Wednesday, April 25, 2012

sprING in beijING

I have to admit I have been feeling a little bit homesick this week. I have been under the weather which always makes us want our moms, right? 
And with spring in the air it makes me long for my own garden!

BUT Beijing has blossomed and there is beauty all around! I have not taken for granted every color, fragrance and bloom I have encountered. Here are some things I have seen.

Each morning as I walk to the gym there is a row of lilac!
They didn't last long but when they were in bloom the scent was glorious!

The blooms are brilliant but the blue sky is the star here!
We just don't get blue skies very often!

I love the nature juxtaposed with the concrete jungle.

Lilac Row!
 Something odd about spring here is all of the fluff blowing in the air. People have their fair share of allergies. Right when it was time to open the windows we couldn't because of the floating fur!
A small example of the floating fluff
 And what causes this? Beautiful willow trees!
One of the streets we go to for dinner. The willow trees are wonderful!
Peonies are one of my very favorite flowers! Check out this post from my own garden (sniff sniff) and how excited I was to finally get a bloom! 
I was equally as thrilled to learn that the amazing park near my house has a peony garden. A few nights ago I saw they were ready to burst. So yesterday I made it a point to go back to see the blooms. I wasn't the only one, there were many taking pictures like me.
Peonies in RiTan Park- Beijing
 More blooms from RiTan Park

 I know you've seen this view from our living room window plenty of times. However, we have never seen the trees this green as it is our first time here in the spring.
The green tree tops from our living room view
I couldn't leave you without a picture of my favorite tree climber! Here is D, sporting his Beats, climbing a tree next to the ancient city wall. How many kids can say they chill near something that is over 500 years old?  
If you are considering a trip to Beijing, April and May is a good time to come!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Place ~ Beijing

Have I ever mentioned how much I love the area of Beijing that we live in? We have some really cool things within walking distance.  For example, 
"The Place"! 
This outdoor shopping mall boasts an enormous overhead screen that pulls tourists in by the busloads just to see it. 

Check out this video to see the full effects of the cool screen!

The picture on the screen changes. Every so often there will be all chinese writing on it. You can submit messages for people and it will appear on the screen, kind of like at the ballpark. When I was there last I saw a cute couple hugging under the screen anxiously waiting for their message to appear. I couldn't help but wonder if there was going to be a proposal. I didn't stick around to find out because I wouldn't have been able to read the characters anyway.

The Place screen with Central Park buildings at the end.
 The Place is a popular gathering place for families to hang out, children to play, car displays, fashion shows, etc. Plus there is some really cool shopping. For instance, The Place has one of the only MAC stores (and I ain't talking computers) in Beijing!
Rainy nights doesn't keep people away from The Place.
When I was there on Friday night (the time of this video) it was pouring rain. Then E and I walked through The Place on Sunday night, on the way home from a friend's house, wearing shorts and t-shirts at 8:00 pm. What a difference a day can make!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

My fave!

I remember a few months back a monumentous moment for me. I was seated in the back of a rickshaw with E and D and I thought, for the very first time, "This is something I will totally miss back home."

It is true! I love riding in these little carriages. And today is your lucky day because I am taking you with me on one of my rickshaw rides through the busy streets of Beijing! Fasten your seatbelt (haha) and put on your helmet (what is that?), sit back and enjoy the ride!

We have made friends with one of the drivers. She sits out in front of our building every single day. We always say hi to her and when we want to go to Sanlitun (too short for a taxi, too long to walk) she takes us for 20 yuan ($3.00USD). The other day she saw me walking back from the gym and she pulled over and took me home for free! It's good to have her as our friend!

Yep I should be scared, it is rather dangerous. But it is the quickest way to get around because they go in any lane, any direction and never stop in traffic! Safety is not a priority here in China!

Monday, April 16, 2012

798 District- Beijing

There is a place here in Beijing that I had been really wanting to visit. Before I came, I read this book and the author said 798 District was her favorite place in Beijing. Today was the day!

It is an area made up of old factories that are now art galleries, shops and cafes. Two friends and I spent the beautiful spring afternoon strolling the alleyways.

I am not too into art, 
but I really loved the architecture of the buildings. 
These giant wooden doors were beautiful up against the red brick.

A typical alley in 798 District. 
 There are many, many foreigners here. As a matter of fact I saw a guy wearing a Giants hat! Go Giants!
I have gotten very used to people not understanding our conversations due to the different language. Sometimes I say things that I wouldn't normally say in a room of English speaking people *shame on me* but I say it because I know that nobody else can understand me. Today, while in a gallery, I was doing this about a piece of art of a naked lady...I began to talk to my friend and realized that everyone in the room spoke English and they had heard my raunchy interpretation of the piece. Yikes!
Storefront with bright orange facade.

This aqua and green chipped paint door was the best art I saw all day, and it wasn't even art!
 All throughout the complex there are huge statues, sculptures and artistic pieces throughout. Below is an interesting piece attached to a brick wall.

One type of art. Can you spot the Mickey?

The buds! I am always the shortest:)

Interesting pipes run from factory to factory.
The trees made for the perfect shade for our BLUE SKY day!

An example of the outside of one gallery. This architecture is not typical in Beijing. 

Beautiful ivy covering this building.
My two cents: The three of us had not been to 798 before. We all sort of felt like there were treasures among us, places we should see but we just don't know where they are. What we did see was interesting and cool. I would love to go back again, spend some more time and explore. We were there for about two hours and barely scratched the surface. There are some really neat restaurants that look interesting too. Great trip for our first time and the company was priceless!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Jin Shang GongYuan- Coal Hill- Beijing

Look at this brilliant sky!
Last Wednesday was a national holiday here in China, called QingMing Festival - Tomb Sweeping Day. Hubby and the kids both had the day off so we ventured out to Jin Shang GongYuan (Coal Hill). This is located right behind the Forbidden City and the hill was manmade from the dirt that was dug from the mote surrounding the Forbidden City. It is called Coal Hill because it was rumored that the Emperor stored coal inside the hill.
Entering the park
The cost to enter the park is 2 yuan (.30 cents USD)  when there is not an exhibition or 5 yuan (.75 cents USD) during an exhibition. When you enter the park there are beautiful gardens and grounds and, as you can see in the picture above, a pavilion at the top of the hill. It is a steep incline, but short enough to conquer by even the most ornery teenager anyone. 
This is the view from the top, The Forbidden City.

D, just that morning, had decided that pictures are fake if you weren't smiling already before the picture is snapped. So that is why he is making that face. 

Oh the memories we made getting this family picture!

At most tourist spots there are places where you can dress up in period costumes and get your picture taken. I have learned that "tourist" does not mean just foreigner. Beijing has many, many Chinese tourists. Makes sense!

 Note to hubby: We WILL be taking one of the above pictures, as a family, sometime before we leave China! So prepare now.

The view around the pavilion is a 360 degree view of all of Beijing! It is a must see, especially on a rare clear sky day like this day.

At the top of the hill is that actual city center of Beijing.

One more look at The Forbidden City
 While looking over the Forbidden City, from the top of the hill, I realized that I appreciate the palace much more from this vantage point. When we traveled into the Forbidden City, it just seemed like a lot of old buildings. In my opinion, to really appreciate it you should see it from here also.
All over Beijing we are seeing these new signs. A new campaign.

A first sight of spring along the mote of the Forbidden City

I love this shot with the hutongs at the left and the tower at the right.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spring Break Part 3- Yangshuo Adventures

Seriously, are you tired of hearing about our trip yet? If not, maybe you haven't read this and this. Here is just a chronicle of the adventures we encountered...

Exploring on Bikes
E and I only biked half the time as the boys. On our biking adventures we saw lots of cool things, mostly in the farming villages. 
Enjoying fresh sugar cane.

Look what this monkey found! The one on the right is blowing him a kiss.
By the time our trip ended, D had almost been run off the road by a tour bus and hubby crashed over his handle bars pretty badly. Not surprising, if you know him.

 Wet Caves
We have no pictures uploaded for this next adventure because we locked the camera in a locker and we bought professional pics, but haven't scanned them I will try to paint you a picture with my words.
 Hubby had mentioned that he was interested in going into some wet caves and possibly going into the mud baths. I didn't give it too much thought as I imagined it being too much money and him giving up on the such luck! A sudden wave of, "I'm going to put down all of my fears and inhibitions and go with the flow" hit me and I soon found ourselves, on our bikes, searching for Mama Moon who promised to give us a good deal on entrance tickets to the Gold Water Cave. As you can see in the pictures above, you walk through a deep dark cave. When we first arrived with our guide, the lights had gone out (NOT A GOOD THING IN A CAVE) so we had to wait a few minutes. The first thing I noticed was how cold it was. I was not looking forward to going into the bowels of the earth, as I have a tendency to be claustrophobic, but I was still trying to manage my worries. E, on the other hand, was not having any of it. She was complaining of not feeling good. We did not know whether she really was ill or she was being a "teenager"- she turned 14 a few days before. 

Finally, the lights were fixed...darn, I was hoping they'd tell us we couldn't go in. Actually the first part was interesting. The stalagmites and stalactites were very, very impressive and they were all illuminated in very ornate, funky colors. Our guide would point to sections and tell us what they represented (in other words, what they somewhat resembled). Unlike the caves in California, this cave went on and on and on and there were multiple "rooms". 

Eventually we got to a deep section of the cave where we were to go into a hollow section, put on our swimsuits and get into the mud bath. I had come this far, there was no turning back now. But E was really not doing well and had to be escorted out of the cave to find the bathroom (trough in ground). Let's just say, when your kid tells you they aren't feeling well...they probably aren't really feeling well! Poor kid! Lesson learned!

So hubby, D and I stepped into the mud and I was freaking out on the inside, wondering what was going to attack me from below! The mud was super cold! As we walked further we sank as if in quicksand. We had seen pictures of people covered in mud, I guess because it is supposed to be good for your skin. I am a follower, so if they did it, I would do it too. But it was so cold...I really couldn't wait to get out. We stayed in the mud for about 10 minutes and showered off in a nearby vessel of the cave with freezing cold water. It was torture because you couldn't go into the HOT spring until every bit of mud was off of you...but did I mention how cold it was? For once and all we made it to the hot spring, which was another pool in the middle of the cave. This water was a delightful temperature and that part was thoroughly enjoyable. What wasn't enjoyable was stepping out and having to get dressed without any towels to dry off with. I guess we really should've bought those when they were selling them at the entrance. TIP: wear your swimsuit under your clothes and BRING your own towel! Soon enough we were dressed and on our bikes back to our lovely retreat

Impression Sanjie Liu Light Show
We had heard from multiple sources that the show on the Li River in Yangshuo is something not to be missed. This was my excursion choice, and the most expensive. Why are my choices always the most expensive? It cost us just under 1,000 yuan (a whopping $150 USD). I mean it, we never spend 1,000 yuan on anything here in China! But we knew it could be a memory to last a lifetime!
The show is created by the gentleman who created the opening and closing ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics.

Well...yes, there were parts of the show that were outstanding, fantastic and awesome! Like these...sorry they are not great quality!
Over 600 locals from Yangshuo and the surrounding villages perform nightly, rain or shine!

The stage is part of the river.
These are men on bamboo rafts with large red ribbons, "dancing" across the river.
All those little lights in the foreground are people recording on their iPhones.

This part was my favorite part.

You may recall these "lighted people" from the Olympics. There are hundreds of them walking on hidden platforms on the river. It looks as if they are walking on water. The lights "dance" to the music.
 There were just certain reasons I couldn't walk out of the show saying, "That was SO good!" Most of those reasons have to do with the fact that I am not Chinese...for example, we could not understand the storyline at all. Not just because of the language barrier, but because the show did not flow all that well and, at parts, seemed random. Which leads me to the other example of why Chinese people would appreciate it better. Our cultures think differently...period. What is entertaining to one culture, may not be to another. Have you seen Peking Opera? Point made. At one point in the show a group of little girls came out, cute as can be, and just screamed at the top of their lungs! Sure, it somewhat resembled music to me, but to a Chinese person it most definitely was music. The other thing about the Chinese culture is that people talk, LOUDLY, during any show we've been to. Also, before the end of this show many stood up to leave but then remained standing in front of their seats when they learned something interesting was still going on. Just different from makes me wonder what their thoughts of us are when they visit America.

All in all, we are definitely glad we went to the show. After all, these experiences are what helps us to learn about the culture we are living in. One last thought on the show...Disney has set the bar extremely high in the realm of water shows! We kept waiting for Chinese pyrotechnics, but sadly there were none. 

Bamboo Raft Rides
Yu Long River
This is the river right outside our hotel room. It is calm and peaceful and we saw many a rafter being glided on the water by a Chinese man with a long bamboo pole. It was our turn so we rode our bikes up the river a ways, paid for the rides and for them to transport our bikes down to the end and we were off. E and I rode in one, while the boys rode in the other. 

The chairs naturally recline. The scenery was breathtaking.
 Every once in a while the river would get crystal clear and there would be a slight tiny fall where the driver would so gently take us down. We did have to put our feet up so that our shoes would not get wet.
 Oh, what are those up ahead?
 What we were not prepared for was every few seconds being bombarded with little make-shift islands in the middle of the river trying to sell us stuff! It was a little disappointing because it really took away from the relaxation of the ride. At the first one the woman offered us a cold drink. When we said no she asked us to buy a beer for our driver. I asked how much and she said 30 yuan, they sell for no more than 15 yuan everywhere else. So we passed, thinking it was over...oh no! We continued to be haggled all the way down the river. What is amazing is that these people have full desk top computers, printers and everything out in the middle of this river, on bamboo man-made islands...interesting!

Here is the extortion story...without saying anything our driver decided to pull over at one of the "islands". E and I continued to sit on the raft and watch him open a beer, take a seat and nibble on some peanuts. By this time hubby and D pulled up on their raft too. The lady was cooking fish from the river and some chicken parts on a little hibachi. She asked if we wanted any and D, of course, wanted some chicken...for 40 yuan!! A piece of chicken for 40 yuan ! That was more than our entire breakfast of four pieces of french toast, fresh fruit, a bacon and cheese omelette and two glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice! 

And that is not even the kicker! The kicker is that we had to pay for our driver's beer that he just assumed we would buy! Now I am not the frugal one in the family and even I was irritated... hubby was not going to allow his driver to extort us like that so he walked up to his driver and offered him the 30 yuan in cash, instead of a 30 yuan beer. His driver took the cash and the lady who we paid started yelling and screaming at him! They continued to argue as our kids finished the chicken and our driver finished his beer. 
Our driver enjoying his beer.

I hope that chicken wing is super good!
 Of course, for the remainder of the ride the boys were teasing us that our driver was drunk! Fun times, fun times!

Cave dwelling
Part of the explorations included checking out some caves in the rocks.

City of Yangshuo- West Street
There is a pedestrian only street in Yangshuo with shops and restaurants. It was fun to see different things that we see in Beijing.

Li River Bamboo Motor Raft Ride
This river, in the city of Yangshuo is bigger and more rapid than the YuLong River. We decided to take a motorized raft ride. You can also take a full size boat from Guilin (near the airport) all the way to Yangshuo, about five hours. 

At one point they pull over and want you to get off, get dressed up in costume, take a picture and buy it. If you haven't guessed we usually don't do stuff like that.

That is the end of our trip to Yangshuo. If you ever are in China, make it a point to go there! Where else in the world do you see such interesting landscape? It is also nice to see a different part of China than the cities!
Zai Jian!