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The fast track through the Forbidden City.

Beijing Travel Blog

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Tours groups identify themselves with matching hats. Shoot me if I ever wear one.
Steve had work to do, so Lisa and I decided to go out and check some sights off our list. Together, we can cover serious ground...Look out, Beijing!

First stop was the Forbidden City. This is essentially a walled city within a city, the former home to a long line of Chinese Emperors. It is huge and intimidating, and we thought it might take the day. However, Phil (TB Deats) went yesterday and said in a message that 30 minutes should about do it. (Good to know we aren't the only ones to power through some of the main tourist sights!)

We arrived to find a long winding line at the ticket booth that looked like it might take the whole day in itself. Through some sort of dumb luck we ended up in the line next to that (which wasn't a line at all, but rather a cluster of perplexed French people).
There's a Hall of Supreme Harmony somewhere under there.
Anyway, the lady in the nearby window gave us all tickets in exchange for about $10 each, so off we went to see the Forbidden City.

Our plan of attack was to go right down the center of the place and hit the highlights (turns out every tour group had the same route in mind). We walked through the first gate into a large open courtyard, surrounded by temples and gates, and various other buildings. It was impressively expansive. The main building, the Hall of Supreme Harmony, was massive and resplendent in scaffolding and tarps ... under repair. The place was lousy with tour groups clad in matching hats, scurrying to keep up with the lady with the flag. We tried to steer clear of them, but were completely outnumbered. We tried to peek in some of the buildings, but there was too much pushing and shoving and the viewing areas were just too small to accommodate everyone.
200-ton marble dragon carving in the Forbidden City.
This is without a doubt a special place and worthy of thorough investigation, but at this point I had seen more than enough fancy red buildings filled with Buddhas and dusty furniture. And neither Lisa nor I were in the mood for the elbow battle, at all.

So we cruised quickly through to the Hall of Preserving Harmony, which has an enormous 200-ton marble carving of dragons. It ran at an angle along a stairway or ramp that we couldn't access, and consequently it was very hard to view in detail. We were suitably impressed by its length, however, and I was able to sneak through the group at its base to steal a photo. Then it was time to hit Starbucks. In the Forbidden City?! Yes, I had read about the Starbucks there, but we just couldn't find it -- in its place there was a generic-style coffee shop .
Steve would like it here... Forbidden City.
.. was Starbucks usurped?

From there, we had a lunch we would both rather forget -- bad cafeteria food (tip: you might do well to just steer clear of anything called "soybean paste"). Eating near us was a family of three. The son, about 16, kept blurting out a staccato "BA!" every 45 second or so -- I think maybe he had Tourette's Syndrome. It was startling each time, no matter how many times you heard it. Everyone at the cafe was staring at them, but they went about their meal, unconcerned with their surroundings. I felt sympathetic and annoyed all at the same time.

At this point we felt we had probably had enough of the Forbidden City. So we exited through the garden in the back -- beautiful, but you guessed it: crowded as hell.

Our next destination, Beihai Park, was nearby.
The White Pagoda in Beihai Park.
This is a willow-filled park surrounding a lake. The centerpiece is an enormous hilltop pagoda -- this one is white, not red or brown! So that was something different, plus it had a nice view. While up on the hill area, we ran across a group of seniors singing "Jingle Bells" in a fancy operatic style, with the accompaniment of the accordion. Now that was just weird.

We descended the stairs and decided to walk completely around the lake, stopping at what ever struck our fancy along the way. There were some side gardens and ponds that were quiet and pleasant... even some areas we felt we had (almost) to ourselves! It was a beautiful day and we were really enjoying Beihai Park.

Our last stop in Beihai was the Nine-Dragon Wall, a very large two-sided screen depicting nine colorful and highly detailed dragons in glazed tile.
Dragon detail on the Nine-dragon Wall in Beihai Park. This one was my favorite!
Something about this just struck me -- I loved it! Each cartoon-scary dragon got his own portrait taken.

From there it was time to go home -- we were having TB guests! The plan was that Phil (TB Deats) and Julia (TB mybu84) would stop by the apartment for drinks, and then we would head out for fish and chips. I have been following Deats' blog off and on since I discovered it, and was happy that I would finally meet the wanderer in person!

Lisa and I stopped for a few provisions, got home to clean up, then off we went to meet Phil and Julia near the station. They were precisely on time,  quick introductions to all, then we grabbed a cab back to our apartment. Of course the driver got a bit lost taking us home, so Phil and Julia got to see a bit more of our lovely neighborhood than planned -- so lucky.
We make our guests sit on the floor. Steve, Lisa, Julie, and Phil.


The five of us chilled at the apartment for some time, exchanging travel stories and tips (Phil has been traveling for nearly two years and hopes to go another year!) until the hunger pains could no longer be ignored. Upon a bit of discussion, the fish and chips plan went out the window in favor of some place that would serve something I would actually eat (seems I am always the limiting agent in all food discussions!). I found a place in Fodor's that described large bowls of hand-pulled noodles --- mmm,  sounds pretty good.

Taking a cab to a restaurant can be fraught with drama at its best, because of the inevitable communication issues. The cabbies don't speak English, and even if you have the Chinese characters for the restaurant it doesn't mean you will get there, since he more than likely won't know where the restaurant is.
Our cab drier races Steve and Lisa's cab driver...
But one driver called and got directions, and in the end somehow we managed to get not one but TWO cabs to the correct place at the same time! No small feat, really.

The restaurant, Haiwanju, was very brightly lit with fluorescents, and decorated in a most garish manner with lanterns, fake flowers, and busy wall paper. The staff yelled a lot when we came in -- the book told us to expect a loud greeting. We were quickly seated and then treated to the usual Chinese custom: given one completely unfamiliar, all-Chinese menu between five of us, we were expected to decide our entire meal in 15 seconds. The waiter stood right next to the table staring at us intently, notepad at the ready! Obviously none of us are familiar with each other's tastes, plus we had no idea what was going on with the food and how it's served.
The very bright and colorful Haiwanju restaurant.
.. a little time to decide may be helpful here. Unfortunately, I was the one who had the menu, so Lisa and I asked the waiter a couple questions. Red alert! The foreigners are asking questions! Everyone, to the table! Translation help is requested! They sent their "English-speaker" who really confused things for everyone, since she spoke just a few words and didn't seem to actually know what they meant. For good measure, the rest of the staff also came to the table to stare at us and "help out" by speaking Chinese to us (more loudly this time, maybe we will understand it at a higher volume). It was quite a spectacle.

Somehow we were eventually served food, and a lot of it. I had pointed to several vegetarian looking items on the menu, and we shared some tempura-style leafy bean things and something that seemed like deep fried lumps of mashed potatoes -- pretty tasty.
Surely THAT can't get lost in translation.
I was thrilled with the enormous plate of broccoli -- bright green and perfectly cooked. They brought our individual noodle bowls out with several smaller bowls of miscellaneous vegetables and one bowl of oily meat, which you can choose (quickly) to have added or left out. Everyone was "all in" but me and Lisa, who opted to pass on the oily meat (which apparently also happened to be the "flavor" part of the dish). No worries, I had the broccoli and pretty much ignored my bland bowl of noodles.

The dinner was fair, the company was excellent, the night was young-ish... so we decided to try to find some scorpions for dessert. There is a street in Beijing known for its weird food, and we set off to find it. Unfortunately I only had one piece of the information, "Wangfujing," which is also a major shopping district.
Too much food, too many leftovers.
The snack street stems from that, so we had to walk a bit to find it. We think we found it, but the lights were out and people were sweeping up. That's right! Beijing closes down at 10. I had read about this but was unaffected personally, since I never stay up past 10 myself :^)

So, no scorpions for us. But although Wangfujing was a bust, the evening was very well spent and I enjoyed the company tremendously. I went to bed (which took a while to get to as the cabs were also "closed up" for the evening) looking forward to our date at the Great Wall tomorrow. Phil is introducing us to Chinese bus travel to get to a lesser-developed section of the wall  -- oh boy!

Deats says:
Nice blog, good photos, maybe i will have to borrow some of the info as i had no idea of the restaurant name etc :D
Posted on: Apr 26, 2008
cmgervais says:
I am surprised, too. Maybe it's because I have been around service people (lower paid, less education I presume). I think the general population is much better...a couple of times we have been helped by a English-speaking passers-by who were quite good.
Posted on: Apr 25, 2008
reikunboy says:
those dragons look awesome,cool that you got to meet some people from TB. I'm suprised by your blog that so many Chinese can't speak English, I thought there would be quite a lot.
Posted on: Apr 25, 2008
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Tours groups identify themselves w…
Tours groups identify themselves …
Theres a Hall of Supreme Harmony …
There's a Hall of Supreme Harmony…
200-ton marble dragon carving in t…
200-ton marble dragon carving in …
Steve would like it here... Forbid…
Steve would like it here... Forbi…
The White Pagoda in Beihai Park.
The White Pagoda in Beihai Park.
Dragon detail on the Nine-dragon W…
Dragon detail on the Nine-dragon …
We make our guests sit on the floo…
We make our guests sit on the flo…
Our cab drier races Steve and Lisa…
Our cab drier races Steve and Lis…
The very bright and colorful Haiwa…
The very bright and colorful Haiw…
Surely THAT cant get lost in tran…
Surely THAT can't get lost in tra…
Too much food, too many leftovers.
Too much food, too many leftovers.
The front of the Hall of Supreme H…
The front of the Hall of Supreme …
In the Forbidden City.
In the Forbidden City.
Rooftops in the Forbidden City
Rooftops in the Forbidden City
The outer court of the Forbidden C…
The outer court of the Forbidden …
This guy is really showing his age…
This guy is really showing his ag…
Fellow Forbidden City tourist.
Fellow Forbidden City tourist.
In the Forbidden City.
In the Forbidden City.
If ya gotta go, ya gotta go...
If ya gotta go, ya gotta go...
Roofline in the Forbidden City.
Roofline in the Forbidden City.
Fellow Forbidden City tourist.
Fellow Forbidden City tourist.
Fellow Forbidden City tourist, in …
Fellow Forbidden City tourist, in…
Large bronze vats were meant to co…
Large bronze vats were meant to c…
Lisa peeks into the bronze water v…
Lisa peeks into the bronze water …
School children are LOUD.
School children are LOUD.
Buying a bad lunch at Forbidden Ci…
Buying a bad lunch at Forbidden C…
Roof line in the Forbidden City ga…
Roof line in the Forbidden City g…
Rock wall in the Forbidden City ga…
Rock wall in the Forbidden City g…
Elephant in the Forbidden City gar…
Elephant in the Forbidden City ga…
Self portrait with Lisa in Beihai …
Self portrait with Lisa in Beihai…
Prayer tablet.
Prayer tablet.
Beihai Park temple.
Beihai Park temple.
Is she supposed to be sitting on t…
Is she supposed to be sitting on …
Just hanging out at Beihai Park.
Just hanging out at Beihai Park.
Fish at a pond in Beihei Park.
Fish at a pond in Beihei Park.
Beihai Park.
Beihai Park.
Stairs to the White Pagoda.
Stairs to the White Pagoda.
Me on the stairs to the White Pago…
Me on the stairs to the White Pag…
Lisa at the White Pagoda.
Lisa at the White Pagoda.
Tile detail on the White Pagoda.
Tile detail on the White Pagoda.
A walk along the lake at Beihai Pa…
A walk along the lake at Beihai P…
Nine-Dragon Wall in Beihai Park.
Nine-Dragon Wall in Beihai Park.
Dragon detail on the Nine-dragon W…
Dragon detail on the Nine-dragon …
Lisa at Nine-Dragon Wall in Beihai…
Lisa at Nine-Dragon Wall in Beiha…
Dragon detail. Nine-Dragon Wall in…
Dragon detail. Nine-Dragon Wall i…
Dragon detail. Nine-Dragon Wall in…
Dragon detail. Nine-Dragon Wall i…
Trying to figure out the menu -- a…
Trying to figure out the menu -- …
Phil and Julia peruse the menu at …
Phil and Julia peruse the menu at…
Dinner is served! Me, Lisa, Phil, …
Dinner is served! Me, Lisa, Phil,…
Check out that broccoli!
Check out that broccoli!
Beijing
photo by: Deats