Bye-bye Beijing

S and I headed out fairly early on our last day to do some last-minute sight-seeing.  I think we liked seeing Tiantan park on a Sunday, with all the people doing their thing, as much as the sights within it.  There were people dancing to patriotic songs, people playing traditional music and singing, and all kinds of activity.  I’d never seen people playing hacky-sack with a badminton-style birdie, before.

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The trees were very orderly. IMG_3772

We ran into M near the hotel, and while S went back to the hotel (she hadn’t asked for a late check-out), M and I found the best noodle soup ever.  They were hand-making the noodles in the back of the restaurant.  Fantastic texture, amazing flavor.  And just what my cold symptoms called for.IMG_3773

After lunch, the 3 of us walked around for a bit before picking up our bags and heading for the airport (by subway + Airport Express train).  We went into a nearby mall hoping to do some last-minute (possible Christmas) shopping, but it was only about half open.  On the ground floor was a great kids play zone that looked like it’d be really fun, though.IMG_3778

…and then, home!

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Back to Beijing

I wasn’t feeling great.  Hoped it was just the smog, or a reaction to cigarette smoke, but it was an actual cold.  The hotel’s breakfast buffet included soup made to order that was quite good, though, so that helped. And noodles cure everything, right?

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Taxi to the train station, train back to Beijing.  It was very hazy on the way back.  Really helped us appreciate the clear skies we’d had earlier in the week.IMG_3685IMG_3690IMG_3692IMG_3695

We took the subway from the train station to our new Beijing hotel (we had looked up the details ahead of time, this time!) and then headed out to the nearby Da Dong Duck restaurant for Peking duck in Peking.  We didn’t try the sea cucumber.  The menu really didn’t do a good job of selling it. The duck was great, though, and the way they displayed the fruit they brought out for dessert was fun.IMG_3696IMG_3700IMG_3702IMG_3708IMG_3710IMG_3711

Terracotta Warriors

We hired a taxi through the hotel for a fixed rate, and the driver took us out to see the Terracotta Warriors.

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When we parked, an English-speaking guide met us, and showed us around the place.  Really incredible.  The amount of work that went into the place, both in the initial construction and in the recovery/restoration, is amazing.  Every warrior is different, and was made in separate pieces — heads had to be fired separately from the bodies, so that there’d be room for the hot air to escape.  The horses were made in several different pieces, and had holes in their sides for air to escape, as well.

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Apparently so far they’ve only found one warrior that was intact.  All of the others have had to undergo reconstructive surgery (thus the slings in some of the pictures) before being put back into position.

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The original construction had wood beams to cover it up, but over time they decomposed and everything caved in.  Looking at some of the not-yet-reconstructed areas, it looks like a battle zone.

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They number the different pieces to keep track of them.

Since we’d gotten an early start, we were back in town before lunch time.  M & I walked around, looking for a good spot.  We walked through some interesting (and some stinky) streets, and through a small market, where I saw a styrofoam box on the back of a scooter, filled with frogs.  No time to take a photo, though.

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Eventually, we stopped in at a little place that caught my eye.  It was packed, inside, and filled with cigarette smoke, but the pictures on the wall were of dumplings.  The guy working there didn’t really speak English, and the menu was only in Chinese, but my “can you suggest a popular dish that I should try?” phrase card, combined with M’s pointing at some nearby dumplings did the trick.IMG_3539IMG_3541IMG_3545

After lunch, I decided to explore Xi’an a bit more, while M went back to the hotel.  I passed a crowd of men, who I believe were playing Mahjong (I didn’t take a picture when I was close). IMG_3547

Then, I decided to check out the city wall.  We’d driven through it a couple of times, going to & from the hotel.  The air was hazy, but it made for a pretty sunset.IMG_3550IMG_3551IMG_3563IMG_3581IMG_3590IMG_3601

When I was ready to come down (and maybe even catch a taxi back to the hotel, since I was pretty tired), I made the unfortunate discovery that I was nowhere near an exit.  Sure, there were stairs down fairly frequently, but none of them were open to the public.  Big doors (closed) at the bottom.  And apparently I was just about exactly between the nearest ones, so either way, I was going to have to walk a lot farther.  I opted to keep going (cover new ground), rather than to double back.  I regretted not renting a bicycle like most people did.

 

When the lights came on, I realized I’d better pick up the pace in order to get to the exit before dark.  By the time I saw an electric cart coming by (presumably to pick people up, though it’s not clear if there’d be a fee), I was finally close enough to the exit that I just kept going.IMG_3649IMG_3667IMG_3670Finally down stairs I was allowed to use, the exit dumped us out in the middle of a bus parking lot.  Which was in the middle of a big roundabout.  At rush hour.  And no locals to shadow across the street.  Yikes!  I waited until most of the lanes were jammed up, and wove my way through the cars.  I was about halfway across the street, when cars from another direction came flying toward me.  In China, cars speed up when they see pedestrians (or so it seems — they certainly don’t make any effort to avoid peds), so I ran across the rest of the street.  I won’t print what I was saying to myself at that time.

 

Back to the hotel, I was exhausted, and really didn’t want to walk far.  We asked the concierge for some suggestions, expecting to hear about the hotel’s restaurants, or some fancy place they got kickbacks from, but his first suggestion was a night market just a few blocks away.  Ordinarily, that would’ve been perfect, but I wanted to be able to sit, so we went with another of his suggestions (we think – not sure if the place we wound up is the one he meant, but it was in the vicinity).  They had ‘set’ dinners that came with a bunch of things.  M had frog legs.  I had beef, which was good, but which came with hot lettuce.  Better with sauce, but still not my thing.

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November 26: Train to Xi’an

In spite of my taxi experience the previous day, we decided that taking a taxi to the train station would still be wiser than trying to navigate the subway with our luggage during rush hour.  Fortunately, traffic wasn’t too bad and we got to the train station with plenty of time to spare.  We quickly figured out which track our train would be leaving from, and then found a place to have breakfast.

The waiting area for the trains was crowded, but we found seats easily, once another train left.

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The air was still pretty clear around Beijing, so the train ride offered some nice views of the mountains just outside the city.  As we got closer to Xi’an, it seemed to get a bit hazier.

IMG_3392IMG_3395IMG_3397IMG_3400IMG_3411IMG_3413In Xi’an, we realized that none of us had the name of our hotel written in Chinese.  We tried to use my OffMaps app to figure out which subway stop was near our hotel, but none of the station names it had matched the names on the ticket machine.  We eventually spotted an information desk, where they were able to help us out by writing the hotel name and address in Chinese (so we could take a taxi).  At the taxi stand, the driver seemed unsure about where the hotel was, so he and another driver called the hotel to confirm.  At one point, they handed the phone to me (apparently the hotel didn’t want to divulge the address without knowing there was a real guest?)  A bit odd, but it worked out.  On the taxi drive, I spotted a scooter that had a guinea pig in a cage, sitting up front.

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After checking in, we headed out to find dinner.  After walking past some fancy-looking place, a place with a lot of flashy signs, cheap tables, and the smell of fantastic grilled foods caught my eye.  The waitress spoke a little English, and pulled up an English menu on her smartphone that we could use to order from.  We wound up with grilled mutton, beef spare ribs, eggplant, mushrooms, eggs with leek, and 2 kinds of fried rice. The one I ordered had sauerkraut (pickled cabbage in it).  S later said that this was her favorite meal of the trip, but it may have been as much about the atmosphere of the place as the food.  It was cold inside the restaurant, and some of the other customers were smoking, but some of the folks (who may have been running the place?) had a toddler that was all bundled up, and very cute.

 

November 25: A cold day in Beijing 

Woke up early and chatted with apple support online. Then headed out for a good breakfast of dumplings and scallion pancakes in the nearby hutong.

Then to the Apple Store, where I waited in line for an hour only to be told that they can’t help me. Can’t replace screens on US-purchased phones. Different part numbers, can’t run through all the automated tests, yadda yadda.
Frustrating because I’d first spent a while with the apple support folks online to make sure it was worth going in to the store (and I told them all the same info), and they said I should go in. Grumble, grumble.


Afterwards, I stopped in a supermarket near the hotel (looking for more cucumber gum) and was inspired to buy some clear (wide) packing tape and small scissors. I selected the scissors with the best instructions.

  
Back at the hotel, I taped all around the phone, except for the camera lens, power, and headphone jacks. Now I can use the camera and the fingerprint reader, and the shattered glass is still contained. Much more usable the the ziploc was. Just hard to see text or maps without panning around to the less cracked areas.
It was very cold out, but I wanted to try and salvage the day, so I decided to head up to the 798 art zone and check it out. Apple maps (because google maps isn’t available, there) said it’d be about an hour by bus, and that was the public transit option with the least walking (enticing because it was very cold out). The first bus was crowded but warm. The second bus was empty and see-your-breath cold.


  
By the time I got to the art zone, it had taken over 2 hours (traffic!) and I was freezing. It was also getting dark. I warmed up at a cafe, used their wifi to let M & S know I’d be a little later than planned, and looked around a few shops and galleries, before heading back to meet the gang for dinner.

With it so cold out, I decided to treat myself to a taxi back, but it took awhile before I found an empty one. What a relief to be in a warm car! Until I realized that it was going nowhere, fast. Traffic was ridiculous. After awhile, I showed the driver my phone with a map that showed the nearest subway station name (in Chinese), which was up ahead of us. I thought he understood the change of plan, but I don’t know if it was my broken screen, another miscommunication, or him trying to take me for a ride, but he pulled a u-turn from the middle lane, in front of a police car, and started heading in the opposite direction. I thought maybe he was taking me to a different stop (the one I could’ve walked to from where he picked me up), but then he turned another weird direction. And got stuck in traffic again. Eventually I just asked him to let me out. Of course, I forgot to get the hotel’s business card back from him. Not that I really wanted to take another taxi at that point, but that made it no longer an option.
I spotted a Starbucks about a block away and went in to use their wifi (one of the baristas was kind enough to use her phone to receive a text with a wifi code I could then use). I let M & S know that I was running even later, and then walked to the nearest subway stop. About 40 minutes later, I was back at the hotel. Whew!

Back to the mall (hey, we knew it was warm and had many food options) for our last dinner before heading to Xi’an.

A shattered view

No major plans for the day, M and I set out on a dumpling quest. Very cold out, though. We’d had plans to walk around the south side of tiennamen square, but opted to go through it on the north end, instead. The security line on the south side of the street was better than on the side by the forbidden city, and it only took us a few minutes to get through.

We made our way up to the square and I immediately dropped my phone. Not a long drop, but it must’ve been especially brittle due to the cold. The screen shattered. It still turned on, and the camera lens seemed okay, so I snapped a couple of pictures and we kept moving.


 We hoped to walk around the lakes to the west of the forbidden city (aka palace museum) but the things that had looked like through streets on my map were guarded gates. Bummer. We walked north and finally spotted a hutong that might be interesting. We walked maybe a block and found a dumpling shop. Used the “vegetarian, but I eat seafood card” and got a mushroom dumpling and a shrimp & cabbage (leek?) dumpling. M didn’t care for them, but I thought they were alright. We warmed up at our table by the heater and watched their tv program on how they make their dumplings
After that, M decided to head back to the hotel for a bit, but I was still hoping to find some interesting areas to walk through. I kept going north, but when it started snowing again, I thought maybe M had the right idea. Cold, and not keen to use an unheated public restroom, I was hoping the touristy area near the exit of the forbidden city would have a warm coffee shop or even a mall (heated!) Eventually I gave up, and was pleased to find that the public restroom had not only soap, but a heated hand dryer! Fancy!
I plodded along in the general direction of the theater where we’d be meeting later, and stopped in at a few shops to warm up as much as to look at anything in particular. At the Wumart, I finally found some cucumber gum (in a container with a variety of flavors). Also picked up some cumin lamb flavor and some yogurt flavor potato chips to go along with the cucumber ones I already had.


I decided that I should drop the chips off back at the hotel, change my shoes and layer up before doing any more walking. So I did.

M had made it back and was warm, but not feeling up to the ~3 mile walk to the theater, so I headed out on my own. Wandered through the cutest hutong yet, and even spotted a place selling the spicy scallion pancakes (but nobody around to sell me one). Didn’t find the hutong museum I’d been hoping to see, but maybe I’ll find it (and try the pancake) when I return.

  
Kept walking and came out on a big street, with lots of restaurants and normal shops. Stopped and got a scallion pancake at one sidewalk stand. Ate it under a tree, leaning against a fence next to some parked scooters. It was still snowing.

Kept walking, turned right on a main thoroughfare, and recognized some of the buildings we’d driven by on the way to the Great Wall. Eventually made it to the theater, with 15 minutes to spare. Ordered a (hot!) coconut milk boba thing to try and stay warm while I waited outside for M & S to arrive.

The acrobatic show was impressive in many ways, but rough around the edges. In some ways, that made it even more exciting (if they can’t cut between songs smoothly, if they drop the hats they’re juggling and have to fuss with a clearly broken costume while being lifted high in the air…what’s going to happen when they put EIGHT motorcycles in a spherical cage at the same time?). Nobody died or was injured though, so it’s all good. At the end of the show, a voice came on the loudspeaker and said, “the show is over.” So we took the not so subtle hint and got outta there.

We took the subway back to a stop near the hotel and stopped in at a hot pot place for dinner.

I’m going to have to try and get my phone screen replaced. I can’t take photos while it’s in a ziploc. And I don’t want shards of glass on everything. Sad.


Still great after all these years

Winter being the off season, we didn’t have to get such an early start. Left the hotel right around 9am, picked up S (whose legs were tired from her previous day’s walking tour), and drove the 2 hours to mutianyu. Our driver was good, and after having driven people there every day for 20 years, didn’t even need to see out the window to get us there. A good thing, since he apparently had no wiper fluid and the wiper blades may as well have been missing, too. Road spatter from the previous day’s storm wasn’t too bad, fortunately. Most of the time.

What a spectacular day! Picture perfect. Fresh snow, good visibility, and actual blue skies.

M and I hiked down to the toboggan place, just to confirm that our driver had been telling the truth: closed in winter (or due to the snow, at least). We opted not to buy a separate 60rmb ticket to take their ski lift down, and hiked back up to the top of the tram way where we already had a return ticket. Later, over lunch at the base, S mentioned checking apple health steps, and I saw that I’d walked 91 stories. Cool!


  
  
  
  
Back to Beijing by car. Rested at the hotel for a little while before finding dinner in a nearby restaurant. I think it might be the same one where A and I had a sweet potato dish a few years back.