Going to the Chinese Consulate in Singapore for a visa was our first step towards visiting China. The office was incredibly efficient. We dropped off our passports on a Monday morning and picked then up four days later on Thursday morning. Each visit to the consulate took less than 15 minutes total. During the second visit, we were standing in line waiting to pay for our visas when a man came up to Seth, thrust a marker into his hand and said "please sign", "please sign" while pointing to a poster laying across a table. The man then said "please sign, Beijing Olympics 2008, where you from?". Seth, marker in hand, says "Chicago" and the man quickly calls a photographer over to take a photo while Seth signs the poster supporting the Beijing Olympics. His signature was totally illegible. Then, Tara gets handed the marker and she also signs her name in support of the Beijing Olympics.Again illegibly.
Welcome to China.
Neither one of us would have signed a poster in support of the Beijing
Olympics if we hadn't been in a situation where it was obviously expected
that we sign. We were never given the freedom to choose whether or not
to sign, the pen was simply thrust into our hands with the order "please
sign". Therefore, we now feel indoctrinated a bit into a society without
complete freedom. To get along, you just shut up and do what is expected
However, consulate experience aside, during our 10 days in China we saw nothing else resembling human rights or freedom of choice restrictions.
Our first impression of Beijing was slightly tarnished by the fact that we could not find our name on a driver's card when we exited customs. Therefore, our entire reason for reserving a hotel car was negated as we rushed around figuring out how to get money and how to make a phone call. In the end, an employee of a different Holiday Inn hotel phoned our Holiday Inn hotel and found out that the driver was enroute, just late.
Our next impression of Beijing was focused on how well everyone shared the roads. On one road, you'd have cars, buses, big trucks, small trucks, pedestrians, bicyclists, donkey drawn carts, people drawn carts, rickshaws, three-wheeled/flat bed bicycles and more - all fluidly sharing the road! It was stunning to see how well everyone made forward progress. The only backup we encountered was due to road construction.
On the ride in from the airport, we also saw how many buildings had had individual airconditioning units added post-construction, a very grand-looking toll plaza in the form of a gate and numerous brand new buildings recently finsihed or under construction. It was nice to get a look at the city from the comfort of our mini-bus built for 20, but only carrying 4.
We were happily surprised at the hotel when we were upgraded to business
rooms containing internet computers. Free internet access - all four of
us were worried that we might not make it out of the hotel. But, as we
were only in Beijing for 3 nights, we did get out to explore the city.
We were very undecided about where to eat. We wandered up and down Wangfujing street, taking various interesting looking side streets and just couldn't decide what we wanted for dinner. In the end we stopped at a street-market for a snack and ended up enjoying a full dinner.
The most interesting food for sale were skewered scorpions:
This certainly was a popular place for dinner!
We spent the next day at the Great Wall. We hired a driver from the hotel concierge and set off in the morning in our private car. The driver stopped at a vase making factory on the way to the wall. This was interesting, but probably very profitable for the driver.
The four of us were given a private tour and shown how the final product was produced. The "factory" itself was a one storey, concrete building with open rooms looking into a small courtyard. All around this courtyard were rooms full of ladies sitting at large tables. The first room full of ladies would take a plain vase and glue strips of wire onto the vase in intricate patterns. The next room of ladies would then paint the areas between the wires. When all the painting was complete, the final step was to fire the vases in a kiln. It was very interesting to see the whole process before being led into a very fancy showroom rull of vases. Tod and Kristen decided right away which vase they were going to buy. Howerver, it took Seth and Tara a long time to decide upon the green dragon vase. It was a nice break during the long drive to the Great Wall.
Upon arrival at the Wall, we were hungry and stopped for lunch. We just
randomly picked for a variety of shops lining the route to the cable car.
Yummy! This was the second meal in Beijing that we were very pleased with.
Acrobats & duck dinner
We'd seen Chinese Acrobats previously in Circ du Solei shows and at Disneyworld, so we knew to expect incredible shows of flexibility, balance and strength. Instead of waiting until Shanghai, we decided to have a very busy day and see the acrobats in the evening. This also worked well since Tod and Kristen wanted to eat Peking Duck in Peking.
The lady with the glasses was especially impressive.
After dinner we walked through a few typical shopping streets to a Peking
Duck restaurant. The neighborhood really changed in the space of four blocks.
At first, we were slightly worried about walking through the steets, since
they weren't that crowded and all the hardware shops lining the sidewalks
were closed. But as we walked, the streets grew more crowded and we were
passing open restaurants and shops. We had no trouble finding the restaurant
we wanted. We enjoyed a tasy meal of duck with sauce that we'd wrap in
a round, flat piece of tortilla bread. The photos in our tourist brochure,
though, didn't match the room we ate in. We quickly realized (after seeing
hordes of bus loads of tourists disgorging into another restaurant entrance)
that we'd stumbled into the local section of the restaurant. That was 100%
fine with us. Styrofoam instead of china dishes meant for a much less expensive
meal of the same food.
Temple of Heaven
The temple itself was interesting, but more intriguing were all the daily activities going on in the park surrounding the temple. We expected to see Tai Chi, but we did not expext to see people painting characters on the cement, people dancing or people playing paddle ball. The paddlers really put on a show for us! It was nice to see that the Temple of Heaven park was not only a tourist attraction, but a place for everyone livning nearby to enjoy.
|Ease of Journey||-|
JAL Flight JL781 from Narita Tokyo to Beijing 1040-1315
Free tickets using American Airlines miles for all 4 of us.
Airport to Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza van transfer (US$73 one way)
Room Reservation #61530768 & 61530928 (US$98 + 15% tax per room including breakfast) IMMELL
Hotel Phone = 86-10-65133388
July 27th - arrival and Wangfujing food stalls for dinner
July 28th - day trip to the GreatWall
July 29th - Fobidden City in the daytime, acrobats & duck in the evening
July 30th - Temple of Heaven in the AM & departure for Xian