"If you're not making mistakes, then you are not doing anything..." - John Wooden
Day 1 : 19 October 2009
Arrived at Beijing Capital Airport early dawn and was greeted by Selena, our guide for the whole week. We checked in the Sheng Hao Hotel and took a short nap before exploring Beijing city.
After lunch at one Muslim restaurant, we visited the Summer Palace or Yiheyuan in the western outskirts of Haidian District about 15km from Beijing. Designated as a Key Cultural Relics Protection Site of China it is the archetypal Chinese garden, and in 1998, it became one of the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.The Palace was constructed in the Jin Dynasty and during the succeeding reign of feudal emperors, it was extended continuously. Like most of the gardens of Beijing, it could not elude the rampages of the Anglo-French allied force and was destroyed by fire. In 1888, Empress Dowager Cixi embezzled navy funds to reconstruct it for her own benefit, changing its name to Summer Palace (Yiheyuan). She spent most of her later years there, dealing with state affairs and entertaining. After the success of the 1911 Revolution, it was opened to the public.
Due to strong winds the day before, we could not enjoy the leisure boat ride across the Kunming Lake which made up almost 60 percent of the Palace area. But we did take in the wonderful vistas of the Palace and the visitors.
We stopped at the Freesky Pearl House specialising in freshwater pearls. Each bred oyster normally produces up to 30 small pearls each. We bought a couple of souvenir pearl bracelets for the ladies in the family.
We ventured into Dr. Tea’s teahouse to experience tea tasting. With the aid of a pee-pee doll to check water temperature for perfect tea making, we went through the rituals of proper tea making, cup holding and tasting.
We had dinner at one of the numerous muslim restaurants available in Beijing. After a good dinner, we headed back to hotel for a good nites rest.
Day 2: 20 October 2009
After breakfast we headed to Tiananmen Square. It is the geographical centre of Beijing City. It is the largest city square in the world and is able to accommodate 10,000,000 people at one time! The square is flanked by 56 pillars depicting the various ethnic groups in China. It has two gigantic TV screens showcasing the Beijing 2008 Olympics Opening grandeur.
With the towering Monument to the People's Heroes at the centre, Tiananmen Square has the magnificent Tiananmen Tower in the north, the solemn Mao Zedong Memorial Hall in the south, the National Museum of China in the east and the Great Hall of the People in the west. Surrounded by these lofty buildings, the Square looks majestic and attracts thousands of tourists daily. Tour guides with flags held high to keep their group together were in abundance.
We snaked our way through the jostling crowd to enter the underpass to get to the Forbidden City.
The Forbidden City is situated in the heart of the Beijing and was home to 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. In ancient times, the emperors claimed to be the sons of the heaven and their supreme power conferred upon them from the heavens. Their residence on the earth was built as a replica of the Purple Palace where the God lived in the Heaven. Such a divine place, forbidden for the ordinary people was called the Forbidden City. However, nowadays, visitors can get a glimpse of these residences and their surrounding abodes.
The Forbidden City houses treasures of Chinese cultural and historical relics, and is recognized as one of the most important five palaces in the world (the other four are the Palace of Versailles in France, the Buckingham Palace in the UK, the White House in the US and the Kremlin in Russia). The splendid architecture of the Forbidden City represents the essence and culmination of the traditional Chinese architectural accomplishment. In 1987, it was nominated as Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. It is the best preserved imperial palace in China and the largest ancient palatial structure in the world.
We traveled back through time as we walked through the City.
Reflexology herbal Medicine
Before proceeding on with the tour, we stopped at the old Olympic Stadium for a foot massage. The massage was not as good as the ones we frequent in Malaysia. We thought that we’d get a good reflexology session. We were disappointed.
Royal Silk House
We stopped at a silk house and watched the ladies work the silkworm all the way to the finished products. The place was full with tourists and after a look see look see, we left for more interesting sights.
Hutong Rickshaw ride
A hutong is an ancient city alley or lane with quadrangle courtyard residences typical in Beijing. Surrounding the Forbidden City, many were built during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. In the prime of these dynasties the emperors, in order to establish supreme power for themselves, planned the city and arranged the residential areas according to the etiquette systems of the Zhou Dynasty. The centre of the city of Beijing was the royal palace -- the Forbidden City.
One kind of hutongs, usually referred to as the regular hutong, was near the palace to the east and west and arranged in orderly fashion along the streets. Most of the residents of these hutongs were imperial kinsmen and aristocrats. Another kind, the simple and crude hutong, was mostly located far to the north and south of the palace. The residents were merchants and other ordinary people.
We took a rickshaw ride through a hutong filled with small criss crossing alleys. The ride wasn’t smooth due to major earthworks being done. The hutong we were in had been designated as protected heritage areas and conservation work was being done. It gave us a glimpse of the locals in their natural surroundings.
Acrobatic Troupe Show
After the trishaw ride, we relaxed at the Children’s Park. While waiting for the show, we saw men and women alike exercising in the park. It seems that exercising in various forms is a way of life for the Chinese here. Taichi, lion dancing and traditional dancing is a common street sight.
The show itself covered a large variety of acrobatics ending with more than 15 youths on a bicycle circling on stage. But the highlight was the face changing (Bianlian in Chinese) Bianlian was the fascinating part of the show. This is where two performers changed through half a dozen or more fearsome and brightly-coloured face masks seemingly by magic!
Day 3: 21 October 2009
Great Wall of China
After about a 2hr drive north and two shopping stops at a jade and crystal factory, we had lunch at a Chinese Cloissone enamel factory. We watched them produce the enamelware. Cloisonne enamel is high-grade artwork. During the Jingtai period of the Ming Dynasty, it became popular. Handicraftsmen used the dark-blue enamel that gave the cloisonné the blue colour, hence it is called Jingtai blue, and is still used today.
The making of cloisonné integrates bronze and porcelain-working skills, traditional painting and etching. It is the pinnacle of traditional Chinese handicraft. Cloisonne is also known as "inlaid enamel", which refers to the unique technique of the combination of porcelain and bronze. Lunch was good but the portions were huge. Fellow Malaysian travelers who crossed our paths agreed that while the food was good, the portions were impossible to finish. Our guide said that the Chinese ate large portions yet remained slim. Slimming Chinese tea must be their secret :)
The Great Wall of China, one of the greatest wonders of the world, was listed as a World Heritage by UNESCO in 1987. Just like a gigantic dragon, the Great Wall winds up and down across deserts, grasslands, mountains and plateaus, stretching approximately 5,600 km from east to west of China. With a history of more than 2000 years, some of the sections are now in ruins or have disappeared. However, it is still one of the most appealing attractions all around the world owing to its architectural grandeur and historical significance.
We walked, climbed, crawled and made it up the peak at the Badaling Great Wall situated in Yanqing County, over 70 km north of Beijing. It is the most well-preserved section of the Great Wall, built during the Ming Dynasty. This section has an average altitude of over 1,000m and is the outpost of the Juyongguan Pass. The mountain slope is very steep and the roads are tortuous. These features made it a military stronghold. The Badaling Great Wall is like a strong dragon winding its way along the mountain ranges. And we scaled this dragon :)
We had the opportunity to visit the Nan Dou Ya Qing Zhen Si Mosque, serving the Hui community in the area.
Like most of the mosques in Beijing, Nan Dou Ya mosque is a combination of traditional Chinese architecture and Islamic art, with a series of pavilions and courtyard buildings and the Arabian characters and touches.
At the courtyard, we were surrounded by the courtyard chambers comprising the main prayer hall. It’s like being back in time!
After performing our prayers, we bought some sweet bepang like snacks outside the masjid. Our guide said that the snack was sold by the muslim chinese outside mosques only.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Wangfujing. It is now considered the central heart of the city. It is close to the Forbidden City. Wangfujing is a long shopping street! A walk from end to end would take about 30 minutes, and that's without looking at any shops. A major portion of Wangfujing consists of a pedestrian mall. It is comparable to most pedestrian malls worldwide. The street was full with local and international tourists. It reminded us of Vienna’s Stephenplatz. 'We had dinner and met with a couple of Malaysian visitors at another muslim restaurant before heading back to the hotel to rest after a full tiring day.
Day 4 :22 October 2009
As today has been designated a shopping day, we went to Yashow Market. Yashow is a paradise for bargain hunters in Beijing, a big draw for the tourist with some money to spend and some serious shopping to do too. It is located in the northeast of Beijing. Yashow is surrounded by the bars, restaurants and cafes of the Sanlitun area, the hottest eating and drinking area for tourists in the city.It's a 4 story building with shopping inside. The general quality of the goods here is not bad. The Yashow Market itself provides various articles of clothing a well as a lot of cashmere garments, down jackets, leather goods, shoes, hats, watches and some handicrafts and trinkets. It also has custom-fitted suits available. Good bargaining skills is a must to survive here. Our guide advised us to start at 30% from what was offered!
We people watched more than shopping :) We had a good seat across a shop selling wigs and hair stuff. Wigs must be cheap here because many western tourists were trying and buying them. Redheads became blondes instantaneously. One lady walked off buying a blue haired wig. Wonder when will she get to use it?
After a filling dinner which was largely unfinished, we headed back to the hotel.
The Bird’s Nest
As a last stop before returning home, we visited the Beijing 2008 Olympic Stadium. The spectacular Bird's Nest stadium, hailed as the finest arena in the world and the centrepiece of the most expensive Olympics in history, is full of hidden symbolism.
In Chinese mythology, the sun is represented by a circle and the moon by a square, reflected by the shape of the bird's nest and the Water Cube aquatic centre opposite, reinforced when the venues are lit at night, red for the Bird's Nest and blue for the Water Cube.
The shapes also echo the Chinese symbols for male and female, and are built either side of the north-south axis road which runs in a perfect straight line for three miles through Beijing, centered on the Forbidden City.
Designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, the stadium has a revolutionary design, comprising an outer skeleton of 42,000 tons of steel, and an inner 'skin' of double-layered plastic which keeps out wind and rain and filters out UV light. It is designed to last for 100 years and withstand a force eight magnitude earthquake.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by hundreds of local and foreign tourists gathered between the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube. It was the official opening ceremony of the Beijing International Tourism Festival. There were brightly colored floats with hundreds of colorful participants. Since we have a plane to catch, we couldn’t enjoy the whole event. We had lunch on the way to the airport.
The flight home was on time and we reached home just past midnight. It had been a perfect week break. What would be the next greatest wonder of the world to visit eh? Somewhere in the Middle East or South America kut?