Thursday, January 27, 2011

Having Trouble Keeping Promises

Since I haven't been able to write a post recently, here's a fun little map I put together of all my travels from August 3rd, 2010 to January 1st, 2011. Take a look at it; it sums up all my travels in a nice graphic. Here's the link.

In all seriousness, I will post over the week. Peace.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Caught Off Guard

I got off to another late start on Wednesday, December 8th. After having a late breakfast with my Chinese national friend, we headed out to the northwestern part of Beijing to see the Summer Palace. We made the thirty or so minute drive a couple of miles outside the city center (Tianamen Square) before reaching the outer walls that enclose 2.9 square kilometers made up of Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill. As we entered this UNESCO World Heritage Site, an older presumably middle aged Chinese woman approached me and my friend. She began to talk to my friend in Chinese asking questions about me (i.e. where I was from, what I was doing in Beijing etc.). She then said she would be our tour guide as we advanced through the palace, but that we wouldn't have to pay her. I knew she was trying to scam us somehow, maybe pickpocket us when we weren't paying attention, I'm not really sure to this day. She seemed nice, telling us a number of interesting things about the Palace and even taking a couple decent photos of us. Then, after only about ten minutes of walking she vanished. I wasn't quite expecting that, however, I wasn't complaining either since I didn't feel like walking around with my hands in my pockets anymore to prevent thievery.

We progressed down the path that extended around the lake to get a better view of Longevity Hill and its temples overlooking the body of water. Once we reached the foot of the hill, we stopped momentarily to rest before making the climb up the hill we had been walking to for twenty or so minutes.

So here's a story that I hadn't planned on telling in this forum, but I figured another anecdote couldn't hurt. While looking out on the lake and enjoying the view with the mountain range in the background, my friend was asked to take a picture of this attractive Chinese girl and her mother. After taking the photo for them, the mother asked my friend in Mandarin if we would like one as well. We figured a photo of us in front of the temple would be nice so she took the photo for us. It ended up that we ascended the Longevity Hill at the same pace, going back and forth taking photos of each other. Since it was pretty obvious the mother-daughter tandem spoke no English, the conversation my friend and I carried out along the way was about how good looking the girl was and guessing her age. Nothing to serious, I thought was more for the sake of conversation rather than acting on it considering the language barrier (at least for me).

At one point, though, following my friend taking another photo of these two individuals with the scenic backdrop, he started talking to both of them as we traversed up another staircase. While I was paying no particular attention to their conversation, I noticed in my line of sight that the girl looked at me and started to chuckle before my friend stopped talking to them and they walked off. My friend then comes to me and says "Hey I got to tell you something." I could only guess for that moment what in the world he could have said to them to make them walk off so suddenly. He ends up telling me that he told the girl I thought she was attractive, in front of the mom! She then said that I was too young as it turned out she was six years older than me. Now, normally this is no big deal, although, in this case for the mother to hear the whole conversation about me when I had done absolutely nothing caught me off guard. After this scene took place, we didn't see the girl the rest of the time at the Summer Palace. This did not really surprise me.

We continued up to the top of Longevity Hill to see the Tower of Buddhist Incense and the Hall of the Sea of Wisdom. We did end up seeing both structures, displaying more famous and unique Chinese architecture from the ancient world. Furthermore, once reaching the top of the hill, an incredible view of both the lake and downtown Beijing were visible, making the climb that much more worthwhile.


Soon thereafter, we headed back down to walk over to the seventeen arch bridge that stood across the lake from Longevity Hill. Once making it over to the structure, the harsh winds of winter in Beijing forced us to return to my friend's flat to rest up before going out later that night.

Later that Wednesday night, we did head out to one of Beijing's finest dance club's, Mix. Now while nothing not suitable for this blog took place, I will be brief for both your sake and mine in my retelling of the night. It was a very odd experience to be in such a public setting where I had no idea if I would be able to communicate with anyone outside my Chinese friend. It made for a whole new dynamic, especially in my limited clubbing experience (keep making fun of me all you Europeans for not being legally able to drink in my own country).

In my next post, I will talk about my Thursday, December 9th (hopefully include Friday and Saturday, too) when we got lost in Beijing looking for the 798 Art Gallery.

To my readers: I do apologize for a number of things. First, the more awkward time gaps between posts. I have been busy since returning home, but I assure you that I am trying to finish up my adventures through Asia while getting settled at college. Second, I will try to bring back the longer posts that became a staple of mine while still in Singapore. I just want to bring you up to speed as fast as I can. I will attempt to bring those back from this point forward to avoid such stop and start reading. Finally, I apologize for not having a place for you to correspond to me in a non-public setting. If you do have any questions or comments about my writing, travel advice, or anything else, please write to me at the following e-mail address: itsjcoco@gmail.com. Thanks again, loyal readers, stay tuned for my next post!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

One World, One Dream

Tuesday, December 7th. A day where I remember sleeping in until ten o'clock before having breakfast and then heading out to see more of Beijing. First up on the agenda was to see the Yonghegong Temple (also know as the Lama Temple) located in the northeastern corridor of the metropolis. We got on the train and made our way to one of the most important and largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world. Once reaching this landmark, we headed in to the complex to see the many statues, shrines, and sanctuaries for prayer. Like when I visited the Shwedagon Pagoda in Burma, there were a plethora of individuals who came to the temple not for sightseeing purposes but to come and pay respects to Buddha. Similar to the monastery in Hong Kong, the method by which people would pray is taking incense, kneeling before a temple (there were many at Yonghegong), and bowing three times before putting the incense in a decent sized open container. This ritual made the air smell really good with the different incenses mixing from each temple. Besides the nasal pleasing odor in the atmosphere, it was nice to walk around, read about the sanctuary from various description plates, and watch people in prayer from a distance.

After spending a couple hours at this fairly large complex, it was time to move on to what would be the most exciting part of the day, visiting the Olympic complex from the 2008 games. My Chinese national friend used to live very close to these famous sporting arenas but had never gotten up close to these structures the way we did on this clear afternoon in northern Beijing.

Coming up the staircase from the train station, Beijing National Stadium, more commonly known as "The Bird's Nest," immediately popped up into our line of sight. What an incredible experience to finally stand before an architectural marvel while reminiscing about 29th (XXIX) Olympiad. It wasn't just me, by the way; my friend who has lived in Beijing his whole life was also pretty amazed by National Stadium having never gotten such an up close and personal look at the structure that has stood for over two years. We walked around, really sized up how big of a venue it is, and got lost trying to find the ticket booth to get in. My friend even pointed out to me the seven star hotel adjacent to the Olympic complex in the shape of a dragon (Note: I have never heard of a seven-star hotel, but apparently they have them in Beijing).Once we did track down the entrance, we stormed up the uniquely jagged staircase to the top of the once 91,000 seat now 80,000 strong stadium. As if I had been to this stadium many times before, I instantly navigated us towards the tunnel of the upper deck seats. The out of this world experience continued as we sat down and took in the sites. I was just imagining the opening ceremonies from three summers prior and watching it at a friend's house being blown away by the spectacular dances, light show, and fireworks (even if some of it was digitally edited in). All of that took place right in front of where I sat--that and many events with international competitors. In addition, it was a nice change of pace to see a modern structure as opposed to more historical buildings that had made up the bulk of my travels up to that point.

As the sun was setting, we figured it would only make sense to head right across the walkway to another famous sporting venue from the 2008 Olympics, the Beijing National Aquatic Center, also known as "The Water Cube." I have many fond memories of this arena, as well, namely a one Mr. Michael Phelps winning eight gold medals in the XXIX Olympiad. I just re-watched the 4 x 100 relay with the amazing comeback by Jason Lezak; it still is amazing how he was able to catch up to France in that final length. Considering the motto of these Olympics was "One World, One Dream," it is fair to say Lezak helped Phelps carry out his dream of eight gold medals and China's aspirations of holding an exciting and mind-blowing Olympiad. Not only that, but I was once watching a swimming event that took place in the Water Cube with a bunch of friends when a girl who graduated from high school with us just happened to be sitting front row. On top of sitting in the first row of the stands, she was near the famous and retired swimmer Ian Thorpe who was being shown on the screen, thus the friend of mine appeared on the television 7,000 miles away. It became one of those "Wait, was that such and such? Did that just happen?" moments. Otherwise, it was cool to be at the site where many famous and talented swimmers & divers put their skills on display for millions if not billions of people around the world.



What really caught me off guard was on the way into the facility it said you could pay to go swimming in the Aquatic Center, so I figured maybe they let you swim in the Olympic competition pool. How wrong I was. There is a fairly big and very legitimate water park also in the Water Cube that looked like a lot of fun. If I had known better, I would have been very much up for it, but who would have known about that little detail? Nonetheless, we left the Water Cube and walked around the Olympic Green for only a little bit more as it was very cold out (as mentioned previously, December in Beijing from a weather perspective is similar to in New York City.)

Tuesday was a great day of seeing Lama Temple and the Olympic complex; a great blend of the ancient and modern aspects of China. Wednesday, as you will soon find out, had a blend of relaxing at the Summer Palace with clubbing in one of Beijing's premiere night clubs.