Saturday, February 25, 2012

Beijing Tour | Day 1

Fri. 02.24.12 (continued)
Let me start off by saying how COLD it was today! I thought I wore enough layers and would be fine with a thick fleece but I don't know what I was thinking of. Thank goodness I had packed my gloves and puffer jacket (compressed in a bag!) when we started our tour because it was 5C or 40F.

We took a rickshaw to the streets of Hutong where the traditional houses are in the older part of Beijing. I was grateful for the plush colorful blanket each rickshaw came with because we needed it! While our guide, George, shared many fascinating facts and stories about the homes and Ancient people of Hutong, I must admit I was drifting in and out of the conversation because I couldn't stop thinking about how cold I was! If you're not used to the cold weather, be sure to pack hats, gloves, scarves and a heavy coat or jacket (and check the local weather forecast)!

Rickshaw ride in Hutong
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George talking to Mrs. Wu
While in Hutong, we visited the home of Mrs. Wu who had been living in the same modest-sized house for 53 years. She provided a small cup of hot tea for everyone, which we all needed for our freezing bodies. After a few Q&As, we hopped on our rickshaws, back to the bus, and headed out to the Silk Factory. The trip was very interesting as an employee demonstrated the process of how the silk was produced and transformed into mass products such as bed quilts and cushions. The sales people were hardcore and wouldn't leave any of us alone. This was also the place where some of us experienced our first "squatty pottie" or hole-in-the-floor toilet. Ladies, remember to carry your travel Kleenex with you and roll up your pants! One positive side to the squatty potties is the possibility of achieving good, toned thighs! LOL!

Silk Factory demo
After the Silk Factory, it was time for lunch with the whole group. George said we'd pay for our lunch and the tour tickets for both days on our last day with him (Saturday) so we will exchange more American dollars on the "Exchange" ATM machine in the hotel lobby. FYI, the ATM surcharge fee is 20 RMB ($3+) so you may want to exchange a couple of hundred at a time until you visit the bank.

We got back on the bus and headed over to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. The Square was very impressive and I've never before seen so many Chinese people in one place at one time. Some people stopped to gawk at our group but others were "fascinated" by George because 1) he was Asian and speaking in English, and 2) I've heard there are plain-clothes police who monitor the tour guides to ensure they don't say anything negative about the Chinese system. George warned us not to accept any "free massages" from those who try to give us an unwanted pat-down and to keep our belongings zipped up in our bags but to leave our passports in our hotel safe. We also took his advice about ignoring the scores of street vendors when they try to sell us all kinds of souvenirs: don't even say "no" and just walk on, which seemed to do the trick (most of the time).

Tiananmen Square
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Tiananmen Square
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Forbidden City Building
One thing we did notice was the smog, which resulted in many gray photos of the day -- even when the sun was trying very hard to make an appearance. The Forbidden City was massive as well! We remember seeing a small-scale model at Forbidden Gardens outside of Houston many years ago but you cannot imagine the sheer size of this place until you're there in person. After walking through the fifth archway and through yet another courtyard, I was sure we were coming to an end but it felt like an endless maze! One family who returned for their second adoption had their 3-year old daughter with them so they decided not to join us for any part of the tour and visited the zoo instead (also they did the tour last time). It was a very smart idea as the day's tour lasted from 9am until 5pm! I think Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden Gardens took about 3 hours alone, and there were 3 kids with us (ages 6 through 10) who were absolute troopers!

We all had a couple of hours of chill-time in our rooms and the majority of us met up again for dinner. We walked over to the "brightly lit restaurant with the red characters" across the street and were placed in the basketball-themed room for 11 adults and 3 kids. The menu was more like a volume but only a few dishes looked appetizing (I'm a picky eater but a few agreed). I wasn't expecting American-Chinese cuisine but I was also not expecting "baby turtle," "baby duck," "donkey meat," "pig's knuckle," "pig's snout," "tripe" (stomach lining), etc.! I ended up with crispy chicken and a side dish of green beans and Chinese broccoli; Dave had a small piece of cod and we both survived :).

One last thing: Internet service is slow in the hotel room. Sometimes we get Internet without logging into our VPN (Virtual Private Network), other times we need it. Internet is also not free so we only log on when we're ready! At the Crowne here, you may "Enjoy Broadband Internet access for RMB 3.00 per minute with a maximum charge of RMB 120.00 per 24 Hour Day" :). It will be disconnected if you've been idle for 10 minutes.

Sat. 02.25.12
Dave woke me up by accident at 3:30am when he was making his way to the loo in the dark by grabbing my foot instead of the bed! Half an hour later, there was a bit of a kerfuffle in the hallway. When I concentrated on the tone of their voices, they sounded quite pleasant, just not very considerate for the rest of the hotel guests! Of course, we couldn't get back to sleep so I took my hair-wash-day shower.

Today, we are taking on The Great Wall of China, which we've been looking forward to for months! We will also be visiting the Jade Market and the Olympic Park (or the "Bird's Nest"), and then we'll be attending an acrobatics show tonight. George reminded us to dress casual and won't be needing our suit and tie :).

Oh my gosh, I'm so giddy! Two more days to our little fella! Later 'gators!


Anonymous said...

Sounds like you are having a nice time! This trip will definately be one to remember. What an added bonus this is to the real reason that you are there! Am looking forward to hearing about the great wall of china!! Only two more days to go yay!!! Xxxxx love ya both big shell

Tara and Julian said...

Great advice! Puffy jackets already packed- we florida peeps don't like less than 70 degrees and I hear there is a chance of snow in Beijing next week!! Can't wait to see pix of price henry!

Team Robichaux said...

Oh wow! I had an experience with pushy vendors in Mexico recently. It wasn't fun. The Great Wall and an acrobatic show are on the top of my to do list while there. Can't wait to see what you think of them!! TWO more days!! WOHOO!!!


hcobb said...

Brrrrrrr!! Sending warm wishes your way!