A Travellerspoint blog


Tianamen Square and Forbidden City


Which brings us to the conclusion of the Beijing series of blogs.

Our first day/night, we walked from our hotel to Tianamen Square.
It is a little unsettling being there. There are guards everywhere, CCTV, and plainclothes policemen watching you at all times. I'm not sure what they're looking for, but I was warned that I should be...careful. Don't do anything suspicious. Taking pictures of the guards is out of the question. I was actually a bit scared to walk on the grass, even after I saw some Chinese dudes doing it. The kids running around and playing and laughing seemed to be tempting fate. While we were waiting for the flag-lowering ceremony, several guards stopped a Chinese man with a red book. They quickly gathered around him, while the 6 of us tried not to look...act casual.

The flag-lowering ceremony was pretty intense as well. About 30-40 guards march through the Gate of Heavenly Peace (the one with Chairman Mao's famous image) and across the street and stand at attention while the three guards at the flagpole lower the flag and one winds it around his hand with sharp, jerky movements. Just as we were walking away, someone jumped over the chain surrounding the flag and the guards swarmed. I have no idea what the man's intention was; all I knew was that he was in BIG trouble.
Being in Tianamen Square was an experience for sure.

We had beautiful lighting.




A boy and his kites.

Our last full day in Beijing, we went to the Forbidden City. I didn't / still don't know much about it, except that it was full of tons of artwork, the buildings have yellow tiles on the roof, and there is a Palace Museum. And well...you know...it used to be forbidden. The Palace Museum was unfortunately closed, but wouldn't you know it? A lot of the artwork from the Forbidden City is now housed in the National Palace Museum in Taipei...and I have seen it. Lucky me, huh? The buildings were beautiful...no matter how many palaces and Asian architecture I see, I don't really get sick of it.
Well...I guess after a couple hours, I was all palace-d out...and I don't think I'm alone on that.

(Note...I took a lot of pictures of doors. And tiles. And roofs. I picked the best ones...you can thank me later.)















Hey. Look. Another door.









And the standard:
Mao and Me.

I really should have been packing...

Thanks for sticking it out!

Posted by lrbergen 06:30 Archived in China Comments (0)

More Around Beijing

more pictures! just what you needed! (oooh! and video!)

Oh! And I forgot to mention nearly the most important thing about our trip. The fact that we came to Beijing during Lunar New Year (often times called CHINESE New Year) played a big part in our experience. The streets seemed nearly deserted when we got there...there was hardly any traffic on our way to Badaling. There were hardly any people walking in the streets...it was a bit eerie, but a nice change of pace from the ever-hectic Seoul.

And one of the coolest experiences (in my opinion, of course) that we had while there were the never-ending fireworks. I mean, come on people! China INVENTED gunpowder! Chinese fireworks? Hello? New Year's Eve, when we walked out of our duck dinner, we kind of wandered aimlessly and were surprised to find ourselves in a virtual war zone. Fireworks to the left of me! Fireworks to the right of me! They were constant, they were loud, and at times I was pretty sure I was going to lose some important part of my body. They were happening on sidewalks, on the street...sometimes traffic had to halt due to some old Chinese man lighting a roman candle in the middle of the road. It was pretty great, actually.

Yuck...is that MY voice?

But they didn't stop there...they went on. And on. And on. At the precise moment of the New Year, the entire skyline was lit up with fireworks. It was...amazing. Fourth of July? Pssh....please! These people take their fireworks very seriously.

Sorry about the reflection...they woke me up and I didn't have enough sense to turn off the lights.

The second night, they petered out but didn't stop. By the time we were woken up at 5 am by fireworks in the parking lot, it just seemed annoying.



Beijing Opera House at night

The streets were littered with firework carnage.



(Is this...safe?)



Motorized ...rickshaw?





And...I think we'll do one more post about China. Shall we? Surely.

Posted by lrbergen 06:09 Archived in China Comments (0)

Around Beijing

the new, Olympic-friendly city

When I thought of Beijing, I thought of dirt, tacky souvenirs, and red and yellow EVERYWHERE. I was partially right with the color scheme, but everything else was way off.

The Lonely Planet guide suggested we hit the Souvenir Market for kitsch, such as Chairman Mao watches, or the Little Red Book, but upon closer inspection, the whole area was replaced with big buildings with shops such as Nike and Adidas.

Huh?! Communist China?!

As you looked around the city, there were more Western restaurants and shops than I had seen in Korea; Outback, Gucci, Hooters, Pizza Hut, the aforementioned Nike and Adidas, etc. I came to Beijing expecting the workers' paradise, with propaganda all around the city (my only other Communist country experience was Vietnam) but the reality was much different. All of the dirt, the tack, the feel of China has, I suppose, been disappearing for years. Of course, the Olympics have sped up this process quite a bit. It's all been swept under the rug for the benefit of the people who won't be boycotting the Olympics and will focus their attention on Beijing.

This isn't to say I didn't enjoy myself...at times, it's nice to travel to a place where it's not...hard. Taking a 15-hour night train from Hanoi to Danang while hungover and sharing the rattling compartment with a Russian family who speaks very little English? HARD. Taking a Greyhound bus nearly 36 hours from Indiana to Florida with what seems like half of the list of America's Most Wanted? HARD. Trying to enjoy your drink in an outdoor bar, but constantly having to pick up your feet so that they don't get in the way of the hordes of mice? Under the right conditions, not so bad, but still...HARD.

Beijing was not hard. The most difficult part was trying to get 6 people rounded up and on the way to the monuments (which by the way, Chantal...thanks AGAIN for doing all of that pretty much singlehandedly). Don't speak Chinese in Beijing? No problem. Many things are printed in English and there are handy guidebooks and cards with the Chinese characters in them. Don't have to take crowded public transportation because between 6 people, cabs seem to be the easiest way. I liked Beijing a lot more than I expected to, and the visit has sparked the desire to see MORE of China.

And of course, dear readers, what you've all been waiting for: pictures. These were taken around Beijing...well...obviously.



















To be continued with more pictures.

Posted by lrbergen 20:24 Archived in China Comments (0)

"Food" in Beijing

the stuff that "fear factor" is made of... (caution: vegetarians, proceed at your own risk)

I cannot believe some of the stuff I ate in Beijing's night market. Looking back, it seems like all the crunching, haggling, and gnawing was something out of someone else's travel stories. Maybe there was some sort of hallucinogenic chemical in some of this stuff, I don't know. I'm not sure of the chemistry behind the scorpions...

I consider myself quite an adventurer, and will do nearly anything once. Twice, if it doesn't kill me.
I traveled with a group this time, most of which were keen on trying the crazy stuff that China's food stalls have to offer.

So here's a hint if you want to try some of the crazy stuff seen here and other places:
**Don't do it alone.
It's all pretty safe...probably. If it isn't, your partner/group can catch you when you fall...or fall into seizures.
It's cheaper as well...
AND, going along with that last one, it is not likely that you will want to eat an ENTIRE starfish or all three scorpions by yourself. You save on money and guilt that you're throwing perfectly good food away. Kind of. I mean, there are starving people in Chin....ahem. Let's keep moving, shall we?

We started off with the chicken fetuses previously mentioned in the Great Wall post. Let's repost the picture for posterity, shall we?

Poor chickens. They were so delicious.

The previous night, at our traditional Peking Duck dinner, we were served the entire duck's head, cut into two so that we may easily access the duck's brains. I tried it. It was not pleasant.

At one "regular" dinner, we ate jellyfish in a delicious salad with cilantro. It was tasty!

Then we set out for the "night market," or Bejing's new Olympics-friendly version of it anyway. No more dirty stalls with their tacky charm. Everyone was wearing a uniform and nametags. Bizarre.

We started out with starfish.
Tasted like...fish.

We had five legs, so we gave one away to a set of curious Chinese ladies.
I think they liked it.

From then on, things quickly escalated into the downright weird and creepy.


This man was haggling with us for the price of bull penis. We paid the price and got meat that was tough, but cooked nicely so it was good.

Selling testicles. We skipped this one. They looked too...juicy...

The spread of all the bugs and squid and snake.

Golden centipede.

Eating centipede. One of many "proof" shots.

Dragonflies. They tasted like really crispy chicken skin.

Scorpions. They were crunchy and there wasn't a whole lot to them.

The seahorses were ok...they tasted like fish, but were a bit too salty.

At the end of the "street" there were these very aggressive fruit vendors, shouting any and everything to get you to buy their fruit.

So, let's recap the things I ate in China:
- Chicken fetus
- duck brain
- scorpion
- starfish
- seahorse
- dragonfly
- centipede
- jellyfish
- dog
- snake
- bull penis

China is full of awesome "normal" food, so one shouldn't be put off by this. You have to REALLY go looking for this place now that the Olympics are coming.

Beijing is delicious!

(PS - A side note, nothing to do with Beijing: last night in Seoul, Namdaemun (600-year-old structure, called Korea's great cultural treasure) was burnt down. It's a very sad time for the Korean people and for those of us living here. You can read more here.)

Posted by lrbergen 04:51 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Great Wall of China at Badaling

mission accomplished! (with video!)

It has always been a goal of mine to see the Great Wall...one of the original Seven Wonders of the World, the only man-made structure visible from space...pretty impressive.

We hired drivers for 200RMB apiece (about $28USD) and rode about an hour and a half up to Badaling, the most visited portion of the Great Wall. We didn't know what to expect, but should have known that the Chinese New Year Holiday couldn't have stopped the swarms of Chinese people from visiting the structure that is the most famous of their country. They say that if you haven't visited the Great Wall, then you're not truly Chinese. They also say that once you climb the Great Wall, you become a Great Person.

They say a lot of things about the Great Wall, but the question in everybody's minds as we scaled up: are they true? Is it really as great as people say it is?

It is.

Black bear native to these mountains.

After some kissing noises, he looked up.

Be careful...

Yes. I am here.


Lots to climb.

Mountains in the background


Myself, Chantal, and David were the half that kept going.


B&W view of the mountains




Grandpa / Grandson hiking team

We made it...view from the top

More than 1 billion Chinese people = traffic jam.

On the way down, we ran into what seemed to be the Chinese Von Trapp family singers...they would stop from time to time and sing a song in Chinese and do a little dance. It made the experience that much more enjoyable.


Enjoying the view

And a sweet baby in a red coat that was careening down the wall. Her parents were right behind her, but she was quite agile for a baby.

After a quick stop to the pay-bathrooms where I got to use a squatter toilet in front of all of the females that happened to be there, we stopped for a beer and a snack.

This is what the bravest of us had: chicken fetuses. The way they cooked them and the spices they had on them made them quite delicious, actually. Who'd have thought?

Posted by lrbergen 17:56 Archived in China Comments (0)

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