Andrea does Beijing

by Andrea on November 9, 2011

So far, I’ve told you about Chinese Shadow Puppets, the Great Wall, and dragon fruit.  For my final Beijing post, I’ve pulled together highlights and photos from the week that stuck out as interesting, funny, or just plain odd.

First off, let’s start with the lions.  These majestic creatures are everywhere and usually in pairs.  They protect the people or spaces inside.  I started to become really fond of them and entertained the idea of having a couple at home.  Wouldn’t that be a sight?

Next we have some landmarks.  The first and most majestic is the Forbidden City. This place is HUGE. I mean humungous HUGE.  It’s right in the middle of downtown Beijing, and it easily takes 45 minutes just to walk from one end to another.  I was a little pressed for time so I was trying to do a quick walk through and that alone took 2 hours.  One tourist accessory that I’ve never seen before is GPS enabled audio tour headphones. It would just start describing the history of whichever palace was in front of me, without needing to punch in any numbers.  Cool!

After the Forbidden City, I visited the Temple of Heaven park.  This is a large park where a lot of people came to hang out. There was one walkway that was absolutely packed with older Chinese folks playing pick up card games.  The highlight of the park is this beauty.  Unfortunately, you can’t go inside, and there are a lot of people to elbow your way past to get a glimpse of the grandeur.

Onto the pretty & sparkly photos.  I spied this wallpaper in a restaurant.  I loved the shimmery gold dragons against the striking blue and thought this could look fabulous in a small bathroom.

Next up are the lanterns that decorated homes, streets, landmarks, shops, and just about anything else.  If only they sold itty bitty tiny ones (couldn’t find them anywhere), I’m sure folks like me would snatch them up as a Christmas tree ornament keepsake.

Then we have this public art sculpture.  I LOVE balloons, and the thought of walking by this on the way to work, store, what have you, made me quite happy.  I think Seattle should get some of these.

Finally, check out the bling.  This elephant head was in a restaurant… and there wasn’t just one.  There were four sparkly elephant disco ball heads.  I was also thinking that I’d like to bring these home, along with my pair of lions.

Onto the markets.  There are many many markets in the city, and I was able to hit up a few of them.  First we have the Night Market, which serves up anything you can image on a stick.  But instead of kebabs or corn dogs, you get sheep penis, scorpions, starfish, and other ‘delicacies.’

The next couple of photos are of the Pearl and Silk Markets.  These were nothing like I expected.  Think of a five – seven story department store crammed with aisles of merchandise.  Each floor features 1 -3 items such as pearls, silk scarves, knock-off purses, electronics, knock-off designer clothes, real hair wigs, handicrafts, and more.  Don’t let the names fool you (as they did me), both markets have pearls and silk and a whole lot more.

The last market that I visited was the Panjiyuan Market, or the antiques, crafts, and flea market.  This was where I picked up the Chinese shadow puppet.  Panjiyuan was by far my favorite.  Not only could I have purchased my larger than life size lions there, I could also pick up jade bracelets, turquoise beads, Buddhas, 1950s era alarm clocks, magnifying glasses for all of my detective needs, silk rugs, and some American hunks.

For the last little collection of photos, here are some of the curiosities that I came across during my visit.  First off, there is public exercise equipment at all of the city parks, AND more importantly, people use them. I wonder what America would be like if basic versions of what we see in our gyms were accessible to the public.

In this photo we have a can of sweat in a vending machine.  I’m assuming this is an energy drink, but the concept of buying sweat still made me giggle.

Do you ever think that fast food isn’t fast enough?  How about a McDonald’s delivery man?

Along the same lines of consumables that you can purchase, how about Peking Duck in a bag?  Not refrigerated, mind you. These were everywhere.  I don’t understand how they stay fresh and wasn’t brave enough to buy one.

The number 14 is very bad luck in China.  And as you likely know, Westerners don’t care for the number 13.  So, it is not uncommon to see this in an elevator.

Then I came across this collection of signs on the side of house on a quiet side street.  There was really nothing ominous about the area, no face masks to hand out, or seat belts to fasten. I was terribly perplexed as to the purpose of this little quintet.

My last curiosity is a show stopper. I was offered the opportunity to buy this supposedly gold Mao, approximately four feet tall, for $15,000.  Since he didn’t quite go with my pair o’ lions and my elephant disco ball head, I had to pass.  Did I make the right choice?

In conclusion, Beijing was amazing.  I am so happy to have had the opportunity to take this trip.  To be honest, it really wasn’t at all what I expected. Based on my reading prior to the trip and chats with those who had been, I expected to find a Beijing that wasn’t there.  Instead I found:

  1. A manageable city in terms of crowds.  It wasn’t the sea of people that I expected. In fact, I believe there are more people on the streets of downtown London than downtown Beijing.
  2. Very little public spitting.  I guess the Olympic era anti-spitting campaign really worked.
  3. More wild driving than in the States, but definitely not over the top driving and honking as other parts of this world.  If you are in a car, you’re fine.  Having said that, it is quite terrifying as a pedestrian.  There is NO regard for the crosswalks and green pedestrian lights at crosswalks (that do exist).
  4. Very modern infrastructure in the core of Beijing.  I expected to see a mix of old and new architecture, and with the exception of the temples in the parks and the historic area around the Forbidden City, it was primarily skyscrapers and apartment buildings.
  5. A 40+ year old taxi driver that had Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance as his ring tone.  Oh yes, this one really gave me the giggles.  Did his daughter or wife set it up? Or does he really dig Bad Romance? I’ll never know.

Finally, I was warned about the terrible smog.  My first two days there showcased crystal clear blue skies and sunshine.  I honestly was beginning to wonder if I was really in Beijing.  But sure enough, on the third day, the thick soupy smog rolled in and was there to stay.  Many of my photos aren’t as pretty because of the smog, and I decided that Photoshop, Picasa, and iPhoto need a smog removal filter.  For example, here is the Bird’s Nest from my visit to the Olympic Park.

What if you could remove the fog with just one click.  Playing in Picasa, I came up with this.  If only I knew what I were doing and could really remove that smog.

To sum up, if you ever have the chance to visit Beijing, go go go.  You won’t regret it!

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