ll post an update tomorrow if time permits.  Till then, safe travels.

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.

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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!)