Dec 042007

On the edge of the old city neighborhood of Shanghai is Yuyuan Garden. Yuyuan Garden is a a set of buildings surrounding a garden with a large water feature in the middle. The water contains a striking collection of goldfish. I bought a bag of fish food. After using around half the bag, I gave the remainder to a little girl and her grandmother.
Yuyuan Garden Goldfish

The giant sculptures are of Shanghai’s hairy crabs. More on those in a later posting.
Yuyuan Garden

In the center of the pond is a tea house, where you can have a small tea ceremony for around 40 Yuan (approximately $6). It was very relaxing.
Yuyuan Garden view from teahouse
Yuyuan Garden view from teahouse

 Posted by at 8:20 pm
Dec 032007

Beijing is a city under construction. Every other block seemed to be a construction site, with up to four large cranes working on a single block. Unfortunately, I was not impressed by the contemporary architecture of Beijing. Aside from the Olympic area (which I did not visit), it appears that the majority of construction sites are simple, blocky buildings without the elegance of the modern movement. The contemporary architecture of Shanghai was much more impressive and reminded me of La Défence outside of Paris. I feel that Shanghai has done a much better job of creating new beautiful structures while respecting the past. In Beijing’s rush to be a “modern” city, its architectural ideal seems to embrace demolishing the old in favor of the bland.

Construction in the distance beyond the Forbidden City in Beijing
Beijing construction

The Shanghai World Financial Center from Yuyuan Gardens
Beijing construction

 Posted by at 12:30 am
Dec 012007

In 30 minutes or so, I will be flying back to the United States. I am now at Sharon and Mark’s house in Shanghai; my flight to Beijing leaves around noon. From Beijing, I have a direct flight to Newark International. (It’s a fast flight: it leaves at 5:00 pm and arrives at 5:40 pm!) At Newark, I hop on New Jersey Transit to Penn Station. Finally, a few quick stops on the A train and I’ll be home.

I will continue to post more photos of my trip. I have enjoyed Shanghai. It’s a cosmopolitan city with fantastic architecture and great food.

Unfortunately, my camera broke this morning. The good news is that it broke the day I was leaving. Even more importantly, it broke after I took some photos of hairy crab.

 Posted by at 8:28 pm
Dec 012007

I visited the Beijing Zoo before flying to Shanghai. I support the Wildlife Conservation Society (née the New York Zoological Society) back home, and I’m always curious to see zoos in other locations.

The main attraction of the Beijing Zoo is the pandas. It costs an extra 5 yuan (approximately 80 cents) to see the pandas. They are beautiful animals, although they are very sleepy.

Beijing Zoo Panda
Beijing Zoo Panda

I was also able to see much of the bird exhibits before I had to leave for my flight. The centerpiece of the zoo was a lake with a variety of different water birds.
Beijing Zoo bird
I did not eat this duck.
Beijing Zoo duck
Spot-Billed Pelican!
Beijing Zoo bird

There were also several indoor bird exhibits.
Calling Crokett and Tubbs!
Beijing Zoo bird
Beijing Zoo bird

A laughing thrush.
Beijing Zoo bird

 Posted by at 7:15 am
Nov 282007

On Monday, I visited the Forbidden City, home to China’s emperors for thousands of years. The city is over 720 thousand square meters, and it is said to have 9,999 rooms. (Nine is considered a lucky number for Chinese emperors.) I spent most of my day exploring the city.
The Forbidden City
The Forbidden city is at ground level, yet when you are standing on the terraces and balconies you can see for miles into Beijing.
The Forbidden City
What was most striking was the sheer number of throne rooms. There were between 10 and 20 throne rooms open to the public; it appeared as if the emperors had a throne room for every occasion.
The Forbidden City
The details of the decorations were also very impressive. The two square images are details from a wall outside a set of throne rooms; the last image is the detail above a doorway into one of the larger plazas. As you can see from the square images, some of the paint is a bit faded. In fact, many parts of the City appeared to be a bit worn. However, given that the city is thousands of years old with millions of tourists visiting each year, it’s in good shape.
The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City
A river twisted its way through the City. It was elegant and clearly meant for beauty rather than as a moat.
The Forbidden City
“Shop of the Forbidden City” is a good name for a store. I don’t know about the babo gruel.
The Forbidden City
The City also had many displays of historic art. This is a Long Ware Red Vase from the Kangxi reign of the Qing Dynasty (1662-1722). The photo is not perfect as the light in the gallery was dim. I’m only including it because the vase was so beautiful.
Long Ware Red Vase from the Kangxi reign of the Qing Dynasty (1662-1722)
I left the Forbidden City through the Emperor’s Gate. Goodbye City!
Exiting the Forbidden City from the Emperor's Gate

 Posted by at 10:25 am
Nov 272007

Here are some fun facts about the Great Wall:

  • Peter Jackson totally ripped off the Great Wall for his tower signaling sequence in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
  • The Great Wall is not inaccurate. I know when you hear, “Great Wall,” you may think it is just a big wall. It isn’t just a big wall. It’s a really, really, big wall on the top of a mountain. And it runs for over 370 miles.
  • You should be in decent shape before you climb the steps to the Great Wall. It’s over half a kilometer of steps at a 45 degree incline. There are places to rest, but your calves will probably ache for a day or two.
  • There are 50 or 60 shopkeepers at the bottom of the Great Wall. They all sell the exact same merchandise at the exact same prices. T-shirts were as low as two for $1. Sharon, who works in apparel manufacturing, is not sure how they make any money at this price.
  • It’s chilly at the Great Wall in November, but by the time you reach the top of the Great Wall you will be fairly warm

We left the hotel at seven in the morning. We decided to visit the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, around 90 minutes outside of Beijing by car. It was a nice day for a drive. The day I arrived was the worst day in terms of pollution; the days became colder, but clearer, as I stayed in Beijing.

We started our climb up the stairs immediately after we arrived. We were among the first tourists to arrive that day; at the top of the wall we were able to enjoy sections without seeing any other groups of people. The parts of the Wall we saw were in fantastic condition, and the sight was amazing. It’s worth visiting, as photos and a written description do not do the Wall justice.

Great Wall of China at Mutianyu
First view of the Great Wall as we climbed the steps.

Me, Sharon, and Mark at Great Wall of China at Mutianyu
Mark, Sharon, and I (R to L) at the Great Wall. There was a small gazebo just before you reached the wall.

Great Wall of China at Mutianyu

Me at Great Wall of China at Mutianyu

The photos make the Wall appear as if it is drastically dipping, twisting, and turning. This is not a trick of the camera–the Great Wall dips, twists, and turns as it hugs the peak of the mountain. The steepest stairs required a bit of minor climbing; as you went down the slope of the Wall you had to make sure not to slip on any frost. The Wall was also slightly angled towards one side. The angle allowed rain water to gather into drains.
Great Wall of China at Mutianyu

Great Wall of China at Mutianyu

Great Wall of China at Mutianyu

A Chinese and Australian crew was shooting a promotional video for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. I took a few photos and also posted a video to YouTube.
Great Wall of China at Mutianyu

 Posted by at 11:00 pm
Nov 262007

McDonalds ChinaMy first night in China, we decided to eat regional food. There is a unique Scottish restaurant on the Wangfujiang shopping promenade. The Chinese seem to love this restaurant’s delectable items, which center around something they call a hambaobao. The United States would love this concoction, which is two all beef patties, topped with what is called “special” sauce, layered with crisp lettuce, luscious cheese, pickles, and onions. Finally, it is topped with a sesame seed bun. It is truly a combination of the best of Scottish and Chinese cuisines.

(Please feel free to throw in your own anti-globalization rant here. McDonalds and KFC outlets appear to be ubiquitous here. I have not visited either, although I have drunk both diet Coke and regular Coke!)

For folks who do not know me, the thought of eating McDonalds in a foreign country would be a bit odd. At the risk of sounding overly elitist, I am more likely to skip a meal than grab McDonalds, especially when I am visiting a new country. For my first meal in China, Mark, Sharon, and I decided to visit Quanjude, a restaurant that specializes in roast duck. We visited the newer branch of the restaurant; it is closer to my hotel. We got into the restaurant around 5:30 pm. While we were one of the first customers and were immediately seated, there was a large group of people waiting for seats when we left.

We ordered three dishes–a whole roast duck, a beef dish, and a dish of sauteed celery. The celery was tossed with oil, peeled walnuts, and red beans. The beef dish was rich and tender. However, the star of the meal was the duck. The skin was crisp, and yet it melted in your mouth. The meat was tender and lean. Unlike most duck meat in the United States, which is generally darker, this mean was pale but still flavorful.

The duck was sliced in front of our table. It was served with pancakes, sauce and chives. We also order some sesame rolls and formed small duck sandwiches with those as well. It was a treat, and the culinary highlight of my trip so far. The restaurant hands out a commemorative card for every duck sold. Our duck was the 1,150,292,355th duck sold since 1864.
Quanjude restaurant
Quanjude duck statue
Chef preparing Peking duck

After dinner, we walked around a small market by Wangfujiang. Small food stalls are scattered throughout the area. The food on the sticks are scorpions and seahorses.
Wangfujiang market
Wangfujiang market

Yesterday, I visited the Forbidden City, and this afternoon I fly to Shanghai.

 Posted by at 9:47 pm
Nov 252007

This past Friday, I left New York City for Beijing and Shanghai for a week long vacation. I flew to Beijing on Continental flight 89, a 14-hour direct flight from Newark. I used a combination of frequent flier miles, American Express points, and cash to upgrade my coach-class seat to a Business class seat. Because of the extra room, I was able to get some good sleep and arrive in Beijing refreshed and ready for the evening.

Chinese visa
Getting a visa to go to China was not difficult. There is a Chinese consulate in New York City, and I was able to dash up there during lunch a couple of weeks ago. The consular officials were concerned about the name and purpose of my company, but I was approved for a visa and was able to pick it up the next week. (PhotoShelter works with professional photographers; they were concerned about what I did for PhotoShelter and the kinds of photographers we worked with.)

My friend Anne pointed me to this book called Lingolook. It’s a card book secured on one corner that you can use to quickly find common phrases. The book also includes drawings and simplified Chinese in addition to Pinyin and English, so you can just point to a picture if you are without a clue. The book has been helpful, but I feel that I should have taken a Chinese language class. The language is not as difficult as it may first seem, but it is unlike any other languages I know. Unfortunately, I ran out of time to take a class before my trip.

As we were landing and getting off the plane, I was struck by the level of pollution. It’s terrible that my first impressions of China and Beijing are of a dusty yellow fog and a rust-colored disk in the sky that we call “the sun,” but Beijing is the most polluted city I have ever seen. I was unable to see more than two or three blocks, and it turns out that the smog was very bad the day I arrived. Since yesterday I have been able to see across the city from my hotel room window. Beijing has a problem that they must solve before the Olympics as athletes will not want to compete in the kind of conditions I saw on Saturday.

The night I arrived, Sharon, Mark, and I feasted on Peking Duck (now Beijing Duck?). Yesterday, we climbed the Great Wall. Sharon and Mark had to go back to Shanghai last night, and this morning I’m off to the Forbidden City. Most of my trip is documented with photos; I’ll post more as I get a chance.

 Posted by at 8:19 pm
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