Archive for the Category ◊ China ◊

29 May 2009 The Great Wall of China
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The #1 thing Sherri & I wanted to do while in China was visit the Great Wall. From Beijing the closest place to see the Great Wall is Badaling, about an hour or so from the city, however this portion of the wall is known for being overcrowded and has been restored, not making for a very authentic experience. The 10K hike from Jinshanling to Simatai was supposed to be a lot more remote, with less people and amazing views as you trek up and down the steep ridges of the crumbling wall. We found a tour company that guided small groups (max of 10 people) for the 10K hike and included spending the night on the Great Wall. We were so excited!

Our guide, Jack, picked us up at 8am. Jinshanling, where we would start the hike, was about 3 1/2 hours drive from Beijing. Along the way we stopped at the Ming Tombs which is the burial site of the 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty. A path called the “Sacred Way” leads into the sprawling complex, lined with larger than life stone statues of guardian animals and officials. The Ding Ling tomb is the only Ming Dynasty tomb that has been excavated, in which they found valuables, as well as the bodies of the Wanli Emperor and his two empresses. After the tombs we visited an amazing jade factory where we got a short tour which included seeing the artists in action carving their intricate pieces of work.

We arrived at Jinshanling in the late afternoon where we met Mr. Wong, a local farmer, who took us up for our first glimpse of the wall. It was raining as we walked up the steep hill but even in the rain the views were breathtaking. We spent about 2 hours hiking, exploring and taking tons of photos along this section of wall that we practically had all to ourselves. It was awesome!

Dinner was served back down the hill in Mr. Wong’s family shop. There we were joined by a couple from the East Coast & their guide Jen. We all sat down to an amazing meal prepared by Mr. Wong’s sister. It was delicious! Some of the best Chinese food we had while in China and so much variety! It was a really fun meal, as we sat around telling stories, eating way too much food and drinking ice cold beers. Mr. Wong even showed us how to open beers with wooden chopsticks! Soon it was time to set-up camp on the wall. We grabbed flashlights and hiked back up the hill to the watchtower where we would spend the night. Since we had a small group (just 4 of us) only Jen stayed on as our guide for the overnight and 10K trek. They supplied pillows, sleeping bags & padded mats so we were quite comfortable. There was even a small building where they stored the supplies that you could sleep in to shelter you from the rain and cold. The sky was clear, so Sherri & I opted for sleeping out in the open under the stars. Everyone else had gone to bed while we stayed up talking, laughing and admiring the view. Even in the dark you could see far out into the night. The clouds had cleared, the moon was a tiny sliver and stars filled the sky. It was gorgeous! As we sat there pinching ourselves (we were spending the night on the Great Wall of China!!!) a low fog rolled in…it was so cool watching it pour over the steep ridges and into the valleys. It was magical! I only wish we could have captured it in a photo but that image is one that will always remain in our memories.

We awoke early to a group of about 6 Chinese tourists snapping photos of us in our sleeping bags. As I opened my eyes I was greeted by big smiles and them giving us the thumbs up. Shortly after they left Mr. Wong arrived with coffee, tea and a simple breakfast of muesli and bananas. We ate quickly and started moving around to keep warm…the fog had rolled in thick overnight and it was chilly! As we set out hiking towards Simatai the fog was so thick you could barely see from one watchtower to the next…it was still really cool as it gave the hike an eerie feeling (plus it saved us from hiking in the hot sun!). Eventually the fog cleared and the views were amazing as we hiked up and down the steep mountain ridges of The Great Wall. Even though it was only 10K, it was challenging due to the terrain but we took our time and stopped for lots of photos. By midday we were almost there…good thing too, because the sun was out, it was hot and we were getting hungry. Arriving at Simatai you first have to cross a large bridge over a beautiful river and then climb a bunch more stairs. From there you can walk down the path about 20 minutes or for an additional $5 you can zip line down over the river and then take a little boat to the Simatai entrance. We of course opted for the zip line, as it looked like way too much fun to pass up! And it was!

Jack (our guide & driver) met back up with us in Simatai and we all sat down to a great lunch. In the car ride back to the city Sherri & I both fell fast asleep…we were a little tired! Back in Beijing we stopped at the Olympic Stadium for a quick look at the Birds Nest and Water Cube which housed the 2008 Olympics. The day ended with a tea tasting ceremony in a traditional courtyard tea house! The entire tour was such an amazing experience! We would definitely recommend it! You can reach the tour company at pooooppppy@gmail.com

28 May 2009 Beijing, China
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We only gave ourselves 4 days in Beijing as our main goals were to hike on the Great Wall and go to the Forbidden City.  The Forbidden City is one of China’s most venerated monuments.  It was built during the 15th Century, involving up to 10,000 artisans and about a million laborers.  The halls were laid out according to geomantic theories, which is the balance between yin and yang (or negative and positive energy).  It’s also similar to a labyrinth, there are long halls and tall walls with large doors everywhere…some that open and some that don’t.  Soon after we arrived, we had already gotten lost and kept wandering until we found ourselves back in the Imperial Garden where we had started.

The good thing about winding up where we started is that we got to explore the Imperial Garden more and were invited into a tea shop for a free tea tasting.  We tried several different kinds of tea and Paul, who spoke great English, told us a lot of interesting facts about tea.  He also showed us some very cool tea mugs that were black with red Chinese symbols on them, but when you poured hot water in them they would magically change to a scene of the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, or the Summer Palace.  We loved them and since we are both avid tea drinkers we had to buy some.  He didn’t have all of the ones we wanted and we didn’t want to carry them around all day, so he said he would deliver them to our hotel that night…now that’s service with a smile!

After that we wondered around the rest of the Forbidden City and took a zillion pictures…we also posed in several pictures for Chinese tourists.  Then we set off to find The Emperor Hotel that we had read about that had a roof top bar with a view overlooking the Forbidden City.  When we left we had the hardest time getting a taxi to take us back to our hotel since none of the cab drivers could speak any English or even read a map.  We would get in each cab, tell them where we wanted to go, and would receive blank stares in return. So then we would point to where we wanted to go on a map and they would just look confused, shake their head and motion for us to get out.  We must have gotten in and out of 6 cabs before we finally showed a cab driver a picture of a hot pot from our guide book of a restaurant we wanted to go to..finally we got a nod and were on our way.  We’re not sure if it was the same as the one in the guide book, but it was a hot pot restaurant.

The menu at the restaurant was a little overwhelming as much of it was things like cows tongue, chicken feet, sea urchin, intestines, etc.  We settled on cows brain beef (which we think means it was near the brain, not actual brain), and several vegetables…it was so delicious.  We cooked everything in a huge sizzling hot pot on our table, which is a traditional Beijing Meal.

When we left the restaurant we only had 30 minutes left to get back to our hotel to meet Paul and get our new tea mugs.  Unfortunately, we had just as hard a time as before getting a cab that would take us where we wanted to go.  Some of them even got out a magnifying glass, and scary enough, one of them even pointed at his eyes and shook his head to tell us that he couldn’t see well enough to read our map (don’t they give taxi drivers eye exams?)  Finally, some very nice people who worked at the restaurant and must have seen us repeatedly getting in and out of several cabs, came to our rescue.  About 5 people had joined our mission to get us in a cab that would take us to our hotel.   Even their first attempt failed and the cab sped away.  But luckily the 2nd cab they gave directions to in Chinese, agreed to take us.  In all of the countries we’ve traveled to, we’ve never experienced one where so few people spoke any English…and Beijing is the largest tourist destination in China and it hosted the 2008 Olympics.  We read in our guide book that all taxi drivers were supposed to learn English before the Olympics, but that the most of them didn’t.  But at least the staff at our hotel, the Hutongren Culture Hotel, (www.ccthome.com) spoke English and were super sweet and helpful.  Although they wanted to charge us three times the amount than was listed in the guidebook, but we were able to negotiate them down to a way better rate.  And we did really like it there…it was very homey and cozy with different little private living room areas, waterfalls with fish ponds, and a roof top patio.  The best part about it was the laptop computer in our room.  The hotel is located in the district of Hutongs, where the bustling alleys behind Houhai Lake reveals the city’s real side that is vanishing in Beijing.  We fell in love with Houhai Lake.  The scenery is beautiful and it offers great people watching and is a great drinking and dining hot spot.

The morning we left we had to leave for the airport at 6:00a.m.  When we walked out to the street in front of the hotel there was a cab sitting there.  We told the driver that we wanted to go to the airport, he shot us a blank look (which we had been getting use to seeing) and started rambling to us in Chinese.  Since we were in a hurry and we knew this could lead into jumping in and out of several cabs, Rana got out the Lonely Planet book and luckily in the language section it had the word “airport” written in Chinese.  We pointed to that and 30 minutes later we arrived at the airport.  Thank God we had our Lonely Planet book…we’ve never used it more than we did in Beijing.

27 May 2009 Say “Cheese”
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While on the subway with Aaron in Hong Kong, Sherri & I were stared down by a Chinese man and woman. They kept looking us up & down, up & down, and even when you looked back at them they still continued to stare. Aaron noticed, laughed and told us that they were probably from a remote area in China and probably had never seen two white girls in person before. This was just a warm-up for what was in store for us in China.

Posing for photos inside the Forbidden City

Posing for photos inside the Forbidden City

While wandering through the Imperial Garden inside the Forbidden City we were approached by a Chinese tour group. Their guide asked if they could take a photo with us. Being total hams & loving to have our picture taken we of course said yes. We posed for pic after pic with each individual tourist. It was hilarious…some even motioned for us to take our sunglasses off because they wanted to be able to see our eyes in the photos…random passersby were even stopping to take photos. We posed for so many pics (seriously 25 or more) that my cheeks started to hurt from smiling so much! This continued to happen to us as we explored the Forbidden City…people would just come up and motion (most did not speak English) for us to pose for a photo with them. A few would even try to be discreet about it…walking in front of us & then turning around to snap a quick pic. We couldn’t help but laugh.

Cocktails on the roof of the Emperor Hotel

After the Forbidden City we went for a sunset cocktail on the rooftop bar of The Emperor Hotel. They happened to be doing an editorial photoshoot for an Australian magazine and the photographer came over and asked if he could snap a couple pics of us enjoying our martinis. If they end up being published in a magazine we’ll let you know!

We also awoke after camping overnight on The Great Wall of China, to a group of about 6 Chinese tourists snapping pictures of us in our sleeping bags. They were clicking away as we just barely opened our eyes…it was 5am! They gave us the thumbs up, smiled, took a couple more pics and continued on their way. Again you just had to laugh…