For Lunar New Year (known by some as Chinese New Year) I went with my friend Kristen (she’s from South Africa) to Beijing, China. It was an expensive trip by my cheap standards, but everything ends up being expensive when you’re going on vacation during a holiday that your whole hemisphere seems to celebrate.
We departed on our journey at 6:30 in the morning and made our way to the airport. Our flight took a little over 2 hours. Upon arriving at PEK, we got our baggage and found our guide, who introduced herself to us as Lily. She first took us to eat at a buffet, and then to Tienanmen square, where we walked around and took a bunch of pictures. I’m sad that we apparently didn’t pay for going to see Chairman Mao’s body….I had forgotten all about that being preserved, otherwise I would have made seeing it a priority. As it was, seeing the Chairman wasn’t on our tour itinerary. Here’s a picture of me standing in Tienanmen square:
Next we went to the Forbidden City, named as such because it was were the Emperor lived and was completely off-limits to all the common folk. (Unless you were fortunate enough to be his wife or one of his concubines :P) The living quarters were fascinating. I can only wonder what it must have been like to be so wealthy during a time when everyone else was so poor.
Next we went to a Tea shop. At first, Lily taking us to different shops was pleasant, even fun. What we found out later was that she did this not just for the tourism factor, but because if we bought anything, she would get a small commission from it since her travel agency had a deal with the shops. The major problem with this is that we didn’t know that was what would be happening. We had neither the money exchanged or the money in our bank accounts for many of the items. The tea we tasted was quite yummy, though we couldn’t buy any. It was pretty pricey given that we didn’t bring a lot of money. Instead we got tea cups.
After this we saw an acrobatics show. It was so cool! One of the many reasons that the first day was my favorite in terms of how fun it was. I went to see Cirque du Soleil last summer with a friend…and while that was cool, this was more genuine and more entertaining, though smaller-budget. Obviously the second day was the biggest coolness factor, when we went to see the Great Wall, but the first day was my favorite in every other way. Our last major activity that day was to go eat dinner…it was really good. I like Chinese food (that which I’ve tasted, anyway) MUCH better than Korean food.
Then we went to our hotel. The tourism company in Korea that we went through was able to move us to a nicer hotel, we guessed because of the lack of tourists in China during the New Year. We were told there was a 500 Yuan cost for the mini-bar, which we were expected to pay upfront. This was an unpleasant surprise, and neither Kristen nor myself were willing to pay that much for a charge we didn’t anticipate…..(not to mention I hardly brought much more than that with me!! It was the end of the month, I had hardly anything to last until the next payday which was today) Fortunately Lily stepped in to pay it. Our room was really nice! We had two good sized beds with comfy comforters. There were even rose petals on the beds! We joked that we didn’t want to move the petals in case there was a charge for those, too! My biggest source of glee after the beds was the bathtub in the bathroom. Not only was it separate from the shower, but it was big and clean! We really got a great deal because of the New Year.
Day 2: We went a Jade museum/Jewelery store. Neither Kristen nor myself bought anything. There were a lot of neat jade sculptures there, I don’t know if all of them were for sale or if it was only the jewelry. I thought this sculpture was particularly beautiful:
Next up were the Ming Tombs. It was nice to see this cultural site, but it was more like a brief pit stop before the Great Wall than anything else. Still, it was nice to see this burial ground of the Emperors of China. Then, it was FINALLY time for the great wall. To be totally honest, this was the highlight of the trip…I never thought I would see it. The sad/funny thing is, we only spent an hour there because that was how much time Lily decided would be good to spend there. Granted, it was pretty cold, and it’s not as if nature would have provided many things to take pictures of in the dead of winter. It was just a minor drawback of being on a tour (and in the middle of winter).
We drove by the Olympic stadium, which was impressive in its size. Lily got the driver to stop, and we took a few pictures. It reminds me, I want to watch the Olympics and be in the audience someday. It’s a bucket list item. Our next destination was a silk-making place. They told us a little bit about how silk was made, but went right into the many products they had right after. Once again, this wasn’t the most practical place to try and make a buck off of two young teachers at the end of their pay cycle. But then again, this was probably a generic itinerary. I thought this picture was funny.. It’s former President Bush getting to wear a traditional Chinese Silk Garment.
We went to get some noodles for an early dinner. It was here to Lily informed us of her tip per day, and the driver’s as well. Kristen and I were once again never informed of this beforehand. Lily, in what may have been Chinese manners, bluntly told us about it. We were under the impression that everything was included and that Lily’s agency paid her through what we paid. Later she told us that aside from the small omissions she got from purchases her tourist charges made, the tip was were she got by the best. We saved this detail for the last day, but we eventually told Lily later that we couldn’t afford her tip…we expected everything to have been covered by the money we paid our Korean travel agency. We felt bad, but there was nothing we could do.
On the last day, we went to the Summer Palace. The weather was fridgid there, because it’s next to the largest man-made lake in China. We didn’t actually go “inside” the palace, but we did walk around the area and got a good view of it all nestled up in the rock (or was that the Buddhist temple? Sometimes our guide was a little hard to understand)
We got a quick lunch, which was tasty but I was strangely the least hungry of any of the couple days we had been there. It looked as if birds had pecked at our meal. Our final destination on the tour was the Temple of Heaven. I liked walking through the several walkways it had. Then the driver took us back to the hotel room, and our last day was done.
That night, fireworks started going off in the early evening and had not even begun to die down (naturally) at 12am when I decided to go to bed, They were pretty though. All over the city, residents were lighting fireworks, sometimes right by the side of the road so that I saw one car slowing down for the smoke. I tried to get a picture of this, but it was downright impossible, I just don’t have that kind of camera.
The cool things about China were definitely the Great Wall, The Hotel, Being in China, and THE FOOD.
The bad/not as cool things about China were: the relative lack of manners that people had compared to what we were used to, The unexpected charges, the tourist trap type places we were taken to on our “tour”, and the lack of regular toilets (and Toilet Paper) at most of the touristy places (not the biggest problem in the world, but I would not want to take a poop in one of those…)
Overall it was a fun trip. Teaching Winter Camp was at times an irritating experience, and I needed the vacation. I enjoyed visiting my 10th country and being in a new place (unless my counting is wrong).