A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: spelham

The Temple of Heaven, Tea City, Makye Ame, and Ritan Park

The Fourth Weekend

rain 25 °C

The next Friday, July 4, Mindy and I chose to break away from our neighborhood and go to Alexander Creek Park restaurant for dinner. Our experiences this evening are a good example of Beijing hospitality.

The Female Taxi Driver.
It was raining lightly outside as our (female) taxi driver sped toward Chaoyang District. I had recently become infatuated with China’s most famous folk song, Mo Li Hua (Jasmine Flower), and when I prompted her to join me in song she did so happily.

The singing died when we could not locate Alexander Creek restaurant. The soft rain had become a dark, blurring downpour. But our driver was on a mission to deliver us safely. She drove around the block and talked to both Yao Yao, my Chinese roommate, and the restaurant staff on the phone before dropping us off at the restaurant’s doorstep.

The Restaurant Staff.
In the few feet between the cab and the restaurant door where four waiters awaited us, Mindy’s right flip flop broke. Mindy’s Chicago-style wail caught the attention of the staff, and once she’d successfully limped her way through the puddles to the restaurant’s doorway, the waiters were ready with stapler, string, and needle in hand. They whisked her flip flop away and seated us.

During our (delicious and MSG free) meal, the staff brought out a temporary pair of plastic sandals for Mindy to wear. Later they returned with a successfully repaired, though less comfortable, black flip flop and then insisted she also keep the plastic sandals.

The Chinese Tour Guide.
The plastic sandals were a lifesaver during the two-hour attempt to hail a taxi after supper. Apparently taxis don’t drive in heavy, cold rain. During our wait a Chinese man advised us on how to take the bus (that never came). He coincidentally spoke excellent English because he gives Chinese people tours through Europe.

The Old Beijing Taxi Driver.
When the moment finally came, two taxis pulled over. We chose one. Our conversation with the driver about his family and job left us happy and satisfied in spite of our soggy mishap of an evening.

Once at CET I immediately went to bed. I had to wake up at 7:00 the next morning for my day long outing with the boys.

The Temple of Heaven was first on our itinerary. All of my information on this temple complex comes from Lonely Planet’s Beijing Encounter March 2008 Edition.

The temple grounds are known for their complex symbolism and numerology. For example, “the temples are round and their bases square, a pattern chosen to reflect the ancient Chinese belief that heaven is round and earth is square. The shape of the 273-hectare park also reflects this, with the northern end a semicircle and the southern end a square” (18).

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is so important it requires a separate ticket for entrance.

The blue tiles represent heaven, yellow tiles represent the emperor, and green tiles represent commoners and earth.

The Temple of Heaven was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), a period of social stability, international trade, military growth, and cultural development. Journey to the West, Outlaws of the Marsh, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms were all written during this period.

A miniature model of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest uses no nails, cement, or steel. Rather it uses wood shipped in from Oregon in 1890. The structure “burnt to a crisp” from a lightning bolt in 1889 and was rebuilt the next year [18].

Next to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest. The miniature models are inside this building.

According to Wikipedia the Temple of Heaven was restored from 2005 to 2006 in preparation for the 2008 Olympics.

Another building.

Dragon detail.

The Chinese dragon, which is long and scaly, is an auspicious symbol associated with water, weather, and sky.

The dragon coupled with the phoenix resembles the marriage of male and female. In the Taoist yin/yang philosophy the male dragon figure is yang (positive, white, hot, emptiness) and the female phoenix is yin (negative, black, cold, substance).

The dragon and tiger couple symbolizes heaven and earth. When matched with the yin/yang philosophy the dragon is still yang (heaven, white, hot, emptiness) and the tiger is yin (earth, black, cold, substance).

Maybe this will make your next trip to a Chinese restaurant a little more meaningful.

One of the walkways in the Temple of Heaven. Will’s photo (more of his photos at www.flickr.com/bellumdeus).

A place for people to play cards and chat.

Unlike the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, these casual gazebos and walkways have no fee.

The rose garden.

A few benches down a Chinese couple was making out. This type of PDA is rare. During the day I see a lot of hand holding, specifically among college aged people. At night the streets and parks are sparsely occupied by kissing Chinese couples.

According to my Chinese friends, if a Chinese couple is holding hands you can assume they have been or plan to be together for at least a year. If a boy and girl kiss, then they will become a couple.

After Mindy and I returned from Alexander Creek Park restaurant and walked into the West Building at 11 p.m. the night before, we ran into a Chinese roommate standing alone underneath the balcony. Although Mindy didn’t know why he was oddly stiff and terse when she stopped to talk, from where I was standing I could see his girlfriend (another CET Chinese roommate) hiding behind a column.

The times are changing in Pleasantville.

Walking from the Temple of Heaven to the Underground City, I ran into the Olympic Mascots. From left to right are JingJing, HuanHuan, YingYing, and NiNi.

And here’s BeiBei.

Their names come from the Mandarin phrase “Beijing huanying ni” which means “Beijing welcomes you.”

“Beijing huanying ni” is also the title of a 2008 Olympic theme song. Released 100 days before the Opening Ceremony, this song could be heard in every subway, bus, shop, restaurant, and street in Beijing prior to and during the Olympic games. Several of China’s popular singers contributed their voices to the song, including Jackie Chan.

You can watch the video on Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFQ1JDw-d70.
The stars are singing in Beijing’s famous historical spots, some of which you may recognize.

The Underground City was closed for renovations. The Underground City is “an underground labyrinth where [Mao] could send the population (all five million of them) in the event of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union.” (Lonely Planet p.69)

Next we headed to Dong Jiao Shi Chang (literally East Suburb Market), an authentic local market, which I regrettably took no pictures of but can easily return to.

The Dong Jiao Lu Shan Jiu Tea City (literally East Suburb Green Mountain Nine Tea City) is located a little past the East Suburb Market.

Since I have almost no interest in tea I used the opportunity to practice using my camera.

I also contributed to this event by accidentally spilling my cup of tea onto a disk of dried tea, effectively ruining its quality.

The tea ceremony.

Will was pretty intense about his tea.

I deleted the in-focus version of this photo because Jacob did not like the googliness of his eyes.

They successfully purchased tea and stood on a bridge! After drinking a lot of high quality tea I became embarrassingly sweaty and intoxicated. I’m not sure if it was the caffeine or some other tea component I’m unaware of that caused this.

For dinner we went to Makye Ame Tibetan Restaurant. They had live performers who sang, danced, and played traditional Tibetan instruments, making an otherwise overpriced experience more than worth it. The music was great, but they did not have a CD for sale. This photo and the one below are both Will’s (www.flickr.com/bellumdeus).

We filled out the evening with a walk to Ritan Park’s Stone Boat Bar. Will shot this photo of Ritan Park’s front gate with a long exposure while he waited for Jacob and I to finish using the restroom.

The next day I caught a cold that took three weeks to recover from. One friend said, “Sarah, I’ve forgotten what your voice sounds like,” because I did not have one for so long. There’s also a significant drop in my activity level from this point on due to a combination of factors, including the cold.

Posted by spelham 10:24 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

The Great Wall

The Third Weekend - Saturday

overcast 25 °C

As my classmates and I waited at CET’s front gate for the charter bus to arrive and take us to the Great Wall, Sydney suddenly fell ill. I have never been as terrified as I was then.

Sydney (previously pictured with me at KTV), other CET students and I were gathered around a concrete bench chatting. Sydney was sitting to my left. She had mentioned earlier that she had spent the previous night throwing up, most likely from food poisoning. We didn’t think much of it. It’s not a rare occurrence here, and she looked healthy.

But just as she began to say, “Guys I don’t know if I should go. . .” her body suddenly went limp. Her water bottle fell from her hand into her lap. I turned and laughed, thinking she was kidding.

But when Jessica, who was standing across from Sydney, said, “Wait, is she joking?” I caught sight of Sydney’s falling face and panicked.

I sprinted into the West Building to find Lauren, our resident director, but she wasn’t there. By the time I returned from searching the building Lauren had already called for a taxi.

In the few minutes I was gone Sydney’s face had turned chalky white, her pupils were so dilated the blue of her irises could no longer be seen, and small beads of sweat had formed on her upper lip and brow.

The taxi came several minutes later, and we tucked a barely conscious Sydney into the back seat, only for her body to begin to recover just as rapidly as it had deteriorated. Before we could even close the taxi door she smiled and waved to us, the blue coming back into her eyes.

She later said she had almost completely recovered by the time she arrived at the hospital. She has almost no memory of the ten to fifteen minutes between her collapse and entering the taxi. After a broad examination, the doctor found nothing wrong with her and sent her on her way. I speculate that it was severe dehydration, but none of us truly knows.

I suppose the weather on the Great Wall that Saturday reflected the distress of that morning. Overcast, grey, and thick with humidity – not ideal for Facebook photos, but still preferable to the heat that haunts Beijing’s June and July months.

Before reaching the Great Wall we first walked up this lane of tourist booths. For those who don’t choose the cable car, the next move is up hundreds of narrow steps that wind through dense woods and only then do the trees part for the Great Wall.

This donkey was resting a few steps from our entrance to the Great Wall.

The Great Wall is not continuous. There are several different sections, all built and restored at different periods and with different characteristics. My trip was to the Mutianyu section, which is one of the best preserved sections of the Great Wall.

The inside of a watchtower.

Jacob with his Chinese roommate, “Terry.” With the weather too overcast for any grand photos of this magnificent structure, I chose to focus on other things.

Chinese graffiti looks so much more anthropological.

Terry and Jacob in the bottom left. A shrouded wall winding behind them.

Jacob and I. I put my ankle brace on shortly after seeing the donkey. The crooked steps up weren’t the best thing for healing my torn ligament.

Me on stairs.

A creepy looking glove in another watchtower.

A group of French boys pulling their pants back up.

Who doesn’t want to streak on the Great Wall? It sounds like a good idea until the eight year old girl walks into view.


The photo shoot after we stopped to eat some snacks for lunch. It took Mindy a while to go with it. Jacob (still eating), Terry, Me, and Mindy. Stephen is taking the photos.

There were grunting noises that went with this pose.


Me and Mei Lin (Mindy’s Chinese name, pronounced “May Lean”)

It’s a long way down behind me.

I was in the middle of explaining to Stephen the classic “I’m on the Great Wall” pose. So instead I just look crazy.

Figured Stephen deserved some photos of himself too.

Stephen is on the Great Wall! Classic.

Mindy in the far back, Megan in the red shirt, and Terry. Happiness!

A sibling of the Great Wall bee that stung me.

Wow! This wall is Grrreat! . . . I’m running out of things to say.

In the cable car on the way down. It began to rain.

The following four photos are all from Will (more of his photos at www.flickr.com/bellumdeus). Three weekends later Will, Jacob, Sydney, Rachel, and Jessica returned to the Great Wall to spend the night. They chose a fantastic, clear-sky weekend.

Spending the night on the Great Wall is illegal, unless you go to an overpriced resort, but enforcing this law is difficult and impractical. Several other groups of CET students made subsequent overnight trips. I believe the idea is that if you are caught, you better have some extra money on you.

Where the Great Wall Ends.

The Great Wall.

The Great Wall.

The Great Wall.

We all dozed in the charter bus on the way back to CET’s campus. Surrounded by my fellow foreigners, friends, and classmates, it felt just like the satisfying end of a middle school fieldtrip. When the bus stopped at a highway tollbooth I opened my eyes upon the dutiful Chinese workers and cringed. I had almost forgotten I was still in China, a country that seems to only have one race, and where my own race does not fit in. I was still in the thick of culture shock.

Posted by spelham 05:11 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Black Bamboo Park and The Summer Palace

The Third Weekend - Friday

overcast 28 °C

Friday, June 27, after taking the weekly exam, a few friends and I took the ten minute walk to Black Bamboo Park with the intention of taking a ferryboat across the lake to the Summer Palace. (The park’s Chinese name literally translated is Purple Bamboo Park, but the English signs on its grounds still use the Black Bamboo translation.)

This is Black Bamboo Park, my favorite park in Beijing. Trails wind through bamboo groves, lakes are as pictured, and best of all, it is peacefully tourist free.

This photo and the following photo are Will’s work. More of his photos at www.flickr.com/bellumdeus

The work of a zoom lens superior to mine.

Black Bamboo Park was one of the three unused Olympic protest zones.

While wandering through Black Bamboo Park we realized we had two options, pay a large sum to paddleboat our way across the large lake or take the bus for a mere 4 mao (less than one US cent). We took the bus.

We decided to eat lunch outside of the Summer Palace. This was a mistake. One overpriced Western restaurant and another overpriced Chinese restaurant, both with low quality food, were our choices. I regret choosing the Chinese one with the undercooked chicken.

Jacob has the Chinese population enraptured.

The Summer Palace.

In Beijing there is an Old Summer Palace and a New Summer Palace, which share a muddled history. I have only visited the new one.

The Old and New Summer Palace were both lavish garden estates, and both were destroyed by British and French forces in 1860 during the Second Opium War. The Old Summer Palace was never rebuilt and remains a symbol of devastating foreign aggression in China. Empress Dowager Cixi began restoring the New Summer Palace in 1888, which the Eight-Nation Alliance (Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, UK, US) destroyed for the second time in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion. Empress Cixi began rebuilding again in 1903, and this is the Summer Palace open to the public today.

Thus the irony of a place attracting thousands of foreign admirers, while symbolizing a history of foreign aggression and intolerance.

In the bottom right hand corner of this picture is the Chinese man pictured below as he also takes a picture of me.

This is after he got a picture of us together. Matt’s on the right.

The ceiling of the previously pictured pavilion structure.

The boat we wish had ferried us from Black Bamboo Park to the Summer Palace.

The bridge most often associated with the Summer Palace. Photo courtesy of Will (www.flickr.com/bellumdeus).

Will, Jacob, Matt, and Adam. I believe the position was Matt’s idea?

The desktop wallpaper of a computer in a dentist’s office. Or perhaps I’m flattering myself. Rocks.


Peering into the Empresses’ Palace.

The Long Corridor.

I thought others might like to know the intermediary steps. It took about ten minutes of ascending to reach the next building.

The outer wall of the Buddha’s temple.

The Buddha.

Fotou. (The pinyin for Buddha in Mandarin Chinese. Pinyin is the Romanization system currently used for the study of Mandarin Chinese.)

Will was nice enough to take a picture of me gazing into the horizon.

Another building I don’t know the official name of.

I call the building Old Rocky.

This one I call Two Towers.

A view on the way back down.

The Marble Boat is made of wood.

This man began spontaneously drawing Jacob’s face in a plate. I suppose he makes his living this way.

Next we bought ice cream and followed the Long Corridor to the exit.

Tomorrow, the Great Wall!

Posted by spelham 05:48 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Dog Meat, KTV, and Hou Hai

The Second Weekend

overcast 28 °C

The Thursday of my second week at CET I went to a Korean barbecue restaurant with some friends, and my friend Will gave me some of his photos. (More of his photos are at www.flickr.com/bellumdeus.)

Korean BBQ restaurant

Pretty waitresses

Delicious sweet potato pancakes

Barbecuing at the Korean BBQ

Dog meat. Jeff liked it. Too gamy for me. Yes, I ate dog meat, and I’m willing to defend my decision if need be.

The next day, Friday, my roommate Yao Yao and I organized a large party at KTV (Karaoke Television). I took these pictures from Facebook since I have none of my own.

Rachel and I

Rachel, Sydney, Me, and Mindy

Pretty much sums up the night.

Singing. It was very, very hot in that little room.

That Saturday I took the photos of my dorm and local area which are in the previous two posts.

After taking those photos some friends and I headed to Lotus Lane. Lotus Lane is the name of a pedestrian walkway lined with restaurants, bars, clubs, and kitschy tourist shops. The street loops around Hou Hai Lake in northern Beijing. Ever since its construction in 2003, Lotus Lane has brought hours of overpriced relaxation to foreigners and Chinese alike.

Three of my friends – Stephen, Will, and Jacob in the back.

Tired of driving? No problem. Pull over - take a nap, do a crossword. Although I don’t think it’s visible at this resolution, there’s a man in this car reading the paper. I find this everywhere in Beijing.

Makes sense for a city that has “Don’t Drive When Tired” signs posted on the highway. I caught a glimpse of one on my way to ACC (my next semester program) this past Thursday. Under the text was a drawing of a man asleep at the wheel.

We often catch cabs on Xizhimenwai Dajie.

The first glimpse of Hou Hai Lake.

The entrance to Lotus Lane. And Starbucks.

Lotus Lane

Behind Lotus Lane is a hutong. A hutong (pronounced hoo-tong, like futon) is a narrow street or alley with traditional style housing. This one is hiding just behind two bars, but most hutong have been replaced by urbanization. The hutong is one of my most favorite parts of Beijing.



This dog did not move from this position and expression for several minutes. A lot of Beijingers have small dogs as pets. They’re often on leashes, and their owners sometimes clean up their poop.


A bridge at Hou Hai.

Jacob’s blonde dreads are unusual enough in America. In China he attracts crowds.

Hutong Pizza restaurant in Hou Hai. Picture courtesy of Will – he’s got superior skills. His one request is that I put this here: www.flickr.com/bellumdeus.

Boat jam

Hou Hai Lake. I danced the night away at that building last Tuesday night in celebration of a friend’s birthday.


Nothing like sitting on a couch, looking at a lake, sipping a caipirinha.

And laughing. Stephen, Will, and Victoria.

The next morning we went to Grandma’s Kitchen. Grandma makes excellent French toast.

Mindy and Matt

Victoria, Stephen, and Sophia. They’re sisters, not twins.

After Grandma’s Kitchen, we went to the Silk Street Market, described by Wikipedia as a shopping center “that accommodates over 1,700 retail vendors, notorious among international tourists for their wide selection of counterfeit designer brand apparels.”

This second weekend is the weekend of the eye pimple. I blame the chemicals in the water, not my lack of personal hygiene. I noticed the sty forming between my eyelashes Friday morning before my test, and by the time I left Hou Hai Saturday night I had a full-blown white head blocking my vision. Fortunately it burst while I slept Saturday night and completely healed by Monday. Two others have also gotten eye sties. One girl even went to the hospital for hers.

The second weekend was also the height of my loathing for the Mandarin language. At one point I heard a small boy screaming to his friend in the park and became overwhelmed with jealousy. That twerp was born here, totally unfair. I had nightmares where I could not understand anything anyone said to me. Now it is different. About the third week something in my brain clicked, and it’s been much easier since.

Am I having fun here? I’ve never had so much fun. Before coming here, I didn’t realize life could even be this consistently fun. The city is packed with good food, cheap shopping districts, fascinating historical sites, beautiful parks, and interesting insights into Chinese culture. All of the other students participating in CET are friendly and funny. I get along so well with so many people that the only struggle is choosing which group of friends to accompany. My Chinese roommate and I, despite our different cultural backgrounds, are very similar. We have one of the closest relationships of any of the roommates. Academically the improvement I make each week is palpable. Studying is immediately rewarding because new language knowledge, out of necessity, is used. Overall this experience is invaluable, for both my future ambitions and my growth as an individual. I feel so fortunate to be here.

Posted by spelham 07:25 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

The Local Neighborhood

Beijing's Xicheng District, a Chinese toilet, and cats.

rain 27 °C

During the bus ride from Capital International Airport to the CET campus a small Chinese woman yelled instructions to us in broken English, and at the door of the West Building the Shifu handed us an informational packet and keys. After dragging my luggage into my room I immediately convened with other students in the hall to discuss the only important thing after a thirteen-hour flight: food. We eventually decided to walk eastward and stop at the first respectable looking restaurant we could find.

Upon entering the restaurant a problem immediately became apparent. We could not communicate. The people in Beijing speak Chinese. After about forty-five minutes of attempting to decipher the menu, and twenty minutes of trying to understand what our server was repeatedly saying (“You need to order more dishes.”), our food finally came. The restaurant experienced a blackout mid-meal, which aroused some angry Chinese shouting in another room. We all tensed up in response, and after two hours of frustrating miscommunication, we finally left, exhausted. We reference this first encounter with Beijing often.

The first weekend at CET is a blur of informational meetings, brief Beijing tours, and getting to know the other students. Apparently I made an impression on several people by asking for their names, looking thoughtful, and then leaving without telling them anything about myself.

I was a little overwhelmed at the time.

Therefore I have no pictures from the first weekend. But the second Saturday turned out to be a blue-sky day for Beijing, perfect for misrepresenting the weather of this city.

This picture is taken right outside of the Beijing Institute of Education main gate.

This summer in Beijing it rains almost every day. About three days a week the pollution is thick enough to sting my eyes and throat. I can see a bluish hue in the sky one to three days per week. Otherwise the sky is white. Previous summers, it almost never rained in Beijing. I’m told that the government is seeding clouds in hopes of clearing the skies for the Olympic Games.

Across the street from the CET campus is a shopping district well-known for cheap, cute clothing.


These red-colored doors are just the tip of the iceberg. Behind these shops are several huge, multi-level buildings packed with small clothing and jewelry shops. The clothes are at best Forever 21 quality, and occasionally Forever 21 style.

Although not really in my local neighborhood, this market is a good example of what shopping is like in Beijing. Shop after shop, each packed with merchandise and crowded with people. We went to this market the same day I took all of these photos.

From CET, I’ve walked past the red doors and turned left onto a larger street. This lot is to my right.

These motorbikes, when driven, are deathly silent – pedestrians beware.

The Chinese drive on the right side of the road the same as Americans. I’m told that only in Hong Kong do they drive on the opposite side.

The first week here I needed to buy make-up, and I could not understand why it was all advertised as “whitening.” Then I realized that Chinese women still lust for white skin. At least a third of all the women in Beijing use umbrellas to protect their skin on a sunny day. The others, like Yao Yao, simply wear sunscreen.

Since white is preferred, I wonder about the implications for black people. Yao Yao and I watched a Chinese animated movie together where the only antagonist was black. Several gossip magazines claim that the bars and clubs at Workers Stadium are banning black people because they are notorious trouble makers. Otherwise, I’ve seen and heard nothing.

I love Beijing’s (steadily dwindling) bike culture. The roads here have lanes for cars and for bikes.

This is a chicken on the sidewalk. The duck ran away.

I think this man is collecting recyclables to trade in for cash. Beijing does a much better job of recycling than Georgia; every trash can has one side for recyclables, one for trash.

Plastic bottles here are worth 1 or 2 mao (10 mao = 1 kuai; 1-2 kuai [15 to 25 cents] can buy a frozen ice cream bar, a bottle of water, or a small snack.). Therefore instead of the impoverished begging for money, they politely tap your side and take that empty plastic bottle you’re holding off of your hands.

Beijing – Where cars have the right of way.

Two of my friends, Stephen and Mindy. And it tasted the same.

Parks with open space and exercise equipment are common in Beijing. This one is about a two minute walk from campus, on the East side. The equipment in this picture is a simplified version of an elliptical.

A woman with children at the same park. This park truly comes alive in the evening, when women, men, and children all play games, exercise, and chat. I know this because I regularly buy bananas at a neighboring fruit stand and frequent the Baozi Restaurant down the street. (Baozi is a bread/bun dumpling.)

Beijingers love to play cards – in the morning, in the afternoon, into the night, and on every block. I see men participating more than women.

All the previous pictures are from the east, north, and west areas around CET’s campus. These men are on the South side.

There were about five different groups playing cards in this area.

  • **

What is a Chinese toilet?

This is a Chinese toilet. Squat to use. It is hygienically superior (the body touches nothing), but inferior in comfort. Water shoots out a hole in the back when flushed.

The creep taking pictures in the girl's bathroom.

Before my bathroom photo session, I caught some cats going through garbage outside. I took these through my dorm room window on the second floor.




And I’m caught.

Posted by spelham 09:46 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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