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This is the official "My Trip to China" post. You are warned now that there are many, moderately sized pictures behind the cut, and a fair bit of rambling as well. :)

China: April 6 - 16

Day One/Two

Due to the long flight (13 hours direct) and the time difference (12 hours--no need to reset the watches!), we left Toronto Friday afternoon and arrived in Beijing Saturday afternoon. Coming in over the city, we exclaimed over how many high rises we saw below--it looks like a forest of skyscrapers from above, just a massive city. Probably wisely, we had booked a driver from the hostel to pick us up at the airport so we wouldn't have to worry about finding our way there in our tired state. He took us along highways that didn't look much different from back home (though about half of the cars on the roads are taxis, and on the smaller roads there's as many bikes and motorbikes as cars), and then turned onto a narrow, crowded street that required much honking and maneuvering to finally squeeze down. This was Dazhalan, one of the remaining traditional market streets in Beijing:

Lots of restaurants (many of which we ate at), clothing and tea shops, rickshaw drivers looking for fares, and men coming out of alleys saying, "Hello! DVD? VCD?"

Our hostel was on a traditional residential street ("hutong") just off the main strip. It wasn't much to look at on the outside, kind of square and gray, but on the inside it was gorgeous:

We had a spartan private room with phone and TV and our own washroom, so we were plenty happy. And very soon asleep.

Day Three

Because this was the only weekend we'd be in Beijing, I wanted to check out this market I'd heard about in the south end of the city. Walking there, one of the first things we noticed was how much construction was going on. Most of the main streets were lined with large billboards hiding the rubble behind them. I got a shot of a bit of it from a bridge walkway:

Before the market, we stopped at the Temple of Heaven, which is in a huge park. It was full of people just walking, practicing Tai Chi, flying kites, kicking around this balls like hacky-sacks with tails, and playing all sorts of other games. The temple itself is lovely, completely constructed of wood and brilliantly painted:

I also admired the stone dragon heads carved in the platforms around the temple:

And on the way out, we passed some people painting characters on the pavement with a giant brush and water (you can also see Chris and me--the shadows at the bottom):

It looked like fun but I suspected it wouldn't be half so pretty with English. ;)

We got in our first haggling practice at the market, which was huge, but mostly full of stalls selling one of a few sets of items--metal statue stalls, jade trinket stalls, silk shirt stalls, etc. Still, we both managed to pick out a few things to bring home.

On the way back from the market, we tried to swing by the train station to pick up our tickets to Shanghai. Unfortunately, we got lost a few times trying to make sense of the overlapping highways and walkways, and once we did get there, we couldn't find the foreigners ticket booth the guidebook had claimed was there. By that time, after all that walking (my legs were sore for the whole rest of the trip--we did enough walking each day that they never really got a chance to recover), we decided to brave the subway system. It was actually quite easy--one ticket price no matter where you're going, and all the signs have symbols and English. The trains even have an English announcement telling you which station is next.

Day Four

After arranging with the hostel staff for them to book the train tickets for us, we headed out for the most obvious Beijing sights, which were just around the corner: Tian'an Men Square and the Forbidden City. The streets around the Square are full of hawkers with Mao watches and postcards and little toys, but other than shouting "Hello!" whenever a Westerner walked by, they were unaggressive. The Forbidden City, naturally, was more photogenic than the Square:

We were amazed by how huge it was--but then, it was a city unto itself at the time. There were sprawling courtyards down the centre between the main buildings, and lots of side alleys that led to smaller courtyards with smaller buildings. Everything was intricately painted and carved.

Our favourite part was the garden at the northern end. Beautifully designed with trees and rock formations and pagodas:

Just northwest of the Forbidden City is Bei Hai Park, which we dropped in on next. Fantastic scenery and an excellent place to sit and talk about everything we'd seen:

Day Five

As a break from temples and palaces (and an attempt to rest our achy legs), we made this our shopping day, and headed over to the big commercial strip: Wangfujing Street. The malls were so posh we felt out of place in them, though I did take a picture of on interesting display of fish and TVs:

Thankfully, there were lots of interesting little shops to explore as well.

Day Six

We'd planned to go to the Great Wall this day, but it turned out that the buses I'd read about only ran on the weekends until the summer. So we decided to book a Great Wall tour through the hostel on one of the next days (by the time we figured it out, it was too late for that day) and went to the Summer Palace instead. The Summer Palace is set in another beautiful park with a huge lake, and rather a lot of climbing if you want to get to the main buildings:

The palace is on the outskirts of the city, beyond the reach of the subway line, so this was also the first day we dared to take a taxi. It turned out to be quite easy--we stuck with the official taxis, I'd point to the Chinese characters for our destination on the map or in my phrase book, and we were off.

Day Seven

For this day, we went our separate ways for a bit--I headed off to see the former residence of Soong Ching Ling, an important figure in the Communist movement. It was a pretty house with a peaceful garden, where I spent most of my time there:

Getting to and from the residence was a bit of a struggle, though. I missed it the first time I looked for it, and ended up having to squeeze down one of the many narrow alleys in the area:

In the evening, we went to an acrobatics show. Sadly, I didn't bring my camera, but at least that meant I could just relax and watch. The highlights were a group of men who hoisted themselves up on a set of ribbons and spun themselves and each other around; a woman who balanced en pointe, on one foot, on the shoulder and then head of her partner; a guy who would flip bowls onto his head (and then spoons into those bowls) using only the teetering board he was balancing on; and the finale, when the entire troop (about 15 people) piled onto a bike as the unfortunate person on the bottom pedaled it around the stage.

Day Eight

Of course, we couldn't leave Beijing without seeing the Great Wall. We managed to fit in a tour on the day before we left for Shanghai. Having heard stores of how busy and touristy it was at the main Great Wall location (Badaling), we opted for Mutianyu instead, and were happy we did. All the commercialism, other than the occasional drink vendor, we left behind at the bottom. It was a long climb to the top, but the views once we got up there were spectacular:

It was also the only place Chris got a hold of the camera and snapped a picture of me (the sun was in my eyes, so it was either leave the glasses on or squint):

When we got back, we hurried over to the train station to catch our overnight train. We shared a little room with two sets of bunkbeds with a Chinese man and woman each traveling alone--no one talked much, and we all went to sleep early. It was great behind able to sleep through the journey rather than wasting a day on it, though.

Day Nine

The hostel in Shanghai was not as pretty as the one in Beijing, but very classy--really more like a hotel, with rooms like modern studio apartments. The city itself was very modern, and no one paid us much mind (we no longer heard "Hello!" a dozen times when we walked down the street). I particularly liked the science-fiction-esque architecture:

The main thing to do in Shanghai is shop, so our first day we headed down to a traditional market area with lots of little stalls where you have to haggle hard:

We also wandered through the People's Square and People's Park, and had a couple of probably-scammers try to pick us up for a tea ceremony (it's always a bad sign when the first comment someone makes after asking where you're from is, "Oh, rich country!" ;) ).

Day Ten

We had our walk along the Bund, but sadly it was so foggy that day that I couldn't get any very good photos of the futuristic buildings on the other side of the river. We opted not to shell out the big bucks to go to the top of one of the towers because we wouldn't have been able to see anything up there anyway. We did, however, got to the main modern shopping street, part of which appeared to be sponsored by Pepsi:

The highlight was the comic store I happened to spy down a side street, where Chris drooled over Mario keychain coin machines (we didn't have enough change) and Astroboy figurines, and I despaired over the lack of English subtitles on the anime.

Day Eleven

We had to check out at noon, and Chris wanted to sleep as much as possible because he can't manage to on the plane, but I was able to squeeze in a quick visit to the Jade Buddha temple that was just down the street from our hostel:

Maybe not as epic as those in Beijing, but equally gorgeous. The many statues of the Buddha (there's one huge room with a thousand tiny statues set in the walls) were particularly impressive:

And they had a pond with some of the hugest koi I'd seen in China (you can spot one in this picture, top middle):

And then, sadly, we had to fly home.

The End :D



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 21st, 2007 02:22 am (UTC)
I love travel diaries--great write-up and pictures! Oh, man, I love Chinese architecture. I would love to see all that stuff.
Apr. 21st, 2007 04:04 am (UTC)
Yay!!!! Thank you for sharing the great pictures. :D.

I love the trampoline looking things on the top of the building in Shanghai. :)
Apr. 21st, 2007 10:07 am (UTC)
That sounds like a lovely trip! Thank you for posting all the details and photos!

What sort of places did you eat at, during the trip? Was the food generally good?
Apr. 22nd, 2007 12:08 am (UTC)
I'd have to say the only bad food we had on the trip was the stuff cooked at the hostel, which I think was done by just the regular hostel workers who didn't have much cooking experience. Everything else--the dumplings and steamed buns you could buy in the morning from various stands, the little restaurants with hardly any English, the bigger ones with picture menus--was yummy. We followed the guidebook's advice of sticking to places that looked (relatively) clean and where at least a few people were already eating, which may have helped us.

Mostly we ate at places in on that market street (the Dazhalan) when in Beijing, which had quite a variety, mostly small independent places, but a few bigger ones too. By the time we got to Shanghai we were a little tired of Chinese so we had Pizza Hut one day (heh), and Italian and then Thai the next, and that was all good, too. In Shanghai, also, we mostly ended up in restaurants in the malls--just happened that way, and they were convenient.
Apr. 21st, 2007 12:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for posting these pics! Oooo, I'm jealous of your trip. Very cool.

And I went back and reread your LJ--sorry about that publisher. Blech, this business is tough.
Apr. 21st, 2007 01:07 pm (UTC)
Beautiful pictures! Thanks for sharing!!!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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The Clouded Sky
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A Sky Unbroken
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