HK&C: Day 11: Beijing: The Temple of Heaven and 798

Temple of Heaven!

Our last full day in Beijing came so quickly!

We started the day off at The Temple of Heaven, where we ate more popsicles and saw not only the main attraction but the three temples and the circular mound.

Right about then is when the camera battery died. It figures that I carried 3 backup batteries for my dSLR for the whole trip and didn’t have a single one for the point and shoot.  It also figures that I decided not to carry the dSLR out of laziness. Oops.

We then headed to North Chaoyang to check out 798 and have some lunch. 798 is an art space, the first section of which was built inside a former factory space. Now the complex consists of many buildings housing galleries and restaurants, including a tasty Cantonese venue. We took a few pictures on Kiely’s phone, and I’ll post them someday when I have them.

The End– Me: 80, Kiely: 99

We headed back to the hotel for a bit of a break after visiting 798, as Kiely was feeling a bit under the weather. In retrospect, we now think it was just the pollution finally getting to him.  In general, we were a bit tired from so much sightseeing.

The Dinosaur is Inconsolable.

We rested and relaxed. We caved in and played Bust a Move, continuing the mighty battle started in Yongzhou.

Sadly, I lost. We probably would have played more, but the game stopped incrementing Kiely’s won matches once he reached 99.

More sadly, we watched England lose to Germany before calling it a night. Even my Bust a Move Dinosaur cried… but that may have been due to my own 19 game loss.


HK&C: Day 10: Beijing: Towers, Temples, Tiananmen

Kiely is the tallest person in this Hutong.

Today we had a decadent sleep in until nearly nine before kicking of another day in Dongcheng to visit the Bell Tower and Drum Tower plus the local Hutongs, which are neighborhoods of narrow alleys. These neighborhoods are less common, as many have been demolished to allow for new construction..

The Bell Tower

The Bell Tower and Drum Tower both functioned as timekeepers, and according to Wikipedia, these towers functioned as the official time piece of China and the Government until 1924, when the last emperor left the Forbidden City.

The Drums of the Drum Tower

Both towers include a steep set of stairs and nice, breezy views of the city.  Neither tower’s tourist information indicates how they actually got that 63 ton bell up there, but I’d be keen to know. It remains the largest ancient bell in China.

Part of the Lama Temple

After wrapping up, we decided to visit the Lama Temple, a few kilometers walk away. This former monastery is one of the most popular temples for worship in Beijing. The Temple grounds are large, and there are a number of different temples for different purposes. We picked up the Audio Guide, but found it not particularly helpful, as we didn’t listen carefully at the beginning and ended up disoriented. I think we were just suffering from audio guide overdose. The Temple’s Garden’s were an excellent spot to relax and people watch.

After a quick lunch right near the Lama Temple, we headed back to our hotel as I had a massage scheduled. Woe is me.
Kiely at the Tianning Temple

All stretched out, we headed over to a temple near our hotel called the Tianning Temple, which Kiely had spotted from our window. This 12th century structure is completely solid, and has no stairwells inside. We learned that it is open only two days a month, based on the lunar calendar date. The date we visited was not one of those days.

Then we hopped in another taxi to head to Tiananmen Square.
Kiely’s height was key in taking this

En route, we had yet another interesting taxi ride. We’ve seen a number of near accidents, but today’s was by far the worst, in which we nearly struck a cyclist who was playing a bit of frogger across the ten lane highway. Despite being trapped in our lane, our driver did not brake until it was absolutely necessary- I had already worked through my entire catalog of expletives by the time he stopped.

We arrived at Tiananmen Square in time to see the lowering of the flag. This is of interest because of the ceremony, which happens daily at sunset, is timed such that the flag is carried under Tiananmen gate at the same time the sun sets.

Video Art!

There was also an interesting video art installation, but no explanation as to what was for or for how long it would be set up.
The square was full of people, many of whom didn’t seem to be tourists, as they lacked cameras and other easy indicators of tourism. It seems many Chinese travel in tour groups exclusively, so perhaps these were locals enjoying the weather… under lots of surveillance.

From Tiannamen, we went in search of the temple or museum we could not find and ultimately hopped in anther taxi to head to Gui Jie’s  (Ghost Street’s) Hua Jia Yi Yuan for dinner.

Yet another delicious duck on Gui Jie

We found this venue in our guidebook, and we really enjoyed the food, opting for more Beijing Duck, a cabbage dish, and these meat rolls.  Throughout the trip, the dish was referred to as Beijing Duck, but googling around, it is still often referred to as Peking duck. I don’t know if it matters which name you use- if you know, please comment and tell me. 

We are a monster truck.
Duck #2

Our next stop was the Donghuamen Night Market. The few kilometers walk was a welcome one, as we were chock full of duck. Kiely’s GPS was of great help in getting us from point A to point B.

We even passed St. Joseph’s Cathedral (Dong Tang), a beautiful Gothic structure built in 1655. I managed to snap a picture before they turned all the lights off at 23:00.

St. Joseph’s at Night

As for the Market, Unfortunately, I misread the guidebook, believing the market closed at 2330 when it actually closed at 2230.

The cab drivers milling around tried to convince us that they had to charge a much higher rate after hours, offering to take us home for 150-200 RMB, but we weren’t buying it. (The guide book stated that there’s a 20% surcharge after 23:00) A few blocks later, we picked up a taxi home for 18RMB and promptly crashed.

HK&C: Day 8: Beijing The Forbidden City

Me and the masses
We kicked off our first full day in Beijing by heading to the Forbidden City first thing with plans to spend our day checking out the Forbidden Stuffs.

We picked up our Forbidden Tickets, purchased a Forbidden Audio Guide, and began our adventure after I made a quick stop at the Forbidden bathroom.

The Forbidden City is amazing.

Even the Forbidden Audio guide is pretty neat. It has a map on it, which shows you where you are, and it automatically starts talking when you get close to a specific site. Unfortunately, these aren’t precisely tuned, as Kiely’s often went off at least 100 feet before mine.

We started out in the gardens  and winded our way through.While in the gardens, a young woman asked us to look at her University art.  We went along for the heck of it, but the art was ultimately not good and the sales pitch was very pushy. We made a run for it and visited the East Palaces.

By the time we arrived at the Center, the crowds of tour groups in matching hats had definitely arrived. I think the palaces on the perimeter see fewer visitors, as when we retreated, we found the crowds much more manageable in the West Palaces.

Kiely and the Nine Dragon Screem

After facing the mighty crowds to visit the Hall of Supreme Harmony, we headed to towards the Palace of Tranquil Longevity and the Nine Dragon Screen.

The Nine Dragon Screen has one wonky tile, which is made of wood. The story goes that the original tile broke when the screen was being set up, and that the workers faked another with food in fear of their lives. They managed to get away with it, but over time, the wooden piece didn’t wear as the ceramic ones.
There’s also an impressive Forbidden clock collection to see around the corner.

“Taiwan Bad Side Meat”

After going through the clock collection, we stopped off to have some Forbidden Food. It did not disappoint.

We both hoped to order the “Taiwan Bad Side Meat” (click the picture on the left to see), but the restaurant had run out and we had to settle for a delicious Beijing noodle bowl.

After a failed effort to find the military exhibit, Kiely decided that it was nap o’clock, and we decided to make our exit. There’s just so much to see that it’s a bit of an endurance test.

Foo Dog

Unfortunately, that took a lot longer than planned, as did finding a taxi. The Forbidden City is huge, and exiting it took thirty minutes. When we finally made our way out, our search for a taxi was lengthy.

Times were tough back then.

Amidst our wanders, someone who for the purposes of this story we will call DodgyArtMan came up and advised us that a taxi rank was further down a road near the next traffic light, so we took DodgyArtMan’s advice and headed further down the road. After a few blocks and a bit of chatting, the DodgyArtMan mentioned that he was an artist and asked us to come see his art. Recalling that life rule that we shouldn’t go off with strangers who promise to show us a cute puppy or art, we said we weren’t interested and thanked him again for the taxi advice. After another half mile or so, there was no taxi rank or intersection, but we managed to flag a taxi, regardless.

Thus, we have a new China Rule to add to our list started on Day 2:
China Rule #4: Do not go look at anyone’s art. There probably isn’t art and if there is, it likely sucks.

Chinese Pizza Hut

Back at the hotel, there was a bit of napping (Kiely) and swimming (Me).

Then we decided to indulge in a little Western food, as Kiely hadn’t had cheese in quite some time…

Yes, we went to Chinese Pizza Hut.

The Menu of Delicious Cardiac Threat

The Chinese Pizza Hut experience is far superior to the American one. For starters, Chinese Pizza Hut is much nicer than any American Pizza Hut I’ve been to. For example, Someone actually opens the door for you when you arrive. The menu contains pizza, but it also contains rice and noodle dishes. As going to a Pizza Hut in China feels criminal enough, we stuck to ordering pizza.

Our pizza was called the Delicious Bacon!

The food is definitely better than American Pizza Hut, and is comparable to English Pizza Hut. Given that I regard Pizza Hut (UK) as a guilty pleasure, this is a compliment.

Full of Amerifood, we headed home to get ready for the Great Day to come. 

HK&C: Day 6: Hong Kong and an Overnight Train

View of our cabin
from the top bunk.

Our overnight train from Yongzhou to Shenzhen was delayed from 0040 to 0130, which wasn’t so bad. I had never stayed in a sleeper car, and I found it excellent.

Each sleeper on our train had six bunks. Kiely booked the top bunks for us, which were a bit close to the ceiling to comfortably sit, but afforded us a spot next to our bags and plenty of privacy. I did find that this was where my theory about a skirt being far easier to travel in than pants failed a bit, as trying to climb up and down from the bunk was no easy task. The bunks themselves were very comfortable. I think I may have had my best sleep in over a week, but whether that’s the train or Tylenol PM is open for debate.
Kiely was fast asleep as I faced
the challenges of Surprises 1 and 2

At some point in the wee hours, I decided it was time for a bathroom break. As I clambored down from my bunk, I encountered Surprise number 1: the person on the bottom bunk had raised the foot peg, so I had nothing to step down from. Oops.

Then came Surprise number 2:
the cabins aren’t labelled on the outside, so I wasn’t certain which one was mine when returning. I had counted doors en route, but when I counted back, the room I found had more shoes on the floor than I remembered seeing in mine. I opted for one door over, and with some intrepidation, climbed up to the third bunk. Much to my relief, I found it both it empty and with my stuff in the basket on the wall.

The sleep ended when the Chinese muzak started soudly piping in around 830.

Yuki and Kiely at the MTR stop

The train arrived at 1115 or so, and we made our way into the station to find my brother’s girlfriend, Yuki, who was joining us for the HK leg of the trip. We finally met up, headed through customs and hopped on the MRT to Kowloon Tong, from which we took a taxi to our digs for the next few days, The Olympic Terrace Suites.

As budget friendly accommodations go, the Olympic Terrace was great. We had two small bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen for the equivalent of £70 a night. I never would have found this place had Darren not come across it in a Guardian article of great budget places to stay in Hong Kong.

Best Thai Curry, Ever

After dropping off luggage, we headed out for a late Thai lunch in Kowloon City‘s Thai Corner.
We picked a place called Golden Orchid from our guide book, and the food was fantastic. I think it may have been the best green curry I have ever had.

at Chi Lin

Full of food and far from the MRT, we hopped in a cab and went to the Chi Lin Nunnery. According to the guidebook, this Buddhist temple was rebuilt in 1990, and it contains not a single nail.

After wandering around a bit, we hopped on the MTR to Central where we ran a few errands before meeting my old NYC workmate, Jim, in Lan Kwai Fong for a few beers in a bar called Stormie’s. It was good to catch up, and much like Kimiko, Jim makes a very compelling case for moving to Hong Kong. I officially consider myself tempted. 

Lan Kwai Fong
By the time the Portugal- North Korea game went from 0-0 to 7-0, it was time for dinner. We headed around the corner to Tokio Joe and I started to make up for all that sushi I don’t have in London.

The food was excellent, but I failed to take any pictures of it due to lack of battery. We headed back home around 11, ready for sleep.

HK&C: Day 5: Rainy Yongzhou

The rains fell well through the night, with the loudest thunder I’ve ever heard. I don’t think I’ve ever been so startled by thunder, really. The power went out around 0130, which left little for one unable to sleep to do besides really hope the power, and the glorious air conditioning it provided,would return.

We slept late, and as such, most of the breakfast vendors had already closed up by the time we mustered out, but we secured some of the fried wonton-y things, which I learned are a specialty pancake of one of the local minorities. and some fruit and headed back home for more Bust a Move, having officially tapped the vein.
Kiely and some of his students.

A group of my brother’s students and scheduled to come by to say goodbye and to give him a gift, and right on time at 1030, there was a knock at the door from a gaggle of girls. They came bearing a few extremely thoughtful gifts: a Chinese knot for good luck, some calligraphy, and a small notebook in which members of the class had each written a well-wishing note. Among my favorite notes were one where a student mentions Kiely’s left handedness (students in China are required to be right handed) and another which spoke of his, “golden eyelashes”. This gave me plenty of material to tease him.

A lot of my brother’s best students are female. According to Kiely, a lot of his female students work harder, and many have expressed that their parents would have been happier if they were boys. It’s a distressing thing to hear that any parent would be any less than thrilled to have any of these girls as their child. 

A Classroom –
the students are studying

Mid-day came, and we headed out for lunch again to the place of cabbage and chicken head. Today’s meal of beef and potatoes, sweet and sour pork, and eggplant may have been my favorite. The sweet and sour pork was different from that which I’ve had to date. It was less sticky and sugary.

After lunch, my campus tour continued from the prior day, and I got to see inside of the University buildings, including my brother’s classrooms.
Then, having been advised that I had truly seen it all, we headed back to Kiely’s to play yet more Bust a Move. This is where the tournament begins. We played for nearly three hours. Don’t worry, we can stop playing, really.
The Bus!

We had dinner plans that evening with two of my brother’s best students, Jessie and Emily, and we met them at the school gate at 1845, before heading into the city via bus. They brought me moon cakes, which was a wonderful surprise. The only time I had eaten moon cake before was in New York, and I hadn’t particularly enjoyed it, but these were delicious.

Dinner was excellent. We let the girls do the ordering. One of the restaurant managers kept coming up and just staring at us, so I did all one can really do and smile.

*Pigs Feet!*

The first dish arrived, and Emily advised that we should ask for gloves because it was much easier and neater that way. We each received a plastic glove, and indeed, so much ease! I took my first bite. It was flavorful and fatty, but not in a greasy way. I rightly assumed it to be pork.
 When I asked Jessie what the dish was called, expecting the name in Mandarin, she and Emily gleefully replied, “pigs feet!”

Their reply was such I felt like I was in the scene in a film where a person has just been alerted that they are eating something they really wouldn’t find OK. Surprise!
Thing was, I didn’t mind. It was delicious. Pigs feet are very popular with women, it seems, as the girls told me that eating them is suppose to give you radiant skin and have a benefit that was to be our secret, as they were too shy to tell me while Kiely was in earshot. (make you chesty).
Emily (L), Jessie (R), and I after dinner

The next dishes were also wonderful. There was a vegetable dish and a chicken dish. Chinese meals are served family style, with everything shared, and this was no exception. I also learned that many restaurants charge for napkins, so you should take the package with you when you leave. The napkins at this restaurant (1 yuan) smelled like jasmine, and I have kept them in my suitcase ever since.

We decided to walk back to the University after dinner, and along the way, we passed a funeral. Emily explained a bit of how a Chinese funeral differs from a Western one. The night before, the friends and family get together and play music, sing, eat, play mah jong, etc, and they do this until very late at night. The next day, they wake early and continue. White is typically worn by the immediate family at the burial in the form of a white wrap over regular clothes.
My dragon is the green one on the left,

We picked up provisions for our train ride en route and after saying goodnight to the girls, headed to Kiely’s to finish up our packing in time for our taxi at 2300.

While we didn’t play Bust a Move, we did decide to pack the controllers and load the Playstation emulator with our saved game onto my laptop.

Addicted? Us? No. I just need to catch up on the 15 point lead Kiely has on me!

HK&C: Day 4: Yongzhou, PRC

Pork Buns for Breakfast

This morning started off with more tasty food from the street, specifically more pork buns, a fried pancaky thing, and a bits of bread which reminded me of eating fried wontons, only they weren’t crunchy, all which we enjoyed while taking the bus into Yongzhou city.

Our first stop was an old temple, which had been closed for safety reasons; although a simple offer to pay for access allowed us to go exploring. We aren’t sure what the temple was for, as is the case with many places visited in Yongzhou, because there’s not much English about the place and neither of us speak enough Mandarin to understand the question if asked.

After that, we wandered into the city area, where I got to not only try out the frogger game that is crossing the streets. It really is a bit of a free for all, especially as cars don’t always stay on their side of the road. I also got to visit not one but two supermarkets. I saw lots of fun stuff qualifying for the Engrish Roundup, to be published later.
Business Town!!

After that, we headed over to an area that Kiely calls, Business Town, which is basically a large, stalled, indoor market selling all sorts of stuff, a lot of which is counterfeit. There were lots of Engrish shirts, Skin products made by “Oily” instead of “Olay”, etc. We also found a book stall where we picked up some books for me to use in my Mandarin lessons back in London.

We headed back to the bus stop to return to Lingling for a dumpling lunch, a bit of quiet time, and a nice nap.
On Campus

After nap time, we headed out for my tour of campus, which unfortunately couldn’t include seeing a classroom today because all sophomore students were taking a standardized English test called CET4, which all students must pass to graduate. It looks like the exam is broadcast over radio from a van, and the students have these small radios on their desks (no headphones) over which to hear exam instructions and questions.

University Tour completed, we headed back for showers and a bit more downtime before heading out for dinner with Albright, at yesterday’s place of awesome cabbage and chicken head. Tonight, there was more cabbage (my request), spicy beef served on a sizzling iron plate, and on the walk home, a really delicious egg roll from the street, which was rather like a burrito.
Look out, mosquitos!

We headed back home to repeat last night’s agenda of beer + porch, only enhanced by the addition of mosquito tennis.

This tennis racket-looking thing is actually a bug zapper, not unlike the sort you hang on a porch, only it runs off two rechargeable AA batteries. You wave it in the air, and mosquitoes and gnats that actually come between the gratings get zapped in sizzling, dramatic fashion.
The rains started to fall heavily, and we headed in. Kiely and I decided to play one of our favorite old games, Bust a Move. I got my ass handed to me. I will make a comeback tomorrow, surely. I can’t keep making my little dragon cry, and given the rains, the outdoors will not be easily faced.

HK&C: Day 3: Yongzhou, PRC

The commentary was a bit challenging for me to follow.

This morning started with pork buns, which made me really like Yongzhou immediately. Kiely went out and picked the buns up before heading out to give his exams, and they made for a most excellent breakfast.

I had thought I’d squeeze in a bit more sleep after breakfast, but such was not to be had. As I told Kiely to take the keys with him, I kept busy by watching Game 7 of the NBA finals, in Mandarin. (Basketball, Badminton, and Ping Pong are the most popular sports here. )

The head isn’t visible in this shot. Ignorance is bliss. 

Kiely returned, and we headed out into town to run a few errands, have lunch, and explore. We headed over to a local spot and had a delicious lunch of cabbage and chicken. As someone who doesn’t eat meat on bones often, doing so with chopsticks just adds to the fun. I found myself digging around the plate, trying to find easier pieces to start.

I was so focused in my search that I didn’t process that the rather uniform piece I was considering was actually the chicken’s head; eyes, beak, and all. It came as such a surprise, I jumped, much to Kiely’s amusement.  He told me the head was the best part, but only kept up that claim for a minute or so, ultimately admitting that he couldn’t eat it, either.

Yongzhou is a very big city, geographically. The area where my brother’s University is the old part of town, which is locally called, “LingLing.” We did much exploring around the area.

View of the temple from within.

We headed out to the temple closest to where Kiely lives, which we believe honors a famous poet from Yongzhou and then walked through the old part of town. this area contains older buildings which are now protected from demolition but aren’t really cared for either. We came back, enjoyed some AC, and headed out again, only this time onto the bus into Yongzhou city.

The LingLing Waterfront

The bus is amazing – when it’s moving. Yongzhou is so crazy humid that feeling the air whilst on a moving bus really does feel fantastic. Unfortunately, we had to sit on the bus and wait for it to start, but it may have been worth it.

What really shocked me was that as we sat there, hot and sticky as can be, plenty of people outside were heavily dressed; women wearing long sleeves and lots of older men wearing Mao-style jackets. I can’t imagine ever acclimating to that – it took my camera lens half an hour to unfog each time we went outside.

A view of the old part of town, near the first temple we saw.

We took the bus over the bridge, and visited two more temples as well as taking in the view from this music school. I also got to meet some of my brother’s students, all of whom clearly appreciate him. I can see why it’s a bit strange and wonderful to be a foreigner in Yongzhou. People definitely stare. A whole bus of middle school children was very excited to see us, and I have never had so many strangers tell me how pretty I am. It’s rather fun to suddenly be perceived as special.

The second temple was beautiful, but closed. 

We hopped back on the bus (no waiting + open windows = glorious), enjoyed more AC and showers, and watched a Chinese children’s cartoon, Pleasant Goat and Big Bad Wolf (喜羊羊与灰太狼) before heading out to dinner with my brother’s old friend , Albright.

“Dumplings again?”, was a welcome suggestion, and after a delicious dinner, we went for a walk. We ran into one of my brother’s students who was celebrating her birthday and setting aloft a lantern with her wishes noted… it’s a bit like when you light an Amaretto cookie wrapper on fire. We watched her wish blow off into the horizon with high hopes. She said that usually one keeps these wishes secret, but hers wasn’t… that she hoped there would be no weather related disasters, to which I had to tell her that wish for good weather was very English.

Poster on campus encouraging students to
speak Mandarin (the lady is a film star)

We headed back to Kiely’s, and Albright, Kiely, and I, and we sat out on the balcony, chatting and people watching, until bedtime.