Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Beijing - Days 1 & 2

I don't even know where to begin. This is the problem with not getting onto the internet sooner.

Day 1 - Beijing

Today we started out early and headed out to the Temple of Heaven. This is was the major place of worship for the Ming Dynasty. We had to go through several gates before we got to the famous Hall of the Prayer for Good Harvest. This is a gorgeous 3-story octagonal structure with amazing detail and design. Needless to say, I took a lot of pictures. I had a great time trying to get cool shots of the different angles and the designs. At the beginning of the Temple, we all stood on a circular stone that was said to be the "center of the universe." The emperors thought themselves to be the hand of god, so that is why they felt they were the center of the universe.

It was also amazing how aggressive the Chinese vendors were. We would be standing around waiting for others and we would be swarmed (not even a strong enough word) with folks selling "silk" scarves, chopsticks, postcards, etc. Around the Temple, the grounds were extensive. Folks gather on the grounds and perform tai chi, play a cool form of kadima with two rackets, and dance.

After the Temple of Heaven we moved onto lunch at a local restaurant. We had been warned that the food might be an issue for some on the trip and to bring lots of snacks. This meal was actually quite good. And the best thing, they had a western toilet! You've probably seen or heard that the toilets in China ("eastern toilets") are basically holes in the ground. They think that western toilets are unsanitary, which is pretty much what we think about the western toilets. Beijing has also rated a number of the toilets in the city, but I think the rating system is pretty arbitrary and just plain false!

This afternoon, we were dropped off at Tienanmen Square, the largest city square in the world. It's huge. What else can I say. Tienanmen Square is also at the entrance to the Forbidden City, so we continued across the street to walk through the Forbidden City. Before we crossed the street, we took a great group picture in front of the entrance w/ the picture of Mao on it (remember it from the Olympics?).

The Forbidden City is magnificent. The detail that went into the buildings and the shear size of it is unbelievable. This is the home of the emperor and his concubines. We went through 3 gates before we actually entered the "city". I took soooooo many pictures and desperately need to weed thru them.

Afterwards, we had a Peking duck dinner. I wasn't too impressed, but that's b/c I don't like duck (too fatty) and they didn't carve the duck in front of us. :(

When we got back, we quickly changed and walked down the block to have a traditional foot massage. OH. MY. GOD. It was amazing. You are in rooms w/ 2-6 people, all seating in lazy boy-type chairs. They then have you soak your feet in hot-as-hell water to open up the pores. The masseurs come in and being pounding your legs and then go to work on your feet performing the ultimately massage - reflexology. This was 90 minutes, ending with a back massage. It was heaven. What a great way to end our first day, and a long one at that!

Day 2 - Beijing

Today, we headed out of the city and out to the Great Wall. On our way out of town, we stopped at the Olympic Village to see the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube. What amazingly beautiful buildings! Really, the TV coverage does not do them justice.

Afterwards, we went to see the Ming Tombs. I thought they were supposed to be more interesting, but it was kind of boring. I think maybe I missed something that I should have looked for. I'm not sure.

We then stopped at a total tourist trap to see how cloisonne is made. The stuff I made in high school pales in comparison to what they were doing. This place had a huge shopping area, kind of like a mini-department store of touristy items. They had huge cloisonne vases and jade sculptures you could buy, along with silk and tea pots. I looked at some of the silk robes for gifts, but the sizes were just too hard to get over. One woman on our trip who can't be more than a size 4, was told that she is a size XL. Yeah, that's how small the Chinese women are and their sizing structure. Some items went up to 6XL to accommodate western bodies. It was too complicated so I abandoned that idea. I did find, however, a beautiful cloisonne bowl w/ lid and a couple bracelets.

After stopping here and having lunch, we were off to the wall. Wow! You truly cannot imagine how magnificent this wall is until you set foot on it. I took the "easier" route, which was not as steep as the other side and climbed up several posts. Some parts were far worse than the hills in San Francisco. They were very steep and slick.

China is an interesting place for western tourists b/c we stand out so much from the dark hair and dark eyes of the Asian community. I had just had someone take my picture when a Chinese man asked to take a picture w/ me. I then had some friends jump in and then the men kept jumping in and out oft he pictures. It was hysterical. It was like we were celebrities! When we took group shots, random folks also took our pictures. We couldn't get over it. My friend managed to capture one of the shots with the Chinese men so I will always remember our celebrity.

Tonight, instead of hitting the night market, we instead went back to the massage parlor and got full body massages to stem of the inevitable pain of climbing the wall. This can be addictive. My 80-minute massage was only $50. You can't beat it!

Tomorrow is a day of exploring the hutongs of Beijing by rickshaw, eating out on our own, visiting the night market, and shopping. I'm off to bed now . . .


Anonymous said...

It sounds as if you're having a wonderful time; I'm so happy for you! Careful that you don't go broke from those addictive massages!


kt said...

So great to hear from you so soon! I am soooooo jealous of your foot massages. Can't wait to see the pictures....

Miss you,

Anonymous said...

Your posts are great and it sounds like you are having a great time. Thanks for the detailed posts!


Anonymous said...

Robin - I can't wait to see your pictures. Glad you made it to China safe and sound.

Andrea said...

Your trip sounds wonderful so far. I can't wait to see the pictures.

By the way, saw Lisa M. last night. She emailed you on Monday not knowing you'd left already. She wants 18" brown strand of pearls.

Please stay safe.. =)