All Around Beijing ~ From the Forbidden City to the Summer Palace in 7 Days

I went off to China again.  Unny and I spent 7 days in Beijing and then went on to Xi’an.  The pics below are all from Beijing.  We popped around the city, traveled by taxi, subway, train and the little three wheel taxi the name of which I can’t recall right now.

We had a great time.  Spoke to a few pf pir Chinese neighbors and generally trotted around the city as safely as if we were in the States.  Beijing has to be one of the safest cities in the world.  There are Army and Police all over the place.  Everywhere you look.  Even with them trolling around everywhere, I never felt like Big Brother was watching.  Though, I’m sure that they were.  There are cameras in every building and seemingly in every corner of the city.  I didn’t see as many in Xi’an.  Neither the police nor the cameras were as ubiquitous.

Above is a picture of the Buddha from the Lama Temple.  It’s the tallest Buddha in the world carved from one piece of wood.  One big tree.  They wouldn’t let us take a picture, so I had to google this one to post here.  It’s a beautiful and serene temple.  Peaceful.  Incense burning continuously.  Smoke billowing around the altars.  Buddhist pilgrims wandering around paying homage to Buddha and his principles.  It’s a beautiful feeling.  Peace all around.

We walked out of the Lama Temple to grab something to eat and then catch a bus.  After we ate, we passed a Camel shote store.  Camel seems to be a Chinese version of Timberland.  Same look and same line of clothing and shoes.  Apparently, China not only bootlegs electronics by whole clothing lines as well.  Unny had been walking around in these thin shoes.  They’d rubbed her heel raw in one place that was starting to get nasty.  I’d told her that she needed better shoes, but, she wouldn’t listen.  This time, though, I  put the full press on.  There’s no way that she could climb the Great Wall with those shoes.  I tried and tried to reason with her and get her to buy a pair of hiking shoes.  Finally, I prevailed.  So when we passed the Camel Store, I asked her again.  When I described the Great Wall to here again.  Reason finally prevailed.  Thank God.  Her feet would have frozen on the Wall in those little thin shoes that she brought with her.  We walked into the Camel Store.

I walked in the store and started laughing.  They had some groovy music playing, so I started to dance around the store like a wild man.  Jumping and gyrating.  The ladies in the store were laughing.  Unny, though, is a little shy.  So she kept telling me to stop.  I just kept going and laughing.  Unny finally just started trying on shoes.  She bought her shoes.   I bought a jacket.  We decided to take a taxi to the Hostel.

Our 7 days in Beijing were nothing less than incredible.  Some days we froze our butts off and some days, we were enjoying ourselves so much that the cold just didn’t matter.

The Confucius Temple was being renovated last time I was there as were major parts of hte Forbidden City.  So I was able to see before and after versions.  The Chinese artisans did amazing work.  The Confucius Temple was beautiful.  I love how peaceful all of these temples are.  The Forbidden City looked much the same.  Immense and awe inspiring but with a new paint job.

It’s funny.  Walking around Beijing, you don’t get the feeling that you are in a communist country.  It’s very commercial.  Very consumer oriented.  The major difference is in employment.  You can tell that the Chinese create jobs.  They still operate on a mass project basis.  Mass employees over taking an area and getting the job done.  Whereas in the West or more modernized nations, we have machinery and automation that takes the place of mass numbers of people.   Aside from that, the police for the average tourist are just curiosities.  As are the Military men and women walking about.  You don’t really feel any oppressive weight bearing down on you.  The Facebook thing is an obvious clue that you are in a totalitarian country.  Xi’an had an even more open feel.  Out there, there was almost no presence and Xi’an had a fairly large Muslim population.  I wondered at that as I was walking round.  They all seemed fairly content in their lives.  Who knows.  I didn’t sit down and talk to them about it.  Although, I did have an interesting conversation with a girl who works in a Shop/Cafe down by the Xi’an Mosque (more on that later).

Unny and I had a great time.  That’s what mattered for us.

More later.  For now.  Here are some photos from the first few days in China.  Hope you enjoy.

Jinshanling and Simitai

These are the pics from our day at the Great Wall.  What a cool day!

I screwed up a bit, though.  I had my camera on an off setting.  The pics aren’t as good as they could be.  I’ll try to fix some later.

For now, these will do.

At the end of the portion of the Wall that we trekked, we took a wire rope bridge ride to the bottom.  Much faster and saved us about 20 minutes more walking.  That and it was really fun and cool.  Hook up, jump and zoom…to the bottom in seconds.

Once we made it to the bottom and re-joined our group, we headed off to have lunch.  I think it took us about 3 hours to walk the 10 kilometres from Jinshanling to Simitai.  I was ready for a nap afterwards.  We headed back to the hotel and napped for most of the rest of the day.

The next day, Unny stayed in while I went out to see the Marco Polo Bridge.  It’s a bridge described and made famous by Marco Polo’s writings of his journey in China and on the Silk Road.

Later that night, Unny and I took in a Chinese Acrobatic show.  It was a great show.  The acrobats ranged in age from what looked like 12 to 21 or so.  A hugely talented group of young folks.  We thoroughly enjoyed the show.

Call From Beijing ~ Go Big Blue!

Go Cats and Bob Knight shut the hell up.  lol

Patrick Patterson, you’re doing fine dude.  21 and 9.  Keep the fire.  I love it when you guys are emphatic.  Keep winning.  Keep smiling and keep having fun.

If you aren’t havin’ fun, why do it.

Peace and love to all my Big Blue Brethren out there.


Suvarnabhumi Airport Opening Video (2005)

My gateway to Southeast Asia.

It’s the nicest, most organized Airport that I’ve experienced.  Easy in and easy out.

I don’t feel like I’m entering or leaving a Nazi concentration camp as when entering or exiting America.  There is organization and a flow to this airport that does not exist in any of the Muslim countries of the Middle East and Central Asia.  And unlike entering and exiting the Middle East there aren’t thousands with their hands out for tips and bribes.  It’s much less hectic than the European airports through which I’ve flown.

As soon as I touch down at Suvarnabhumi, a smile creeps onto my face and a lightness enters my step.  I’m happy.  I’m home.  I feel more at home in Bangkok than almost anywhere on this planet.

I am entering the land of smiles.  And the land of smiles is the gateway to the East.  The true east.  Not the dirty and violent Islamic Middle East.  This is the enchanted land of myth, silk, smiles and exotic Asian mysteries.  Angkor, Luang Prabang, Sukhothai, Saigon, Phnom Penh, Xi’an, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Mekong, Lhasa and Katmandu, the Taj Mahal and the Ganges.  Ancient histories.  A region shrouded in myst and legend.  The home of the the great conqueror Genghis Khan and the religion and philosophical enlightenment of the Buddha.

It’s also home to the most beautiful beaches and women in the world.

Every time I land at Suvarnabhumi International, these thoughts run through my head.  My next adventure awaits me.  I’ll swim the Mekong and climb the Great Wall.  Explore ancient temples or dance all night at RCA.

I love this place.  Thailand uber alles.

The Great Wall — Badaling

Becca, Sonya and Dave go to China.

We arrived in Beijing on the 2nd of November. The International Airport at Beijing was one of the easiest through which I have ever passed. Security was easy. The Chinese guards weren’t the most polite or happy looking folks with whom I had dealt in my travels,but, they were efficient. It was a hassle free exercise. We grabbed our bags downstairs and passed through the final customs guards. Continued on through the Airport and found our way to a Taxi stand. I had our Hotel Information handy. We grabbled a taxi and were on our way. Fairly easy.

I thought that China would be immensely difficult. Customs guards checking and cross checking. But no such thing. It seemed to me to be easier for me to pass through because I was American. This is a familiar phenomenon by now. And it makes sense. They know that we aren’t there to disappear into the back alleys and become illegal immigrants or join the criminal underground. The customs officials barely give Americans a second glance. On the way in.

One really cool thing about the Airport at Beijing is that they sell cell phone SIM cards right next to the baggage claim. You are immediately able to get in touch. I don’t know if we would have ever found our hotel if not for having purchased those SIM cards. Our taxi got lost on us. That was a debacle. lol But still good times. Who knows. He was probably scamming us.

We finally made it to our Hotel. The Jade Youth Hostel. I had picked that hotel because it was within about 15 minutes walk to the Forbidden City. One of my must see sites for this leg of my Asian Adventure. After checking in to the hostel, we dropped our bags and headed out to check out the town at night.

I had been in Southeast Asia for the past month and a half. I was used to hot weather, shorts and sun. I had like one pair of long pants with me and a couple of pair of shorts. That was it. No jacket and nothing warmer than a long sleeve t-shirt. That first night, the temp dropped in Beijing to the low 40s. I was freezing as was Becca. So we headed out to do some shopping. We each bought a fleece and I think Becca purchased a jacket.

While walking around near our hotel, we came upon a night market. Mostly food. We also hit a fairly large shopping area. Some clothing stores. Camera shops. They had some knock off cameras there. Nikon, Fuji, Olympus and Canon. There were all kinds of knick knack stores. And there was a really cool Tibetan shop selling Tibetan Buddhist religious items. Lots of t-shirt shops. We bought our Great Wall souvineer shirts here. Becca and I stocked up on some Christmas gifts here later.

Like the goofy Americans we are, we wound up eating at a McDonalds. One of the neatest sites of the night was a Lebron James billboard that stretched across a city block. Lebron is BIG in Beijing. I hear he is big all across China.

After eating, we head back to the hotel. We have a couple of beers and then head back up to the rooms to sleep. The one thing you immediately notice about China is that customer service is not important. It’s almost like you are bugging them when you ask for a service of some sort. You have to develop a relationship with them to make things go smoother. I joked and flirted with all of the girls. it always seems to work for me. It is of no use to become agitated or upset over the lack of customer service. I witnessed an elderly American couple get pretty irate with the reception desk girls. They just froze and nothing was accomplished except to make the couple even more upset. It’s better to smile and find a way to solve the problem. Once we started talking, we could usually find a happy resolution to most of our problems and challenges.

The next day [3 November], we get up and explore the Forbidden City. I had read that there was a Starbucks in the Forbidden City. Not true. Too bad. I was looking forward to buying a double mocha and drinking it there. I’ll talk more about this later on and post some pics.

That day, Sonya arrived from Kyrgyzstan. She and I had been talking for a while. I had met her at Bagram Air Field and then spent three really nice days with her in Bishkek in the Kyrgyz Republic about a year earlier. Sonya is originally from South Korea. Her mother had moved her and her sister to Bishkek so that they could go to school. Sonya learned Russian, Kyrgyz and English. Her little sister was in China learning Chinese. Both of these extraordinary girls and their brave Mother all speak three and four languages.

Earlier in the day [3 November], Becca and I explored the Forbidden City. It was magnificent. Like I said, more on that later. That night. I went back to the Airport and met Sonya. Now that Sonya had arrived, it was time to head out to the Great Wall. Sonya, Becca and I booked a tour from the Jade Hostel to see the Ming Tombs and the Great Wall the next day.  Badaling is one piece to the defense system that was the Great Wall. It is actually a series of  fortresses. These “walls” guard passes that allow access to China from the Mongolian steppes and other areas where threats to China existed. Obviously, they didn’t work. The Mongols conquered China anyway. And the world hasn’t been the same since. Badaling is one such stretch of wall. It’s the tourist wall. It’s been restored and is well maintained. Millions come to visit the Wall every year. Not just foreign tourists like me but many Chinese as well. Even so, remember to bring your own toilet paper. lol

Ming Tombs included it probably took three or four hours to get to the Great Wall. I felt like a little kid approaching Disney World driving up to the Wall. I’ve read about this place my whole life. I’ve heard stories about it. I’ve seen pictures of it. None of these things begins to describe the Wall. It’s massive. It’s ancient. It’s a work of engineering art. And it runs long and high into the mountains. See the pictures below.

The wall runs in a semi-circle. Our tour guide dropped us at the beginning of the wall and gave us a brief description of the trek we were about to make. He told us that we could walk the whole thing if we desired to do so or climb to the certificate point and turn around. I had no choice. I had to get to the top. About half way up, I started to doubt the wisdom of that decision. I was dying. lol I was actually about to say to hell with it when an elderly Chinese lady passed me. That was my “AW, HELL NO!” moment. I made it from end to end. i was dead and my legs were about to fall off. Ultimately, you get up so high that the air is thinned out. I was half running up the stairs and half walking. So I was getting out of breath. Eventually, I slowed down. The girls were pretty far behind me. So I would run up a bit. Wait for them. Sometimes, we’d stop and have a drink or take some pictures together. We had fun. They looked miserable some of the time, though. I didn’t tell them climbing up was kicking my butt as well until the next day. So I kept laughing at them.

The experience of the Great Wall is incredible. You are walking across the ages. Walking across history. The Chinese were “civilized” while Europe was living in forests and caves. Always at sites like these, I can feel the humanity that has come before me. It makes me feel a party to their history.

The wall is a series of stairs and runways and causeways that stretch on and on and up and up. I’m not sure how long it is. But it must extend for at least a mile. Probably more. Much of the stairs are virtually straight up. 90 degree angle. Then there are stretches of ramp and some parts level out. You can see in the pictures below. When you reach the top, you are over a thousand feet above sea level. You are in the mountains. For the most part, you are above the mountains.

I had conquered the Great Wall at Badaling. But the wall had conquered me as well. lol The next day, I had to hold the hand rails on stairs to keep myself from falling. It was a challenging climb to say the least. But I loved it. And it is exhilarating to make it to the top. You arrive there exhausted and completely satisfied. Everything else in China was bonus after the Great Wall.