Thursday, May 03, 2007

Cultural Wooden Acrobats

Thursday morning we went to the zoo first thing in the morning. Even at 8:00 a.m. it was crowded. We saw the pandas, only one was moving around, but he was moving around a lot so it was neat to see (our tour guide had been there 5 times or so and never seen the pandas move). Next we walked to the Aquarium in the back of the zoo and went to it. It was also unbelievavly crowded at the beginning part, but thinned out later in the aquarium. The displays were actually very good and they had lots of good saltwater displays (which is all I really care about). After that we went back into the zoo to see the big cats and we got to see a Leapord, Black Panther, and White Tigers moving around! It was very cool, over all a very good zoo experience.

Next we went to China Minority Cultural Exhibition (or something). Anyway it was a park that displayed all 56 minority groups in China with small scale landscape and housing replicas. We had cold noodle for lunch which is a Korean dish. It was nice and each area had actual Chinese minorities representing their ethnicity. Next we went to the China Red Sandalwood Museum. There were 4 floors of intricately carved wood stuff, i.e. furniture, chairs, beds, closets, desks, temple replicas, etc. It was very interesting and incredible craftsmanship.

We were scheduled to see the acrobats show at 5:15 p.m. but on the way to the Sandalwood Museum we went to get the tickets and our tockets were sold even though we had reservations. Fortunately there was a late show at 8:50 p.m. so we got tickets to that show and since it was only 4:00 p.m. when we finished the Sandalwood Museum we now had about 5 hours. We went to a Tea House and had a Chinese Tea Ceremony (much less formal than the Japanese style), we went to Hard Rock Cafe (with a suprisingly limited variety of items), and then to Annie's to eat (a real Italian restaurant). After dinner we went went to a Starbucks went back to the Silk Market and then to a department store to just see what it was like (very similar to Western department stores).

Finally, we went to the acrobat theater and waited outside for around 15 minutes for the previous show to end. The show was outstanding, amazing, and unbelievable. Ashley taped nearly the entire show so hopefully some of you all will get so see it some day. The show finished around 10:00 and we got back to the hotel around 10:40 p.m. and we called it a night.

Today we only have a couple of places to go so it may be a short day and that would be OK because our feet are tired!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

"Hello friend you want to buy scarf? Real Silk!"

First thing this morning we went to the Marco Polo Bridge about 30 minutes away. We had the same driver from Monday so that was nice. The bridge was nice/neat but the river that it was built over is dried up so that was a bit strange. It has 400ish Lion statues lining the bridge each with a different facial expression which was neat. Then we walked down the street to the Japan/China war museum. There was no English at all so Lanny our tour guide had to do a lot of explaining for us.

After the museum we drove for about 30 minutes to the Beijing Botanical Gardens. It was really nice but REALLY crowded. There were a lot of tulips in bloom and ones that maybe a week or so ago were in bloom. THe garden was pretty big but we didn't go through the whole thing because it was so hot. We stopped for lunch at a little restaurant on the way to the next place. It was a country restaurant, all the things they had were locally grown and raised. The food was really good but there was WAY too much of it! The servings were huge which we didn't know when we were ordering. We had enough food for about 10 people and there were only 4 of us!

We drove about an hour to the Silver Pagoda Forest next. This was neat. The drive up was through rural China and in the mountains. The view the whole drive up and then up there was beautiful. The air was nice and fresh and it was just nice to get out of the hubbub of the city for a while. There were 5 big pagodas that supposedly were built over the 'pearl' from the remains of high ranking Buddhist Monks. Supposedly high ranking monks once they have served for so long and reach a certain level when they die and are cremated there is a pearl like thing left bhing from their body (not a pearl but looks like one) and they built the pagodas over that...weird.

Now comes the interesting part...the silk market. It is a huge building with 5 floors of stuff. Booth after booth of silk scarves, kimonos, dress shirts, pants, anything. THey yell at you and grab you and try to get you to buy their stuff. At first they just made me mad and I would just keep walking past everything hoping that someone would leave me alone so that I could look at stuff, but NO! SO finally I stopped and once you stop they aren't as obnoxious but they don't like when you walk away and they will grab you and follow you to the next row saying "ok, ok 100!" or whatever price you said. It is sheer madness! Jonathan really got the hang of haggling and we got several good deals; 35 RMB down to 15 RMB, 180 RMB down to 55 RMB, 70 RMB down to 50 RMB, etc. We made several people mad in the process too. Once I got over them attacking me and ready to walk away at any moment it was fun!

After our crazy adventure at the market we got a taxi back to the hotel and ate upstairs in the lounge again and are about to head up to the room to relax and call it a night.

...until tomorrow :)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Rickshaws and Gongfu

Today we walked and walked and walked. We started in the morning walking to Tianaman Square. I must correct myself from yesterday, today is Labor Day in China and there were tons of people out by 8:00 a.m. this morning. We went to Tianaman Square and walked around it and took pictures and then walked under the street to the Imperial Palace and Forbidden City. We walked through all of that, although many of the halls were closed for renovation (there is lots of stuff being renovated for the Olypmics), and there were so many people that we didn't go inside to see any galleries or exhibits. It was very nice and since they had finished renovations of parts of the palace and grounds already then the fresh paint and bright colors looked really nice.

After The Forbidden City we we took a taxi to the Drum Tower (built in the 1400's) and met up with another tour gruide for that area. We saw the drum performance in the tower (the steps going up were incredibly steep) and enjoyed the veiw of the city very much. After that we caught a rickshaw and went through Hutong streets and ate lunch at a Chinese family's house. The food and hospitality was amazing and we had TONS of food. That was the neatest thing we did today and will be a memory of a life time. After finishing lunch we caught our rickshaw and had a 1 hour tour through the Hutong streets of Beijing. We ended up at a porcelan museum and toured it.

We caught a taxi and went to the Temple of Heaven and toured it. The bright colors and the architecture and hugeness of all of these places are amazing compared to places in Japan and even in the United States. We finished there and walked to the Silk Factory nearby and watched how Chinese silk is produced, it was very interesting and amazing. We were offered the silkworm larve from inside the silk cacoon because this is a Chinese snack, but not feeling so adventerous we turned it down! There were many pretty silk things for sale so I needed to get Ashley out of there quickly!

Finally, we took a taxi to the gonfu (Chinese kungfu) show. It was really amazing and very interesting. Our tour guide told us that most people do not go to the gongfu show because they only have a short time to visit and choose to see the acrobat as their first priority (we are seeing that on Thursday). After the show we made it back the hotel and still being full from lunch we got some snacks in the lounge at the hotel and are calling it a night ... it's only 8:30!

Until tomorrow ... :)