November 9, 2007

Foreign babes in Beijing

Beijing doorways

Ni hao! :) I've just come back from a 6-day visit to Beijing where my girl friends and I had a great time. (To the ladies: if you have never travelled with your girl friends, do yourself this favor if you get the chance. It is an absolute ball! My recent trips to Hanoi and Bangkok are testaments to this.) It was a very educational and interesting trip for sure, but more importantly it was a week filled with lots of laughter and the type of moments that will be recounted many times over for years to come and perhaps even passed down the generations.

Now, I am usually opposed to hiring a tour guide because I like going about on my own pace and I actually look forward to the 'challenges' that cultural differences can present, such as the language barrier. It's all part of the adventure, part of what makes travel so exciting and seductive. But because we were only staying for a short while and none of us spoke a word of Mandarin, we agreed to hire a private tour guide and van to take us to the main sights so we didn't waste too much time lost in translation. (And after a freak incident with a bee -more on this later-, I am so grateful we did!)

Beijing in the Fall

It was autumn in the Middle Kingdom and the weather was lovely, chilly but sunny, and the leaves were turning. The citrus colors from the trees made lovely accents for the stark red found everywhere. In the mornings and evenings, it was cold, dropping to almost 2 deg C. So bundled up in jackets and scarves we explored the vast capital of this country whose history goes deep into the past well beyond 2000 B.C. (Some historians even claim the dawn of Chinese civilization to have been in 6000 B.C.). We trudged along the beaten path, but also made time for our own exploration and of course eating and shopping.

Beijing, which was once shrouded in mystery, protected from intrusion within impressively tall walls, is undergoing rapid transformation in a dizzying race to the 21st century. With the ball-and-chain of Marxism chucked over The Great Wall and the 2008 Olympics around the corner, vast changes are sweeping through the landscape. Today, the city is flanked by scaffolding while cranes seem to remove a piece of history with every pile of dirt they lift off the ground. But tucked into all this modernization are little pockets of the Old World. They can be found in the historic parks that surround grey skyscrapers, in the hutongs that slither alongside 12-lane freeways, beyond moats and walls across massive squares, in unmarked holes-in-the-wall serving traditional jiaozi dwarfed by western fast-food chains, and in the colorful and loud hawker alleys in the shadows of imposing department stores.

The architecture was a delight, feeding my fascination for doorways and locks (see first collage above). I found the locals to be generally nice and polite, and although they didn't speak my language, they graciously made an effort to understand us when we communicated with them.

Beijing collage

Beijing was cleaner and more organized than I expected. But while the streets are quite immaculate, the smog is alarming. By the 4th day when it got worse, I woke up with a bad cough and with a better understanding of and tolerance for the Chinese pastime of spitting. Visibility outside was poor; so poor in fact that not-too-distant buildings looked like giant ghosts. I pity the marathoner who will have to compete in such air quality during the 2008 Olympics but no more than the little children with those young lungs. I do hope the government cracks down on this problem which is largely caused by the increasing number of cars on the road and factories within the city using cheap, low-grade fuel. I read that factories have been moved to the outskirts of the city where it is less-populated, and that they've imposed a temporary ban on car manufacturing.

Beijing babes

I wil go into more detail on the places I visited and the food I ate in my succeeding posts. There will be lots more photos too. Each experience pretty special and deserving of their own post. :)

26 comments:

mtan said...

Great colors in your photos Nena! Looking forward to reading about your adventures. I noticed not much on the food spectrum but I'm sure you had great meals.

Seeing your shots of the roof tops from the Forbidden City reminds me of my many photos of those same architectural pts of interest. I learned to look up :)

katrina said...

Yay, I've been waiting with bated breath to read about Joey's and your travel posts. Lovely colors, as Mila said...and so red! ;-)

The little girl on the bottom right corner is a cutie with that wild coat she's wearing. :-)

I'm excited to read all about it!

Dhanggit said...

wow, i thought i'm staring at Lonely Planet's Beijing Travel guide edition 2008..really nice photos! I'm just wondering if there's still a Starbucks in Forbidden City? Coz the last time i went there it shocked me to see this cultural disaster..but i've heard eventually they will remove it...just wondering if it's really true..

christine said...

Hi Mila! I'm saving the food photos for their own post of course. :) Local cuisine is always a major attraction in travel for me so it's always highlighted in a separate post. And yes, we shouldn't forget to look up. :)

Katrina, red was the dominant color everywhere! Just like purple and yellow figured prominently in your Bangkok photos, you'll be seeing lots of red here in the next few entries. :) That girl was adorable! She was with her dad at the Summer Palace and I couldn't resist stealing a shot of her.

Thank you, Dhanggit! :) That Starbucks is gone, thank goodness! It caused an outrage from the locals, and I don't blame them one bit. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Starbucks, but leave it outside the walls. It's a holy site for the Chinese, it should be kept that way.

wysgal said...

Gorgeous photos. Now I'm definitely thinking of spending my summer in China (vs South America) for our "educational" 4-week adventure. I'll likely be working more with China than South America in the long run anyway. =)

Anonymous said...

The photo collage you made was great! Can't wait for your Beijing blog...

Em Dy said...

Thanks for sharing this. Haven't been there but plan to be before I get too old to walk. And thanks for the tip about the guide. I'm also a DIY traveler most of the time.

travelion said...

What an eye you have! I love the first collage. I too can't wait for the rest of the posts.

christine said...

Hey wysgal!! I think that's a great idea. Will you be studying the language before you go? And will the 4 weeks be spent in different regions of China? How exciting!

Thank you, anonymous. The rest of the entries will be up soon, I promise. :)

Hi Em, you're welcome. :) I think you'll enjoy it over there. It's so rich in history and culture. Have a guide for a couple of days if you like then do the rest on your own.

Thank you, travelion! I kinda like how it came out too. :)

ajay said...

The photos are oh-so-lovely Christine. Can't wait to read more:)

oggi said...

It's definitely more fun to travel with one's best girl friends!

Your lovely photos of turning leaves remind me of (and made me watch again) the HKG movie DRAGON INN. Love the panda umbrella!

ginny said...

Great photos nens. awaiting your stories!

christine said...

Oggi, I don't think I've ever seen that movie. Is it good? The panda umbrella was so cute, we have a photo of one of our friends kissing it. :)

Thanks ajay & ginny! :)

joey said...

Your photos are fantastic Nens! :) I love all the collages...especially the one with the kids! That little girl that Katrina pointed out is an absolute cutie :)

Can't wait to read the rest of your posts! :)

canDIshhh said...

OMG! You went on my favorite season! Autumn! Lot's of colorful doors noh? Nice! I miss Beijing even more! Last time I was there was........ 5 years ago! I can't believe it has been that long! But it seems like it was just yesterday! :) Huhu.. I hope you rented and listened to the Roger Moore tape in the Forbidden City!

I miss the uber cheap Peking Duck! Were you able to try their Huo Guo/Hot Pot? Waaaaaaaah!! Can't wait to see your next posts!! I miss my second home!! :)

Did you see any kiddos wearing pants with square holes in the butt area? Hehehe.. :)

sha said...

wow great photos... great street photography... am envious beijing is on my wish list, am really wishing for asian tour sometime

oh am here in orlando i gave in to my crew mate.. as the word is pakikisama.

christine said...

Thanks Joey! The kids are so cute, really! More posts to follow, but I'm finding it to be such a challenge to find time to write and post photos. Slowly, slowly,, I'll get there. :)

Hi Di, autumn really makes for beautiful scenery! I love the bright colors of the leaves. :) And no, we didn't rent the Roger Moore tape because we had a guide. But he really wasn't much help, now I wish I rented an audio guide instead. Negative on the hotpot (my friends didn't want hotpot and I didn't wanna force them), and negative on the square holes - is that a new fad? Sounds funny. :)

Sha, you are a true friend. Always thinking of others first. I hope you're having a good time at least. :)

Julie said...

You have some terrific pictures here. I particularly like that group of door pictures. Beijing seems like a fascinating place.

Sidney said...

Superb pictures! Fantastic colors!

What about traveling with some boyfriends? ;-)

christine said...

Thank you, Julie. It truly is a fascinating city with a most fascinating culture! :)

Thank you, Sidney! And I have yet to travel with 'some boyfriends' so I'll have to get back to you on that when I do! ;)

sha said...

yes i nearly joked to my sis disney a culture trash haha am such a culture snob aint i but hey really it was a good break... some pics at facebook

Rasa Malaysia said...

Ooooh, you are back, I love your pictures montage...especially the doors. I have a fascination of them too and would always take pictures of them and people thought I was weird.

christine said...

Sha, haha, not a snob, you just know what's good. ;) Loved the pics, it looked fun anyway!

Hi Bee! I can relate totally. :) I've gotten funny looks when I'm out with my camera. And many of my friends think I'm weird after seeing the photos I take. So I stopped showing them hehe.

John said...

I really enjoyed your blog and great photos. Thank you for letting me take a virtual trip with you.

John

http://johnfultz.blogspot.com

Twinky said...

NENAAAA!!! FInally I got to see both you pics at Multiply and this blog. Wasnt really going to comment yet cos there are so many to comment on, really nice and crisp photos. But i really really looooove your collage and how you themed it, and combined the colors. so so nice!! great work nens!

christine said...

Thank you, John! And thank you for leaving the link to your own site. I'm excited to check it out! :)

Hey Twinks!!! Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment super appreciate it, as much as I appreciate everything you've done to help us with this trip. You've been great, the best and most patient and helpful travel agent ever!! :)