It was freezing cold when we reached Beijing and temperatures were to drop some more during our stay there. For one accustomed to tropical weather year round (the Philippines has only two seasons- wet and dry), I handled the negative temperatures (lows of -14ºC, highs of 1ºC) rather well, even as I developed a bit of the sniffles and a rather annoying cough while we were there.
I wanted snow but it didn’t come. What we experienced was a lot of biting cold wind and it was wind chill that drove temperatures even lower. When the sun would come up for brief periods, we would soak in the short lived heat, unmindful that we had not retouched our sunscreens since early morning. It just felt good to be even just a little warm in the middle of all that cold.
Fortunately for me, I had a little more blubber to ward off the cold. (Yay for body fat!) I had fewer layers on than my companions. I could also go hatless and gloveless for periods of time. The cold, I found out, I could definitely handle. What did me in was the amount of walking we did everywhere we went.
There is so much history in China that one can spend a week in Beijing and still not see all of its attractions. Some, however, are simply too precious to pass up, like the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs, and the amazing palaces in the Forbidden City. Others are “tourist-y” things that are unique only to China, mini-stops that are ultimately educational and interesting but may present as a bit of a problem for one’s pockets. You will need a lot of willpower and patience to say “No” to these expensive souvenirs graciously, taking care always not to offend. Each, however, was always a feast for the eyes, with a heady continuous stream of remarkable history and insights.
Here are some of my favorite pictures from this trip, taken by our trusty point and shoot cameras, the Sony TX9 for me and the Sony T100 for A. I chose these from an already pared album of 103 pictures, down from the original 491 shots that we had in our cameras. If you’re my Facebook friend, I’m sure you’ve probably seen them all, but indulge me, please?
P.S. While we’re at it, can anyone of my Kitty friends spot the Kitties I brought along?
Warning: Picture heavy
A Kitty nerd in front of the Forbidden City, with Chairman Mao watching from the distance
The Hall of Supreme Harmony, which was built in the Ming Dynasty in 1406, lies on the central axis of the Outer Court of the Forbidden City. This is the hall where enthronement and wedding celebrations took place.
These bronze lions guard the Gate of Supreme Harmony. Lions represent the power of the imperial throne. They are said to ward off evil spirits. The lion on top is a male, as seen by the ball under his right paw; the one below is a lioness, seen playing with an upside down cub.
This is a magnificent stone carving measuring 16.7 meters and weighing 200 tons. The carvings were made in natural stone quarried from the surrounding areas; this was transported whole to the Palace by pulling it on iced roads.
These are intricately designed clothing for the imperial concubines. Notice the painstaking details in design and embroidery.
Chinese women also love shoe fashion, it seems, with this fabulous handcrafted shoe with silk and pearl beads and the phoenix at the toes.
This frozen river (I think this is the Inner Golden Water River) runs outside the Forbidden City. The river serves as drainage for rain and its water used for firefighting.
A trip to China cannot be complete without seeing a panda! They remind me of my son, Alex, who is a big panda himself (big, burly, with black unibrows) and my friend Sarah, who simply loves pandas. I can be one too, you know, as I think I am the size of that panda in the picture! Nah, I’m a cat.
More posing for pictures in front of the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium, one of the attractions of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Now for the other “tourist-y” things…
We stopped over for free tea to warm us up and were given a short discourse on the different teas (black, green, jasmine, and puerh), preparation tips, taste tests, with the hopes of getting us to buy their teas. I like this tea shop because these beautiful young women were always polite and courteous. I ended up bringing home a cake of their best tea, the puerh tea, with a free peepee boy.
We had time to take in a show called “The Legend of Kung Fu” at the Red Theater. Being kung fu fans, we loved every bit of this show, which combined kung fu and acrobatics in amazing performances. The show is in English, so it was very easy to follow. 🙂
The Jade Store held many impressive, if expensive, items, from miniature eggs and flowers, to jewelry and wall art, to massive pieces like this. What made them even more amazing was that most of these were carved from single pieces of jade.
Real jade is expensive, so in this store, not even jade sand left over from cutting and polishing are wasted. They are turned into jade sand art. The smallest piece goes from CNY380 (around USD58) while the larger pieces can go to as high as thousands of yuan.
At the herbal medicine facility (Tongranteng), we were given a lecture on Traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine. Free foot massages were also given (which I politely declined as I have this thing for other people touching my feet; my companions enjoyed these however), with the option to purchase their medicines, balms, and teas. A monk diagnosed me with liver problems, heart problems, kidney problems- in short, multiple organ failure. Ouch.
Only single cocoons are spun into threads, with each cocoon yielding 1350 meters of silk thread. The silk worms’ poo are also utilized as pillow fillings; these are dried into small pellets and sewn into orthopedic-looking silk pillows. These Silkworm Excrement Pillows (I kid you not! This is what they are called!) are said to improve blood circulation, thus improving eyesight, reducing headaches, increasing brainpower, hastening and deepening sleep, and even dispelling wind. I’ve also read that silk worm poo can be dried into tea. I’d pass on both, thank you.
We owe our thanks to this wonderful lady, Runy, who served as our guide and translator during our stay in Beijing. What I shared with you came from her (See Runy? I listened very well!) and from the wonderful places she brought us to. Thank you, Runy, and we hope to see you again!
Beijing was fun, informative, historical, and simply breathtaking. Despite the language barrier (none of us could speak Mandarin and we met very few people who could speak English), we enjoyed our stay immensely. I would strongly advise the help of an interpreter as we had such a hard time making ourselves understood. Just buying soda was an ordeal, were it not for Runy’s quick help.
There were little things that I also discovered, like squat toilets (I’ll never get the hang of these) which are still in use in much of Beijing and the city’s love for Chien-tsu or sipa, which is the national sport of the Philippines. I learned that rice is usually served at the end of meals and not with meals, as we are used to in Chinese restaurants here in the country and elsewhere in the world. I picked up a few words in the process, the most important being mi fahn, which is cooked rice in Mandarin, after repeatedly having to ask that rice be served. I learned that heated rooms are not necessarily comfortable; I like airconditioning much, much more. And I learned that the Chinese in Beijing have ready smiles, even as they are a reserved lot when it comes to foreigners.
I hope you enjoyed these pictures from our brief stay in Beijing, China. Someday, we hope to return and bring back more stories of life in the Middle Kingdom.