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Saturday, 2 March 2013

Images of China

Flying off to northern skies
About every four years, I would make an effort to visit my homeland in the Philippines. Last year I embarked on such a trip home. There are options for various airlines, dates and routes but I settled for an itinerary that included not just a stopover but also a little peek of China.
Sometime in mid-April I flew out of Brisbane to the northern hemisphere. We stopped in Guangzhou (near HongKong and Macau) but I only saw a glimpse of this city before flying out to Manila. I did stay overnight here. Thankfully I did not have to sleep standing up.

In May I travelled back to China flying from Manila to Beijing via Xiamen.
Xiamen airport is the main air hub in eastern China.

 I spent a total of five days in Beijing. Obviously it takes a lot longer – more like five decades or at least five years, to see China – but hey, I can say I’ve been there.

On my first day in Beijing, I joined a group touring (on pushbikes) some hutongs with local guide Da Lin. In China bike helmets are optional.
Beijing is a hustling bustling metropolis with about 22 million people (almost the same population as all of Australia) and modernising at breakneck speed. However it has retained and preserved many of its ancient and traditional winding alleys and narrow back streets around the City. These inner city settlements are called hutongs. 
We cycled through these hutongs that have been the home for millennia to many of Beijing's residents. A hutong is a neighbourhood hub with shops, markets, temples and historic buildings. We got a glimpse into the traditional Chinese way of life and neighbourhood
Along our way we went past dancing and fishing in the streets of Beijing.
Many hutongs are slowly disappearing as development takes over. The view that the importance of heritage far outweighs perceived economic development seems to be dissipating. Tourism, though intrusive, may be the lifeblood of hutongs. We checked out a local market for fresh produce, and saw more of traditional Chinese cooking and ingredients.  I tried out some snacks.
Our bike tour took in many features of Beijing’s streets – the sounds and sights.
I saw pretty girls,
 and shampoos.

We dodged all sorts of traffic from a quiet narrow back alley -
to a nightmarish 20-lane expressway.

On the way we saw the rows of homes linked to each other on one or both sides of the street. 
We learned to distinguish the difference between the homes of the rich and the not-so.
At lunchtime we cycled to the family home of an elderly local chinese couple. The modest residence was set in a traditional hutong courtyard hidden from the outside world. Our hosts prepared traditional fare for our lunch. In China a meal is an event and our lunch in the private traditional kitchen consisted a feast. I don’t remember all the dishes in the mere two-hour 10-course ‘typical’ lunch I had, but I tried all the food.
After lunch we sat down for endless cups of tea, and for the first time I got a chance to play mah-jong. Being a ‘guest’ that day was worthwhile to experience the hospitality and part of the daily rituals of a Chinese family.

On our biking tour, we saw the bell tower and drum tower, originally built in 1272 and rebuilt in 1420. Come the evening at the conclusion of the bike tour, we dropped off our bicycles to near the drum tower.
Both the drum tower and the bell tower were intended for musical purposes.
They are both historical symbols of ancient Bejing.


scorpions on bamboo skewers, followed by beetles, sea horses and star fishes. - See more at: http://www.mailintalks.com/2012/02/27/china-travel-wangfujing-night-market-beijing-china/#sthash.8Ta7NYl9.dpuf
scorpions on bamboo skewers, followed by beetles, sea horses and star fishes. - See more at: http://www.mailintalks.com/2012/02/27/china-travel-wangfujing-night-market-beijing-china/#sthash.8Ta7NYl9.dpuf
A busy daytime thoroughfare in Beijing is Wangfujing Street. But at night the street is closed to vehicular traffic and transformed into a mall. It becomes a busy shopping centre and marketplace.

One evening I caught the subway to Wangfujing to see what all the fuss was about.
The Wangfujing night market offers a variety of snack foods - snakes, scorpions, beetles, sea horses, starfishes, centipedes, bugs, silkworms and other creepy crawlies.
scorpions on bamboo skewers, followed by beetles, sea horses and star fishes - See more at: http://www.mailintalks.com/2012/02/27/china-travel-wangfujing-night-market-beijing-china/#sthash.8Ta7NYl9.dpuf
I settled for some familiar fare.
Wangfujing has some interesting places. I got preoccupied one evening, walking around, minding my own business, staring at the bright neon lights, admiring the pretty women. 
A local girl had spotted me and suddenly she was there in front of me offering 'a cut price massage at a parlor not very far', she said. I did not know it at the time but she must have been checking me out. She even said I spoke good english. I don't know about that but I looked around and she seemed wary and alert. Then I realised the game she was playing,. I told her that the  'massage' is not what it's cracked up to be. She left me alone, but not after I moved towards the uniformed cops.

By nightfall I was weary, but content with the day, I strolled back to my hotel. 
I seem to be finding some harmony here in Beijing.

 In the next few days I saw a bit more of Beijing's popular tourist attractions.
The Temple of Heaven Park is one of Beijing's most popular parks.
The park was full of people of all ages, all taking part in traditional pastimes such as tai chi, dancing, exercising, laughing, playing games, hawking wares, etc. 
In one corner of the park we came to a mass of people singing. The blend of their voices was so magnificent. The singing was mesmerizing and I had my video on, panning left and right and recording for a few minutes. It was the most beautiful combination of human voices I ever heard, outside of the Igorot ayyeng. 
It was so stunning that it even stunned my audio visual video clip which turned out to be just a silent visual  movie – I had forgotten to record sound! 
Arrrggghh yes, but ahh nothing can take away the experience.
Check out these videos from youtube:

We soaked up the atmosphere. I wanted to join in the many activities or to just wander around the park, but our guide Che Li kept me in line.
The Temple of Heaven itself is a Taoist temple where emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties prayed and offered sacrifices to heaven.

For lunch we ducked around to a corner eatery for some dumplings or noodles I don’t remember. We then jumped onto Beijing's efficient subway back to the heart of the city – to see the forbidden city.
The gate to the forbidden city is Tiananmen square, site of the 1989 protests.
Tiananmen Square is one of the largest public plazas in the world.
It covers an area of 44 hectares. 
.
Over the central arched gateway is the famous portrait of Mao.




This magnificent forbidden city complex with its many palaces and halls is the largest imperial palace ever built in the world. It has more than 800 buildings with over 9,000 rooms.

We spent most of the morning exploring the Forbidden City.

The pagoda in Jingshan Park. 
This is the best place to view the Forbidden City and the ancient heart of Beijing. 

After Jingshan Park, fellow tourist Joanie and guide Che Li dumped me, so I wandered back through to the immense Tiananmen square that is so special to the Chinese people.
In the evening I saw the ceremony of the changing of the guards.

That night I was dreaming of the great wall of China which I will get to see on the morrow.


I was tossing up between a bike, a rickshaw, a trike, or a hike.
My mind was abuzz with what wonders tomorrow will bring.

I visited a teahouse for maybe a coffee, tea or - she
will have some suggestions. 
I skirted around the these hard choices by asking Che Li.
Speaking of skirts, 
Bejing olympic park is on the city's outskirts.
I saw the bird's nest and water cube complexes.
And the underpants building.

My guide Wei wei an, even got me to jump hoops. 
How high do you want me to jump I asked?




The day was getting dark as I walked back to my hotel, gazing around the streets, the sidewalks and the signs.

The lol hotel.
Xiamen is a sister city to Sunshine Coast in Queensland and Cebu in the Philippines. It's one of the busiest ports in the world. It is also an important centre for primary industries such as manufacturing, and boasts excellent road, rail, air and port infrastructure.
On departure day, our outbound plane got delayed due to another of Beijing's features - smog.
A smoggy day in China makes you wish you were someplace else, in sunny California - perhaps in L.A.