|Looking south from the Temple of Heaven|
It was December 2005 the last time I was in Beijing and oh how the city has changed. Bigger, brighter, shinier. From the metro system to the smart, urbane Beijingers, it is amazing!
|Beijing Metro from Guidebook circa 2005|
|Current Beijing Metro|
Far more cars, far fewer bicycles and not a Mao suit to be seen. The streets were very orderly with segregated bike lanes, pedestrian fencing and traffic police on every corner. Tiananmen Square is now fully fenced and requires a security check to enter. All the road workers, security guards and police are in bright, clean, spotless uniforms. Perhaps they have just had their winter issue? Mao Zedong is looking a little more yellow and a little waxier. And everything we can buy, we can buy elsewhere - Zara, H&M and all the usual suspects. And yes, you can shop whilst slurping on a Starbucks coffee too!
It was a good time to visit. Despite being on the chilly side, with a cold wind that blows straight through you, there was little smog and few line-ups. We were able to visit the major sights without the huge crowds that were evidenced by the number of crowd control barriers neatly concertinaed at the entrances. They have the ability to move extraordinary number of people. The Forbidden City allows only northward flow and manages up to 80 000 visitors a day!
|yes, our tour guide had a flag|
|The Forbidden City - remarkable lack of people|
|inside the Forbidden City|
|Crisp and very cold|
|Amazing stone carving - labour|
being cheap and plentiful
|military presence at the Forbidden City|
|inside the Forbidden City|
|detail at the Forbidden City|
|lunch on our group tour - Forbidden City|
|Summer Palace ... in winter|
|cold but peaceful summer palace|
|frozen 'pond' at the summer palace|
|Entrance to the museum. Very communist.|
|Carved stone mural. Wow. |
|school group hustling through the exhibits|
|Ancient Observatory and Museum|
|Kate checks the accuracy of her watch|
|outdoor artifact at the Ancient Observatory |
Although we didn't tour many of the museums, one we found quite well done and informative (in a propaganda-laced way) was the Museum of the War of Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression
. It explained that what Europeans think of as the Second World War had been going on for more than a decade in Asia. It also gave a clear progression of how communism ideologies made their way from Russia to China.
While we were there, several school groups burbled their way though the museum ... at a fast march. We wondered how the kids could be picking up anything as they quick-stepped past us, noisily talking amoungst themselves. There seemed to be hundreds and hundreds of them, making us glad that we weren't traveling at at peak tourist times.
Another museum stop was the Ancient Astronomy Observatory
. It had enough English signage to help us understand that the Chinese have known about the sun being the center of the universe and the earth being round for more than 1200 years. They tell of detailed observations of the sun, moon, comets, stars and celestial occurrences. Very humbling.
|standard transportation in the city|
|quilted leg/lap/arm covers|
were on ALL the scooters in December
| family-sized motorized transport for a compact city|
|ONE example at ONE metro station|
of the many, many bikes to rent
| moving and repairing rental bikes|
|typical delivery cart/truck|
With millions and millions of people to move around the city, you have to be efficient ... and have capacity.
The metro station are amazingly efficient, but the ground level modes caught our eye, too.
|entrance to a hutong|
|entrance to a family courtyard|
|inside a family courtyard|
- neighborhoods in China are known as hutongs. Part of our Forbidden City tour was a look into a family courtyard, showing how extended families set up their living space. Some families subdivide and subdivide and can have four generations in one common area.
|Local food market - fresh and delicious|
|good looking produce|
- During our wandering through the hutongs, we visited a number of local markets. Due to the large populations these markets serviced, the produce looked very fresh and of great quality. We didn't purchase anything as we were staying at a hotel with no cooking facilities, but our minds were abuzz with all the sights, sounds and smells of ingredients. Our thoughts traveled back to Indonesia and the local markets we visited there.
| helpful tourist info signs|
|Ok Asia, we are used to squatting, but how about some privacy?|
-having absolutely no written and hardly any spoken Mandarin limited what we could do as far as interacting with the locals. Luckily, we occasionally had tour guides that we could quiz, or locals that had put the effort into learning English.
Every once in a while, we would hit a cultural stumbling block, such as these.
|taking up the WHOLE courtyard at the Drum Temple|
|over 500 lion sculptures - all unique,|
on the Marco Polo Bridge
|some temple somewhere ...|
we are a bit exhausted with
the whole temple thing
at this point
|Marco Polo bridge|
|even the manhole covers are artistic|
|Bird's Nest - 2008 Olympic Stadium|
: When Sean travels, being near an Olympic site or venue is an irresistible draw. With Beijing hosting the 2008 Summer Games, we couldn't pass up teh opportunity to wander around the architectural marvels. The civil engineer in Kate was pleased to get a close-up view of the beams, concrete and girders of these big buildings. Visually stunning and still very much active, we arrived too late in the evening to get inside, but we did have a full walk around the massive
|The Water Cube - 2008 Olympic Swimming Venue|
|Why oh why did we only find this on the last night?|
Obligatory Selfie Gallery around Beijing
|along the canals to the summer palace|
|In a rickshaw, north of the Forbidden City|
|Heaven Temple, Tiantan Park|
| in Tiananmen Square|
|in a rickshaw, trying to stay warm|
- always one of our family jokes about how neither wants to
be a caretaker for a disabled, unable-to-adventure partner - was
hilariously echoed in a 'Chinglish' sign at our hotel.
|piranhas waiting for fresh foreign meat|
|yep, real Nike.|
|happy vendor and purchaser - see?|
Silk Market and the Pearl Market -
Much of what we buy in the English-speaking world in manufactured where labour is cheap and plentiful ... namely, China. It is somewhat common knowledge that goods we buy back home can be bought here at factory overrun outlets for a fraction of the price we normally pay.
When the family heard where we were going for our visa-renewal run, orders were quickly put in. Almost two full days were spent at the infamous Silk Market and Pearl Market.
Each of these markets is a multi-floor building filled with individually owned stalls. The stalls are arranged with like products all close together. All the vendors know the prices of their competitors and exactly
where their profit point is on every item that they sell. You are expected to barter ... and so shopping is not for the weak of heart or spirit. Price offers always begin at the ridiculous (often higher than 'home' prices) and quickly drop away to half or a quarter of the original price.
Just walking by a stall will start the purchase process, no matter how fervently you insist you do not want or need what they are selling. Your answer to "How much you pay?" is the only thing the merchants care about. You are a nice, fat, rich foreigner who needs to be parted with all that lovely foreign cash. By the way, credit and debit cards are welcome once you've negotiated a price.
Reaching that price requires lightning-fast math skills ... and heaven help you with your percentages if you are adding second items after the initial deal is made. Hawkers will want to negotiate each item separately, hoping you will get lost down their discount-mathematics rabbit holes.
We had a great discussion with one of the higher-end vendors (she sold watches) about the different quality of replicas. She could offer us copies of a $17,000 USD watch made by Chinese, Japanese and Swiss knock-off makers ... with the price-points you could expect from each (gulp). Mind you, the most expensive of these was still less than a quarter
of the price of the authentic model. Fascinating.
We did our best to fill our relatives' shopping lists, even purchasing a fully-expected second suitcase to get all our loot home.
We leave tomorrow for Melbourne with said suitcase full of sports gear.