Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Great China Adventure: The Hutong District

The third day in Beijing was a "free" day for those who were brave enough to explore the city on their own, but for cowards, like me and my aunt Cathy, who were too intimidated by the language barrier, you could take advantage of an optional tour of Beijing's historic District and tour the Temple of Heaven.

The two previous days, we had driven just outside the cement walls of the Hutong district, but I wasn't sure what to expect once inside. It is basically a city within the city. It is the oldest part of Beijing, and even though it appeared "run down" in parts, we were told that the real estate is some of the most expensive in all of Beijing. Because if you own a piece of the Hutong District, you own history.

Before heading to China, I had no idea what a rickshaw was. But since I was going to be touring a part of the city in one, I decided to look it up. Here's a rickshaw. And, yes, I toured the "Old City", Beijing's Hutong District, in one of them.

Here we are with our rickshaw driver. Poor guy had to work hard on that bike.

This part of Beijing truly is a city within the city. There are clubs, restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, and even a lake hidden within the cement walls of the Hutong District.

The interesting thing is that you cannot tell that any of this is hidden behind the crumbling cement walls that conceal the Hutong District from the rest of Beijing. It is like a hidden treasure!

What made this day extra special was the chance to visit an actual home and have lunch prepared for us by a local woman and her family. She gave us a dumpling-making demonstration, and we were each allow to make a dumpling. As usual, this home-cooked meal was soooooo much better than any of the food we had in restaurants. It was the best meal in Beijing.

Our hostess spoke no English, but the language barrier didn't seem to come into play at all. She was so warm and inviting.

My dumpling left much to be desired. Thankfully, hers were much, much better.

When we left the Hutong District, we headed for the Temple of Heaven. If it's one thing the people of China cherish, it is community. The Temple of Heaven is a beautiful garden of sorts where people can come in and just be together. There was one group singing traditional Chinese songs, and another group of retired women dancing, and even karaoke. It was a great slice of everyday Chinese life.

Young and old people joined in the singing. I couldn't understand a word of it, of course, but you don't have to understand the words to feel the music. It was lovely.

The Chinese women tend to retire around age 50 (jealous!!!) and to stay in shape, many of them participate in daily dance as a form of exercise. Anyone is invited to join in. I'd never seen anything like it.

People played cards and instruments, and others just watched and listened.

The "Hall of Prayer and Good Harvest" is the largest structure in the Temple of Heaven, and according to Feng Shui, it is the exact point where heaven and Earth meets.

I have so many great memories of this day. While The Great Wall of China had been the thing I most looked forward to in Beijing, this day of touring the city's historic district and seeing its people go about everyday lives was, by far, the best part of Beijing.

As an extra special treat, I have a bit of video from our Rickshaw ride. It really is one of those you-just-have-to-do-it-for-yourself experiences, but hopefully you can get a feel for it.

Next, we move on to the ancient city of Xi'an (pronounced Shee-an) which is most famous for its Terracotta Warriors. One word: PHENOMENAL!!! You will not want to miss this!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Great China Adventure: The Great Wall

I won't waste space with much commentary on this week's post because the pictures speak for themselves. On our second full day in Beijing, we awoke to a city covered in a thick dusting of snow. We were told by our tour guide that it was rare to have snow so late in the season. I have to believe God wanted to sprinkle a little magic upon our time at The Great Wall. It was hauntingly beautiful.

It has been estimated that over a million people died building this structure (some estimates go as high as three million). As I walked upon the bricks that were laid by those hands, I couldn't help but soak in the history.

This is my aunt Cathy and I standing on The Great Wall of China at Badaling.

China is still so very proud to have hosted the 2008 Olympic Games. You can still find the tagline "One World, One Dream" just about everywhere in Beijing.

This structure is one of the most magnificent things I have ever seen. To think that it goes on for over 3500 miles--that's equivalent to driving from New York to Los Angeles, then halfway back again!

I was able to capture so many postcard-worthy shots. I kept thinking to myself...if only I had a good camera.

Just another random shot made magical by the snow. This is actually the entrance to the Badaling portion of The Great Wall.

This is a picture I have wanted to take for years, my hands upon the Great Wall of China. I also have a couple showing my feet walking on The Wall.

Here is the official declaration naming The Great Wall of China one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. One down, six to go!

That's just a small portion of all the great photos from my time at The Great Wall. If you have ever even thought of visiting China, it is worth it just to visit this magnificent place.

Next up is Beijing's Hutong District, which turned out to be my favorite portion of the first leg of our three-city journey.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My Great China Adventure: Beijing's Imperial Treasures

I'm not sure when my fascination with China started. I've always been interested in eastern culture, but as someone who studied Japanese for three years in high school and college, you would think my deepest desire would be to head to Tokyo. Nope. For some reason, it has always been China. But I'd put the trip off for years, until this past Fall...

This past Fall, my family decided to send my little sister Jasmine on a European tour with the People to People ambassadorship program (you can check out her website: From Edgard to Europe). I was determine to travel abroad before that little teenager. My aunt, who had seen her children go to Egypt and Italy, also thought it was time she see a bit of the world. She called one morning and asked me if I still wanted to go to China (we both decided a few years ago while watching the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Games that China would be the first country abroad on our world tour). Two days later, our trip was booked, and a few months later, we were in China.

That's a bit of the background info on how this girl from Small Town, Louisiana landed on the other side of the world. The rest of my travel log will feature that breathtaking sights I encountered on my grand adventure of China's golden triangle: Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai.

On our first full day in China we toured Beijing's Imperial Treasures: Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, and The Summer Palace.

The only thing I knew about Tiananmen Square was the haunting image of the 1989 protest against the government. That powerful photo encompassed so much about the shift in China's political climate. Planting my feet in that very square--the largest public square in the world--was really something.

That would be my aunt Cathy with me. She turned out to be the best traveling partner.

Next, we entered The Forbidden City. Walking through The Gate of Heavenly Peace, under the famed portrait of Chairman Mao, it was absolutely awe-inspiring to enter into the 9,999-room compound and see the unbelievable architecture. Do you know why there are only 9,999 rooms and not 10,000? Let's see who can answer that? (If you don't know, ask Google. He'll tell you.)

If there's one thing you'll learn in China, it's that Chairman Mao is very important to the Chinese people--whether they want him to be, or not.

Did I mention it's pretty cold in China during the month of February? I was grateful the street vendors had these funny, but nice and warm, hats and gloves.

Take a look at the amazing detailing. It is unbelievable that the Forbidden Palace is hundreds of years old.

The last place on the agenda for our first day was The Summer Palace. It was built as a retreat for the imperial family during the hot summer months. But, in a way, it became infamous when an Empress Dowager used money that was meant to improve the Imperial Navy to build this huge marble boat. See, every country has a problem with pork belly projects. :)

One of the main structures in the Summer Palace is this beautiful Buddhists temple.

Another feature is The Long Corridor--the longest corridor in the world. What makes this 728-yard corridor even more amazing is that every beam is painted with a different scene from Chinese folklore.

Just look at the detail! It is an amazing sight to behold.

By the end of the first day, everyone was ready to drop. But it was worth it. In less than twelve hours I had witness such history. I knew day one was the start of something truly special.

I was right!

Next up is one of the new seven wonders of the world: The Great Wall of China!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

My China Adventure

In my last post, I mentioned that I was leaving for China and would post pictures of my trip upon my return. By my second day in Beijing I knew one blog post would not be enough, so I've decided to turn my writing blog into a travel blog.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll talk about all the fabulous sites and post pictures from my great China adventure. Not only did I visit great historical sites like The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the Terracotta Warriors, but our tour also included a slice of everyday life.

Come back over the course of the next few weeks to see the cave people (yes, there are still people who live in caves in China) and Beijing's Hutong District.

You won't want to miss it!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Books: Another way to see the world!

I'm at Novel Spaces again. Well, actually, I'm not "really" at Novel Spaces today, either. I'm actually touring China's Golden Triangle--Beijing, Xian, and Shanghai!

I love to travel, and that love was fostered by books I read as a child. At one time, books were the only way I could see the world.

Hop on over to Novel Spaces and let me know which books you used to "tour" the world. Or, better yet, which areas of the world would you like to read about in fiction? Maybe you'll give me some ideas for my next trip! :)

I promise to post pictures and share stories of my adventure when I return!