Posts Tagged ‘Beijing’

Snowing mud

March 20, 2013

The air quality in Beijing is well-known to be absolutely abhorrent. Today, my Beijing friend Xu tells me that a late-season snowfall yesterday produced not snow, but mud.


At least, the early snow washed some of the garbage out of the air, and the rest of the overnight accumulation is beautiful against a blue sky. Thank you, Xu, for the photo.

Chaoyang park and the happy gorillas

December 17, 2011

There was nowhere in particular I wanted to go today, but of course I had to get out. Chaoyang park is far enough, and big enough, to serve as a destination. Ok, let’s go there.

Well, it’s better in the spring or fall (summer in Beijing is not to be recommended). But I did find one thing to like, the Happy gorilla treetop adventures.

This little guy is not at all sure he wants to take that next step, across the void, onto the next platform. Never mind that it’s only 20 cm, never mind that he has a harness. It’s scary!

Little sis doesn’t see what the delay is all about. She is perfectly relaxed, waved down to her parents below. Meanwhile, there’s starting to be a traffic jam.

Eventually one of the adults worked his way out and helped encourage that first fateful step. After that, it was okay.

Walking platforms is the easy part. On this one, you walk on only a wire.

Fun to watch.

My other observation is that, once a hundred million Chinese start speaking English on the world stage, English will change. There is no choice about it: it will change.

Not just the words. This picture is from yesterday; when we left the restaurant, we bought a couple of rice balls. They were frozen, and went into a jacket pocket to thaw and be eaten later. When later came around, I enjoyed the little instruction disk that came with the pastry, almost as much as I enjoyed the pastry itself.

Beijing: the Summer palace in Winter

December 17, 2011

17 December 2011

I left the hotel at 9 and walked to Dongzhimen subway, where I had arranged to meet Xu at 10. We had never met in person before, but she had seen my web page and had some idea who to look for. I was a bit concerned that we could wander around — the subway station itself is large and full of people — and miss each other. But I was in the right place for the rendezvous and she recognized me straightaway.

At the subway station is a shopping mall, where we went in to see if I could buy an ear band. When I arrived yesterday, the wind was pretty cold on my exposed ears. But there’s less wind today, and all we could find were cute earbands. I didn’t think I needed cute.

Back onto the subway, which we took to the Summer palace. People around, but not crowds. Very pleasant. We walked up the hill to some of the temples and overlook areas, then wandered around the lake, strolling and talking. Just a bit on the chilly side, but quite pleasant when we were in the sun or walking with the light wind behind us.

Much of the lake is water or very thin ice, but people were out ice fishing toward the south end.

It is a fair distance around the lake, and we were in no hurry, so the afternoon was getting along by the time we got back toward the north end of the park. We saw someone surrounded by people; he had a large brush, which he had dipped in water, and was writing on the pavement.

Xu couldn’t read it from the side, went around to look at it from directly below, still couldn’t read it. She deduced that it was Korean, that the crowd was a group of Korean tourists.

Speaking of foreigners: I scooped up a handful of coins before I left home, left over from my last visit to China — I thought. When I was looking for subway fare today, I scooped them out of my pocket. Xu laughed. Most of them were Japanese! That explains why I thought they looked funny. I visit China far more often than Japan.

We took the subway back to Dongzhimen. Went to a restaurant in the shopping mall, top floor. At street level was a big stage where some moderately famous singer was appearing to promote her new album. As it happened, she was just there to sign autographs for a long line of fans; the music was from her CDs.

It was a new restaurant for Xu, as well (of course) as for me. The drinking water was warm, very welcome on a cold day. Of the dishes we ordered, the most interesting was a bed of rice topped with alternating slices of roast pork and peaches. Pretty good.

Xu walked home while I took the subway back to the stop nearest my hotel. Not a good choice; the subway runs in rings, and I had to change trains twice to get from one ring to the other and back near the hotel. I subsequently just walked (or ran) both directions on this route.

Getting dark and probably colder, and jet lag was rearing its ugly head, so I was happy enough to pack it in. A good day. Thanks, Xu.

Beijing: Botanical gardens

September 25, 2011

Sunday, 25 September, 2011

I learned yesterday where Yuanmingyuan park is. I could go there today… but I already know how to get there. More of an adventure to go somewhere I don’t know, for example the botanical gardens. The throwaway tourist map really gets pretty useless out here at the periphery, but I did take a look at google maps before I left the hotel.

Took the subway to Beigongmen, the north entrance to the summer palace, and walked from there. With the completely inadequate map, I took several wrong turnings, but had help from various people who either volunteered or responded to questions. One pleasant young woman offered to help me get a taxi or a bus, thought I was crazy when I said I wanted to walk.

She was probably right. Including the misdirections, it took two hours to get there, much of it pretty uninteresting. I did pass a display of stones; irregular and interestingly shaped stones are greatly prized here for decoration, and rightly.

When eventually I arrived at the botanical garden, I strolled aimlessly around, looking for interesting things. There was a separate admission charge (Y10) for the butterfly garden, and from the outside it looked like a no-op. But Y10 isn’t much… and what I found in the first part of the round justified my suspicion that it wasn’t worth it.

Then I found the area with the live butterflies. Wow!

There is also a tropical conservatory, but I decided to skip it. Thousands of orchids, doubtless worth seeing, but the outdoor humidity is already 94% according to this morning’s weather report, and I’m not sure I want to go into very many hothouses.

Decided to try the Penjing garden instead. Only Y2, I guess it doesn’t get much press. Too bad; it was one of the most interesting places. Penjing art is the blending of plants, rocks and ceramics to form poems of form. Really impressive.

And no one to grump at me for using a tripod.

The vegetation is not really bonsai, which is what I had expected, but it is definitely dwarf. The star attraction is a gingko that dates from the 1300s.

Having spent a good hour indoors and out at the Penjing garden, I wandered further uphill. Beijing is on the flats, with foothills to the west, leading eventually to the mountains where we would find the great wall, if we went a bit further.

So the country here is a little bit hilly, and with my limited knowledge of the area, probably the prettiest part of the urban environs. This could explain why there are lots of parks, why the subways are jammed in this direction on the weekends.

Eventually, I found myself invited to ascend cherry valley, a fairly narrow canyon with a stream, sequoia or cedar forest, and a boardwalk along much of the trail. Very, very nice.

I have been looking for small animals, haven’t found much. High up along this trail, I found a large number of black and white beetles (unfortunately, the photos didn’t turn out very well), and an enormous population of brochymenas! Great!

There was a construction area on the way down. Who needs grammar? We understand exactly what the meaing of this sign is.

Well, it was getting late, and I was at risk of someone else drinking all the beer. I thought I might catch a taxi back to the subway station, but of course there aren’t many taxis out here in the boondocks, and the ones that exist are already taken. The good news is that, without mistakes, the walk back was only an hour and a half. Even so, it was almost 5 o’clock when I got my Weissbier at the Paulaner Braeuhaus.

To give an idea of the murky air, here is the sun, well above the horizon, and perfectly safe to look at.

Beijing: Summer palace

September 24, 2011

Saturday, 24 September 2011

I set my alarm for 3:50 and at 3:55 discovered that Marta had not set up a conference bridge for her 4 AM meeting (well, it wasn’t 4 AM in California). So I got another hour of sleep before the 5 AM meeting….

As a morning person, I really like the fact that breakfast is available at 6. High up in the tower, I get a chance to take a good look at what I’m going to be breathing all day. Yes, as summer wanes, the air quality will improve, but it’s still pretty murky. Anywhere else, you’d think rain was likely, but here, it’s just the garbage in the air.

I have only ridden the Beijing subway once, when Denis took a few of us to a Russian restaurant he had discovered. So today is a good chance to learn the subway. My Siemens friend from yesterday mentioned the summer palace as one of Beijing’s standard tourist attractions. It’s off at the far northwest corner of the city: why not!

Busy subway, no chance of a seat until the last leg to Bagou, the end of the line. I have only a crummy throwaway map, but we are bounded by the 4th and 5th ring roads, so the likely foreshortening of the tourist map can’t be impossibly bad. And it looks as if there is a river or canal not far west of the subway stop that I can follow to the summer palace.

And so it proved to be. Boats full of tourists going to the summer palace. I photographed a few of them: not all of them were silly, but there’s no point in photographing ordinary watercraft.

Just like Beijing streets, two boats coming upriver at the same time: one honked hard at the other, passed him, cut in front of him and docked.

This is the back entrance, more or less. There is actually a subway stop at the north entrance, but I didn’t particularly want to change trains: this way is more interesting. Y60 for an everything ticket, plus Y10 for what I could have predicted would be a pretty useless map of the grounds.

Willows, trees, water, lots and lots of people. Very pleasant.

Well, even if some of the people were just a little strange.

I took the west causeway, an artificial levee in the lake that includes six bridges to make its way to the main section of the palace grounds, toward the north end.

There were boom-boxes. There were karaoke singers. There were jazzercise groups. No reverence in this crowd. There were flautists, but I couldn’t get a worthwhile picture. However, just a few steps on, a couple of women playing gourds. Or, well, some kind of gourdly wind instruments.

It isn’t just the teen-agers who pose for pictures with famous scenery in the background.

We all knew you could build boats out of concrete, right? But it’s interesting that this barge has a fake side-paddle wheel. Looks like something out of a petrified New Orleans.

Toward the north end is a hill, real rock with a level of difficulty last seen on the Yosemite falls trail. Of course only a hundred meters high, but it does get your heart rate up. At the top, temples built into rock, and a buddha temple, almost dark. The resident grump yelled for quite a while at the tourist who flashed the buddha. I dedided not to try a tripod non-flash, and there’s no chance of a handheld shot.

Not far from the north entrance is a Suchow street area, a strip of quite narrow sidewalk bordering a lake and fringed with every kind of shop that might appeal to tourists. That’s okay: I am a tourist, albeit one who doesn’t spend much money. I brought along a bottle of water from the hotel, but it’s pretty small. Sometime today, I will need to find more. (And eventually I did: outside the tourist area, paid Y6 for 800 ml of some kind of lemonade.)

The little map also shows Ruins of Yuanmingyuan Park not too far east, so I headed that direction from the summer palace. Busy street, veered through a hutong which was pretty bad (the encouraging sight was a kid on a three-wheeler delivering three boxes labelled HP and Epson), eventually back to a busy street paralleled by a canal. Turned off to walk beside the canal, and ended up in Peking university, nice enough place, but also under construction. There are Ming gardens here, but probably unlike the ruins of Yuanmingyuan, the park itself is the ruined part. Not maintained, not all that pleasant.

A university, modern buildings, with many more under construction, built with an acknowledgement of the Chinese artistic tradition.

From the east exit, I saw a sign to the East entrance of Peking university subway. Not shown on my map (called Chengfulu: name has changed), so I walked there to study the route map and try to figure out where I was. Past the Yuanmingyuan park, that’s where. Walked back.

Passed an area of continuous two-wheeler businesses. Some nice bikes, but absolutely nothing new with dropped handlebars. There were a few road bike frames on display, which could be built up on order, but clearly this is not a venue for road bikes. Mountain bikes and granny bikes, that’s about it.

The park looks like a big place, and it’s getting on toward 3 PM, time to be thinking about a beer. So I got on the subway (no sitting down on the Beijing subway), changed at Haidianhuangzhuang. They have good route maps in the cars, they make announcements in Mandarin and English. The cars and stations are as clean as could be expected: pretty good subway system.

Went one stop past my hotel, to the Liangmaquaio stop, where, yes, you guessed it: the Paulaner Braeuhaus is but three minutes walk. Nice to get off the feet for a few minutes while I enjoyed a richly deserved Weissbier.

And as I passed the US embassy on the walk back to the hotel, the (Chinese) guard said hello.


September 23, 2011

Friday, 23 September 2011

Up at the usual 5:30. Well, up at the usual 2:30, when I’m still not in the right time zone. Dozed off and on until about the time for the alarm, then got up. As soon as I had finished breakfast, I caught a taxi to the Shanghai airport (*not* Pudong, the major international airport!). Easy check-in, and I spent an hour or two in the lounge doing a bit of work.

Sat next to a very nice young Chinese woman on the plane, used to work at Nokia-Siemens in aggregation networks, now at Siemens doing training development. She said her most unusual cultural experience was visiting Israel.

When we got ready to get off the plane, she saw my luggage, remarked that it was very little for a two-week trip. I explained that I would have about the same amount of luggage for a two-month trip. No point in carrying extra clutter.

Caught the airport express train in Beijing. I have done this before, but not recently enough to be 100% confident. Got off the train at the first stop, walked through a back street or two, risked my neck crossing one of the major streets, and there was the Marriott Northeast, just as expected. I guess I haven’t forgotten everything after all.

They didn’t have a room ready, so I rearranged my luggage, left most of it behind, and went out wandering. Not exactly sure where I wanted to go, but it’s a pretty nice day. Murky air, but temperature in the mid 20s (C). Wandered past the embassies – quite a queue in front of the US embassy – to Liangmaquaio road, but it’s too early to turn right and go to the Paulaner Braeuhaus. Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, I do have a certain amount of discipline!

Turned left. Noisy, busy street, but it’s beautifully shaded by plane trees, not bad. I thought it was interesting to see corn as a street planting, however.

When the forest cover ran out, I turned south, thinking I might work my way back toward the beer on a side street or two. Through a somewhat difficult construction area, I eventually came upon a new shopping mall. Much of it is still under construction, and the places that are open, mostly restaurants, have few customers. I hope they can keep going until the place goes big time.

It turns out this is just on the shore of the lake in Chaoyang park, where I came and walked on a clear, windy, bitterly cold day in November a year or so ago. So they have a great view.

The moral to take away from this is that this is as upscale, as modern, and probably as expensive, as the highest-class malls you might find anywhere in the world. Let us please have no more talk about poverty or backwardness.

And they have kid’s ceramic art on the walls, or emulations thereof.

Having wandered through the mall to my heart’s content, I left by the other end of the venue and found myself at the south end of Lucky street. This is another place I have been before, a long (*long*) block mostly of restaurants, none of them Chinese. Home from home for the diplomatic and ex-pat community.

Not too authentic, of course. This place purports to be a south German bakery, but in English.

The north end of Lucky street is back at Liangmaquaio road, where it was now late enough to wend my way Bierward. Along the way, the fence blocking off a new apartment development project.

The Braeuhaus had outdoor seating, the beer was good (well, of course!) and I was pretty mellow. Back at the hotel, they offered me an executive room upgrade for Y300 per night extra. They point out that breakfast costs Y260, the upgrade includes no-charge internet access, and as I found later, the executive lounge has enough munchies that I don’t even need to go out to eat.

Pretty classy, pretty spoiled.

Beijing, April 19 Monday

April 20, 2010

We hired a car today and drove to the Ming tombs. There are 13 tombs here, spread around the valley, but we visited only two, the Yongle tomb, he who founded the Ming dynasty, and Ding Ling, the only one that has been archaeologically excavated.

There’s a museum here with some pretty interesting exhibits.

The soul tower is not particularly picturesque, but it was interesting to overhear one of the tour guides saying that it hadn’t originally been painted red, but was hastily re-painted during the cultural revolution to preserve it from the thugs of the day. (My words, not his.)

The Dingling tomb is in a beautiful, relaxing, pleasant park of cypresses (cedars). A sign says that ring-dating the trees proves that they are much older than the tomb, and were therefore transplanted here when the tomb was constructed in the 1500s.

The underground palace is a curiosity, but hardly beautiful. It’s really a series of arched tunnels, coffins in one chamber, and thrones for the emperor and empress.

Back in Beijing, we thought to go see the Olympic park, the bird’s nest and the water cube. But first, a quick stop for lunch. TGI Friday’s was close by. People asked me whether it was the same as the US version, and I had to admit I had never been into a US location.

We wandered around the bird’s nest for half an hour, but the water cube was closed. The most interesting thing, IMO, was the dozens of vendors hawking kites in the plaza outside.

Okay, time for a foot massage. If your feet weren’t sore when you came in, they would be when you left. Oh, does that hurt!

Silk street, where Kent bought a few things. I would have bought a bikie cap if I had seen any, but that’s too specialized for the venue.

And then out to Beihai lake, where Weining negotiated a pretty good price on some green laser pointers. We found a second storey restaurant overlooking the lake and had yet another really good meal.

Tomorrow we work.

Beijing, April 18, Sunday and the great wall

April 18, 2010

Weining hired a van for the day, but only four of us were brave enough, or foolish enough, to go out for a day on the wild wall: Kent, Weining, local colleague Tan Ho and myself. The van picked us up about 9 on another murky day, and dropped us off at the Jinshanling entrance to the great wall about two hours later. (picture below at Simatai, the far end)

Kent brought along hiking boots. It’s six miles, we’re told, to the Simatai entrance. How hard can that be? – I thought, and decided to just do it in running shoes. Well, there is a bit of vertical gain on this hike. Should be fun.

Before we had even left the parking lot, we had been adopted by two young women who thought we looked like likely customers. They stayed with us well past the halfway point, one of them almost to the very last gasp. Helpful and friendly, and asking every few minutes if we wanted to buy something from their little bags of goodies: a picture book, a tee shirt, whatever. Here she is, walking with Kent several hours later. Weining in the blue tee shirt and Tan Ho in blue jeans.

This is said to be the non-tourist section of the wall, and I don’t even want to imagine what the tourist sections must be like. There were certainly enough opportunities to spend our money, including hawkers at various places along the wall. You have to admire their enterprise, hiking up here with drinks or tee shirts and other Troedel on the off chance. A fair number of other hikers, too, though as always, the crowd thinned out as we got further from the parking lot.

The Jinshanling section of the wall has been restored and is in good shape. The first bit isn’t even that steep, except of course for the steps required to get to the mountain crest. We can see more wall and more haze off to the limits of our vision in both directions. Abandon hope, ye who enter here! And we did indeed hike to and beyond the furthest of the towers visible in the haze.

This is a defensive wall, or was, deliberately built along the crest of the mountains. By the time the enemy had struggled up the grade, he would be completely exhausted and hardly in shape for yet more strenuous exercise fighting to overwhelm the wall. We’re told, however, that the wall was repeatedly breached over the course of history: the soldiers weren’t paid very well and were easy to bribe. Like having a bicycle helmet draped across the handlebars, protection is only useful if you use it.

While the first Jinshanling section of the wall is in good repair, and the last Simatai section is in equally good repair, there is a stretch in the middle that is almost ruined. A few of the towers are closed off, too unsafe to enter. There are trails along the mountainside below, for those who would rather cover distance instead of walking in the footsteps of history – the vendors, most likely.

Well, the hard part is the vertical part, and the down was even harder than the up. Ankle-high steps are okay, but many of these were knee high and occasionally higher. In the ruined areas, the footholds were often rocks or corners of the old bricks, pretty irregular. I hope the knees and ankles will survive!

The country is dry barren desert, and we didn’t see much wildlife. One lizard, that was about it.

I brought along my hiking GPS receiver, thinking to geotag my photos, but it turned out the software I had installed on my laptop was somehow defective (what I didn’t realize until later was that the hard disk was in the process of dying horribly and files were already being corrupted). I’ll have to reinstall it when I get home and retrofit the photos. Small problem.

GPS results from later: 5 miles, 2700 vertical feet. If about two third of the route is uphill, that’s eight hundred feet per mile of uphill grade. Even worse is the sixteen hundred feet per mile of downhill! If I were doing it again, I think I’d start at the Simatai end, to spare the knees and hips from that brutal descent.

We were all happy to see the crest and the descent into the valley where lies the Simatai trailhead, just beyond the lake. The wall itself  rises to the mountains beyond, another hike for another day.

Kent phoned his daughter from the great wall. He thought it would be quite a novelty. I considered doing the same, but it’s something like midnight in California, so Jacky might not appreciate it.

There’s a chain bridge across the end of the lake at the bottom, then another grunt to the trailhead entrance. From there, it was possible to catch a ride to the parking area. That would have been yet another adventure, but we chose to walk instead. Next time!

Our car was waiting for us, drove us back to Beijing, considerably more subdued than we had been this morning. You know it’s a great day when you hurt everywhere and you’ve had a once in a lifetime experience.

At 6, we picked up Jean and went to South Beauty, a Sichuan restaurant where we joined a colleague from Shanghai for an evening of good food and conversation. Kent and Weining went on afterward for foot massages, but I decided a good night’s sleep was more to the point, and begged off.

A great day, truly a great day.

Beijing 2010 April 17

April 17, 2010

After another interminable journey, the flight from SFO finally terminated at Beijing in mid-afternoon, a cold foggy day. The pilot said visibility was 2200 meters, but on the ground, I’d guess it was less than half that. Gene and Kent were on the same plane, and Weining met us at the airport. We were at a couple of hotels, so it took quite a while to get us distributed and checked in, following which we went out.

We had initially said we’d go shopping, but none of us travellers was up to much, so we deferred that in favor of food. Grace and Jean are already here from meetings last week, and they met us at the restaurant.

Interesting place; it turns out the best restaurant in Beijing for Peking duck is here, upstairs, but not part of Chef Dong’s operation, though they may have common ownership and management. There’s a glass wall into the kitchen where you can see the ducks partially pre-cooked, waiting to be ordered and finished up into meals. There is free wine in the waiting area to help pass the time. Pretty classy.

So we missed our chance to try the braised sea cucumber. Well, maybe next time.

We had about five courses, all of them various parts of the duck (don’t ask: we didn’t).

Although some of us were past due to fall asleep zonk by the time we had finished eating, there was nothing for it but to go for a massage. We’ll see how many bruises I have from that experience! I saw a tee-shirt once that said pain is weakness leaving the body, and I guess I shed quite a bit of weakness.

11:30 by the time we got back to the hotel, after midnight by the time I got to bed. I had set my alarm for 6AM, 40 minutes later than usual, but woke up spontaneously about 5:30, got up and took care of some things like reading the email, editing yesterday’s photos and such. Breakfast at 6:30, and at least some of us are meeting at 9 to go hiking at the Great Wall.

You know what they say: there will be lots of time to rest after you’re dead.

You know what I say: anything worth doing is worth overdoing.