After the Great Wall we very hungry. We jumped on the bus and were taken to a restaurant for a quick bite to eat. After being well nourished with some delicious Chinese food, (it’s sooooo much better than the stuff at home!) the tour continued on taking us to the Summer Palace.
Back in the day an Emperor decided he was keen to sort himself out with a summer bach (crib if you’re from the south) so he commissioned hundreds of artisans to design a place for him, his concubines and his family members to hang out in in the summer season. He got heaps of workers to excavate a 2.2 square km lake.
For the rest of the grounds, he placed gardens, more palaces and houses for his concubines. Which apparently he had a QUITE a few of. A busy man.
We walked around this beautiful, frozen landscape marveling at the lifestyle these Emperors had. Not a bad summer getaway location, really!
We did notice that there a lot of rules about what you were and weren’t allowed to do at this amazing location. Pity the sign was right beside the exit though!
We thought the no trumpet playing was a bit random. And a bit rough.
By this time of the day we were sore, cold, hungry and tired. We had conquered The Great Wall and had walked around a big, pretty lake in -4c temperatures. After a quick feed we went back to the hotel where two ladies were there to rub our aches and pains away.
The next day was our free day, a day where we could explore the streets of Beijing Kiwi style! After hitting the buffet and nicking some more butter we jumped in a taxi and went towards the Lama temple, a Tibetan monastery in the northeastern part of Beijing. We arrived there early before the crowds which was lovely; as we walked the streets at this early time of morning we had them almost to ourselves.
Being enthralled at the novelty of being in Beijing without the throngs of tourists we decided we would go for a wander and check out some of the streets close to the temple.
We found a nice cafe and sat in the window sipping lattes with the sun streaming in, a nice change from the previous two days of cold and snow. The cafe itself was really cool – an interesting mix of temple-like architecture with modern coffee machines and even a choice of beans.
On the way back towards the Lama temple we saw big walls and an entry gate and realised that we had stumbled on a Confucius temple. We wandered in and enjoyed the tranquility of its buildings and gardens that we had pretty much all to ourselves.
We heard sounds coming from one of the buildings and followed our ears, discovering in one of the beautiful buildings a quartet of female musicians jamming out on traditional instruments. Being two of the few people there it felt almost like a personal concert.
We left the Confucian temple feeling very wise and amazed by its coolness. Dan, a sucker for a good gift shop, brought a couple of cool pieces of art (which i’m sure some of the readers will check out in future Kiwi residents) and a couple of books.
As we walked up the road we started to see the tourists again. Before long it was back to the good old fighting through queues and ignoring beggars and shop keeps as we headed towards the Lama temple.
The various buildings held different sized Buddhas starting from 2 metres tall…
And increasing in size to this whopper measuring in at 26 metres! It is carved from a single piece of sandalwood – pretty impressive.
The grounds were full of monks, temples, gardens, and, by this stage of the day, unfortunately heaps of tourists. In saying that we were also sightseeing….
After getting a serious dose of Chinese culture we decided to continue in this vein and head to the famous “Snack Street”. Unfortunately we discovered it was not open until the evening.
With a plan to head back this way later in the night, we instead walked around the downtown area and were buzzed out by the contrast between the Beijing we had seen in the morning and the Beijing we were experiencing in this area. Huge Nike billboards, gargantuan shopping malls and buildings, big buildings. It sort of brought us back to reality a bit.
The silk market was next on our hit list – a cornucopia of vendors, all crammed into a 6 story building as an attempt to clean up the streets for the 2008 Olympics. Everyone was fiending to make a buck (or should we say, a Yuan) and we were gagging for the chance to do some hustling of our own . Because our hands were so full and stopping for more than 10 seconds would attract too much attention we didn’t take any photos in the market…scored some sweet Gucci shades though…
So far, today had been primo.
By this stage of the day, it was time to make the mission back to Snack Street. We were gagging with anticipation having heard about all the random treats that were in store for us.
Right, so what to try first?! Trays and trays of wares lovingly laid out and temptingly tantalising.
Perhaps some silk worm larvae as an entree?
Next, some snake.
The snake looked pretty good; unfortunately, it had the texture of tyre rubber and was bland as anything. Oh well, perhaps some crickets will be tastier? Or a scorpion? What the heck, let’s try both!
In case you’re wondering, yes H-J was partaking in these delicacies too. However, it was decided that it would be better that she took the photos as Dan was making somewhat of a sticky mess of himself thanks to (as well as the creepy crawlies) gorging himself on huge chunks of meat, Fred Flintstone styles. There was lamb…
But still no satisfaction. We pondered what was missing in our lives and made a wise-crack to one of the vendors who was selling dog-meat about whether they had any cat instead.
To our surprise, he reached under the counter and pulled out a cat kebab. Now that we HAD to try.
It was actually quite delicious – a savoury dark-meat explosion, tasting somewhere in between chicken and rabbit. Mittens better watch out…
To conclude the tasting, Dan opted for some bee cocoon (did you know bees had cocoons? We still can’t quite figure that one out) and a stick of beetles.
H-J was quite full of bugs and pets by this point so declined both for which she was later extremely grateful – as Dan complained for the rest of the night of having beetle legs stuck in his teeth. Needless to say, these particular snacks were his least favourite.
By this time night had well and truly fallen on Snack Street and we our appetites for the unusual were sated. We called it quits and bid adieu to Snack Street.
It was now time to head to our last destination of the day – the appropriately named Red Theatre, where we were going to see a Kung Fu show performed Shaolin Monks. Its not every day you get to say that so we were pretty amped. After trying for around half an hour to get a taxi that wasn’t going to hustle us (they suddenly all went “off the meter” around the tourist filled Snack Street) we flew towards the theatre and before we knew it, it loomed gloriously in front of us.
No photos here but to sum it up the show was absolutely mind-blowingly cool. Monks flipped and fought and tumbled for an hour and a half in ways which we previously couldn’t fathom. For all the fact they’re performing in a slightly cheesy (i.e. they attempted to have a story line) stage show clearly made for tourists, these guys are the real deal and you certainly wouldn’t want to be coming across them in an alleyway. This is a show which tours the world quite regularly, so if you do get the chance to see it, we highly recommend it.
When the opportunity for a photo with some of the cast arose, we couldn’t help ourselves. You can barely pick us out, we reckon…
Now THAT’s how to spend your last day of the year.
Ps. This was New Years Eve. The transition between calendar years isn’t a big deal in countries like China or Korea, where they celebrate the Lunar New Year instead (23rd of January this year). So how did we spend it? Well, drinking in a hotel room with a bunch of very young foreign teachers, playing an extremely tame version of circle of death. LOL.
(In fact they don’t the meaning of playing circle of death- no gangstas in sight. Weak!)