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gloriajames Beijing - A travel report by Gloria
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Beijing,  China - flag China -  Beijing
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gloriajames's travel reports

A Chinese Affair in Beijing

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My 'hate' relationship with the Chinese language (Mandarin) blossomed to a Chinese love affair after my maiden trip to the capital city of China, Beijing. This was an eye-opener journey for me. report of the month contest
Jan 2009

Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
When I was a 5 years old kindergarten student, I started to learn Mandarin as my second language. However, on my first day at school when I began my Primary One education, I thought I was going to learn another second language, ie Tamil, as most of my friends then were Indians and Sri Lankans and I wanted to be with them. When it came to the second language lessons, the students learning either Mandarin or Tamil were spilt up into two classes. I decided to follow my friends to the Tamil class though my school bag contained Mandarin textbooks. The teachers were puzzled, so I innocently told them that my parents bought the wrong books. Guess what? When my father came to fetch me, he was so mad and he gave me such a yelling, that the next day I was back to attending Mandarin classes! As I was 'forced' to learn Mandarin for the next 10 years, needless to say, I grew to hate the language.

It took this maiden trip to Beijing to change my opinion and put aside my years of Chinese language suffering. My Chinese affair started with a deep appreciation for the language, the people, the culture, the ancient history and the food. Out of curiosity, I also attended a short mandarin course and I realized that the method of teaching Mandarin was better as compared to Singapore! Oh my!!! I missed out on being a 1st Class Mandarin student :(. I now have a deep respect for the Aussie PM Kevin Rudd, who speaks flawless Mandarin!

As there’s limited space on writing all about Beijing, I shall write only what I can. For further, information, please refer to the other reports by fellow Globies, ie BOOTLEGGA, MISTYBLEU & GARDKARLSEN.

Here’s an idiot-proof survival guide (words & phrases you ought to know when in China):

NI HAO – hello

NI HAO MA – how are u?

XIE XIE – thank you

ZAIJIAN – goodbye

DUI BU QI – sorry

DUO SHAO – how much

HEN GUI – very expensive

QING PIAN YI – cheaper please

ZAI NAR? - where is it?

Favourite spots:
Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square
1. Forbidden City - If you have watched the Last Emperor, you would have seen the Forbidden City aka the Palace Museum. This was where for 500 years, 24 Emperors ruled China. The best way to explore the area is to start from one entrance and to walk all the way to the end. Red and gold are the dominant colours of this impressive imperial architecture said to contain 9,999 rooms.

2. Summer Palace - An imperial retreat from the summer, thus its name. Highlights here are the Longevity Hill, the Long Corridor with 14,000 scenic paintings.

3. Tian'anmen Square - Brings to mind the 1989 student protest. Putting that aside, historically this was where Chairman mao proclaimed China's founding.

4. Mao's Mausoleum and Monument to the People's Heroes - Associated with Chairman Mao and depicts China's revolutionary history, respectively.

5. Temple of Heaven - aka Tian tan, was an important place for the Emperor to pray to Heaven. The colours, blue, red and gold are predominantly featured.

What's really great:
The Great Wall @ Juyongguan
The Great Wall @ Juyongguan
This is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, stretching about 4,500 km and built between 5th century BC to 16th century AD. The Great Wall was created after Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi unified China. Hence climbing the Great Wall of China at the Juyongguan Pass, one of the 3 greatest passes of the Wall, was the highlight of my Beijing trip.

My guide said that there was a Chinese saying that you are not a man unless you have climbed the great wall. My guide also explained that climbing the wall here was rather difficult as each step was very steep thus making the climb tough! [see the picture]. He was not kidding! It was really challenging!We had to brace the -5 degrees temperature and the wind to reach our goal. I must say that the view was spectacular. Treat yourself to a Hero's Card or plaque with your name inscribed, once you have climbed midway. That cost about RMB40. I did just that! guide also said that the Great Wall can be viewed even from the Moon! What do u think?

Entering a Hutong
Entering a Hutong
1. Hutong

Visiting the Hutong was not in the original tour itinerary. For an additonal RMB80 each, you get to ride on a trishaw down the winding narrow streets of the Hutong, and to sip chinese tea at one of the hutong dwellings. What is the "Hutong"? Hutong means water well, originating from a Mongolian word. Hutongs are formed when two houses' courtyards share a passageway. According to my guide, this is where one can experience the real Chinese culture. The lady in the red on the extreme right of the pic, is the owner of the Hutong house, and she said that the rental per room for a month was about RMB400.

2. Ming Tombs

This is the resting place for 13 of the 16 Ming emperors. Sounds rather eerie visiting a tomb but you will be rewarded with more knowledge of the history of the Ming emperors especially that of Yongle, who was responsible for moving the capital of china from Nanjing to Beijing and for constructing the Forbidden City. Do also visit the treasure room.

Christmas Breakfast spread at the Oriental Bay International Hotel
Christmas Breakfast spread at the Oriental Bay International Hotel
I stayed 4 nights at the 5* Oriental Bay International Hotel located at 9 Dixingju Ande Street, Dongcheng, Beijing. They serve both local and western food. In your room you will find all the necessities to make your sleep restful and with complimentary bottles of mineral water.

What was particularly memorable during the stay was when my guide decided to have a 'Stanley Street' party at his room. He basically got 2 vendors to show us fake designer goods! It was a lesson for us on how to spot the fake from the real thing. Yes, sad but true, fake goods are being sold in China. Many young women can be seen walking down the streets with the likes of LV, Gucci and Prada. With an average monthly income of RMB3,000 for a working class employee, it makes you wonder.

Beijing's hard rock cafe
Beijing's hard rock cafe
I am a Hard Rock Cafe fan, and hence, whenever I travel, I do visit a HRC joint. Incidentally HRC Beijing was located nearby to my hotel, and it only cost me under RMB20 to get there. I went with my guide and 2 tour mates. I was treating them as they helped me at the time of my need. Well, you know how vast the Forbidden City is, that was where I lost my mother! It took 40 mins to locate her and thanks to the chinese authorities (who did a public broadcast asking people to bring my mother to where I was standing ie right in the middle of the Forbidden City) and the help of the guide and my 2 tour mates, I got my mother back! Hence, drinks were on me that night.

Ok, if you are a HRC fan, then you can find it located at the Landmark Towers, No.8 North Dongsanhuan Road, Chaoyang District.

Word of Advice, if you don't speak Chinese, don't forget to get your concierge to give you the Hotel name card so that you can give it to the taxi driver to take you back to the hotel.

wangfujing shopping district
wangfujing shopping district
Here are some of the things you can do.

1. To truly enjoy more of the Chinese culture, you should allocate some time to catch a Chinese opera show, especially the acrobats and changing mask show. Even if you do not understand the language, you will surely be mesmerised by the performance.

2. Head on down to any parks, or perhaps the park area at the Temple of Heaven and you will be amazed at how the locals spend their leisure time. You will see them grouping together to play cards, doing the tai-chi, trying out social dance, and practising their singing. It's truly an entertaining sight!

3. Of course, you can't leave without buying souvenirs, so head on down to Wangfujing shopping area where you will be spoilt for choices. Remember, please BARGAIN! Start with 20% of the price and pay not more than 35%. Keep plenty of cash in hand as credit cards are not generally used here.

4. Just opposite to Wangfuing is Sun Dongan Plaza. Though prices indicated are fixed, no harm bargaining!

Cook slicing the Peking Duck
Cook slicing the Peking Duck
As the tour I signed up for was the “Presidential and Imperial Tour to Beijing & Xi’an”, we were told that we would be experiencing a culinary feast and that’s what I had! No meal was alike in each day of the trip. A must eat was the Emperor banquet, Hubei style dishes, Hangzhou dishes, Cantonese cuisines and of course, the famous “Xiao long bao” which has meat infused with a sauce and once you take a bite, the whole dim sum just melts in your mouth! VERY YUMMY!!!

Of course no trip to Beijing is complete without trying the famous Peking Duck, which is eaten on thin pancakes with spring onions and hoisin and bean sauces poured on it.

Some of the recommended Restaurants from my guide are:

1. Badaling Great Wall Restaurant;

2. Peking Duck cuisine at Tiananmen Quanjude;

3. Old Beijing Noodle.

And if you need your coffee staple, fret not there are many Starbucks Coffee places! Even Forbidden City had an outlet, though am not sure if it is still there.

Other recommendations:
The Ming Tombs
The Ming Tombs
My guide had some advice for us:

1. Being on a guided tour, there’s no escape from the mandatory stops at the jade factory or silk factory or the famous medical store. Just go with the flow and if you are not buying anything, just decline politely.

2. Avoid visiting China during August as it extremely hot. Though accommodation at a hotel can be as low as US$15 in a 4-star hotel!

3. Drink bottled water.

4. Always keep plenty of small change.

5. Get a travel flu jab for your protection.

6. Avoid purchasing food items from street vendors.

Oh...look out for my next report on my continued journey to Xi'an.

Published on Thursday January 29th, 2009

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Tue, Feb 03 2009 - 07:10 AM rating by louis

I really liked your report, it is a litlle bit different than others, but still very interesting. I can't even imaging to walk throught the Great Wall with - 5 degrees. As you wrote the park around the Temple of heaven is something to remember.

Sun, Feb 01 2009 - 08:17 PM rating by jorgesanchez

lovely report, as usual. Thanks for the Chinese lessons.

Sun, Feb 01 2009 - 02:29 PM rating by mistybleu

Good report, nice story about learning mandarin, it must have come in very useful.

Sat, Jan 31 2009 - 09:11 PM rating by bootlegga

Excellent report! Your trip reminded me of my recent visit to China.

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