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The First Encounter Again

overcast 17 °C
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Today was the big day we started our trip to China. I've been to Beijing before, this time i went back to see more of this country, with my husband. We left for Schiphol Airport around 11.00am. Lucky enough everything started flying again a few days before, and with only 15 minutes of delay we left at 2.45pm to Frankfurt, where we had to wait a little while for our flight to Beijing. That flight went by pretty fast, even without sleep.

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We landed in Beijing at 8.35 am Sunday morning. It was a six hour time difference, and we didn't sleep much in the plane. After the whole blabla of passport controls, visa checks and luggage we proceeded the exit. It was pretty gray outside, and a bit colder then expected (17 or 18 degrees Celcius). The rooms weren't ready yet so we did a sightseeing tour through Beijing. I've been there in 2006, before the Olympics, and i have to say not much seemed very different when we were driving through the city.

Of course there were even more buildings, very high buildings, but also a lot of reconstruction/renovation, especially the Hutong areas. There were a lot of cars and motorcycles too, and everything just drove from left to right and back...it was so weird. Like there were no rules (except the traffic lights). People just crossed the street between the cars, even zebra's didn't make sense, cars weren't stopping so you had to watch out while crossing.

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We visited Tian'an Men Square and walked over the entire length of the square, past Mao's Mausoleum towards the other end where we made a group picture. Fun thing still is that because of the domestic tourism (90%-95%) many Chinese people want to take a picture of us too.

Not at all shy they just ask if you want to take a picture with them and suddenly you're surrounded by six people. I still find it funny :) After that we drove past the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, towards Dongfang Hotel, our 'home' for the next few days.

We went to a Dai restaurant where we had our traditional Dai lunch, In the afternoon we visited the Llama Temple. We decided sleep wasn't a good thing so we just went there.

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Llama Temple Blueprint

The Llama Temple (Yonghegong) is a (Tibetan) Buddhist temple. The temple itself has five halls separated by courtyards, which indicates it's an important and rich temple. The entrance hall with the Maitreya Buddha (Buddha of the future), then came a hall, the most important one, with the three Buddhas (past, present (Sakyamuni) and future), the next hall with the Maitreya Buddha, now as the Buddha of healing, the fourth hall with a huge statue of Tsong Kapa, founder of the Yellow Hat Sect, and the last one with the huge Buddha.

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This Maitreya Buddha stands 18 meters above ground....and 8 meters below. It was amazing to see it standing there, made of White Sandalwood. The temple entrance and halls are beautifully decorated and with all the trees and plants it's simply beautiful. It was very busy with people praying and burning incense, lots of incense, not one piece but entire bushes. After that we had a welcome dinner, we had to walk through the rain to get there...a heavy downpour it was also on the way back. It was only the first day, but i already loved being back in China.
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Just a slight remark about the weather in April/May in Beijing. It's a bit on the cold side. It was about 17 degrees C, but the wind was very cold. So if you go to Beijing in the end of April...bring sweaters, or at least a warm coat, just in case. It was supposed to be warmer but for some reason the weather was a bit behind schedule, all of us felt like freezing on the big squares with a lot of wind. And take umbrellas with you.

Posted by Astreia 02:44 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Great Wall and Summer Palace


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It was 6.00am when we had to get up. The trip to the wall took about 2 hours. We went to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. The way up was by cable car, from there on we could go up the wall and start walking. It was a beautiful sight. Not as green as i remember in July, but with the mountains full of the first green and a lot of blossoms.

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The view is indescribable. The Wall, so huge, still standing as a sort of stone snake throughout the landscape. One of the biggest building projects ever, and has the right to be called one of the seven World Wonders. It was a bit windy up there, but with the sun it was good weather overall. Even though it wasn't really steep, it was still a pretty tough climb up in some places. But i was glad i didn't have to walk the entire way up. We got an hour and a half to just walk over the Wall. It was nice and quiet, because we were so early not many people were on it yet. It was the opposite when we came back, there were quite a few people entering.

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First we had a quick lunch and a state visit to one of the pearl factories in Beijing. We got an explanation about the making and harvesting of pearls, and how you can recognize real from fake ones. Of course we could take a look in the shop as well.

At the Summer Palace the weather began to change and the wind suddenly turned a lot stronger. The place was still beautiful and not too crowded either. It was build by command of Ci Xi, Emperor TongZhi's mother, with money that was supposed to be used for the navy. Longevity Hill is one of the most famous places.

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The hill was constructed by the the soil that was excavated when digging Kunming Lake. About 3/4 of the Summer Palace is water. We walked through several gardens and saw the view over Kunming Lake, with the Buddhist Temple build on the mountain slope, but just for a bit because the wind was blowing hard and cold and everyone seemed to be freezing on the spot. We walked through the Long Corridor, passed Suzhou Street and the Marble Boat. Still all pretty to see, even though everything was just blooming and not entirely green yet.

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In the evening we had the famous Beijing Duck. It was delicious, even though the explanation of how to make it properly wasn't really good. But it still tasted very yummy. The other dishes were very nice too, but nothing could be compared to Beijing Duck.

Posted by Astreia 10:33 Archived in China Comments (0)

Last day around Beijing


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How busy can a place possibly be?!? That's the first thing i thought when I saw the entrance tot the Forbidden City. It was crawling with people. Everywhere.

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But back to the City. It is so amazingly huge (yes still, even after four years seeing it again, it's awesome). The buildings are so tall and wide, the courtyards so big (and without trees because of the Emperors paranoia of being attacked). The Forbidden city is build on 15 crossed layers laid in seven layers lengthwise and eight layers crosswise, so no one could dig their way in.

Parts of the Forbidden City are already renovated, so you can see the beautiful bright colors it once was in.
Still the most impressive building is the Hall of Supreme Harmony, build on three marble layers which makes it the highest building in the Forbidden City. It is also a pretty sight to see all the yellow/golden roofs, as yellow is the color of the Emperor.

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The City can be divided in two parts, one for the political/ceremonial part in the south, and the residence of the Emperor and his family in the north. First we visited the soutern part, with the Halls of Central and Preserving Harmony and the Hall of Supreme Harmony, and then we went on to the imperial residences. We saw the Emperors halls and courtyards, the houses where the concubines lived, and the courtyard and living quarters of the Empress.

From there on we went to lunch at a place in the Hutong area near the Drumtower, and after that we got a riksja tour through the Hutong.
A part also was recently renovated. The houses are getting a makeover if they're still in a good enough shape, if not, they're demolished and rebuild. We went to a little local supermarket for a bit of grocery shopping.

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The Drum Tower

Next was the Drumtower. The stairs are really really steep. Unfortunately we missed the drum ceremony, so we took a few nice pictures, it was so clear we even could see the Forbidden City :). After descending those scary stairs again, we moved on to the Olympic Stadium, the Birds nest. I never saw a stadium like that on the inside, so it was nice. But seeing my interest wasn't really big, i was done pretty quickly. We also walked along what used to be the Olympic Village, and the building for fencing and the Cube, where the swimming competitions were held.

After dinner in a Sichuan Restaurant (nice but sometimes spicy food), we went to the highlight that evening, the Flying Acrobatic Show.

It was beautiful! The costumes, lights, colors, acts, it was all so pretty and perfect! How the colors of the costumes changed like a rainbow in the fist act, to the last one where they wore beautiful decorated costumes. A very impressive act was 15 people on one bike, all with feather fans, making it look like a gigantic pink/orange peacocktail on wheels. There were human pyramids, jumping through hoops...or two or three with backflips, and everything else you could thing of. It's a really entertaining enjoyable show.

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Posted by Astreia 11:31 Archived in China Comments (0)

Beijing - Zhengzhou. The traveling starts.


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In the early morning we went to the Temple of Heaven, probably the most well-known temple of all. It is a beauty and very impressive. First there is park, where people can do what they want to do. Morning gymnastics, reading, dancing, just walking, sitting and just enjoying the park. The roofs in that part are green, the color of the earth. Next we walked to a corridor that was a miniature of the Long Corridor in the Summer Palace towards the Temple of Heaven.

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The temple is a complex of buildings, with the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest as the most important one. The roofs here are blue, the color of heaven. In early days, the roof of this hall were blue, yellow and green (heaven, emperor, earth) but because the earth got her own temple the colors were changed to blue.

After that we went to the Echo Wall, that can transmit sounds over large distances. In the middle of this courtyard is the imperial vault, which hold the tablet of heaven, the most important of all. The buildings on both sides contain other tablets for prayers, like rain, stars etc. After that we walked to the Altar of Heaven. In the middle is a stone, and if you stand on it you can speak to the heavens. On the sides of the altar were big pots where incense was burned, as smoke was a direct connection to heaven, and a firewood stove where animal sacrifices (skins) were burned.

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The next stop was Beijing train station. I have never ever seen anything like that. It is really huge. If you think of the fact it has to transport millions of people everyday it might not be that strange, but Amsterdam Central Station is like a miniature compared to that. After all the checkpoints and everything we sat ourselves down for a 5-hour trip to Zhengzhou. When we got there we had dinner and drank something at the hotel before heading to bed.

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Posted by Astreia 11:47 Archived in China Comments (0)

A day of Kung-Fu


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We left towards the famous Shaolin Monastery, in the mountains. There was a time 3.000 Kung-Fu students lived in this monastery. Now there are a lot less. The monastery got it's fame after the movie that was filmed there starring Jet Li.

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We saw students train and we saw a Kung-Fu Show. It was nice but somehow a bit too commercial (with 15 min pictures before the show and again pictures after) and not what i expected. And there was 10 minutes of 'learning kung-fu to outsiders'. Short would be the good word for it. It lasted 30 minutes.

After that we walked through the gardens, and the view was beautiful with all the mountains in the background. We went to the pagoda forest, a burial ground where you can see a lot of pagodas, the graves where the important people of the temple were buried. The higher the pagoda, the more important the person inside was.

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After lunch we moved on to visit one of many Kung-Fu schools in the area. The school we've been too has about 2.500 students at the moment, the eldest being around 20 years old, the youngest is 2. We got a tour through school, classes, and where the foreign students train (airconditioning and soft mats instead of outside on a parkinglot in the sun).

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Next stop was our hotel in Luoyang, where we would stay one night before moving on. Again. After dinner we walked around in the park in front of the hotel. It was finally warm that day, no more icy winds ^_^ There were people dancing, kids practicing kung-fu, people walking their dogs or just sitting. People do that a lot, during the day as well...just sitting. It was strange to see because no one here ever has time to just sit...:)
But it was nice to have a bit of time for ourselves after a few pretty hectic long days.

Posted by Astreia 12:38 Archived in China Comments (0)

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