Posts Tagged ‘beijing’

china: week 2-3: the tour

November 11, 2008

After the first week in Beijing, my parents came into town bringing with them 75 people from Saudi, all part of the Dhahran Outing Group (D.O.G.). We embarked on an incredibly packed journey, city hopping to Beijing, Xi’an, Guilin, Suzhou, and Shanghai in 11 days. Being that there were two busloads of people, my dad was in charge of keeping Bus 1 organized and happy, and I was in charge of Bus 2. 

Day 1 – Beijing
I started the day people watching from a restaurant window all afternoon with Anna. Later on, I met my parents and the rest of the tour group at their hotel. We had a welcome dinner at night @ the Sixth Club.

@ Forbidden City

Day 2 – Beijing
First real day of the tour greeted everyone with rain, rain, and more rain. It sure made Tinamen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven not as enjoyable as it could have been. Also made for some gloomy photographs filled with gray skies and umbrellas. The afternoon was spent at a chinese pearl factory, and the night was capped off with a traditional Beijing Opera show, complete with english subtitles.

@ Great Wall of China

Day 3 – Beijing
The lack of rain lifted everyone’s spirits, especially since we were going to the Great Wall of China. Certainly breathtaking, but the time there was much too short. I’d love to go for a ‘run’ on the wall. Went to a jade factory, as well as the Sacred Way located at the Ming Tombs. Dinner was at Beijing’s largest (4 floors!) peking duck restaurant, and although I never really liked the dish, this was the one time that I really loved it. Absolutely delicious!

Day 4 – Beijing to Xi’an
The morning was spent in Beijing, at the Summer Palace, and also taking a dragon boat ride there. Everyone then hopped on a plane to fly to Xi’an, the old capital of China, and world famous for their variety of dumplings. Eating at a famous dumpling restaurant, we tried dumpling after dumpling. My favorites were the walnut, chicken, and miniature dumpling the size of your fingernail. Hung out at the hotel bar for darts and a live band afterwards.

Terra Cotta Warriors

Day 5 – Xi’an
The buffet breakfast at the Hyatt was wonderful. Had poached eggs on top of toast, and a great selection of cheeses. We then visited a temple with an old pagoda, claimed to be the birthplace/origin of Buddhism. The next stop was the main attraction of the city: the Terra Cotta Warriors. It was certainly very fascinating, and still in excavation mode. We were told an interesting story about a german guy who was so obsessed with these terra cotta warriors that he spent years studying how they looked, and decided to one day dress himself and paint himself up as one, and sneaked into the pits, posing as a terra cotta warrior himself. He was eventually found, and kicked out of the country forever. The night ended with a Tang Dynasty cultural show, which was beautiful, and had amazing food.

Day 6 – Xi’an to Guilin
Morning at the Province History Museum = boring. Time to leave Xi’an and fly to Guilin, dubbed as the most beautiful city/scenery in China. First stop was a grueling climb up what seemed like an endless amount of steps to the top of Fubo Hill, giving a decent view of the city and river below. Pedestrian Street was the highlight of the night, which was basically a street market selling random souvenirs or fake items.
 
Day 7 – Guilin
The whole day was basically spent on a peaceful river cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo. The scenery was indeed beautiful, just like the chinese paintings you see of oddly shaped mountains that look like they belong underwater (because they once were). On the cruise, I also tried something called snake wine, which wasn’t very good. The Yangshuo street markets provided me with the one and only real purchase I made the whole trip: a pair of fake Ray Ban aviators for about $3.
 
@ Shanghai Airport

Day 8 – Guilin to Suzhou
The Reed Flute Caves are pretty much the same kind of natural caverns you find near Austin, but, with a lot of techno-wizardy involved. There were neon lights, bubbles, fog machines, and swelling music put in various locations, to make the whole experience more exciting. That’s great and all, but the best part of the day was when we arrived at our hotel in Suzhou: the Garden Hotel. This was easily the best hotel I’ve ever stayed at. Inside was the most elegant and minimalistic (is that a word?) modern architecture, present in the lobbies, restaurants and rooms. It all fused seamlessly to the traditional oriental garden designs of the outside and surrounding areas. The hotel also housed the secret underground offices of an almost successful assassin of Chairman Mao. That was certainly creepy, walking through claustrophobic hallways and rooms, and coming out on the other side of the compound.

@ Nanjing Road

Day 9 – Suzhou to Shanghai
In Suzhou, we went to yet another garden (Humble Administrator’s Garden), yet another factory (silk), and yet another hill/pagoda/temple (Tiger Hill & its leaning pagoda). Parts of Suzhou are just like Venice, with a complicated web/network of rivers going through. We went on a cruise through what could only be described as poor man’s Venice. The first night in Shanghai proved to be quite interesting as the taxi drivers would not pick me and my parents up because we did not look foreign enough and thus could not be cheated as easily. This was on National Day, and we were at Nanjing Road (which was freakin’ packed!), so they figured they could get better business elsewhere.

@ Old Town Shanghai

Day 10 – Shanghai
This full day in Shanghai consisted of first visiting old Shanghai at the Yuyuan gardens and the adjacent bazaar. The peaceful nature of the gardens was a complete juxtaposition to the insane ‘packed liked sardines’ feel of the bazaar outside. The afternoon was spent on a Huangpu river cruise, allowing us to see the modern day skyline of Pudong on the east, and Puxi on the west. At night, we attended a subpar acrobatics show at the Ritz Carlton that consisted of gymnasts, aerialists, hoop jumpers, chinese yoyo-ers, and various other random acts.
 
Day 11 – Shanghai
Spending the morning at the National Museum = boring again. But at night, we went to the Oriental Pearl Tower, which was at the time is the 3rd tallest building in Shanghai (soon to be 4th). This was the last day, and saddest day of all. I had enjoyed seeing my parents for the first time in four years, and I had also grown to really like meeting a lot of the people in the tour group. Thanks for a great time and for the great memories!

@ Forbidden City

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china: week 1

November 10, 2008

Well, as you probably know, I was in China for about 5 weeks or so. My wordpress blog was blocked in China, however, and I was too lazy to implement a workaround. I did try to keep an offline blog for the purposes of posting it up after the trip, but after the first week, the schedule became a lot more hectic, and I just didn’t have the time to write anything. I’ll just post up the first few written blogs, and then see if I can write some stuff for the following days in a separate blog. Otherwise, I will just write a list of places I went to. I need to get this out of the way so I can get through this writer’s block and start blogging about other things. 

Day 1 – Seoul, South Korea
My mom, bless her heart, found a wonderful deal of about $775 for a round trip ticket to Beijing from San Francisco on Asiana Airlines, with a one night layover in Seoul, including a very nice stay in a hotel with dinner and breakfast. On my flight over there, I noticed that the bathrooms were always packed, with long lines, which is not what I’m used to seeing. Do asian people have smaller bladders? Who knows. I stayed at the Seoul Royal Hotel which was in the Meyong-dong area, where the hip and young people hang out (supposedly), with late night street markets lined with various fried korean snacks, fake purses, watches, sunglasses, and clothes. The whole night was pretty much ruined for me though, since I had an allergy breakdown and felt terrible. 

Day 2 – Beijing, China
On my flight to China, I had the surreal feeling of looking at the cabin in front of me and only seeing black hair. It was a sign of things to come. I arrived in Beijing and had my cousin Lamont’s girlfriend, Anna, pick me up from the airport, holding a sign that said “William Tung.” That’s probably a first for me. I had a few days in Beijing with my cousin before my parents were to arrive, so we tried to cover all the less touristy places that wouldn’t be covered with my parents. We had the obligatory peking duck for dinner, along with a delicious cold duck liver dish. 

@ Yashow Clothing Market

Day 3
The next morning, I got a haircut, which cost me 30 RMB, which is about $4.40. This gave me a 45 minute haircut from the head stylist, and 2 shampoo washes, and a hugely entertaining experience watching him cut my hair like it was his life’s masterpiece. He kept telling me my hair was dull, and I had too many white hair, and needed to get it colored. I passed on that, and overall, that’s quite an amazing deal. To get it all from a regular stylist would be 15 RMB, half the price. I also finally learned how to give my hair that matte look too. Later that day, me and Anna went to the Yashow Clothing Market, which was a tourist trap filled with fake items; anything you can think of. Most of which were of poor quality. I didn’t end up buying anything, maybe I’ve gotten too picky about the quality of fake items, or maybe they just weren’t as good as the ones from other places, like Thailand. At night, we met up with Lamont and his friend and ate at The Place, which had the second largest LED screen in the world, and had drinks right under it at CJW Bar. I had the Lychee Martini, which was gross. 

@ Sanlitun

Day 4
Sanlitun is a relatively newly cleaned up (for the Beijing Olympics crowd) area filled with bars, restaurants, and shopping. We pretty much spent the whole day here, first eating at Herbal Cafe for lunch (including yummy curry fish balls). Sanlitun is also home to the world’s largest Adidas store, spanning 5 floors that showcase their premier lines, like Y3, Stella McCartney, and even their joint Adidas/Diesel jeans. They also had fitness and reaction test stations which were quite fun as well. Dinner was at Sino Hot Taste, which I guess was spicy enough to trigger diarrhea for the next three days. I’m sure you wanted to know that. We went to have drinks at Bar Blu afterwards, on a patio terrace. Lesson learned: alcohol and an upset stomach don’t mesh well together. 

Day 5
Four words: Oriental Taipan Massage & Spa. For 118 RMB (~$17), you get 90 minutes of heaven. You are first presented with a menu, where you can order as much food or drinks as you’d like, as many times as you’d like. I had everything from pork buns, to curry beef, to carrot juice, to dumplings. You get to eat all this while getting your massage. First, you get a rub down on your back, neck, and shoulders, with your feet soaking in a tub of some kind of floral water, as a pre-warm up. You see, we ordered just the foot massage, so this felt like kind of a bonus for me. Afterwards, the masseuse proceeded to massage the hell out of every possible nook and cranny on your foot,. Places that you never even felt pain before were suddenly brought to your attention. Afterwards, a rubdown on your calves and thighs, and then a wipe down with scalding hot towel. 90 minutes of massage and all you can eat food: heaven. Dinner was Japanese buffet, where I had skewered chicken skins, chicken hearts, salmon skins, and of course, Sashimi. 

@ Hou Hai

Day 6
First stop was South Luogu Lane, which was lined with small shops in little Hutongs, which is the old chinese architectural style.  These 700 year old alleys and courtyards are fading fast, due to the modernization and constant construction of Beijing. A short walk west brought us to Hou Hai. This place is like a Chinese version of the San Antonio Riverwalk, lined with bars, restaurants, and shops, many of them proudly displaying large VISA signs to tell foreigners that their place is the place to conveniently spend your money. While walking along, I had skewered lamb and skewered caramelized fruits as snacks, the first of which was delicious, and the second, which was gross. Dinner, at S’Silk Road, was mostly good, and had Yunnan style food. My favorite dishes were probably the Goose Intestine stuffed with Egg Yolk, and the Banana/Egg/Milk Pancake Cookies.