March 25, 2013

Another huge round of winter vacation time has come and gone and this time it brought me to China.

Here's a quick recap of my weird work/vacation schedule:

Regular classes ended after the first week of December, which was followed by three weeks of exams/movies/Christmas. After the staff trip and New Years, I started my 10-day round of Winter Vacation classes. My first two weeks of vacation were spent mostly in Seoul, before I had to headed back to school for one random week during which the third grade students were graduating. This random week seemed entirely pointless to me (aside from the actual graduation which was only one day). I just acted as a babysitter and my only goal was keeping the kids inside the classroom.

After that it was FINALLY time for the latter half of my vacation: China.

I took the early bus out of Mokpo which swung through Yeonggwang to pick up Chester before we arrived at Incheon Airport, and maneuvered over to Gimpo Airport to meet Eric. We downed a few coffees before boarding our 2 hour flight to Beijing where we met Erin.

We could not have arrived in Beijing at a better time. That night happened to be the eve of Lunar New Year so the streets were literally ablaze with fireworks. By the time we got to our hostel, it was early evening so we decided to scope out the area.

Streets surrounding the hostel all looked much like this

This fireworks shop was bustling this night but was completely cleared of all contents by morning

These kinds of fireworks were my favourite. Literally a chain of crackers that exploded along the street.

Checked out the goods. Flavours: Cola-marinated chicken wings, italian meat, spicy hot pot, and tomato chicken something or other.

Beijing beers. I think all of these came to ~$4 CAD.

To celebrate the New Year, the hotel bar gave us food. Great first impressions.

I took this video just after midnight during our first night in Beijing, which was the Lunar New Year. Festivities didn't stop this night; fireworks could be heard every single night for the 9 days we spent in Beijing and it eventually became part of the ambience. Fun fact: They set off these fireworks to ward off evil spirits for the coming year.

Cafes seemed to be few and far between but Erin and I were lucky that both of our hotels were around the corner from great ones. Coffee for ~$2 CAD! I know for Canadians it's not a big deal, but it is a big deal coming from Korea's $5! After a quick stop for coffee, we headed to Wangfujing, an area with lots of shopping. Predominantly food. On sticks.

China's answer to candy apples: 
Candied hawberries on sticks. Erin and I had our fair share of these ^_^

There were some bizarre things on sticks which most likely existed to 'wow' foreigners and amuse locals.

From here we headed to the Forbidden City, Beihei Park, and feasted on some Beijing duck.

Forbidden City
"I'm really glad there isn't a hoard of people in my photos from China" said no one ever.

Nothing like a nice, roasted sweet potato to warm us up before the next sights. These things seriously brightened my days. So good.

We made our way north to Beihei Park, an imperial park. Right inside the entrance, on the lake, was a rink for skating/skiing/I'm not sure what to call it. Suddenly I turned into a six year old wanting her turn to play. Aside from one incident we witnessed (which involved blood), it was a great time.

As we made our way through the park, we got this view of the Forbidden City.

I'm not sure if these were some celebration of the New Year or if this is done all year, but it looked stunning.

People bought these and wrote their hopes/dreams. It makes sense that it would be a New Year thing.

Bai Ta / White Pagoda on the highest point of the park

Dinner time! This was in the entrance. A preview of sorts...

Duck is dipped in a dark sauce (oyster sauce?), then wrapped in a pancake along with onions. So good.

Next up: The Great Wall

Took a ski-lift type thing up to the wall.

There was something magical about walking on The Great Wall of China.

With beautiful landscapes.

Lots of windy paths and stairs, some sections more icy than others.

I think we spent about 2 hours on the wall before heading back down via toboggan.

Dinner: Hot pot. I had been introduced to this twice before while in Korea but this was much better! One side of the pot was neutral/fishy while the other side had a numbing spicy flavour. I also discovered my love for tofu skins. Yum.

Monument to the People's Heroes @ Tienanmen Square
Second of many times seeing Tienanmen Square. We saw it on our first day since it's directly across the street from the Forbidden City. There wasn't much here except the feeling that you were standing on a lot of history. At the centre of the square is Mao's mausoleum and it's surrounded by a museum and the Great Hall of the People (used for legislative and ceremonial activities).

Temple of Heaven
Prayers were made here by the emperor for good harvest

Temple of Heaven
This is the "Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests"

Temple of Heaven
This is the "Imperial Vault of Heaven" which is in an area enclosed by the "Echo Wall". Your voice doesn't actually echo but that didn't stop some hilarious old people from trying.

Temple of Heaven
View from atop the "Circular Mound Alter".

Temple of Heaven
On the Circular Mound Alter is the "Heart of Heaven" that all these people are trying to stand on/near.

Summer Palace - Suzhou Creek
On the way to the palace, we found the area around Suzhou Creek. We walked the perimeter of shops on a narrow ledge.

Summer Palace
Further along there was a small stage with some performances going on in celebration of the Lunar New Year. Dragon dances...

... and acrobatic type things.

Summer Palace
Quite honestly there were so many buildings within the Summer Palace that I couldn't begin to explain the name/relevance of them all. From what I read, many of the buildings (at least in one section of the palace) were dedicated solely to birthday celebrations of an empress.

The next morning we decided to be patriotic at the crack of dawn and watch the flag raise in Tienanmen Square. Here's a solid 2 minutes of a flag-raising, if you're into that kind of thing.

We then went on a bit of an adventure, stumbling upon the Temple of Earth. Turns out that, for the Lunar New Year, there was a carnival of sorts. There were tons of games, prizes, and performances going on within the temple grounds, but not a temple to be found. After the Temple of Earth we headed to Olympic Park, the site of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Temple of Earth

Beijing Olympic Park

Beijing National Stadium aka Bird's Nest

Beijing National Aquatics Center aka the Water Cube

Ling Long Pagoda - Houses broadcast studios inside

As Chester and Eric's last night, we made our way to Hohei Park which is more or less an area with bars and live music. On our way we viewed the lit-up buildings around Tienanmen Square at night.

A south gate of Tienanmen Square

Tienanmen Square, again

Forbidden City, again

Grasshoppers & Long Island Iced Teas @ HoHei Park

The remaining days in Beijing were full of relaxing, shopping (The Silk Road is a building of vendors selling knock-off products), and on our final night the parents of one of Erin's university friends took us out for an amazing dinner followed by night views of Olympic Park.

The Bird's Nest, again

The Water Cube, again

Erin and I were curious what Korean food would be like
in China. The result wasn't bad!

We also decided to check out the local fruit market.
Sooo many mangoes, kiwis, and dragonfruits!

A summary of Beijing:
-- Lindsay: Is there coffee?
-- Eric: Are there egg tarts?
-- Erin: Are we there yet?
-- Chester: Is there meat on sticks?

Time came to switch cities and the scenery. We caught a morning flight to Shanghai which only took about 2 hours. The parents who took us out for dinner the previous night offered to drive us to the airport and even arranged for a friend in Shanghai to pick us up and bring us to our hotel -- amazing!!! Once we reached our hotel, it was a bit rainy but we decided to scope out the town. We found ourselves on Nanjing Road which is a huge, lit-up street full of shops and restaurants.

For our first day in Shanghai, we headed to the French Concession area. Our search for the Propaganda Art Centre was a total fail but we took a scenic route around the area. As the name implies, this area was reserved for French settlement which is reflected in the architecture, etc. Within the French Concession is Xintiandi, a series of pedestrian streets lined with cafes and restaurants.


French Concession

From here we headed back to our neighbourhood which is close to the Bund, a waterfront area from which you can see the Pearl Tower, Jinmao Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center, and many others.

View across the Bund. On the left is the Pearl Tower. The Jinmao Tower is set farther back and was once China's tallest building but was surpassed by the one that looks like a bottle opener (the Shanghai World Financial Center).

View of our side of the Bund. The clock tower was inspired by Big Ben. This tower's name? Big Ching. No joke.

The next day was sunny and perfect for a trip to Yu Garden followed by an acrobat show at night (no photos of that, sorry!)

We took a day trip to Suzhou which is located on the Yangtze River and is referred to as the Venice of China. We visited a garden (where people were more interested in taking photos of us than the garden), did some shopping, and had drinks and dinner alongside the river.

Beisi Pagoda

The Humble Administrator's Garden
(I'm sure the name in Chinese has a better ring to it)

Tea and Irish coffee along the river

Our view...

The best dumplings/rolls/things we had.

This was the night when Rachel was due in Shanghai so we met her for dinner and had a peek at the Bund at night.

For our last day in Shanghai we checked out the Jade Buddha Temple, did some shopping in an underground mall (where I went a little spend-happy), and went to see the other side of the Bund up close.

Jade Buddha Temple
There were a whole bunch of praying rituals going on. People were lighting handfuls of incense, bowing, giving money, tossing money into these huge pots, etc.

Pearl Tower

Jinmao Tower in front of the Shanghai
World Financial Center

Smoggy views across the Bund

Another section of the river nearer to our hotel

One last visit to our neighbourhood bakery
for milk tea and chocolate mousse.

Suddenly vacation was over and it was time for Erin and I to head back to the airport for our early flights. Erin was headed to Hong Kong, Rachel had another few days in China, and I was going back to Incheon. China was a whirlwindy place with so many amazing and unique things to see. Although in the same (huge) country, Beijing and Shanghai could not have been more opposite from each other. Beijing held many aspects of history as the nation's capital while Shanghai (my preferred city) was a more modern and metropolitan city which reflects its time used as an international port.

It wasn't long before I was back to the grind. I had a full week of deskwarming (and desk/office switching) before starting up the brand new semester. I'm excited to be able to start this semester fresh (rather than mid-semester as was the case last semester) as welcome spring and cherry blossoms!

1 comment

  1. Wow were we impressed! Dave and I read your blog last night after dinner and had such a good time. Especially enjoyed the video of you coming down on that bobsled like thing. Looked like a lot of fun!!! It still amazing me to think you stood next to the great wall of China. Boy I sure have a lot of bragging rights when I get together with my girlfriends for coffee! Also, loved your pictures and I saved a couple on my computer but I really loved the shots of the colourful paper lanterns. Might even frame one. All Dave and I could talk about was how long that blog entry must have taken you but we sure appreciate you taking the time. Again it was fabulous and soooo proud of you. Going to show it to Kam tonight when he comes home for the weekend for Easter. By the way "Happy Easter" although they probably don't celebrate that one over there. Just remember to eat something chocolate,Lol. Anyway bye for now and keep up the good work. Love you lots...Debi


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