People dancing at the Temple of Heaven
I must have been very excited to be in China, Larry acknowledged, as I was up very early on Tuesday morning ready to see the People’s Republic of China!
We got to China on Monday night, and processing at the airport went very smoothly. They took our health and customs regulations forms without any delay and we were on our way. We noticed a few cabs did not want to take us to the hotel; not really sure why. Larry believes this was because we were going far but they don’t make enough money off the cab fare, so it’s not worth it to the cab driver. Our cab fare was 100 RGB Yuan (Chinese currency), which is about 14 US dollars.
I was up by 8 AM and woke Larry up to get him up and moving.
Our agenda for the day consisted of the Temple of Heaven, Tian’an Men Square and other landmarks around Tian’an Men Square.
Locals practicing kung-fu
At the hotel lobby they told us we could walk for about 20 minutes or we could catch a cab for 10 RGB Yuan (which is less than 2 dollars) and get there in 5 minutes, so we grabbed a croissant and coffee at the corner 7-Eleven and were in a cab in a matter of minutes. Before we knew it we were already at the Temple of Heaven North Gate Entrance. The Temple of Heaven is an enormous park (not a temple). This park is huge! We didn’t realize how large it was and everything that was inside it, until we actually finished walking through the park. We visited the park for about 3 or 4 hours and I don’t think we actually saw the entire park.
Inside the park, we were in awe at all we witnessed.
First of all, the Chinese people have a lot of energy and are pretty in shape here at the park. Right now, the Chinese are still on holiday (break) for the New Year they celebrated several days ago. Their Lunar New Year was on February 14th (I think that’s right), so everyone is still happy and celebrating as the festivities are wrapping up.
Notice the hanging ornaments on the trees
At the park, we first encountered people playing a foot game similar to kicking hackisack, practicing tai chi, kung fu and playing a game similar to badminton. We also encountered people dancing everywhere all over the park. It was like a big festival at 9 am. It was exhilarating! We ate our breakfast of champions walking through the entrance of the park watching people happily parading around.
We first arrived to the Quinian Dian, which is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.
This is the most stunning building in Beijing, according to some of the tour books and visitor feedback. It’s a circular wooden hall, with a triple-eaved cylindrical blue-tiled roof. It’s one of the most recognized emblems of Chinese imperial architecture outside of the Forbidden City. Though it was initially built in 1420, it was damaged by lightning in 1889, therefore it was later rebuilt. It was beautiful. Larry and I walked around the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and took many pictures of this structure. We then continued walking south through the park, admiring and stopping at Bell Tower, the Imperial Vault of Heaven, the Echo Wall, the Circular Altar and at the gardens and shops along the path. We bought postcards from a vendor walking around, and a few other souvenirs at one of the shops.
Hall of Good Prayer
Though it was very, very cold (colder than Tokyo… yuck, I don’t like cold weather), the walk was good. The sun started to come out later in the morning, so it didn’t feel so awful. At about 12:30 pm, we arrived at the South Gate entrance. Larry and I were approached by a cab driver, who asked us where we wanted to go. When we told him we wanted to go to a specific restaurant (we decided to try out one of the recommended restaurants in the guide book), which was close to the hotel, the cab driver told us the fee was 100 RGB Yuan. Yeah right! We paid only 10 RGB Yuan to get to the park. Larry and I told the cab driver we had paid only 10 RGB Yuan to get there. Though we had walked across the park, there was no way the drive back should have been 10 times the price we paid in the morning. So we decided to walk to the East Gate entrance to see if it would be easier to find the subway or another cab.
It's a bit chilly out
In front of Qian Men (Front Gate) to Tian'an Men Square
Well, that decision turned out to be better. Walking there, we stumbled upon the Hong Qiao Shichang Market. This is also known as the Pearl Market and is next door to the Toy Market. Our guide book recommended both of these places for good shopping. So we walked around in both markets just to see what they were selling and got some ideas of prices and bought a few minor souvenirs. It was neat to see all the toys they have. Though I didn’t buy very much because I have little room in my luggage to take stuff back home, it was neat to see the different types of toys and souvenirs China is known for. Most popular were the jade and pearl jewelry, silk shirts and clothing, and children’s toys at these markets.
Right outside the market we caught a cab to Tian’an Men Square for only 10 RGB Yuan.
From there we walked to the Grand Hyatt’s Made in China restaurant. This is a very expensive restaurant, but it was by far the BEST meal! It was delicious. I don’t know if it beats the Indian food I had at Moti Mahal, but I think that’s because in general I like Indian food better. But it was certainly the best Chinese food I had. In fact, it was better than any of the food I had in Tokyo too. Larry was in heaven! He ate like a king. He ordered a Beggar’s Chicken, which was an adventure in itself. The chef comes out and actually cracks the chicken for you with a mallet and everyone watches as they unwrap a whole chicken from this clay wrap they cook it in. The chicken is stuffed with delicious onions, mushrooms, potatoes and other goodies. I ordered the yummiest noodles and pot stickers. Wow! The meal was delicious.
I love the intricate detail in the design of each structure
From there we decided to head back to the hotel to check in to see if our tour guide for the Great Wall of China tour had left us a message.
We wanted to try to get a hold of him early in the day since our tour was scheduled for Wednesday.
At the temple
At around 5 pm, we headed back out to Tian’an Men Square, the world’s largest square, the size of 90 American football fields. This square is most notoriously known for the 1919 and 1989 gathering of student protestors and the suppression of the protests. I had wanted to see Tian’an Men Square since I read Bob Woodruff and his wife’s memoir (journalist who was impacted by shrapnel from an IED a few years ago in a separate incident). In his memoir he talks about the time he spent in China and discusses what he witnessed in 1989 when he was here in Beijing. Since then, I have wanted to walk around Tian’an Men Square. Well… walk we did! We walked around there and took pictures in front of Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum, the Front Gate and the Monument to the People’s Heroes for a long time.
Larry being silly at the temple of heaven
Since the Chinese are still in holiday mode and are celebrating the new year, the people all gather at the square by 6 pm, and watch local officers pull the Chinese flag down. They raise and lower the flag daily at 6 am and 6 pm and it was neat to be a part of this. There were so many people there at the square ready to watch the lowering of the flag. It was amazing to see the masses of people everywhere. There were also policemen and officers everywhere. It is said that the square itself is watched heavily by officers and video cameras to ensure order is maintained there.
While we were watching the festivities, we were approached by two Chinese individuals. The gentleman spoke English well, though his cousin, who was visiting from another city, did not speak any English.
They were friendly though, of course, you know me… my guard was up. Though he was friendly, he said a few things that made me wonder about him. For example, he asked where we were staying, and Larry told him a different hotel than where we were, since we try to be cautious of giving people too much information about us. When we told him what we did tell him (though it was not the exact location) he said, “Oh, you are staying at a 5-star hotel.” Larry told him, “No – we are not.” It was as if this man was trying to figure out if we had money or not. They invited us to a nearby street festival. I was leery at first, but Larry told me it sounded fun. Of course, then I thought to myself, maybe I need to stop worrying and go with the flow.
Along the way but before we got to the so-called festival the man said, “Let’s take a quick break for some tea.
” We went inside a local place where the four of us were ushered into a small room and the door was closed behind us. That seemed fishy to me. A lady sat across the four of us and served us tea in small tea cups (the size of shot glasses). I was of course trying to keep my guard up, while trying to enjoy it all the same. The man was giving me an uneasy feeling, however, and I told Larry I was ready to leave. So we cut the tea drinking short and told them we had to leave. Larry drank no more than 4 shot glasses of tea, and I had only had 2. The glasses were so tiny, all in all I think our drinks equaled no more than one full size glass of tea. That was it. They kept telling me to drink tea and I kept telling them I didn’t like tea.
At Made in China Restaurant - Larry's Beggar's Chicken (that's the name of the meal)
The man spoke to the lady serving the tea in Mandarin and she left the room and then returned with a bill.
She gave the gentleman a piece of paper and he told us we owed 870 RGB Yuan. I asked him, “Wait, you want us to pay 140 US dollars for 6 shot glasses of tea? Are you crazy? We are not paying that.” I got so angry. I knew he was scamming us. I had an uneasy feeling about him for a while and I was upset we had even followed him into the tea room. I told the gentleman we did not have that money. He asked, “You are tourists and you don’t have money? The boss will be very mad.” I said, “I am calling the police.” I pulled my cell phone out and thought ok, I will call the police if I have to, because there is no way I’m paying almost 150 US dollars for tea. Larry told the man, “You invited us to have tea with you; you should have told us that it was expensive.” He said, “Let’s split in half.” I said, “I’m not paying 70 US dollars for tea either.
What a delicious meal we had here
” I pulled a 100 RGB Yuan bill out (because it was the smallest bill I could find without pulling anymore money out of my pocket) and I knew I was okay paying 14 US dollars for tea that I didn’t even enjoy. I laid it on the table, looked at Larry and said “Let’s go.” I walked out of there, and Larry walked right behind me. Larry said he didn’t even look behind him.
In front of Chairman Mao's Mausoleum
Are you kidding me? We had an extremely nice meal today for way less than what that man was trying to charge us for no more than a total of one glass of tea. That was a total scam, right? Am I wrong?
I told Larry it made me mad that I let my guard down, when I knew I should have followed my instinct. I knew the man was going to scam us the minute we walked into the tea room, and they closed the door.
That instant I knew something was going to go downhill!
In front of the Monument to the People's Heroes
Larry assured me the experience and the funny story were worth it. He is still laughing about it now. He’s so worry-free about everything. I sometimes envy that, but I think we balance each other out.
We walked right back to the hotel and called it a night.
Though the last 30 minutes of the night didn’t end exactly as I had hoped, most of our first full day in China was still a great experience. I enjoyed walking and learning about the Chinese New Year and culture through the people celebrating and dancing in the park and in the streets.
Tomorrow we have a tour of the Great Wall set up and we are looking forward to visiting this grand attraction.
With all the people on Tian'an Men Square waiting for the flag to be lowered