Monday, June 23, 2008

Blue Sky Day

After it rains, the air clears somewhat and you can actually see the Bird's Nest quite clearly and the sky becomes quite blue. Saturday had "blue" skies but was also ridiculously hot.

With June still away at NSF events and Yan hanging out with her sister-in-law, I ventured off on my own to the Forbidden City. It was probably a bad choice of days to visit as it was so incredibly hot. I know why the Chinese ladies all carry umbrellas now! Still it was a beautiful site to see. I almost bought ice cream to eat to cool down, but decided that pea flavored ice cream just wasn't my thing. Whatever happened to vanilla? I was amazed by the immense size of the Forbidden City. I can't image that I even saw half of it. Just like New Yorkers go to the Hamptons, the emperors used to go to the Summer Palace and now I know why... to get away from the terrible heat of the Beijing summer and it's only June!

All of the tour books claimed that there is a Starbucks in the Forbidden City but I never found it. I just looked online and apparently it was shut down.
So much for me having a blueberry muffin and a latte!

I must admit that I did stumble across a Starbucks later in the day and got excited for a coffee. I don't really visit Starbucks itself that often in the US but I do love coffee and muffins and they are both very hard to find here, so Starbucks is a big treat. Also- my $7 coffee maker I bought for the apartment here makes very watery coffee. It brews the coffee it about 1 minute. I don't know why, but it doesn't seem to work right, yielding very speedy but very watery brown coffee. Sad. Unfortunately that Starbucks was sold out of blueberry muffins (I think that is the 2nd time I have tried to get blueberry muffins) so I was resorted to getting mandarin flavored muffins. It was that or red bean scones! I think perhaps Starbucks doesn't realize that it isn't the locals that visit, but the tourists that do, so they should just make thousands of blueberry muffins to sell.

Enjoy the photos of the Forbidden City! I really enjoyed snapping photos of people with their umbrellas! There was also a lot of construction going on at the Forbidden City. I wonder if they will finish in time for the Olympics.... Also- the reason the photos are never very vivid is due to the constant smog in Beijing. I am always tempted to photoshop them to make the colors of the buildings look brighter but that would not show you the smog!

I left the Forbidden City and went through to see Mao and Tiananmen square. I am old enough to remember the protests of Tiananmen square. It was very interesting to see the picture of Mao and Tianamen square as they are such famous sites and I have seen them so many times in the news. There were these fountains in front of Mao that suddenly came on and did a kind of show...sort of like at the Bellagio in Vegas but on a much smaller scale and with no music. Different patterns of water fountains shot up at different times.

I like to wander when I travel as often the best finds are off the beaten path. I have found great stores, restaurants, and sights walking away from the main touristy areas in so many countries. Usually the local people are more than happy to see you and are friendly. I have brought home great things from shops that are away from the touristy areas and are in the more local areas by doing this. So after my visit to Tiananmen, I started to walk. I came across a lovely little park with koi fish. There was a man at the park dressed in an official looking outfit, like a security guard. Anytime someone got too close to the pond, his job was to yell at them. I then came across a fancy shopping area. I liked how between the fancy shops there was a McDonalds. You would never see that on 5th Avenue in NYC! I also discovered a good place to find a clean and proper toilet is at McDonalds. I think this is why Mary Lynn sent me to China first!

I then came across this row of stalls selling anything you can imagine on a stick. Squid on a stick, corn on the cob on a stick, crab on a stick, sugar on a stick....
and the workers at every stall had exactly the same hat and apron on.

I kept walking and came across hutongs.
To quote wikipedia, "In Beijing, hutongs are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences. Many neighbourhoods were formed by joining one siheyuan to another to form a hutong, and then joining one hutong to another. The word hutong is also used to refer to such neighbourhoods.

Since the mid-20th century, the number of Beijing hutongs has dropped dramatically as they are demolished to make way for new roads and buildings. More recently, some hutongs have been designated as protected areas in an attempt to preserve this aspect of Chinese cultural history."

I immediately fell in love with the hutongs. The architecture is amazing and there are so many doors and alley ways. I just want to explore them all! I had left the touristy part and it was just me and my camera and people sitting in a park playing games and such. Everyone was smiling at me and said hello. I was cautious about taking photos or entering the alleys but one man waved me in and after I entered the first, I wasn't afraid. There were shops and restaurants in them.
I came across a restaurant and took their card so I could return to it. I really want to see inside some of the courtyard houses and several restaurants now occupy houses so this is a good way to get to see them. Apparently you can live in courtyard houses which is a very interesting place to live! After walking around for a long time, I was tired and took a taxi home. There are so many hutongs in Beijing that I can't wait to have some time to go explore more. The architecture is truly incredible. I don't think these photos do them justice and next time I'll aim to take better photos!

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