On my last weekend day in Beijing, I lounged around and then walked to the Lama Temple from my hotel. I took my time poking around all buildings and did a lot of people watching. The whole place smelled amazing! Then I walked back to the hotel because the website of Panda Brew said it opened at 10 but it really doesn’t open until 4 🙂 After a bit of shopping, I walked BACK over to Panda Brew for a flight. I had their Too Young Wheat, Too Naive Pale Ale, Pure Red Honey Ale and Brown Bear Brown Ale (which was my favorite).
After a week of hard work and some pretty tasty eating exploits, I was invited out by a coworker for Peking duck. We met up with her boyfriend, brother and several of their friends (including a couple from Madrid who studied at the same faculty as I did at the Compultense – small world!). We had a lovely dinner at a great local place and then we walked to a hidden whiskey bar. It looked like you were walking into someone’s garden but no! It’s a bar! They had the family scotch but I stuck to a local wine. And then the group dwindled and we headed to Mai Bar, a super hipster cocktail place where I had a lychee old fashioned. It was a lovely cocktail and a great evening full of conversation.
Saturday morning, I put myself on the subway and went to Tianamen Square. It was pretty locked down in anticipation of the upcoming military parade. I was pretty bummed – it would be have been cool to see such an important public space. I did get an idea of it’s vastness as I walked around it to Zhongshan Park and hung out.
After returning to the hotel, I walked over to the Hutong for a dumpling making class. It was just me and another couple and our instructor. We learned how to make the dough and a meat and vegetarian filling. We then filled a batch and then pan fried half and boiled the other half. The ayi made the most delicious smashed cucumber salad. I purchased a Chinese rolling pin and we were given the recipes. I can’t wait to try these at home!
I had scheduled a tour to the Great Wall on Sunday and was picked up bright and early. We started at the Summer Palace, built during the Ming Dynasty, like the Forbidden City. While this was a palace, more acts of state happened here than at the Forbidden City. Empress Dowager Ci Xi and her long tenure as regent dominated the stories our guide told us. She sounds like quite the force of nature.
The above is one of the most important Buddhist temples in China but during the Cultural Revolution, the statues were torn down and melted. The inside is now empty but the statues have been replaced with copies for tourists. Below, is a stone boat. The last emperor built it and our tour guide told us a really great fable about how the emperor is the boat and the people are the water and they rise and fall together. In foolishness, the last emperor had a stone boat commissioned that did not relay on the backs of the people to float.
And then we headed off to a completely tourist trap of a jade factory where we were given a short demonstration and a long sales pitch. We did eat a pretty traditional lunch and then we headed to the Great Wall! It was a very hot and hazy day but it was sort of unreal to actually be there. On the way back to the city we stopped at another tourist trap place, this time a tea house. Although I did learn a lot of about tea and bought three kinds of tea to take home.
I left on a Thursday and arrived late Friday night in BEIJING. I was up bright and early on Saturday and headed out to the National Museum of Art. When I arrived, the two main floors were closed for construction but there was a whole exhibit on Polish folk art, especially dance and dress. It was interesting, if not exactly what I expected my first taste of China to be.
I then caught a cab to the Forbidden City…just a few blocks away. Oops! I ran into a couple, from Chicago, and we chatted while getting our tickets. They had a tight schedule so we separated when we got inside as I was in no rush. I rented an audio headset and walked around and took in most of the buildings.
The crowds were unreal. Technically called the Palace Museum, the Forbidden City is the best preserved example of Chinese palatial architecture and some of the oldest wooden buildings in the world. Each palace had a special ceremonial use – the closer to the center, the more important. Tucked on each side of the main courtyard were sets of six smaller palaces, for the wives and concubines.
The details were incredible. Every surface was decorated or painted. It was a huge complex and had to be costly to build! Originally, gardens used to stretch all the way out current second ring road..