October 5, 2006
What a great start to the day I just had! I found out from another guy that we have wireless internet access at our hotel. Well, sort of. We
don’t have it in our hotel…though if we sit on the ground outside, we are good to go. I was awake early and decided to search for some
information to point me in a direction of what I want to do for the next nine days in China. The time on my computer is still set on
California time and I noticed something. It was a normal hour back home. I added three hours and realized it was a normal time in
Atlanta. My sister would have just gotten off work. I could call her on Skype!
There I was…sitting on the steps of my hotel alongside the sidewalk with earphones in my ears and talking into a computer (since I don’t
have the Skype headphones that come with a microphone). I have no doubt that I looked like an idiot but it was worth it as I got to talk to
my sister for over 1 ½ hours. She informed me that the last time we had spoken was almost 1 ½ months ago just before our birthday.
There was no guilt as to ‘wasting my time in Beijing’ by being on the phone since the Yonghe Lamasery (which would be my first stop for
the day) does not open until 9:00am.
How fun is the word ‘lamasery’. There’s just something about it. It might be that it reminds me of llamas. And now when I think of llamas,
I think of the two-humped Mongolian camels that looked like llamas. And when I think of the camels I smile. I even chuckle a bit because
they were so darn cute. Maybe that’s why I chuckle a bit when seeing the word ‘lamasery’???
Okay, enough about the word. It is now time to talk about the actual place.
This is also known as the ‘Lama Temple’. From the minute I walked in, I loved it. It was so colorful and there was so much going on. I
almost felt like I was in a Buddhist Disneyland. Instead of waiting in line to get on a ride, people waited to light their incense. Instead of
people raising their arms to go down a steep drop on a roller coaster, they were raising their arms to pray. Instead of Mickey & Friends
being on display, it was Buddha & His Protectors. Smells of amusement park food were replaced with smells of incense. The brightness of
the Electrical Parade was replaced with the vivid colors of the buildings that make up the lamasery. While the most-prized possession here
is the 55-foot tall Maitreya Buddha that is made from one piece of sandalwood (and it was very impressive), I had a personal affection
towards the ‘Big Belly Maitreya Buddha’. This guy seemed as happy and jolly as they come.
On my way out of the lamasery, I saw a familiar face. A face that I had seen for three weeks straight – morning, noon and night. It was
Catherine. She has since moved hotels because she is on a new tour that goes through China. She met everybody last night and she was
telling me about the new crew. She also got a kick out of the fact that she is once again roommates with the lone American on the tour
(albeit this one is from New York). We both had other things we needed to do today and I didn’t want to hold her up so we parted ways.
But this time we kept it at ‘See you later’ since we know that it is possible that we might just run into each other again.
Before hopping on the subway, I weaved my way through the hutongs that are across the street from the lamasery. I really wanted to
peek inside to see the courtyard that is shared by several families but I didn’t want to be a Peeping Tom so I stuck strictly to the alleys. It
was great watching an older man riding his bike with his fluffy little dog in the front basket.
I made a personal declaration that ‘fun’ had to be put on hold to tend to some business. The first item on the agenda would be going to the
hotel where I am staying for my Panda Bear tour. My three-day experience in China has taught me one thing in particular – I don’t have
a shot in hell of a taxi driver knowing where to go if I only have the name and address of my hotel written in English. I figured since I had
the time I should check out the vicinity that I will be staying in before I have lots of luggage in tow. I could then also get a business card so
that I can hand that to the taxi driver when I get back into Beijing on the 14th. At least I now know that I will be getting to the hotel.
Before we got into China, I had absolutely no idea that we were going to be in Beijing during one of the busiest times of the year. Not only
was the National Holiday on Monday, not only do businesses get one week off for this holiday but there is also another holiday that is
falling during this time due to the full moon. The mid-autumn festival is tomorrow. This is a very family based holiday and stores are
stocked with ‘moon cake’ in full force for such a day. They also anticipate that tomorrow will be the busiest travel day of the year (as
roughly 5 million people will be traveling by train alone). It seems like we could almost compare it to Thanksgiving. Could you imagine
being a pour soul in America who wants to travel on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or the Sunday afterwards? Well, I am that pour
soul in China. There are no trains to the places I want to go. I have to alter my visions of where I want to go. I originally wanted to do a
cruise down to see the Three Gorges since they will soon be no longer visible due to the rising water levels from the Three Gorges Dam. I
guess it wasn’t meant to have been since I now won’t have enough time by the time I am able to get out of Beijing. That being said, I have
no problem with staying in Beijing longer than I previously planned. Kirstie and Stuart (another couple from my train trip) leave on
Saturday to go back to Scotland so I am going to dinner with them, Sam and Dave for their last ‘Chinese’ meal tomorrow night. I also
ended up arranging a flight on Saturday morning (after all of the holiday mayhem) to go to Guilin. In lieu of the Three Gorges, I will go to
Guilin and Yangshuo. By doing this, I will still have enough time to go to Xian and see those little warrior guys.
October 14, 2006
I got back into Beijing today after spending some time in Yangshuo and Xi’an. It was finally time to enjoy the city without the crowds that
were here during the National Holiday.
The first place I had to go was Tian’an Men Square. I only saw this from the perimeter when I was here the first time. I needed to stand
in the middle and get a feeling of how large it actually was (as it is the largest public square in the world).
I will sum up what I saw as I stood there: people of all ages flying kites; looking at Chairman Mao’s photo that hangs on the wall at the
entrance to the Forbidden City; and a large display with ‘The Friendlies’…
Who are ‘The Friendlies?’, you might ask. I will give a hint. There are five of them. There is a blue one (BeiBei), a yellow one (YingYing), a
green one (NiNi), a red one (HuanHuan) and a black one (JingJing) – which also happens to be my favorite. Now can you guess who they
They are the 2008 Olympics mascots! And they are absolutely adorable. Especially my beloved JingJing. He is a panda bear who wears a
little halo of Greek leaves behind his cute little panda ears. This isn’t the only reason why he is my favorite – I saw a commercial with all of
‘The Friendlies’ and they were all behaving…except for little JingJing. He was a little rascal who kept running around. From that moment,
I knew that was my guy.
Now that you have a general idea of the little people that you will be seeing a lot of in the summer of 2008, let me continue with Tian’an
The vibe here was great. So much energy. So many Chinese people with such a pride of their country (as many of them walked around
waving little China flags). After reading up on a bit of history regarding this square, I just stood in the middle and tried to take it all in. I
tried to imagine was it must have been like in 1989 – a year that was not long ago at all. There was some emotion ignited in me when I
was looking around and seeing what it had become today.
Aside from walking around and people watching, I really didn’t do too much else during the day. But when night rolled around, I knew that
I wanted to head back to Tian’an Men Square to see what it looked like. I am so glad that I went as it was an entirely different scene.
Little lights lined the buildings on the perimeter. ‘The Friendlies’ display was lit up and they looked even more adorable at night. The
Forbidden City entrance was lined with lights and Mao’s picture was lit up enough so that it was as if he was looking right at you.
October 15, 2006
There were only a couple things I wanted to do today: check out this ‘Silk Market’ that everybody had been talking about and go to
First Stop: Silk Market (or also referred to as ‘Silk Street’)…
The term ‘silk market’ is a very misleading term. Don’t get me wrong…there is definitely silk being sold there. But there are also purses,
sunglasses, clothes, souvenir items, watches, jewelry, etc. being sold as well. There are about five floors lined with row after row of
While I have been in China, I haven’t felt the ‘need to shop’. But this isn’t to say that I haven’t felt the ‘need to bargain’. I am almost
addicted to the art of negotiation out here. And I have to admit that I am darn good at this, too. My strategy was to play hardball. I had
absolutely nothing to lose since I didn’t ‘need’ anything. I came out the victor in every situation I was in at this market. An example: A
woman quoted me 680 yuan for a pair of sunglasses. I said 50 yuan. She said 600 yuan. I said 50 yuan. This continued and I left with the
sunglasses for 50 yuan. This literally happened every time I inquired about an item. In the end, I left with sunglasses, a watch, mascara,
two Chinese notebooks, a big paint brush I wanted (to use to paint ‘male’ bamboo) and ipod ear buds (since mine broke a few days ago) for
$21. While at first I thought these vendors hated me, once the money was exchanged I could tell that they actually respected my skills.
One of them even told me so.
I could have spent much longer at the market but saw it in my best interest to leave and take a nice hour-long walk out to Jingshan Park.
What made this park special was that because it lies directly across the street from the Forbidden City, the view was incredible from the
top. Now it was possible to see just how many buildings were in the Forbidden City. What made this park even better was the 2 yuan
entrance fee. Definitely a nice (and relaxing) way to wrap up my time in Beijing…
I am now going to go grab a glass of wine downstairs. It feels like an ideal way to end the night. Tomorrow will be an early rise-and-shine
time as I mean with my ‘panda bear’ tour group and we fly out to Chengdu…
An alleyway of a hutong.
The jolly Buddha.