Paifang – symbol for Chinatowns

Paifang – symbol for Chinatowns

Behind this paifang in Wangfujing is a wonderful shopping world with red lanterns, narrow alleys, and shops with thousands of things to buy cheap. Paifang is an architectural gating style, according to wiki. Like an arch. Outside China, paifangs are the symbol for chinatowns. Have you ever seen a chinatown without paifangs? Then let me know....
Starfish snack at Wangfujing

Starfish snack at Wangfujing

Wangfujing in Beijing is a nightmarket where there are many shops with traditional Chinese stuffs like bracelets, shoes, bags, among others. There are also malls and high-end stores in the same area. And if you get hungry, there are snacks here, albeit hard to eat, like raw scorpions, fried starfish, snakes, centipedes, and the like. I tried a starfish, but I could only eat half an arm. It felt like chewing a handful of sand. Read about the experience here. It was in this area that we were almost fooled at a store. It was bad enough that the storekeepers tried to shortchange us, they even tried to scare us by being aggressive and shouted at us. We were not scared. We knew we were right. Read more here. But generally, the shopping experience was fun....
Where the last Ming emperor hanged himself

Where the last Ming emperor hanged himself

We didn’t know much about the Jingshan park, except that if offered a huge garden, so we went in. Then we noticed how people flocked under a tree. We found out that it was the hanging tree – from which the last Ming emperor, Chongzen, committed suicide, after the peasants stormed the Forbidden City in 1644. The leader of the peasants, Li Zicheng, then started  a new dynasty that didn’t last very long. The original hanging tree, a pagoda tree, was actually uprooted during the Cultural Revolution. So the one that is so famous now is actually a replacement. The tree is also called the Guilty Chinese Scholartree. Jingshan park is a good spot to take photos of the yellow-roofed buildings in the Forbidden City. It’s just across the Imperial Palace. The park was once attached to the ground of the palace and was a private garden. The picture above is taken from the hill with the good view of the Imperial City. It’s also a place where tourists can wear costumes and have their pictures...
Temple for heaven worship

Temple for heaven worship

I didn’t know that there was a religion called Heaven worship until I came to Beijing. The Temple of Heaven was the sacrificial temple where the emperor – also called Son of Heaven (and therefore a mediator to the heavens) – offered prayers and animals annually in the past for a good...
How some tried to scam us in China

How some tried to scam us in China

Some tried to scam us while we were in Beijing, China. Here’s what happened: 1. Friendly “artists” and “art students” approached us and invited us to see galleries with them. It was exactly what the book Topp 10 Peking warned about. Such could end up with us getting fooled into buying overpriced art pieces. So we said no. 2. We were even invited to tag along to a gallery at a backstreet late in the evening. Following a stranger in a backstreet? No way. 3. Hubby was invited by some female students to go to a coffee shop. According to Topp 10 Peking, this could end up with the tourist buying overpriced food. And no, hubby didn’t go with the ladies. 4. Some salesladies were aggressive, even blocking me from coming out of their shops. All the more I refused to buy. According to our guide, aggression is part of the selling strategy, so the customer feels stupid or sorry or intimated to be forced to buy. 5. I generally refuse to buy products in stores that have no price tags. Because I am not good at haggling. 6. And even if there were price tags, calculate well, because when we were at a small-scale grocery store in Wangfujing, the storekeeper added it up more than double. When we mentioned it to the storekeeper, he got mad. Even his assistant was angry, and shouted, trying to scare us. But we knew we were right, and that in China, the government is fair towards tourists so we demanded a correct count. When they shouted aggressively, we returned some of the stuffs and...
Sights and experiences in Beijing

Sights and experiences in Beijing

No city has exhausted my strength as Beijing did. Even taking the subway is hard work. Everything is so big, and everywhere you turn there are people. So we took the taxi a lot of times, and even hired a van with a driver and guide. The taxi drivers are often honest and used the meter. I appreciate that. We always tip honest drivers. But in Beijing, people get surprised and refuse to accept tips. Very unlike our trip in America, where tips were very much expected. Little tidbit to remind me: Beijing is both modern and very old. It’s one of the ancient capitals of the country, with age 3000 years old. Beijing, also called Peking, is the capital of China and is the second biggest city (over 21 million people) in the country after Shanghai. My daughter and I stayed here eight days. My hubby even longer because of work. Interesting sights and eperiences for me were the following: 1. The Forbidden City 2. The Great Wall 3. The Summer Palace (where the Kunming Lake and Marble Boat are) 4. Tiananmen Square  5. Temple of Heaven 6. Hutong 7. Jingshan Park 8. Living in a siheyuan 9. Wangfujing food market 10. Houhai lake 11. Peking duck at one of Beijing’s best restaurants 12. Hotpot dinner 13. Guzheng concert 13. Mid-Autumn festival   Now some tried to scam us, too. Read this link to see what happened.  ...
The wooden Marble boat

The wooden Marble boat

It’s not a boat, but a pavilion. And it’s not made of marble, but of wood that is painted to imitate marble. Before we found that out, we had been curious as to what a marble boat would look like. So we combed the Summer Palace to find it. We followed the end of the Long Corridor, at the quieter end of Kunming Lake to find it. It is a lovely...
The square that has room for a million

The square that has room for a million

There’s really not much to do here, but sit and stand and look around. We could easily have skipped it, but we just had to see the world’s largest public square. During the Cultural revolution, up to a million of people would pack here to listen to speeches. That’s how big the square is. Modern China was born here, according to Lonely Planet. In 1919 students demonstrated in the square crying for less corrupt government, and boosted nationalist sentiment. Thus started the civil war, communists versus nationalists. The communists won in 1949 and Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China from atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace. The square is also known for the protest in 1989, which ended in the death of many...
Pedalling boats at Kunming Lake

Pedalling boats at Kunming Lake

In sunshine, the roofs in the Summer Palace were a blaze of gold. Yellow roofs were for royal palaces. Green for the princes.  And grey  for other people. I took this picture from one of the highest points in the palace, overlooking Kunming Lake, where we earlier tired ourselves pedalling a boat.  ...
“Can we take a picture of you?”

“Can we take a picture of you?”

Many Beijingers asked us for our pictures. The first time I was asked, I refused. I was afraid – what would they do with my picture? The girl said I was very beautiful. Later on we noticed how people stared at my family – they observed how we ate or walked. And some dared approach us to ask for pictures with them. We started letting them, hoping that the pictures would not be used in a bad way. But the people we allowed, we also took pictures of. They seemed very nice and friendly. The guy above is the friendly waiter at a nice restaurant near the Forbidden City and Jingshan Park. The same requests for pictures happened to us in Macau and...
Peking duck at century-old Quanjude

Peking duck at century-old Quanjude

We ate Peking duck number 107 772 at the popular Quanjude restaurant in Beijing. A trip to Beijing would not be complete without tasting the famous peking duck so we specifically asked the hotel receptionist about the best restaurant in town. Quanjude is 140 years old and is one of the two best peking duck restaurants in Beijing. The other restaurant, Bianyifang, is even older. There is no booking system, so the wait is quite long. But there is a waiting hall with chairs. When we finally got in the dining hall, there was an ongoing show with different numbers showcasing Chinese culture. The taste of the Peking duck was very good. . We didn’t know how to eat it, but the waitress showed us. It’s eaten with scallion, cucumber and sweet bean sauce, wrapped with thin pancake. Peking ducks have been served since the 1300s. It’se been developed though after the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty, the Ming...
Stuck in a duck

Stuck in a duck

We got stuck in a duck in Houhai lake in Beijing. Since there were men swimming around we thought that we could probably shout at some for help. But after some time, the motor started again. Around Houhai lake is fun. There are lively bars and restaurants that turn colorful at night. We enjoyed walking around the hutongs here. We also found a great restaurant, Quanjude, that offers Peking duck and performances featuring Chinese culture. The queue in the restaurant is long but they have a waiting area with...
Emperors’ resting place

Emperors’ resting place

After visiting the Great Wall of China, we headed towards the resting place for 13 of the 16 Ming emperors. The Ming Tombs is Beijing’s answer to Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, according to Lonely Planet. The pictures I am showing are within the huge complex. What to see here? There is the 7 kilometer-long Spirit Way, which is lined with statues of animals and court houses. Then there are huge courtyards and structures. The actual place where the emperors are buried are under huge mounds – like the Viking burial mounds. Underground, the emperors’s possessions, concubines and servants were buried with him, according to our guide....
Wandered in hutongs

Wandered in hutongs

Hutongs are narrow alleys formed by rows of siheyuans. While in Beijing we lived in a siheyuan at Courtyard 7, which is located in a hutong that was some 800 years old, according to the hotel manager. I loved the nightlife of commercial hutongs. Shops and food stores were open until ten, even up till eleven in the evening. People wandered around – probably because it was a holiday, the Mid-autumn festival. I liked wandering in the evening more than daytime because is was cooler and there were less people. We did our last minute shopping along the ancient hutongs. Hutongs were built during the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty. There used to be 6000 hutongs in Beijing, but the number has dwindled to a thousand because many were demolished during the period of Republic of China in the early 1900s. Bigger roads were built instead, and siheyuans were replaced by apartment blocks.The few hutongs and siheyuans that are left are now protected to preserve Chinese culture. Many hutongs are also residential areas. We wandered around some and were surprised by their oddity and chaos. Many are in poor condition. Hutongs and hotpot have one thing in common: both came from the...
The world’s longest cemetery

The world’s longest cemetery

The Great Wall of China is the world’s longest cemetery, according to our guide Jessie. Many builders and soldiers died here. The Great Wall is a series of forts built to protect the Chinese empire from foreign invasion. The earliest sections were built 700 years before Christ. Then it took several centuries before word about this wall spread. The Arabs heard about it in the 14th century, then the Europeans in the 16th century. Now everybody knows about it. According to Jessie, men in the past – especially when the Mongols threatened to invade the Chinese empire – were forced to choose between becoming a soldier or a wall-builder. I thought at first that it was easier to build a wall. But then when we started our ascent in the fort on a hot sunny day, I swore I would never have chosen to work with the wall! I let hubby walk by himself for an hour. The guide, Tuwa and I watched him as he paced up the wall. We waited at a roofed tower, enjoying the breeze and sight and watching people sweat and struggle. We were at the Mutianyu section of the wall.  There is a newly built tourist center somewhere at the foot, where there are modern restaurants, shops and toilet facilities. I did not buy at the shops. I found the selling strategy too aggressive. Here’s our experience on how some people tried to fool us. To get to Mutianyu, we hired a private van and a guide just for our family. From the wall, we headed towards the Ming graves. (Anyway, as we were here, I...
Guzheng for the first time

Guzheng for the first time

On mid-autumn festival, I experienced a guzheng concert for the first time, thanks to our hotel Courtyard 7. Guzheng is a Chinese traditional instrument and a plucked zither. I’m not unfamiliar with zithers. I’ve seen plenty of these in Sweden, where I interviewed zither players. The lady guzhengist (like a guitarIST or pianIST) played beautiful soothing music. I just wish she wore a more traditional dress, so the whole experience of listening to guzheng in an antique siheyuan would feel even more special. The music was so soothing that I fell asleep halfway the concert (it was an hour long). I woke up and people were gone. No kidding. The musician was elsewhere in the courtyard receiving praises, and I also gave her...
A siheyuan experience

A siheyuan experience

Siheyuans are old courtyard houses in China. I’ve seen such in old Chinese films, so I was delighted to stay in one, Courtyard 7 in Beijing. Courtyard 7 is an authentic 300-year old siheyuan. Empress Dowager Cixi – whose life fascinates me – gave this to one of her senior ministers. Courtyard 7 has a small reception area. It has a courtyard with four surrounding buildings. The southern building is the dining area. The other buildings are the hotel rooms. Every building is connected by roofed passages to protect the people from rain and heat. On Mid-autumn festival on September 8, we were out in the big yard to listen to a guzheng concert. It was a lovely evening. We had a small room (we wanted a bigger one, but there was no available large room). But the advantage with the room we got is that it has its own little yard, with a big wooden gate that we could close for privacy. Courtyard 7 became a hotel in 2008. The German Prime Minister Angela was once here on a visit. Some things bothered me though. My sensitive nose itched. Could it be dust? The smell of an old house? The (friendly) huskies roaming around the yard and visiting the rooms? Or simply air pollution? Further, I refrained from going to the toilet in the middle of the night because the room felt spooky. God knows the history of the people who lived there… 🙂 The Empress Dowager Cixi lived in a siheyuan. She was once a concubine and all concubines came from the upper class. She lived in...
Mid-autumn festival in Beijing

Mid-autumn festival in Beijing

Mid-Autumn festival fell on September 8 this year. And we didn’t know about it until that day. Our hotel, the 300-year old Courtyard 7 made it memorable for us. They invited their guests to free dinner buffet with lots of fruits and mooncakes and other food, as well as a concert in the courtyard. It was a lovely evening. The guests sat outside, in the courtyard. And listened to a musician playing a guzheng, a traditional instrument that looks like a zither. Mid-Autumn festival is a harvest festival celebrated by the Chinese and Vietnamese. And it’s a public holiday in mainland China, so there were lots of people out during that weekend. It’s been celebrated since 16th century...
The Summer Palace

The Summer Palace

The Summer Palace: my favorite tourist spot in Beijing. It’s now  a vast park. But in the old days, the Summer Palace was where the emperors could indulge in sexual ventures more freely. I read that an emperor called “The Limping Dragon” took well-known prostitutes who had bound feet (which suggest that they were Hans) to the Summer Palace, where rules were less strict. We were here in August 2014. More about The Summer Palace...
Home to thousands of concubines

Home to thousands of concubines

The Forbidden City: home to thousands of concubines – mistresses and sex slaves of Chinese emperors who believed that sex with young women was the key to youth and virility. The emperor had only one empress, but had thousands of teenage girls to entertain him. These girls came from upper-class families. It was a hot and hazy September day 2014 when we saw the Forbidden City.  There were no benches, no trees and no plants in the main area. Author Jung Chang in her book “Empress Dowager Cixi” explains that plants were absent in the front, or south section, of the Forbidden City because plants conveyed softness. Plants should therefore not be seen in the area where only men were allowed entry. The harem was housed in the north section. So the garden is at the back of this huge complex....