My Winter Travels, Part 14: Beijing

Beijing Picasa Photo Album
After visiting the gorgeous mountains of Huang Shan, we took a bus back to Hangzhou to catch a flight to Beijing on February 16th. Originally we were planning to go to Xi'an next, but I think it turned out better being in Beijing during Spring Festival. My friend Liu Kai--who I traveled with during the first two weeks of the trip (to Hainan, Guilin and Yangshou)--is from Beijing and was home during Spring Festival, so he was able to hang out with us and show us around Beijing a bit. We spent 3 days in Beijing before taking a train to Xi'an, after which we came back to Beijing for another day (I'll talk about that last day in a separate post). We did a lot during those 3 days in Beijing--we visited Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, went shopping at the Pearl Market, saw lots of fireworks, went to a Spring Festival street carnival and saw an acrobat show. Our hotel (which Liu Kai booked for us) was at a great location--most of this stuff was within walking distance.

Tiananmen Square & the Forbidden City

Tiananmen Square is the largest public square in the world (Wikipedia lists it as 440,000 square meters!). Unfortunately, it's so big that there's no way to adequately capture it on film. But here's my attempt:

The Monument to the People's Heroes at Tiananmen Square.

We visited Tiananmen Square first thing on our first morning in Beijing. The Forbidden City is next to it, so we visited that on the same day. The Forbidden City was the imperial palace for about 500 years. It was forbidden for the public to enter it (hence the name). Calling it a city might be a bit of a stretch, but it is enormous--my guide book says it has 9,999.5 rooms (I don't know how you have half a room, but it's supposed to be just less than 10,000 to show the emperor's inferiority to the gods). It's one of the highlights of Beijing. However, I didn't enjoy it as many of the other things we saw in Beijing and elsewhere on the trip. Part of that might be because some of the main buildings were undergoing renovation to be ready for the 2008 Olympic games. Here are the pictures:

The Forbidden City.

Check out the painting on the underside of the roof.

The interior of one of the 9,999.5 rooms.

You could feed a lot of people using this pot!

The Forbidden City had several of these alleys.

Chinglish strikes again. Although maybe it explains why I'm not very beautiful :).

These lion-like creatures are found all over China.

Quite the carving, isn't it?

Spring Festival

Spring Festival (also called Chinese New Year) was February 18th--our second full day in Beijing. It was cool to see how this was celebrated (at least how it's celebrated in Beijing). On Spring Festival eve, they set off tons of fireworks, especially right at midnight. You may think Americans go crazy with the fireworks on the 4th of July, but that's nothing compared to the Chinese on Spring Festival eve (the Chinese invented fireworks, after all). It was a bit scary, to be honest--there are millions of people on the streets all setting of their own fireworks in every which direction. Looking down one street, you could see 30-40 separate groups setting off their own fireworks, oblivious to the others around them. I'm surprised they don't have many injuries or burned buildings on Spring Festival, but apparently that's a rarity (at least rarer than on the 4th of July in the states). I was planning to walk towards Tiananmen Square to view the fireworks from there, but there were so many fireworks going off on the streets that I didn't feel like I could safely navigate them. So I just enjoyed the fireworks from where I already was. Here are some pictures:

The next day (Chinese New Year's day) we met up with Liu Kai and got a great meal at a restaurant of Beijing Duck, one of my favorite Chinese dishes. You put the roasted duck, cucumbers, onions and a fermented bean sauce on a wheat pancake, roll it up, and eat it. Very tasty.

My parents, Liu Kai and I. You can't see it very well, but the Beijing Duck is on the white tray that has a handle shaped like a duck's head.

Then we went to a street carnival. There were lots of street vendors here. We also found a Chinese musical instrument store, so I bought an Erhu. Some pictures:

The Five Friendlies--Beijing's Olympic mascot. From left to right, they are named Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying and Nini. If you take out the duplication, together they spell "Beijing Huangying Ni", which means "Beijing Welcomes You".

The Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven is another of Beijing's highlights. It's a park with several ancient buildings. The emperor would come here annually to pray to the gods for a good harvest. We visited it the morning of Chinese New Year's day, before meeting up with Liu Kai. I liked it better than the Forbidden City.

We met this kid at the Temple of Heaven. I think he'd win any cuteness contest he entered.

The Hall of Prayers for Good Harvest.

The interior of the Hall of Prayers for Good Harvest.

The park grounds.

Chinese Acrobat Show

After visiting the Temple of Heaven and hanging out with Liu Kai, we ended our Chinese New Year's day by taking in a show of Beijing Acrobats. The acrobats were amazing--they did things I didn't know anyone could do. These videos should give you a taste for what they did:

The Summer Palace

The Summer Palace is another of Beijing's major sights. It doesn't have as much history as the Temple of Heaven or Forbidden City, but it was still quite spectacular. We visited it on February 19th, the day after Chinese New Year. Some pictures:

The Tower of Fragrant Buddha.

The Long Corridor. It's almost 1 Km long and is covered in paintings--Wikipedia says there are more than 14,000 of them.

The Marble Boat.

This is called the Thousand-Handed Buddha, even though it doesn't have nearly a thousand hands.

Another view of the Tower of Fragrant Buddha.

My parents on the stairs up to the Tower of Fragrant Buddha.

After we visited the Summer Palace, we took a night train to Xi'an, where we spent 3 days.
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About Me

Husband and father, lapsed musician, software engineer at Square, open source developer, world traveler and Christian.