Click to see where I've flown:

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Beijing, May 2011

After a two hour drive from Mutianyu, we arrived at The Opposite House in an area of Beijing called Sanlitun. The Opposite House is Building #1 in the Village. First, the checked into the hotel (no front desk, just couches where they greeted us and signed us in) then were escorted to an incredible room of wood and glass. We were in room 623, known as Studio 95, one of the larger rooms. 

The Opposite House

In addition to the free wireless, we also had free snacks, beer, and sodas in the mini-fridge. The tub was also wooden and huge. The shower was also wooden, with a wooden floor that the water just fell though the cracks. The water came down from the ceiling like rain. All in all, it was a very spa-like feel. 



We had welcome gifts of cupcakes (one green tea, the other carrot cake (I think). After showers, we dressed in light cotton bathrobes and had tea and espresso from the espresso machine when there came a knock on the door. Someone was there with a bottle of champagne and a card that said “Happy Birthday Smita.” It turns out that the manager of the hotel was a friend of a Habitat employee we met in Shanghai, and she had emailed him that it was Smita's birthday after she realized we would be staying at his hotel.

We got into real clothes and walked down the street to check out the neighborhood. There was bar after bar after bar, along with a huge mall called 3.3. The largest Adidas store in the world was also down the street. The atmosphere was very party like, and the streets were full. 
Packed street with food market behind the hotel
Food vendors

We had fried noodles and pork, beef noodles, and dumplings and turnip cakes for dinner. I found the variety of foods to be much better in Beijing than Shanghai, with many more flavors here. 

After dinner, we looked at the menus of a few more restaurants then found that the street behind our hotel had a huge night market with all kinds of foods. People were eating and drinking everywhere in the street. Most interesting was a bowl of live larvae of some kind that the vendor would throw over the fire, cooking them alive. We found out later these were silkworms. Or at least that's what a sign said... 

One of the foods being vended. Silkworms? 
Beijing Day 2

After a very very hectic week where we rushed from place to place, it was really good to have a relaxing morning. We drank our teas and espressos, and had a leisurely pace before going down to breakfast. I had a Vietnamese pork omelet with mint, some dumplings, and fruit.

After breakfast, we took a cab to Tian'an Men Square. I didn't realize before that Chairman Mao proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China at one end of the square (the Ming Dynasty gate) and that the focal point of it on the other side of the open expanse is his mausoleum. On one side is the Great Hall of the People, where the legislature meets, and on the other is the China National Museum.

Tian'an Men Square
Great Hall of the People

Chairman Mao's Mausoleum

After leaving the square, we walked along side the Ming dynasty gate into one of the alleyways known as hutongs, first heading north on Nan Chizi Dajie. We stopped to by a candied apple snack from a street vendor to taste. It was basically a stick with candied crab apples on it.  We walked to the Forbidden Cities' east gate and took a cart to the south gate so Smita could get a feel for the Forbidden City.
At the Forbidden City

We didn't go in this time, but took the cart back to the east gate where we continued our walk through the hutongs, through the narrow Pudu Si Xi Xiang where we saw the Mahakala Temple (Pudu Si).

Mahakala Temple (Pudu Si)

Then, we headed back south to Changhe Pu park, which was very beautiful.

We stopped for snacks in another little park by Da Tian Shui Jing Hutong. This hutong had been one of our major destinations because it used to feature tiny restaurants and noodles. Evidently, these are now all gone and have been replaced with cheap souvenir shops. We did find great food eventually, however, on the large pedestrian street Wanfujing Dajie.
Wanfujing Dajie

We had been looking for Mongolian Hotpots, and found one there which is part of a chain that was over 100 years old which catered to Muslims. Basically, the hot pot was boiling water and ginger kept very hot by coals in the center (see picture below). They brought us thinly sliced lamb, beef, and chicken as well as mushrooms, tofu, greens, and vermicelli to cook. You then dipped it in a peanut sauce in which we added scallions and cilantro, as well as a hot sauce. It was extremely good.

Hotpot ingredients we ordered


Near Wangfujing Dajie

Eating snake
I didn't try the pigeon

We got back to the room for some relaxation time before meeting a colleague who lives in Beijing for dinner. While I really could have skipped dinner after the late lunch, it was an amazing meal-- YunNan cuisine at a place called Middle 8th near our hotel. I had never had YunNan, but it was one of the best meals I had enjoyed in China: Tilapia with lemongrass, bamboo shoots with red chili, roasted eggplant with cheese, YunNan fried rice, a traditional pancake, and spicy beef with bitter melon. After dinner, we rode around to see the city at night.

Beijing Day 3

The next morning, Smita left for the airport. I had another day. After breakfast, I spoke with the hotel manager who had sent us the champagne to thank him. I told him that I planned to go to the “Temple of Heaven” that day, and he recommended going to the Lama Temple as well. I took a cab to Yonghe Gong, the Lama Temple  a “working lamasery.”  This was a beautiful Tibetan temple complex constructed in the 1700s. There were many stunning Buddhas and other statues. Many worshippers were burning incense and kneeling and praying in each Hall, and occasionally a monk would be chanting prayers. The most memorable Buddha was a 55 foot tall one carved from a single block of sandalwood. Scenes from Yonghe Gong:

Here I was chanting whatever it is you are supposed to chant as you make the scroll turn

When I left Lama Temple, I walked through one of side streets to buy the “plump Buddha” Milefo (an incarnation of Maitreya, the “future Buddha”) to add to my collection of religious imagery. This Buddha was in the first hall of Lama Temple. 

From Yonghe Gong, I took the subway to “The Temple of Heaven” (line 5 south to Tian Tan Dong Men). I found the subway easy to navigate. The signs were clear, and there were even English voice overs.

The Temple of Heaven is actually not a Temple at all, but rather an altar complex used by the ancient Emperors to pray and make sacrifices. It's Chinese name is Tian Tan, which is better translated as “Altar of Heaven.” The main building that dominates the complex is Qinian Dian, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. The building is made of wood, and was constructed without a single nail. It has become a symbol of Beijing. In one exhibit, there were pictures of it with historical figures and political leaders such as Richard Nixon, Ho Chi Min, and even the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, or Qinian Dian
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests sets atop a three-tiered marble platform, featuring carvings of clouds, phoenixes, and dragons.





The entire complex is huge, with many different buildings that each played a role in the elaborate ceremony surrounding the Emperor's visit to intervene with the gods. There are many, many cypresses on the grounds, as well as gardens. So in addition to being a place for tourists, Tian Tan is now a place for old and young to exercise and play. It's a popular place for Tai Chi. Also, what I thought was a playground for kids was like a giant exercise ground for adults, with men using bars for pull-ups and gymnastic-like moves.

Gathering in the park to play cards

Heading back to Sanlitun, I took the subway line 5 to line 2, getting off at Dong Si Shi Tiao station, where I walked the rest of the way to the hotel. It was a nice walk, adding to the many miles I had walked all day. As I passed the Workers Stadium, they were opening the gates for the Beijing team's soccer game. There were hundreds of people in green jerseys for the team, so I decided that I needed one as well.

 That night, after freshening up and resting in the awesome room for a bit, I explored Sanlitun, walking around the neighborhood. For dinner, I decided to have Hunan cuisine at Karaiya Spice House as I had not had it before. It was definitely spicy, but very tasty. I had mushrooms, a chicken appetizer, and beef. There was enough food for two, and I wished Smita was still there to have some. It was a great meal to end the trip. 

No comments:

FEEDJIT Live Traffic Feed