Guess the jetlag catches you quickly. We slept until 9:00 am – and still had not had breakfast. The shower was great – plenty of pressure and nice and hot to help wake us up.
The Novotel Peace Hotel is easily an upper 4 star. Inviting, friendly staff, very nice rooms (with a fantastic bathroom), great views – at least from the 16th floor, very good food etc.
We hurry to the Square Restaurant for breakfast. What a feast! For those of you who have been to the Star City Buffet in Sydney, the only thing missing was the prawns. We hurriedly eat our fill – cereal and fruit, Chinese sausage, eggs, sautéed potatoes, pastries and great coffee. Once finished, we go to the foyer to meet Jack.
From the start, he is very obliging and ready to discuss our options for getting to the things that we want to see. Maria decides not to go to the Forbidden City (feet are killing her) and so Michael and Jack set off.
The fastest way to travel around Beijing is by taxi (even in the traffic). The trip to the Forbidden City takes 10 minutes and costs ¥10 ($2.50).
“Look upon my works, all ye who are mighty; and despair.” – Ozymandias
If there is one emphasis the Forbidden City impresses upon a visitor, and that would be one of intimidation. If this is the effect the Emperors’ wished to afford upon visiting envoys and emissaries, I would suggest they succeeded. This indeed was my reaction upon arriving at this once centre of power.
However, my initial reaction was realising how cold Beijing can become. To enter the City’s precinct, one has to cross the Royal Bridge spanning a moat, the surface being completely frozen!
Bobbing within a sea of humanity, jostling for the ticket sellers and whilst jousting with the professional beggars...all this before gaining entry through the main gates! It certainly makes one appreciate the wide open spaces of home. Mind you, I would never exchange this experience for anything else.
The second impression one receives is the splendour, evoked by the array of colours. Gold or “yellow”, blue and green, were the colours reserved for the monarch. The lower classes, to even ponder using these hues meant death.
The use ramps or bridges, within the complex, segregating royalty, emissaries and the common folk is profound. The architecture is a virtual reflection of the tomb we visited the previous morning. In both locations, the architecture commands obedience.
We travel back to the Hotel where Maria joins us to visit the Beijing Observatory. This Observatory was completed in 1422. It kind of stands similar to an Aztec pyramid shape on a piece of land between major motorways. In fact, we travelled a figure ∞ to get across to it in the cab. From the start Michael is all a-flutter. Once inside the gate at a cost of ¥10 each ($2.50) we enter a sanctum of peace and tranquillity from the outside hustle and bustle. The original instruments were moved from the original observatory on this site to Nanjing (the then capital of China) in 1279 and copies were made for this observatory. Instruments on display include:
- An armillary sphere used to measure the coordinates of the celestial bodies consists of two bronze disks - the ecliptic armillary (for tracking the sun), and the equatorial armillary (tracks bodies that are not the sun).
- A quadrant built in 1673 and used in order to measures the altitudes and zenith locations of the celestial bodies.
- A theodolite built in 1715 and used for measuring both altitude and azimuth coordinates of celestial bodies. The azimuth theodolite is similar recording only the azimuth.
- An astronomical sextant is used to measure the angular distance between celestial bodies, and also used for measuring the angular diameter of the moon and sun.
- A celestial globe built in 1673 and used to determine the time in which the celestial bodies will rise and set; as well as the altitude and azimuth of the bodies at any given time.
Then it off to the Pearl Markets where after much massaging of our egos and haggling on our parts we picked up a little something for an event in March – no Gen, we are NOT telling you and who says it is for you anyway??? J Back on the streets, we are led past waiting cabs by Jack who warns us that these ones won’t use the meter and target (particularly western) tourists.
One of the things we really wanted to see while in Beijing was the Hutongs. Hutong translates as ‘small street between buildings’. These are the traditional living quarters of the former Beijing population. We hop aboard a pedicab with Jack in another leading ours. It seems that our poor rider struggles at times with the two of us aboard! The streets are very narrow and twist this way then that, at times, doubling back on themselves. We arrive at Dajinsi Hutong where we are welcomed into one by the English speaking granddaughter. It is obvious that this hutong has been done up and our little guide, after serving us green tea proudly explains that their hutong was one of those approved for visitors during the Olympic Games.
In the past, up to 16 people would have lived in this small set of buildings around an inner courtyard. Now, there are just 3. The hutongs are laid out accordingly to Feng Shui principles with the elders living in the northern building, the son and his family in the eastern building, the daughter and family in the western and the servants in the southern building that is generally hotter in summer and colder in winter. Mind you, to describe them as buildings is very generous – most are 2 -3 small rooms. Of surprise to us and most other foreigners I would think is the fact that none of the hutong homes have toilets – all the inhabitants use public toilets!
The great-grandfather, who worked in the Forbidden City, was held in high esteem which is demonstrated by the 5 steps up into the main hutong building (most are 2 steps). After a quick tour of the buildings including a photo in the wedding room (bedroom) we are again off. The ever present hawkers try to sell us postcards until Jack curtly tells them off!
We weave through this district of hutongs, along the frozen Houhai Lake and past all the bars that are packed in summer, but now busy doing lots of renovations. By this point, the temperature was beginning its nightly downward trend and we are feeling decidedly cool, so back to the Hotel to get warmer clothing and use an ATM.
We set out for our evening, starting with the huge Tiananmen Square between the Tiananmen Gate, Mao Tse Tung's Mausoleum, the Beijing Museum and the Great Hall of the People - the House of Congress. The sheer scale of the square is breathtaking. One million people can fit comfortably into the area that is centered with the Monument to the Peoples Heroes - the Chinese equivalent of our War Memorial. By night it is a place that commands reflection. We manage to get a photo of Jack here! And he takes one of Michael and I in the beanies from our Maryborough Mates! Thanks - they are coming in handy already.
Then it is off to see the Chao Yang Theatre Chinese Acrobatic Show. Absolutely mesmerising – with lithe bodies contorting to all sorts of shapes. There are child and adult acrobats in a performance that is theatrical and sensuous.
Following the show, we invite Jack to have a meal with us. Originally, we are keen to go to the night food markets, but Jack explains that these are not at all authentic, being established purely for the tourist market and that most Beijing inhabitants would not consider eating the ‘delicacies’ on offer! So we ask to try dumplings and he tells us that the restaurant next to the theatre is known for their steamed bun. So off we go and eat like kings again – steamed buns that are nothing like the sweet ones we know in Australia, pork balls – huge, lighter than air meat balls, sweet and sour pork – again not all like we usually get (not so sickly) and a diced beef and fermented bean dish that is heavily laced with chilli – too hot for Maria but loved by Michael. Plus rice and OJ all for under $25!
Then it is time to say goodbye to Jack. He comes very highly recommended by us. Very affordable as well with the 36 hour service costing under $100. We are more than happy to give him a well deserved tip. We decide to update the blog and have a leisurely breakfast the next morning before leaving the hotel at 11 am for the airport and out flight out at 2.35 pm. Our very short but totally memorable tantalising first taste of Beijing has cost us under $1,000 all up!