Wednesday, March 26, 2008

China - Beijing in Winter

This march. We found a new flat…after a frustrating long search. Signed the lease, dumped the boxes from storage into the brand-new condo and left for China.

Patrick had to go to Shanghai for a trade show while I met Volkmar at the Singapore airport and we boarded a flight together to Beijing, Patrick came up to Beijing and joined a week later after his business trip was finished.
So that’s where the China story begins

      China in Winter
Our good friend Volkmar turned 40 years young and wanted to celebrate with his friends from across the globe. So about 25 of them joined him on neutral soil (meaning a place outside of India where he currently lives and needs to escape whenever he can!). So we all flew to Beijing from... hummm about 10 different countries and the number of nationalities and languages were astounding…but Volkmar is special and a collector of diverse friends-- as proof by our presence to welcome him into the 4th decade.

I think these are the good years…enough wisdom gained to temper the foolishness of youth but still able to do some impulsive things. And our friend is the king of impulsive.
We spent the first few days in Beijing exploring on foot, by bicycle, taxi, and underground…it’s a very convenient city. And the pollution level was low or maybe I expected worse? But  it's march and pretty cold, I hear the pollution is relay bad in summer. The way to see Beijing is by bike though so easy and the bike lanes are like American highways—huge.  (Unlike Singapore which has none!)

Volkmar’s local friend, also hooked us up with all kinds activities. Some of the standard stuff: Chinese opera, acrobatic shows and then some cool underground live music clubs.

The acrobatic Show
Stack 'em up
At the "hard to find" club for the Punk Rock concert

       And lest I forget: The Food

The highlight of China!!! Chinese Cuisine: The one thing that the Cultural Revolution could not destroy!
The following food photos are from an organized trip that we made to the Imperial Summer Palace in Chengde, 160 km north of Beijing! 

Sea cucumber dish

Sea cucumber/whelk (on the left)
None of us knew what we were eating until the guide informed us. I’ve seen so many of these slugs while diving and knew the Chinese use them in their cuisine but this particular dish I thought was a kind of mushroom. Needless to say, everyone stopped eating it once they knew the origin!
(But it wasn’t that bad, actually)

After the meal...  Soooo much food left over
As you can see, only half the food was able to be finished and we were a very hungry group. In China, wastefulness shows you are not poor and it means you have enough money to leave behind food and have all been well fed. But us, as westerners, all felt terribly guilty and over-ate as the food was delicious but an impossible task to finish everything unless you are one of those food eating champions.

Food of another kind in Beijing

Mixed Grill.  
Choose what you want, they skewer and grill it for you. Then eat it like a lollipop as you stroll down the sidewalk

Are they protein or candy?
Here’s a yummy, juicy one - silkworm larva

And for those who prefer critter with
plenty of legs - the millipede
Care for some chicken noodle soup?

On the road to Chengde
Putuozongcheng Temple, Chengde

That should be enough prayer wheels

Girl’s Night! After dinner in a tasty “hole in the wall” noodle shop in Chengde.
Push here! I guess there is no jaywalking in this town

The Great Wall at Badaling

The "must have" picture... Yes, we were on the Great Wall
After all that food it was time to get some exercise. The whole group of us headed out to Badaling, Where we climbed the whole afternoon on, beside, under, and over the Great Wall of China. We particularly loved the sections of the wall that were a good one hour hike away from where the tour-buses stop. Most people were short on time or simply too lazy to climb to the more remote areas.

We stayed the night right next to the Great Wall at a hotel complex called The Commune by the Great Wall.

It a collection of individually designed homes (architects were mainly from China & Japan). We rented three “homes” for our group. Each one had a different theme: Japanese bamboo, The Austen Power/James Bond one, and a modern look. There were separate rooms within and a shared living dining room with full kitchen. So we were able to shift from the restaurant after dinner and continue a birthday party celebration in our own private space. No one could complain about the noise because it was only us in each unit.

For more information check their website

The Austin Power’s House. “Groovy baby!"
The "Bamboo" House

Picnic on the wall
Then the second afternoon, we made a picnic at the private, non-restored portion of wall that belongs to the hotel. It was peaceful and empty so it was like owning the wall for the day.  And everyone brought goodies and wine from their home country so it was truly a global experience. Luckily there wasn’t any snow so we could stay until just before sunset. So here we were having a picnic on the Great Wall with Swiss and French cheese. French wine. German wurst and bread. Indian chutney, Chinese beer.....

It was a wonderful 10 days.

Good-bye China.
Zai jian!