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Beijing and beyond (the third and last installment)

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(Now with all the photos!!!)

The Beijing Zoo is somewhere I have always wanted to visit, due to the fact that I have never seen a Panda before, and I have always been a fan of bears. Beijing zoo is huge, I wouldn't say it was the nicest zoo I have ever visited, there appears to be new investment, so some animals have modern and well designed habitats, while others seem to be rather cramped by U.K. standards. Arguably it was another black and White animal that was the most entertaining at the zoo. The Penguins put on a great impromptu display, playfully swimming around and seemed very content, which I enjoyed. In the aquarium, the highlight, apart from catching the end of an impressive dolphin display was the Beluga whales. These huge white mammals are very playful, maybe three times bigger than a dolphin, and looking like a cross between that and a whale. They appear to have a constant smile on their face which adds to their charm and character, and one carried on playing with it's foam toys most of the time we watched it!

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One of the most important of the zoo inhabitants we saved for last. The Panda. They were very cute, and although not the most active, fascinating to watch wrestling with their bamboo, particularly the youngsters!

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The next day we went to Lama temple (Yonghe Temple) which is situated at the end of our road and was just about visible over the high wall closing it off. The temple is primarily used by Tibetan Buddhists, and is considered one of their most important religious sites. We had been recommended that it was well worth a visit, as it's home to the largest standing Budda in the world made out of a solid piece sandalwood. The temple is very much a working temple with Buddhists praying and lighting incense sticks, which gave the place a very sensory experience. 

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The Temple of Heaven was another Ming Dynasty creation, there is an important balance in Chinese culture between opposites, this is reflected in the Feng Shui culture and the famous chinese YingYang (or Ying & Yang). The Temple of Heaven, was a place to pray for good harvests. It was built in a way that echoed the idea in ancient and still modern Chinese culture, that the square represents Earth, and the Circle represents Heaven. The temple is unique from the others we have seen in Beijing as it's circular, set in a large walled square. To represent the Chinese beliefs. In the grounds of the Temple of Heaven Chinese people played cards, bat and ball games, played instruments and a group of people wrote Chinese characters with massive sponge calligraphy brushes in water on the black paving slabs that take you up to the temple which was great to watch.

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The last few days were spent relaxing and we only ventured out to see the Summer Palace in the north of the city. We actually didn't make it, turning up at the old summer palace which is now a ruin, after the English and France destroyed it during the Second Opium War in 1860 in revenge for the torture and deaths of some British envoys, a Times journalist and their group of British and Indian Troopers by the Royal Prince. When it was ordered to be destroyed the troops looted the palace, and these actions are still criticised today!

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The next stop on the trip is to Xi'an which is home to the Terracotta Army, which should be interesting! However, the 13 hour train ride without a bed doesn't fill me with as much enthusiasm!    

Posted by Christian25 23:01 Archived in China Tagged travel_china_beijing_travelling Comments (0)

Beijing and Beyond (the second installment)

The first chapter of an Asian adventure!

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We decided that we would pay for a guided tour of the Great Wall, in particular the Badaling section. We managed to sort one out via the hostel which also included a tour of the Ming tomb, lunch and a visit to two Chinese factory shops that explained and sold traditional exports of the country.

Setting off early in the morning, embarrassingly our earliest start so far in China, we were picked up by the mini bus, greeted by our guide Mavis (which was her English name). On the bus was other Asian tourists, most from Hong Kong and the others from Taiwan and then a couple from Switzerland. Mavis did the majority if the explanation about the wall on the bus so we could be left to explore and experience the wall how we chose fit. One point she made to us and the Swiss couple was that we were going to be a major minority of westerners at the wall. In fact she suggested that due to the time of the year, off season there would be extremely few westerners. This is surprisingly the case even at the peak of the season, that western tourists are massively out numbered by Chinese and other Asians making a visit to there most famous landmark. She warned us that some of the people visiting may have only have seen a westerner in Hollywood films and never in the flesh, so not to be worried if they stare or even take pictures, which we laughed off!

We arrived after an interesting drive through the Chinese countryside to a massive coach park, Mavis sorted out our tickets to the cable cars to get to the top of the hills which the wall is located on. The wall in places has over a 60 degree incline, and cuts across the hillside not fazed by the undulating terrain. I'll be honest I'm not the greatest fan of heights, so the cable car although fun, did fill me with some apprehension, but it was ok. Once up on the hill side, apart from the poor visibility as a thin mist hung over the vista, the vastness of the wall can be fully comprehended. This only being a section of the wall, there is four sections that are separate in the Beijing area alone.

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Apart from the visibility not being as good as we may have hoped the views were still amazing and the wall was as spectacular as I had imagined. It was as packed as Mavis has warned, and if this was out of season, we had chosen the best time to visit! We were treated to some excellent photography shots, hustling with the other visitors for prime locations. We also experienced a fame that might be our only ever experience of any kind of stardom, people waving at us, taking pictures, smiling and practicing English. At one point we asked a Asian man carrying a large camera if he minded taking a picture of the three if us. As soon as we got ourselves into position a photo shoot entailed which resulted in other Asians, I assume mainly Chinese, people from small towns and villages, snapping pictures of us on everything from phones to huge lensed cameras. It was a strange experience, and as I said to the others, 'we are currently standing on one of the Seven Wonders of the World and people are just as in awe of us'. This nearly went to my head, but I managed to keep a lid on it! 

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The descent off the hillside in the slightly dodgy cable car was almost a little sad after the heights of the Wall and the new found celebrity status, but it just helped to enforce the feeling if how lucky we are to be experiencing such a fantastic trip. Once in a lifetime!

 Back on the coach we headed off to The Jade  Gallery and lunch. The Gallery is still producing items in the precious stone, from large carvings to delicate earrings. The guide was very enthusiastic in telling us that the material holds it's value better than gold or silver. It's also a massively traditional material to the Chinese and many if the carvings in jade have different meanings and relationships in Feng Shui. Ultimately the idea of the visit is with the intention of getting the tourists to purchase some jade, the prices would have ended the travelling there and then, but it was an interesting place. 

Lunch was served and we were a little puzzled, knives and forks on the table, even a spoon for the real simpleton. The Chinese food was noticeably more western and then the bombshell... Chips! It then dawned on us what Mavis had meant earlier on the bus, that there was a specific area of Beijing which westerners tend to eat more western food! That went a long way to explain why we had been eating our food at restaurants serving grilled locust amongst other things, and the bemused stares we received from the Chinese people eating their food. So we had been having dinner in the hardcore restaurants, eating the 'real' Chinese food, which filled us with a collective pride in our blinded bravery! 

After dinner we set off in the mini bus across more rural China, to visit the Ming tomb. There are 13 tombs in an area about 30 miles north of the city of Beijing. The most impressive and most visited is the one of the third Ming emperor Yongle, who is responsible for most if the famous Ming buildings and temples, in particular the Forbidden City! Mavis explained a great deal of the ancient wisdom that is still left over to this day, such as the Feng Shui and superstitions that the Chinese believed when building their palaces and tombs, as well as other buildings. For example there is a step you have to cross in every doorway, this was believed to keep evil spirits from entering. She told us that women should cross the step with their right foot and men with their left. There were also certain areas where people would leave money at the tomb as an offering in return for good luck, which we all thought we could do with. 

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There was a doorway at the tomb which was called the Spirit Way, which the body of the Emperor would have been taken through when he was going to be buried, symbolically  to take him over to the afterlife. A mortal human should not cross the door in the direction to his tomb, but rather go round it, but once returning, you most pass through the door. Mavis taught us the routine that must be done when coming through the Spirit Way. First you need to brush yourself down to clean off any bad spirits that might have latched themselves onto you, you must cross the doorway in the correct manner, men leading with their left foot, women with there right. You have to recite in Chinese, 'I'm coming back' and once through the Spirit Way, not turn back to look, and hold hands with your family members. I'm unsure if this ritual has become more of a tourist experience to help sell the ancient Chinese wisdom, but we thought it's best to give ourselves all the luck we can get, and it was a nice experience. 

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(The Spirit Way)

Our last stop of the day was the Beijing Silk Museum, which much like the Jade gallery had an alternate ploy, to make you buy high quality silk. The introduction wad interesting, we learnt the life cycle of the silk worm, and how everything it produces is used, from eating the worm itself, to it's excrement being used in Chinese medicine. They made a pillow, which the guide at the silk museum had great joy explaining was called the 'poopoo pillow', which doesn't need much of an introduction but it's suppose to be good for your neck amongst other things. Needless to say we are not walking round donning the latest silk fashions, but it was a good experience, and arguably our best day out so far! 

Keep your eyes peeled for the next instalment, coming soon!

Posted by Christian25 02:50 Archived in China Tagged travel_china_beijing_travelling Comments (2)

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