A Travellerspoint blog

Sunday in Beijing, the old and the new!

Day 8 Beijing

sunny 30 °C

Today is a big sightseeing day as tomorrow we go on the Great Wall trek and then its onto Ulaan Baatar. We tend to get up at dawn, say 5.30am and get ourselves organised and plan our day’s adventure. Today its Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden Palace, Olympic Stadium and the Temple of Heaven. In my 6 months living in Beijing I never had a clear sunny day. A constant haze was always covering us. Today was clear skies, I could see the sun and its hot. We walked to Tian’anmen Square and we suddenly met up with thousands of tourists. So much for trying to beat the crowd. About 99% of the tourists are local Chinese from inner China going on tour groups to visit Beijing. Yes, we had to go through token security scan but otherwise there was very little police or military soldiers and I did not get the feeling there was a strong Chinese security watching us at all times. If they were it was discrete. Jen did get a sense of apprehension about the place as this was the place where the 1987 Tian’anmenn uprising took place and I pointed out where the guy ran out in front of the tank. The place does have a dark side to it. Chairmen Mao mausoleum is at the south end and the Forbidden Palace at the north end. It is surrounded by quite majestic buildings that look like typical communist type structures. The square is massive and represents the first ring road in Beijing of which they have now 6.
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We made our way across to the Forbidden Palace and joined the mass of people entering the large doors under a picture of Chairmen Mao. Just above his picture is where you see the key government leaders stand when there is a parade in the square. Tip: Passport is required to buy a ticket, which we forgot so we used our travel business cards that Jen made up. The grumpy lady at the ticket booth was not impressed but sold us the tickets. We got the headphones that give you a personal description of the palace and GPS triggered.
The Palace was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty (1420) to the Qing dynasty (1912). It was constructed from 1406 to 1420 and the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 72 hectares. The palace is now classified as a world heritage site.
You have to marvel at the grandeur of the place, the architecture and the detail of the whole site. It is a very impressive attraction and as Jen has advised me go see “The Last Emperor” and you will see what we are talking about as the movie was filmed all there and depicted the life of Emperor Pu Yi.
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We came out the other end about 2 hours later and walked down a bit and stopped at some shops. You will see now on Jen at times is wearing a traditional communist cap! Suits her!
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Next stop is the Olympic Stadium north of the Forbidden Palace. This place is huge and you just marvel at the layout with all the stadiums. The two building that stand out are the Water Cube Aquatic Centre and the Birds Nest Main Stadium, both are an iconic piece of architecture. Jen went nuts with the Water Cube as the bubbles on the wall and the light passing through it makes for a great photo.
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The Chinese love their mascots and pop up characters and numerous ones crop up all the time. The 5 mascots for the Olympic Games were out front of the Birds Nest so we could not resist to get a photo taken. Kids!
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Next stop is the Temple of Heaven just south of Tian’anmen Square. It’s based in a large park and you have a series of temples that run south to north. We strolled through them all with the hundreds of other tourists but it was very pleasant, slow and time to just do some people watching and take in the moment of being in Beijing. The main temple is called Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.
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The last part of the walk as we were coming out of the park was to stroll through the gardens with rows and rows of beautiful roses. Also Sunday in the park is for classical dancing by the Chinese. The get dressed up and put music on and then just start dancing, quite beautiful to watch. Also as we passed under a gate there were 2 small orchestras playing Chinese music with traditional Chinese music, utilising the acoustics. Is was very peaceful and we with the small crowd just stood there quietly listening to the beautiful music.
We walked back and by this time late in the afternoon Jen had suffered a small dose of heat stroke. The day was hot and we almost spent all day outside walking on concrete or marble so the day’s events took its toll.
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That was one full day but really captured a big chunk of stuff in Beijing. Tomorrow its trekking the Great Wall.

Posted by tszeitli 16:40 Archived in China Tagged history trekking china crowds Comments (1)

Revisiting Beijing

Day 7

sunny 28 °C

Time to visit some familiar sights.

Time to leave Xi An and head to Beijing. This will be interesting to see 20 years on and what has changed. All went well at the airport although we did have a few queues to go through. Jen spent most of the flight sleeping (and some snoring) where I was able to catch up on the "blog".

Travel tip: Get "Maps me" (thanks for the tip Irek) and you load the country maps down and therefore you don't need Internet and it has Chinese and English writing. Take a screen photo of your hotel location of the map and then show it to the taxi driver. He can read the map in Chinese.

Our hotel is in a great location, only 1.5 km from Tian'anmen and next to the subway. First impressions is the city has 6 ring roads and all have been fixed up, a lot less bikes, lots of electric motor bikes, less construction and less rubbish on the streets.

You still can't get away from mundane chores even while travelling so we did an afternoon of washing , emails, got our train tickets, blog and some research for the next phase. This is Jen's first time to Beijing and the Great Wall so for something different we have booked a 9km hike on the Wall so we get to see the country side as well unrestored sections of the wall.

Dinner was one of the best meals and food on the trip has been a highlight. Over the past few months our trainer (Troy Symons of Fitness Enhancement) has got us controlling our portion size of food. In China this is hard to do so, sorry Troy, the food is so good but we are doing stretching.

Big day tomorrow, Tian'anmen Square, Olympic Stadium and the Temple of Heaven.

Posted by tszeitli 06:54 Archived in China Tagged traffic food taxi airport china Comments (1)

Terracotta Warriors, Banpo Village and defying death

Day 6 - Xi'An

sunny 27 °C

We started the day with breakfast as the locals do, cabbage and meatballs from a huge cauldron, likely bubbling away for years, for $2, delicious.
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When I was in China 20 years ago I missed out on going to the Terracotta Warriors and vowed to come back so I was really looking forward to this. The 10 seater minivan firstly took us to a ceramics factory where replica warriors are being made in the traditional way with the same clay (a unique combination of clay from one spot plus rice and milk).
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We watched them making figures. It was cool to see the process, including the air drying figures before firing in the kiln in over 1000 degrees.
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The guide gave\ us great explanations about the history of making the Terracotta Warriors. This factory was special as we were able to walk into a kiln full of life size warriors to show how they were made. Jen went nuts with taking photos as the light made the warriors almost seem alive. The photos that Jen took are some of the best she has done so far on the trip.
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Lots to buy but we knew this was the first week and also I had bought a number of Chinese trinkets from back 1995 including 2 * 30cm high statues that I do treasure. Some beautiful vases were on display that would go perfectly in our home but they would not last long in our backpacks. A shame though, so much beautiful stuff.
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The original warriors were actually painted with vibrant colours but once exposed to the air the paint very quickly fades away. This is why they are not willing to excavate more but leave the remaining buried. Technology does not know how to preserve them so the exposed ones all end up being this stone and bronze colour. Hopefully technology will catch up soon.
During the drive, our guide told us about an emperor who fell in love with the widow of his 27th son and married her. Whilst many thought she was just a mistress, many believed it was true love. Unfortunately, their love of dance and merriment, enamoured of each other, distracted the Emperor from affairs of state and brought about his downfall.
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On to the Terracotta Warriors, now added as the 8th wonder of the ancient world. It is a massive complex - China doesn't do anything on a small scale. We entered the courtyard and straight away you get a feeling of the magnitude of this place. The warriors are in three massive buildings enclosing the Pits - Pit 1, 2 and 3. We got given the history of the warriors so I will try and explain some of the key points.
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Emperor Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor of the Chin Dynasty back in 250 BC. He believed in the afterlife similar to the Egyptians and so created an army to be buried with him after he dies. He died in 210 BC and was buried with some 8000 warriors . The figures date back to the late third century BC and was discovered in 1974 by a local farmer digging for a well during a drought. The figures vary in height according to their roles with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots and horses and about 1000 have been uncovered and each one is unique. Their clothing and hair style distinguishes their rank and position in the burial site. Emperor Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor to unify the country but was also very brutal to the people. It is believed he became rather maniacal, taking lots of powerful "medicines" to stay healthy, but ultimately the doses killed him. His burial place is nearby which is basically a hill that has not been excavated but all records uncovered indicate he was buried in the area. Legends tell of rivers of quicksilver (mercury) as well as lethal booby traps so excavating would be dangerous. In addition, if the Chinese were to uncover the area, they would struggle to build structures to cover the area to protect it.

We entered Pit 1 and it was one of those moments that your jaw drops, you are breathless and you stand there trying to grasp the scene. The building is the 230m long and 100m wide (about the size of the MCG) and full of warriors in the pits that had been excavated and painstakingly pieced back together. There are areas where they are digging and hundreds of pieces lay scattered ready to be pieced back together. There are pits full of broken limbs, horses and heads. Most of the warriors in pit 1 are infantry, in army formation ready, to defend the generals and Emperor.
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Pit 2 is half the size of pit 1 but with less fully recovered pieces and with numerous open excavations of the broken pieces. Jen and I could not comprehend how they find the pieces and then eventually match them to rebuild each statue.
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Also in this building are the different type of warriors in glass cabinets in their full glory perfectly restored so you can get up close.
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Pit 3 is half the size again but it is the war room where the generals and senior military would plan the battles.
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According to records at the end of the Qin dynasty Xiang Yu set fire to the pit which caused the pit to collapse and many terracotta warriors and horses were destroyed. The passage of time then covered the entire area and millennia later, 5 metres of top soil enclosed the area until a farmer discovered them.
The whole site, the way the warriors are presented , information and the atmosphere was exceptional. I have been to some special historical sites, Tiotihuacan, Palenque and Chitcha Iza in Mexico, Ephasis in Turkey, Tikal in Guatemala, Pula in Croatia and now Xi An is right up there as one of the best things I have seen. If you go to China....it is a must see!

Just to wrap the day up we stopped in to Banpo Neolithic Village.
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The village was inhabited about 4500 BC to 3750 BC. The museum has the remains of 45 houses, 2 stables and about 200 graves. This village was already doing farming, making weapons, building houses. It was a matriarchal society and because there was no marriage system it was the women who were in charge and chose which man to have a child with.

The drive back was at times death defying as it was during Friday night peak hour traffic so we did some safety observations: number of near misses = 455, people riding electric bikes with no helmet = everyone, people driving and talking on the phone = 10000 and still counting, people texting while walking = 852. Good news is we saw no crashes and everyone got through it!.

After a full on day we went in search of dinner. Again, we weren't disappointed.
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After a short wait...
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...we were very happy!
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Overall a great site seeing day, full to the brim of amazing scenes.

Posted by tszeitli 15:31 Archived in China Tagged terracotta warriors emperor dynasty Comments (5)

Journey into the Ancient Worlds

Day 5 Xi An and we're on our own

sunny 28 °C
View Tom & Jen's "Continental Drift" on jkerkin's travel map.

Up to now we have had Huiliang and Angela look after us. Now it's just Jen and I to fend for ourselves. We need to be more careful, observant and struggle with the language. Saying that I have surprised myself with the number of words I remembered from being in China 20 years ago. The airport check-in went smoothly (despite being well over the domestic weigh limits) and arrived in Xi An, negotiated a driver and 1 hour later through dodgem car traffic we got to our very plush hotel. First impressions of Xi An is it is definitely not as modern as Shanghai, construction work everywhere, more pollution, more noise and cars with push bikes being replaced with electric motor bikes. As an electrical engineer, the local approach to wiring still leaves me bewildered!
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Although, the streets are clean and regularly water trucks spray the dusty streets with water to keep the dust down. This reminded me of Beijing 20 years ago.

Dropped the bags off and walked Into the centre of town where we found the tourist offices and booked a day tour to the terracotta warriors for tomorrow and then kept walking the streets. Xi An is the start of the Silk Road and one of the oldest cities in China.

Most famous for the Qin or Ch'in Dynasty (likely origin of "China") which came to power as a dynasty (221-206/207 B.C.) by unifying China under its first emperor, Shi Huangdi (Shih Huang-ti). The Qin is the start of the imperial period. This guy unified China, created their currency and moved the country away from being ruled by war lords. The city has a mere population of 10 million plus, surrounded by a massive 12m high stone wall with a moat around the whole city. The wall goes for about 4 km in length and you can walk along it. Also beautiful gardens along the moat edge that you can also walk along.
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The Bell Tower near the centre of town is akin to the Arc du Triomphe, with a crazy washing machine of a round-about around it. There is no such thing as give way, just merge with care,
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Lots of walking this afternoon earned us a beer and successfully made our way to Xi An and looking forward to seeing the terracotta warriors now regarded as the 8th wonders of the ancient world!
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Posted by jkerkin 03:26 Archived in China Tagged history wonders china Comments (2)

Tiger Hill, Zhouzhuang Water Township and Farewell for now

Day 4 Suzhou and back to Shanghai

sunny 25 °C
View Tom & Jen's "Continental Drift" on jkerkin's travel map.

Angela organised a car and driver for the whole day so thankfully a train trip back to Shanghai was avoided. First stop was Starbucks for a coffee and then onto Tiger Hill. Main attraction is the Yunyansi Pagoda, built in 959 AD during the Song Dynasty, and the beautiful gardens surrounding it. The pagoda has quite a lean (more than 3 degrees) but they dare not excavate to restore it as the tomb of the Emperor buried beneath is believed to have booby traps.
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Gardens like these are a great retreat from the constant noise, traffic and people of everyday life in China.
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Halls and garden areas are given names inspired from famous poetry, which when translated into English is clumsy but quite beautifully profound.
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Angela shared stories of visiting this place as a kid, climbing on the rooftops and exploring the various areas. It is a place she holds in her heart.
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Next stop was onto Zhouzhuang Water Town. This was an old village restored with water canals, arts and crafts, street food, museums and Chinese traditional theatre where we enjoyed an impromptu performance of a famous old Chinese legend. The quiet narrow streets, water canals and the old buildings meant we got a great appreciation of olden times.
Lunch was really special, a little restaurant situated on a balcony over the roof tops.
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Trick is to always find a restaurant with pictures of the food to make sure you don't get something that is way off the normal menu - but we can never quite be sure what we're getting. A highlight of the trip so far has been the food and this was no exception: whole river shrimp, brewed local greens, local chicken, pork balls and most of all, Angela's company. Lots of reminiscing.
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A final stop at a Rice Wine Brewery for some samples. Rice wine is dark and semi sweet, akin to a fortified wine with a roasted soy fragrance. The longer it is aged, the darker and stronger it is.
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Then we had to say our goodbyes to Angela who was going to catch a bus back to Suzhou while we had a private car and driver take us back to Shanghai. Angela was so nice and we got to go off the normal tourist trail. We cannot thank Angela enough and hopefully we can repay her hospitality someday soon.

We had about a 1 1/2 hour drive back to Shanghai and saw more of the massive apartment blocks that have been built recently and a convention centre laid out in 4 part clover design, and from what we could figure, about 16x the Brisbane Convention Centre. Everything in Shanghai is on a massive scale. Roads, apartment buildings, airports, shopping centres, everything. This is about the most modern city that both Jen and I have been to.

We got to our hotel just 10 minutes from the airport so easy for our early flight onto Xi An to see the terracotta warriors.

Posted by jkerkin 03:02 Archived in China Tagged food china friends suzhou Comments (0)

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