Sunday, April 11, 2010

Vivian Visits

We met up with my former roommate Vivian and her boyfriend Billy at the hotel. Since she moved, I don't get to see her too often so it was a nice visit. They brought gifts for everyone and talked for a bit before we left for dinner and the couple were off to meet up with friends.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Train to Tianjin

We took a train to Tianjin today. The Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Railway, aka the "super fast" train, takes 30 minutes to cover 120 km. It travels at about 315 km/h (somewhere around 200 mph).

Tianjin, located along the coast, was a nice breather from busy Beijing. It was more laid back and lacked the hustle and bustle of the capital. But the smog that is common in Beijing, and most Chinese cities, was here too.

Our visit was twofold: I wanted to do something outside Beijing and had yet to visit Tianjin and use the Intercity Railway; and my mom was looking for a specific Chinese treat that just happened to be made in Tianjin.

We found the dessert item right away and spent the rest of the day visiting an old catholic church, a few tanks and war memorial, a giant clock near the train station, walked along the river and finished with a trip to the drum tower for red sweet potatoes (a favorite treat of mine in China).

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Visit to Beijing Review

My mom and brother visited Beijing Review today. They just had to see the place where I work and meet the people I interact with daily. I gave them subway and bus directions and they managed to find their way to BJR's compound. The Chinese staff were pleased to meet my mom, complimenting her on what a "great son" she had. My colleagues were all eager to find out what my mom and brother thought of Beijing and China in general.

It was nice to show off my small office area, because as small and insignificant as it is, it's mine.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Monday, April 5, 2010

Olympic Smog

Mom and Mike are taking a train to Xi'an tonight to see the Terracotta Warriors. Since we didn't have much time to sightsee during the day, I took them on a quick trip to the Olympic grounds. The smog recently has been terrible. At the Great Wall, you could barely see the wall itself on top of the mountains. Today was even worse.

Entertaining though was yet another Chinese person wanted a photo with us. My brother is starting to enjoy this celebrity-like treatment.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Mike Gets a Suit

After months of waiting, my brother finally got his China suit. The day they arrived, I took my mom and brother to one of the markets to have my brother fitted. A suit usually takes five days to make, so I wanted to make sure he would have time to have his measurements taken, have the suit fitted and then picked up on time. Tonight was the fitting, and it looked good.

I think he said he may wear it to prom.

We paid a little more than $100 for the suit and a pink shirt (he chose the color). We'll be looking for silk ties in the next few days to complete the outfit.

Warm Summer Palace Day

The weather the past few days had been less than cooperative with our travels. Friday at the Forbidden City was windy and cold, so naturally we were all lightly dressed and nearly froze. Saturday we expected the same cool weather, especially at the Great Wall, and dressed accordingly -- and we were met with warmer weather at Mutianyu. But today we got it right.

This was my third visit to the Summer Palace and it still impressed me -- a whole lake and vast tracts of land for the former royal family to enjoy. We didn't stay long; we were still tired from Mutianyu the day before.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Great Wall at Mutianyu

I wanted to get the major attractions in the Beijing area out of the way as soon as possible, less we experience rain later in the week preventing us from seeing everything on my mom’s sightseeing list. Today, we visited the Great Wall at Mutianyu.

Mutianyu is located about an hour or so north of Beijing. The Mutianyu Great Wall is slightly tamer than Jingshanling and Simatai, the sections of the Great Wall I visited over the summer, but that was the point of our visit – my mom didn’t want to traverse the more wild part of the Great Wall.

I hired a driver for the day, Mr. John Ping. John has been in the business for a number of years taking foreigners and Chinese to the various sights around Beijing. He picked us up at the hotel my mom was staying at and we were off.

Once at Mutianyu we had to pass through a market before reaching the chairlift to the top. We were bombarded by vendors trying to see us postcards and trinkets, hats and scarves, maps and water. I bought a green Mao hat from one vendor and was quickly approached by another man selling similar hats. He said my brother needed one and offered a fair price, so I bought it.
The weather at the Forbidden City was cooler than I expected – a wind added a chill factor that made walking around a real challenge – so for the Great Wall we’d bundled up, expecting similar temperatures in the mountains north of Beijing. But we were wrong. The temperature had climbed over night, and we soon found ourselves sweating and shedding out winter jackets as we walking along the wall.

Once atop the wall, we headed to the west, up to the peak of the limited section tourists were allowed to traverse. My mom eventually told us to go ahead, it was too much and she wanted to rest. My brother and I trekked along, up the steepest set of stairs I’d ever seen until we reached the top. We had to stop a few times on our climb.

We made our way back, picked up mom and headed to the east, toward the end of the Mutianyu section where a chairlift or toboggan would take us to the base of the mountain. Along the way vendors offered food items. “Chocolate, water, beer,” the vendors announced. Chocolate, water and beer? I understand why they’d sell water, you need it to rehydrate; but chocolate and beer seemed a stretch. Chocolate neither hydrates nor provides an energy boost. And beer. Well, beer gets you drunk, and the last place I’d want to be tipsy and falling all over myself was on the Great Wall. But I asked my brother if he wanted a beer. “How many times are you going to be able to say ‘I had a beer on the Great Wall’?’ I asked. He declined.

My brother and I took the toboggan to the bottom while mom took the chairlift. Then we found John Ping and headed back to the city.

On the way back, my mom made the mistake of showing interest in a group of people selling porcelain pottery along the side of the road (I hadn’t coached her to just decline when anyone said they were selling something) and we stopped to buy a few things.

Friday, April 2, 2010

My Mom and Mike Meet Mao

Our first day of sightseeing included Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and Jingshan Park. We got up bright and early and down to the square to get in line to see the Chairman -- Mao Zedong. I waited with their bags and cameras (which aren't allowed into the Chairman's Mausoleum) while they went through. After a few walks around Tiananmen Square, we headed into the Forbidden City and then Jingshan Park.

BIRD'S EYE VIEW: From atop Jingshan Park you get a great view of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen in the distance

MOM AND MAO: My mom stands in front of Tiananmen Gate before we visited the Forbidden City. Note the massive portrait of Mao Zedong above the entrance gate

FAMILY PHOTO: The three of us inside the Forbidden City

NOT SO FORBIDDEN: One of the inner temples of the Forbidden City

CITY LIMITS: My brother and I stand next to Tiananmen Gate for one of a hundred photos my mom would take of us that day

CELEBRITY: My brother was asked to have his photo taken with a random Chinese person. Was he mistaken for an American celebrity?

MAO'S RESTING PLACE: Chairman Mao is preserved in the building shown here. My mom and brother stood in line for a glimpse of the Chairman

OLD CITY GATE: Mike and I stand near one Beijing's old inner city gates

Peking Duck

After sightseeing and walking around all day, I decided we should have a big meal. And not just any meal-- Peking duck.

Peking duck is the ultimate in Beijing dinners. Slowly cooked with the utmost in culinary skill, the duck dish is a favorite among Westerners and Chinese alike. I'd never had Peking duck, so I was anxious to taste it as well. I invited my good friend, Ken (who I went to Thanksgiving at the Great Wall with in November), to come along and meet my mom and brother.

The restaurant, Xiheyaju, was amazing. Located outside one of Beijing many parks, Xiheyaju has an ancient feel to it. The courtyard is truly Chinese, yet the majority of guests were foreign. Right when you walk in, you'll see a fireplace with numerous ducks hanging inside, the fat dripping out into the flames as the duck roasts. A giant tree sprouts up from the venue's center.

When finally cooked, which usually takes 45 minutes, the cooks bring the duck out and cut it up in front of guests. We were given three plates: the skin of the duck with the head cut into two halves, meat from the body of the duck and meat from the duck's wings.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

No April Fool's Joke

My mom and brother (Mike) are in China for 12 days. No joke. They've been planning the trip for some months now and finally arrived today. It's just the two of them on this visit -- it's their spring break and my dad has other obligations with our local American Cancer Society's annual Telethon event. He'll be visiting in the spring.

I arrived at the airport early and waited near the arrival area. As I predicted, my mom had tears in her eyes before we even started to hug. My brother looked like he grew again (he's already taller than me). We took the airport express train back to Dongzhimen where I live. They're staying in a hotel across the street/highway from where I live.

Before they even unpacked their clothes or decided what we'd be doing that weekend, we went to one of the local markets to have a suit made for my brother. Recall, over the summer I told him I'd get him an "Armani" suit. Now that I've been here a while, I've discovered an even better type of suit -- tailor made. We had to negotiate a bit -- three tailors wouldn't accept my price and my brother just happened to pick the most expensive fabric -- but eventually we found our tailor. For a little over $100 my brother had a suit and a shirt made.

We ate a restaurant near the hotel; Western food since my brother was feeling sick from the plane food. We have a big day ahead tomorrow: Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and Jingshan Park. I've been to all these places numerous times, but I'm looking forward to playing tour guide for a day or two.

AIRPORT ARRIVAL: My brother Michael and I ride the slow moving escalator to the train depot at Beijing International Airport before heading back to the city