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marksfour trip report.. In Search of the Joy Luck moment...

marksfour trip report.. In Search of the Joy Luck moment...

Feb 16th, 2008, 09:07 PM
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marksfour trip report.. In Search of the Joy Luck moment...

My husband and I were accompanying our daughter back to China where she was going to continue her second semester. Being a Chinese American and this being my first trip to China, I arrived in the Motherland thinking I would feel as if I ‘belonged’, but there was no Joy Luck type of feeling, just a strange out of body experience.... tons of people who look like me, new smells, and new driving 'rules'.... I knew I would not find this feeling in Beijing, but it is our first stop of 3 urban cities (Shanghai and Hangzhou to follow) and perhaps it was waiting for me on our next stop.

Some memorable things:
Being hit by a car, meeting 2 Norwegians who were conned 4 times in 2 days (my husband was only conned 2 times in 2 days), watching an Acrobatic Show in an unheated theater of 27 F degrees, my husband’s foot massage which resulted in severe jaw pain because he clenched his teeth all through the painful massage the day before, mastering the subways, riding the train on one of the busiest days of the Spring Festival, finding out that China Air hires the most beautiful Chinese women, following the China-Japan dumpling ‘controversy’ daily in the paper, enjoying a 20 course feast with the parents of a Chinese student we had hosted a few summers back, a night of fireworks at eye level from our hotel room, and realizing that no matter how much one reads and researches about China one can never fully grasp all that China was historically and what it is today.

Our service on our JAL flights put the US carriers to shame.... the friendly service, the food, the constant cleaning of the restrooms, the carts that will back up all the way down the aisle to let you get past, the smiles, the fresh pillow cases, the unused headsets sealed in plastic, and the idea that they want to keep us happy during the flight and not make us feel as if they are doing us any favors. I only wish they flew domestic US flights! I was hooked on the mix of crunchy salty/ sweet snack crackers they hand out..anyone know where to find something similar in Hawaii?…..I have cravings!

Well, we arrived in Beijing late at night and so we took advantage of our hotel driver and checked into the Peninsula. The fresh fruit bowl and note from the manager were a nice touch (but what we needed was something less healthy, like some brownies or a few cookies! ha). The room was extremely small for the 3 of us but it didn’t matter at the time because we only had energy to crawl into bed.

When we woke up the next morning we knew that 10 nights in this small (Grand Deluxe!?) room would not be comfortable for the 3 of us (one of us is a professional snorer). We asked for a duplex room that is 2 stories and with the new room came Club level amenities, a better night sleep for all, and we were able to use the living room to have our daughter’s college friends over for drinks, etc...

Since our daughter lived in Beijing this past semester (and this being her 3rd trip to China) we would not get to try many of the Fodorites’ recommendations for food but rather some hole in the wall places that she would frequent. We would also use the amazingly efficient subway system more than the taxi. She became our built-in interpretor, money handler, shopping haggler, itinerary planner, bargain hunter and subway navigator....we were now ready to go.

Day 1: Lama Temple, Dim Sum lunch
The Hotel is located kitty corner to the Denshikou subway Station (which is adjacent to the Regent Hotel) so we hopped on board and rode it just 4 stops north to the Yonghegong Station which is steps from the Lama Temple. Our daughter’s Chinese roommate Wen Jing is from a town 2 hours outside of Harbin and she joined us for the day. She has never been to any of the major attractions in Beijing she explained that the entry fees are too high and it is common place for out of town students swho study in Beijing, not to visit these places. It was a nice stop for all of us.

We then had a dimsum lunch at what looked like a good sized popular restaurant. Apologies for not getting the name that day since we were in a jetlag fog and our D only knows it as the “24 hour place”. To find it, walk back to the Yonghegong subway station and look diagnonally across the street. It is set back slightly from the road but look for all the red hanging lanterns out front of this 2 story building. (You end up walking under the second ring road overpass as you cross the street at this busy intersection.) Lunch was different filled baozi, a mochi type rice wrapped in lotus leaves, various jaozis or dumplings, and some vegetable dishes. The restaurant has many tanks filled with live fish, turtles, snails, etc. and my husband (who loves pet stores) was only too happy to look in all the tanks. I think he would have purchased a pet turtle if he could.

That night we wanted to treat Wen Jing to a special dinner and she said American style food is her favorite food. So we ended up walking from our hotel to the Outback Steakhouse at the Beijing Hotel. Walk west on Wangfujing Road (what a colorfully lit and active broad pedestrian street!) and it is on the right). First real night in Beijing and we are eating baby back ribs, cole slaw, steak, fries and baked potatoes (!) but it was special for Wen Jing and that was what we wanted.

Aside: Whenever people would talk to us they would look at my blonde husband, then our daughter (who is often asked if she is from Xinjiang) and then look at me and logically start speaking to me in Chinese.....they might as well be speaking to me in tongues.

Stay tuned....
marksfour is offline  
Feb 16th, 2008, 09:25 PM
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If anyone wants to follow up on the restaurant, from the description given I would be fairly confident it's the local branch of Jin Ding Xuan, which sometimes bizarrely translates itself as 'Golden Tripod Attic'. There's little English around but picture menus from which to choose from an assortment of Cantonese, Beijing, and Shanghainese baozi and jiaozi, with a few Hong Kong-style extras such as milk tea.

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
Feb 16th, 2008, 09:35 PM
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Welcome home and thanks for the report. Great start, please keep it coming! I was just wondering what happened to you. Anxiously awaiting more of your story.

Aloha e komo mai(welcome home!)
hawaiiantraveler is offline  
Feb 16th, 2008, 10:41 PM
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marksfour, could you share your conning experience so us future/returning china travelers know what to look out for. also, if you know what happened to the norwegians, pls pass it on here. no graphic details needed. just the con.

i went to china about 20 yrs ago, and was conned by a t-shirt vendor by the great wall. no great financial loss, just mad about being such a lolo.
kuranosuke is offline  
Feb 16th, 2008, 11:25 PM
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Thank you for your replies and to PeterN_H for helping with the name of the dim sum place.

HawaiianTraveler we had printed your trip report and carried it with us...it is now rag tagged and wish we could have eaten at some of your recommendations but we were being guided by our D and doing Beijing 'college-style'.

Kuranosuke I am happy to mention the cons..the Norwegians paid 500rmb for their cab ride from the airport to their hotel near the Forbidden City, they had Tea with 2 young college aged girls and paid 4 figures in rmb, they also paid double what we paid for the same Great Wall Tour, and were taken by students to an Art Gallery and actually purchased art...
My husband (mind you our D was not with him either time)was taken to an art gallery and fell for the story of this 'famous teacher in all of China' who he met at the gallery and was willing to give husband a deal on his famous art...embarrassingly, the next day he ended up at yet another art gallery of yet another famous Chinese artist...with art most similar to yesterday's gallery!
marksfour is offline  
Feb 16th, 2008, 11:55 PM
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Day 2: Silk Street

Aside: As for Chinese money on our trip, we ended up using our debit card at the ATM machines rather than carrying a lot of US money and having the hotels exchange it. The fee was just $2.50 US and worth the convenience.

So we were off to Silk Street to get down coats. The snowstorms in the south and west were not affecting us in Beijing but the cold winds definitely were…one upside to these winds…beautiful blue skies! Our D managed to get me a Northface down coat for $27 US complete with all the Northface tags so at the very worst it is real…errr, real fake?

Tonight was a quiet dinner at the hotel and a movie in the room. We had started our trip a bit sick and we all needed a night to regroup and get a good night sleep...we still had 13 days to go.
marksfour is offline  
Feb 16th, 2008, 11:58 PM
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marksfour: ok, i got it. be mindful when taking a cab from the airport, no tea with chicks, and no buying of "famous" artworks. thanks.
kuranosuke is offline  
Feb 17th, 2008, 02:54 AM
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This has the makings of a classic AAA+ Fodor's report! Can't wait to read the rest..!!
ekscrunchy is offline  
Feb 17th, 2008, 06:15 AM
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Definitely looking forward to the rest of this! Lucky you having a "local" guide. BTW, my first trip to China was with a tour group, and in Guilin the leader took some of us to a cafe that sold fried rat, among other delicacies. He bought one of the turtles that was otherwise destined for soup, and we ceremonially released it in the nearby river.
thursdaysd is offline  
Feb 17th, 2008, 07:58 AM
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nice start look forward to more..
rhkkmk is offline  
Feb 17th, 2008, 10:30 AM
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Keep it coming!
Femi is offline  
Feb 17th, 2008, 10:55 AM
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I'm really enjoying your report and looking forward to more!
Kathie is online now  
Feb 17th, 2008, 11:17 AM
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Thank you for your replies and encouragement. I should have thanked all of you in the very beginning for helping us plan our trip. Your reports and information were invaluable to us.

Thursdaysd –loved the story of the turtle
Ekscrunchy and Shanghainese – we also printed your reports and brought them with us.

I am encouraged so I will continue…..

Day 3: Hutong, Underground City, BIE campus, Baozi & Jiaozi

Off to the Underground City! You can read more about it from this Time article (http://www.time.com/time/world/artic...185440,00.html) We took the subway to the Qianmen station and upon exiting the station you face south then cross the street and start walking toward the right along Qianmen. Turn left at the first alley you come to…(you will now be south of Qianmen) and you will stroll through a predominantly gray colored Hutong. It appears empty but as you walk through and peer down the alleys you realize there is a lot of life behind these old walls. One memorable shop/home consisted of a 3’ wide enclosed store running the 8’ width of their home. In the windows were cigarettes, candy, potted plants, bags of dried fruit snacks, bottled drinks etc.. with their living area right behind this store. A slight turn in the road brought us to a farmers market of sorts…a wooden wagon with fruits and vegetables, more beautiful veggies and fruits laying on newspaper on the ground, and a few items that were being grilled on a portable grill. On our stroll we also noticed several large positive slogans that were either on banners or painted on the sides of the buildings (one read “We must first establish a civilized nation”). We also experienced our first public restroom...a door in the alley held a row of squat toilets with no dividers, but there was toilet paper on the floor at each one. Tomorrow I may forego all liquids…

After ¼ mile from Qianmen (being out of shape, it felt longer than this) is the entry. You may be thinking you are lost and there can’t be an entry to the Underground City…trust me..you are not lost..it is just that subtle. Be on the lookout for an unobtrusive door on your right. There is a green sign over it saying it is the entrance to the Underground City (62 West Damochang Street). We were all prepared with our 20RMB admission fee and flashlight to wander through this underground marvel but when we entered through the door four friendly soldiers about 18-20 years of age were very apologetic when telling us it is closed for renovations in preparation for the Olympics.

So it was back to the subway station to ride to the Xizhimen stop where our D’s old campus is located (which is south of the Zoo). We then started our “Day In the Life of D” and we strolled through her old “campus” (4 buildings) and the surrounding area that was her home for the past 4 months. By now we were very cold so our D took us to a hole in the wall place for a snack of steaming baozi (again apologies for not having a name since it was all in Chinese and one would get lost trying to find this place by taxi or on foot). There is a table outside where 6 men huddled together eating hot bowls of soup noodles and baozi. Next to the outdoor table was a large steamer with baskets on top. Walking through the plastic strips at the entry (our first experience with these commonplace strips), the long narrow eatery fits a small counter for diners on the left and barely enough room to walk to the back to place your order. Once the order was placed, the owner brought our 2 bamboo baskets filled with tiny baozis and set them on top of the steamer while we waited for them to be heated. The steaming baozi were finally ready and the hot savory meat & veggie mixture that filled these small soft buns tasted wonderful.

We went across the lane to what resembled a little sundries shop, and met the family who owns it. A set of grandparents, their daughter, her teen son and 9 yr. old son. The daughter was on the floor boiling jiaozi in a pot on a hot plate that was laying on newspaper. Our D said she boils hot noodles and/or jaozi at lunch time and delivers it to the different people who work in the area for money. We saw her teenaged son several times that day toting a steaming metal container delivering these hot lunches.

Lunch was at our D’s favorite Jaozi place called Lao Bian Jiaozi. It is located on the same street as the Guo Yi Hotel (where the National Elections were held) at No. 1 East Wenxing Road. Walk ½ block south from the hotel and you will see it on the left corner. The egg & carrot jaozi one could eat for days, along with the pork jiaozi, then there is the egg & pork w/ vegetables & gravy (tastes a lot like egg fu yung back home but looks nothing like it), a walnut and celery dish with the freshest light sauce (the often ignored celery back home was transformed into one of the tastiest vegetables!) and then Basi bananas fried with syrup on top. You need to dip the bananas in water to cool before eating. If you are going to the Beijing Zoo this is close by and well worth a stop…don’t overlook the celery ….

Aside: We met up with another one of D’s Chinese friends who is a Beijinger. She explained to us that the majority of dorm rooms in Chinese colleges house 4-6 students in a small double room, where there is no room for a desk or dresser. If a Chinese student rooms with an American in a Study Abroad Program, they are guaranteed a room with just one roommate. Chinese students will apply for these dorm slots regardless of how far the commute is to their respective campus. Sounds like a win-win situation and how fortunate for the American students to have Chinese roommates!
marksfour is offline  
Feb 17th, 2008, 11:50 AM
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Facinating report! You are so lucky to have your daughter there as a guide!
Kristina is offline  
Feb 17th, 2008, 02:13 PM
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I am totally enjoying this and can't wait to read more. My husband and I will leave for our 23 day trip to China at the end of March Every trip report is a delight to read, but this one is so filled with good humor and great food that it's definitely the kind of report I find most entertaining and informative.

Thank you!

wiselindag is offline  
Feb 17th, 2008, 03:21 PM
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Great report! I am looking forward to hearing about your entire journey. It's been about about 10 yrs since I visited China on a very rushed trip. I am trying to convince a friend we should go.
nancy is offline  
Feb 17th, 2008, 03:44 PM
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Wiselindag - Have a wonderful trip! We will look forwad to hearing about your adventures.

Nancy - I hope your friend will say yes to a trip back. The city seems to grow a 'floor a day' so I can imagine the growth that has gone on over the last 10 years.

Day 4: Forbidden City, Coal Hill, Quandjude Peking Duck

D stays back at hotel with a short list of things to get done: find a foot massage place, get tickets to an Acrobatic Show, send some laundry out, and find a small tour to Mutanaiyu….but basically she needed a little break from us.

She sends us on our way to the Forbidden City…what was to have been a 20 minute stroll has now become over an hour long trek! Once our personal tour guide is out of the picture we become directionally challenged. We are lost and looking the part - like prime targets to be taken to a tea house or an art gallery….but we do finally end up at the east gate in a most round about way. Yes, it is an amazing complex and the scale of the structures and the site itself blew us away. We opted for the audio tour and it worked fine for us..stopping when we were no longer in a certain area and restarting at the next appropriate spot.

We were told to go to Coal Hill (Jingshan Park at the north exit of the Forbidden City on a Sunday (which is was) to see the groups of people gathering to sing songs, dance, playing musical instruments, enjoying their picnic lunches, etc. What a treat to hear voices in song as we walk up to the top of the hill. No matter how cold it is, being outdoors at a park is a popular pastime. We took the stairs and were put to shame when an elderly man walked up all the way without stopping. The 360 degree view of Beijing was a site to behold.

We got back to the hotel to see how our tour guide was progressing with her tasks only to find our laundry drying all over the room! She has lived in Beijing long enough to conclude that the hotel is “ripping us off by charging us too much per piece” so she decided to fill the tub and do it herself. Housekeeping will hate us now.
But she did secure tickets to an Acrobatic Show, a lunch & tour to Mutanaiyu for 180rmb each, found a foot massage place across the street for 68rmb for an hour.(Directions and details for all above to follow in future post). Yes we can live with the laundry drying all over the room.

Dinner was at the Wangfujing Quanjude Duck restaurant….we didn’t get there until 7:30 pm. It wasn’t crowded at all – just 2 tables with foreigners like us. We were a party of 5 that night (2 of D's college friends)and asked if we needed to order 2 ducks but we were reassured one would be enough. I know HT mentioned the duck size can vary according to the size of the party (at Made in China?) so we were hopeful. The restaurant was out of 6 of the dishes our D tried to order, but we still ended up with quite a feast. Pickled cucumbers, a plate of sliced dried beef, 1 soup, 1 almost-a-soup dish, another mixture of vegetables complete with my favorite tasty celery, a mushroom dish, the not-as-big-as-our-appetites-were-hoping-for-duck w/ the pancakes and green onions, plum sauce & sugar, and then a rice dish w/ bits of duck and almonds that was actually a sweet like mochi rice dish and a nice treat for the end of our meal. We may have hit it on a bad night or went to one of their less popular locations, but to be honest, we would not go here again for the atmosphere nor the food…but maybe to see them fill our tea pot from 3 feet away.
marksfour is offline  
Feb 17th, 2008, 07:31 PM
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I've been waiting for your report...was worried you might be stuck in one of those snow bound train stations

Great report!!! Keep it coming!

lcuy is offline  
Feb 18th, 2008, 11:13 AM
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Temple of Heaven, Pearl Market, Acrobatic Show

We went to the Temple of Heaven and we liked seeing all the local people who enjoy the park..ribbon dancers, a small group of women crocheting small animals to sell, people playing a modified badminton (w/ no net), card games being played, etc.
After ToH we walked across the street to the Pearl Market where we spent just an hour there…we had 3 things to purchase and did so rather quickly…our bargain shopper had it down to a science.

Now for the fun part…the Acrobatic Troupe at the Beijing Workers Club in the Xuanwu District. Our D ordered tickets from someone at Tianamen who then went to pick up the tickets then delivered them to our hotel...didn’t think we’d see them but here we are!

We get to the auditorium earlier than expected and right next door we see a line of people at a take-out window. We figured it must be something good to eat, so we stand in line too. We find out it is a restaurant take-out window (no sign on building or at the wondow but just look for the line of people to the right of the theater)A 1/2 hour later the window opens and we wait our turn and tell them we want what everyone else is buying - baozi that are fried so instead of the soft bun, it is slightly crispy on the outside as well as delicous ones that are steamed. It is so cold out that we take our food inside where we can sit at a table. There on the table is what looks like a Chinese bottle of hand sanitizer…clear liquid in a small bottle with an unreadable label. So my husband opens it and luckily he sniffs the bottle first…it is a type of hot sauce. When in doubt - sniff first!

Once outside we see that tour busses have filled the parking lot. We are able to find 3 very good seats since it is only 1/2 full. It is freezing in the theater and we realize there is no heat. So 27 degrees F outside means 27 degrees inside! Plus there must be a door on the side opened somewhere because there is a cold breeze blowing in. Everyone left their hats, gloves and jackets on for the show but we couldn’t imagine how the acrobats in their tights could perform so well in this freezing theater.

The show was very entertaining and partly because it is neither glitzy nor super-polished which made the stunts seem even more terrifying. As the acts continued they became more daring...and with no safety nets or safety wires. This very entertaining 1 hr. show ended just before the frostbite was to set in so we were off to our hotel to begin the thawing process.

PS. If you order popcorn, they put a microwaveable bag into the microwave and when it is done popping they hand you the bag...just like you eat it at home.

marksfour is offline  
Feb 18th, 2008, 08:50 PM
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Mutanaiyu and Foot Massages

Our small coach (QingChunJiaRi International Travel Services) picked us up at our hotel at 8:00 am and our guide asked us not to tell the other 2 in our group (the Norwegians) that we paid 180rmb each because they paid 350rmb each. Don’t know how that happened since the price on the brochure states 180rmb…but when the Norwegians arrived, they confirmed what they paid.

It was a clear, blue skies, cold day and the Sacred Way was literally empty...the 7 of us were the only ones there. Made the ‘required’ jade and cloisonne factory stops (not printed in brochure but Fodors posts had us prepared). We loved our 2 hours walking the Wall at Mutanaiyu...we ran into a total of 6 others on the Wall.

Husband’s conclusion: He’d rather be defending the Wall than attacking it.

Now for Foot Massage #1 – Located right off Dongdan North Main Street. (the street North of the Peninsula Hotel which is also the street South of the Regent). There is an alley right across the street from the Regent…you will see a green Massage sign. Go down the stairs and you may think you are in a living room with the TV and computer on, but behind the low wooden divider are 6 lazy boy chairs . For 68rmb one can have an hour long shoulder/neck/arm/upper back/calf & foot massage. Husband’s masseuse was a blind man and this is where his jaw clenching/teeth grinding began. I on the other hand had a wonderful, relaxing massage and felt rejuvenated....husband awoke next morning with jaw pain from clenching for an hour. But like the 2 Art Gallery visits…you’d think he would have learned..stay tuned for foot massage #2...
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