Aiwowo, Beijing, Beijing de Kao Ya, Bianyifang, China, Chongwenmen, Circular Mound, Forbidden City, Gu Gong, Guang Chang, Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, Imperial Vault of Heaven, Ludagun, Roast Duck, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Tian Tan, Tiananmen Square, Wanduohuamg, Yi He Yuan
This is the continuation of my two journal entries last week on
my our adventure in the amazing Chinese capital, Beijing. Even though that the highlight of our trip is our Great Wall experience, I consider our second day more fun. Read on to find out…
DAY 2 – 第二天
After an extremely exhausting first day in Beijing, I was pretty surprised that my body wasn’t aching when I woke up on our second day. Right after I took a shower, Deng, my Chinese project mate from IBM China, called. He asked me if I am available for dinner that night. We agreed to meet up at around 7:30 PM at the lobby of Novotel.
Arman, ate, and I went down to Novotel’s cafe and ate our breakfast. As I have mentioned in my previous posts, I was a little short on cash so I was very thankful that my sister treated me to breakfast that day. We didn’t have anything planned for our second day aside from going to the Tiananmen Square (天安门广场). Fun right? I tried to stealthily persuade my sister and Arman to seeing other historical sites by squeezing them in our conversations during breakfast but I failed miserably.
After breakfast, we headed to the Chongwenmen Station of the Beijing Subway which is right in front of Novotel. My sister and Arman trusted me in taking them to Tiananmen Square so with a map of Beijing at hand, I did a Dora the Explorer and headed to the ticketing machine.
I was a little confused at first with the subway’s ticketing machine. I wasn’t able to take a photo of it but it’s like LRT’s ticketing machine with a touch panel for choosing your destination. Initially, it was all in Chinese so I really had no clue as to what I was doing. Good thing that I noticed a button with “English” written on it so I pressed that one. The ticketing machine presents you a map of the entire Beijing Subway and you can choose to show only a certain Subway Line. I pressed Line 2 since the Qianmen Station, the station nearest the Tiananmen Square, was in that line. Each ticket, or piao (票), only costs 2 RMB (~14 PhP) regardless of destination. Seriously, you can go to any station along any line and you’d only have to pay 2 RMB. I’ll rave a little bit more about their subway system later in this post.
When we arrived in the Qianmen station, we went to the exit nearest to where we were. I was checking the ‘stubs’ I downloaded for directions so we can easily go to the Tiananmen Square. According to the stub for Tiananmen Square, once we arrive in Qianmen, we should go out of Exit A or B and then head north. We went to the wrong exit and Tiananmen was on the other side of the road. We had to go back down the subway and cross to the other side. It doesn’t sound that tiring but it is since their underpasses are a bit deep and wide. Also, we had to go through a security check again.
Huge ancient Chinese gates greeted us as we emerged from the underpass. Just a little trivia, most streets (or stations) in Beijing have ‘men‘ (门) at the end which means gate. Don’t be surprised if you get there and you see a lot of streets and stations with men at the end.
We immediately noticed the swarms of people at Tiananmen Square. Most of the groups had a leader with a flag at hand so that the members of the group wouldn’t get lost. Arman and I started to act like proper tourists and took photos of everything that looked historical.
While I was checking my photos, I was wondering why my shots looked blurry, hazy even. I felt a little scared because I thought that my camera’s already giving up even though it’s just under a year old. I looked around and realized that my camera wasn’t broken, it really was hazy in Tiananmen Square. I guess the Chinese boom the past decade also saw a huge spike in car ownership.
We walked around a little bit more and saw the Tiananmen Gate where with Mao Zedong’s (毛泽东) photo. We took funny shots in front of that gate but I’d rather not share them since all three of us looked weird in those photos. We were wondering how we could reach the other side where the gate was but we couldn’t just figure out how. Again, my Mandarin “skills” were put to the test when I asked one of the guards in the area how we can get to the other side. The guard pointed at the almost unnoticeable entrance to the underpass so off we went to cross the wide Beijing road.
Getting past that gate was quite a challenge since we had to go through a sea of people wanting to have their photographs taken in front of Chairman Mao. When we got through the gate, my sister was already tired so she told Arman and me to go ahead without her. Not wanting to leave her alone, Arman and I agreed that we’d take turns in roaming around the place. Arman told me to go first so off I went to roam around the place.
I simply walked forward and looked at the various sights inside the area we were in. There were some cadets training though I am not sure whether they were really training or just performing for the tourists. I also saw a lot of stalls at the sides selling Chinese souvenirs, the most popular being the crawling soldier with the flag of the People’s Republic of China on its back. After walking for a few minutes, I saw the gate of the Forbidden City (故宫), more commonly known as the Meridian Gate.
Even though I wanted to go inside the Forbidden City, I couldn’t since Arman at ate were waiting for me. I guess it was indeed a Forbidden City for me. It’s such a shame since it is one of the must see sites in Beijing. Oh well, I’ll make sure that I explore the Forbidden City next time I go to Beijing.
When I got back to where Arman and Ate were, they told me that we should go ahead and have lunch. I guess Arman was already tired as well since he didn’t want to explore the place anymore. They told me that they wanted to check out Wangfujing Street so we headed to the Tiananmen East subway station and rode the train to Wangfujing.
Our first stop was the Oriental Plaza Mall. The mall was okay, probably at par with Trinoma but not with Greenbelt. We strolled around a bit before seeing the mall’s food court called the Food Republic.
It’s like the usual food court in malls with a little twist – you have to purchase a prepaid card first in order to buy food. I was a little confused with how the system worked so I let Arman try purchasing some food first. He bought a card loaded with 50 RMB and then ordered some food from a stall selling noodles. He explained to me that I have to purchase a card loaded with either 30, 50, or 100 RMB. Once I’m finished using the card, I have to return it to the cashier and whatever stored value is left inside the card would be returned to me.
So I went to the cashier and bought a card loaded with 30 RMB which is roughly around 210 PhP. Being an avid fan of dimsum, I ordered some dumplings filled with vegetables which costs 8 RMB. Ordering dimsum was easy since the choices were laid out in front of you and I just pointed to the one the wanted. After getting my dumplings, I looked around for something to drink. Since I wanted to drink something that is Chinese so I decided to get some tea. When I was at the stall selling tea (the stall in the photo above), I was presented with a menu that’s written in Chinese. Oh joy! I tried my best to ask the lady behind the counter what the flavors were but I failed miserably. In the end, I just muttered ‘nai cha‘ (奶茶), or milk tea, since that’s the only drink I can say in Chinese aside from ‘ka fei‘ (咖啡), or coffee. A large cup of milk tea costs 11 RMB which is around 77 PhP.
After our snack, we went to the Wangfujing Bookstore which was a few steps away from the Oriental Plaza Mall. That bookstore is really big! It’s six (or seven) levels high and each level had its own genre of books. There was even an area for mobile phones and electronics that aide in learning. The bookstore had a wide selection of titles, both in English and Chinese.
I wanted to purchase a book on learning Mandarin as well as a book on Chinese characters but I didn’t have the money. Sigh, probably next time when I have more pocket money.
When we got out of the bookstore, Ate asked us if we could check out the shops along Wangfujing. We dropped by different shops and looked around. There was a variety of shops along Wangfujing but most of them catered to the upper market.
At around 1 PM, after checking out a few shops, we sat down in one of the benches along the street. That was when my sister noticed that my facial expression was, well, sad. She asked me if there was a problem and I told her that I wanted to check out the historical sites in Beijing. After thinking for a few minutes, my sister told me that she’d allow me to go around the city given that I text her my whereabouts on an hourly basis. Since my phone’s roaming wasn’t set, she lent me her phone and gave me 100 RMB as emergency money. She said that they’ll just look around Wangfujing and then go to the Silk Street after. Hooray, freedom!
The first thing I did after my sister ‘set me free‘ was to go to the old Wangfujing Street. On my way there, I saw a shop selling Jasmine Tea flavored soft serve ice cream for 5 RMB (35 PhP). Being the adventurous eater that I am, I gave it a try.
The verdict? It was delicious! The ice cream wasn’t that sweet and it tasted like vanilla with a bit of a flowery taste. It was a bit expensive though but I charged it to experience. I was walking along Wangfujing with a backpack on my back and an ice cream cone at hand. In short, I looked like an over-sized elementary student.
The old Wangfujing Street is a narrow passageway with plenty shops selling food and souvenirs. Most of the food being sold there are exotic but not all, there are regular ones as well. I was tempted to purchase something there in Wangfujing but I was holding on to my cash since I was planning to visit sites which require entrance fees. There were many interesting stuff being sold in Wangfujing but what really caught my attention were the skewered creepy crawlers. Err, deep-fried scorpion anyone? How about deep-fried starfish? I wanted to try them but I didn’t have the guts to do so. I guess I’m not that much of an adventurous eater after all.
After strolling around Wangfujing, I went to the Wangfujing Station of the Beijing Subway. I checked my map to see which tourist spot is nearest to where I was and saw that the Temple of Heaven, or Tiantan (天坛), was just a few stations away. At first, I didn’t know that it would only cost me 2 RMB to go anywhere. I thought that whenever I’d transfer to a different line, I’d have to buy another ticket. So I bought a ticket to the Dongdan (东单) Station, alighted the train, transferred to Line 5, and then bought another ticket to the Tiantan Dongmen (天坛东门) Station.
Before I move on to my visit to the Temple of Heaven, let me just rave about the Subway System of Beijing. I could not explain how envious I am of their urban transport system. Unlike our three light rail lines here in Metro Manila, Beijing’s subways are really interconnected. Let me explain my point.
Here in Metro Manila, if you want to go from Marikina to, let’s say, Ayala Avenue, you have to ride the LRT 2 at Santolan Station to the Araneta Center-Cubao Station which would cost you 12 PhP. You have to alight the train, go through the entire length of Gateway Mall, cross the foot bridge to Farmers, walk to the other side of Farmers until you reach the Cubao Station of the MRT. From that station, you have to pay 13 PhP (or is it 14 PhP?) to reach the Ayala Station. Once you arrive in the Ayala Station, you have to walk for around 5 minutes to get to Ayala Avenue.
In Beijing, all you need to get from point A to point B is 2 RMB. If you need to transfer to another line, you just exit the platform area, walk to the other line, and then go to that line’s platform. Some common stations, like the Dongdan station, have walkalators. Oh, they also have a bus network to complement the subway system. There are designated stops for the buses, and each bus has a number that has a corresponding route.
Okay, enough raving (and ranting) about urban transport. I arrived at the Temple of Heaven at around 1:50 PM. I went to the ticket booth and bought a general entrance ticket for 15 RMB (~105 PhP). I thought that I’d still be able to take photos of the structures inside the complex even without buying the 35 RMB (~245 PhP) all-through pass but I found out later that I was wrong.
When I got inside the Temple of Heaven complex, a relaxed feeling came over me. It was very peaceful and serene there despite the heavy tourist crowd. I wasn’t surprised that there were people there who sat at the sides and read books.
As I approached the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to take photos of it without getting an all-through entrance ticket. There were walls blocking the Hall so I just went to the ticket booth near its entrance and bought an all-through ticket for 25 RMB ( ~175 RMB). The ticket would allow me to see the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, the Imperial Vault of Heaven, and the Circular Mound Altar.
I walked towards the entrance and presented my ticket to the person in charge of collecting the entrance stubs. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests welcomed me as I go beyond the walls that once prevented me from seeing the glorious structure (ano daw?!). It was such a magnificent sight. What was once a place that I could only see on television or in magazines was right there in front of me.
As the name implies, this hall was where the emperor prayed for an abundant and plentiful harvest. By the way, the structure that you see in the photo isn’t the original one. The original structure burned down way back in the late 1800’s when it was struck by lightning.
I took a series of shots of the structure from left to right so that I could stitch them and create a panorama. Sadly though, my laptop is having a problem with its graphics card so I couldn’t stitch the photos using Microsoft ICE. Oh well.
After taking a lot of snaps of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (including vain shots which I will not post here), I moved on and walked to the next attraction inside the complex which was the Imperial Vault of Heaven. I checked the nearest “you-are-here” map to see which direction I should walk to in order to get to my next stop. I walked on a long bridge before I was able to see a gate with the Imperial Vault of Heaven peeking through. The structure itself was inside the Echo Wall, a wall that has a ‘perfect circumeference‘ protecting the Imperial Vault of Heaven.
Near the Imperial Vault of Heaven is the Circular Mound Altar. The altar is where the emperor prayed for favorable weather. There was nothing much to see but it’s a popular attraction nonetheless. Oh, the altar is supposed to revolve around the number 9. Meaning, the steps, slabs, and balustrades are 9 or a multiple of 9.
I left the Temple of Heaven complex at around 3:30 PM. I could not believe that I spent almost 2 hours there! I rushed to the Tiantan Dongmen Station and checked my map of Beijing. I was a bit torn because I wanted to see the Olympic Park as well as the Summer Palace. I knew that I had to give up one of them since I had to be back in our hotel at around 7:30 PM to meet up with Deng. Since I already saw the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube while inside the tour bus the day before, I decided to go to the Summer Palace, or Yi He Yuan (颐和园), instead.
Rather than buying a ticket from a ticketing machine, I bought a ticket from the ticket booth. That is where I found out that it only costs 2 RMB to go any station in the Beijing Subway system. I told him that I’d be going to the Beigongmen (北宫门) Station, the station just outside the Summer Palace, and asked him how much. I was pleasantly surprised when he told me that it’s just 2 RMB given that I’d be transferring twice to go there. I gladly gave the ticket seller 5 RMB and got my 3 RMB change.
It took me an hour before I reached to Beigongmen Station. I felt bad that I wasted so much time moving from one place to another but then again, it was already quick considering that I traveled from the southeastern to the northwestern part of Beijing in an hour.
From the station, I had to walk for around 5 minutes before reaching the entrance of the Summer Palace. I hurriedly went to the ticket booth and bought a general entrance ticket for 20 RMB (~140 PhP). When I looked at the ticket, I saw that the Summer Palace was open only until 6 in the evening so I only had an hour and a half to spend inside.
Being the cash strapped person that I was in Beijing, I opted not to rent the audio tour guide that requires a 40 RMB deposit. Past the gate in the photo above is the beginning of the vast expanse of the Summer Palace. At first I thought the Summer Palace wasn’t that big. I just walked around and followed the paths, checking the ‘you-are-here‘ maps as I go. With the 6 PM closing time in mind, I hastened to find the structure which I always see in Summer Palace postcards – the Tower of the Buddhist Incense, or Fu Xiang Ge (佛香阁).
Walking inside the Summer Palace’s complex, even in haste, was very relaxing. There’s an abundance of trees all over the place and the old pavilions give people a venue perfect for thinking and reflection. There are occasional wow moments as well as I passed by glorious ancient Chinese structures inside the complex. The serene and relaxing vibe was cut short though when I looked above towards the sky and realized that rain clouds were looming over Beijing. Better find the tower quick!
I was just following the seemingly circular path until I reached a place with high walls. As I moved forward, I started to see the roof of the tower that I wanted to see. I walked faster until I reached the entrance of the Tower of Buddhist Incense. It costs 10 RMB (~70 PhP) to see the tower. After handing the money to the person manning the ticket booth, he told me that they will be closing the attraction in 15 minutes so I better move quickly.
The tower was absolutely beautiful, more than what I have imagined. The structure was surrounded by Chinese style walls. It was facing a huge lake where boats passed by. It also had fantastic views, the silhouette of the skyscrapers of Beijing’s business district could be seen from afar – a good mix of the old and modern Beijing.
There were only less than 10 people in the area, including me. A person came to tell us that the Tower of Buddhist Incense will be closed in a bit so I took my last snaps of the place.
When I got out of the Tower’s gate, I thought of continuing the path I walked to reach the Tower instead of going back where I came from. I told myself that the road seemed circular so in a matter of minutes, I’d be back to the Summer Palace’s entrance.
For the nth time, I was wrong.
It seemed like that each step I made along the path brought me deeper into the Summer Palace’s complex. I kept on looking at my phone to check the time since I had to be back in the hotel at around 7 PM to meet up with Deng. I would always check the ‘you-are-here‘ maps to determine which direction I should walk to but they were becoming more and more useless. As if things couldn’t get any worse, it started to drizzle. A few minutes later, the drizzle turned into rain.
I was going up and down different stairs within the complex hoping that one of those steps would lead me to the right path. I was in despair, almost on the verge of breaking down. I was exhausted and perspiring like crazy. I have already drank the last drop of water in the bottle that I was holding so I couldn’t do anything about my dried up throat.
Little did I know that the empty bottle that I was holding would be the key to my salvation.
While I was checking another ‘you-are-here‘ map, an old lady approached me and asked if she could have the empty bottle that I was holding. If you have been to the University of the Philippines Diliman, she would be the equivalent of the children asking for C2 bottles. I handed her the bottle but before she walked away, I asked her how I can reach the Beigongmen exit of the Summer Palace. I told her that I’ve been lost inside for quite a while and before I could even explain any further about my desperate situation, she told me to follow her. I’ve been told never to trust strangers but I was already desperate so I had no choice. She walked very fast and I tried to keep up. After going up and down, left and right, I was back in the Summer Palace’s entrance. You can just imagine how relieved I was! I didn’t know if it would be proper to give her money in exchange of the help she gave me so I decided not to. I just gave her the most sincere thank you I can say in Mandarin, fei chang gan xie (非常感谢).
I went to the nearest convenience store (err, stall?) and bought a bottle of water. I drank all of it in one big gulp, that’s how thirsty I was. I headed to the Beigongmen station of the subway and bought my ticket to Chongwenmen.
My trip back to Chongwenmen was uneventful. The train that I rode wasn’t that full yet since Beigongmen is the second to the last station of Line 4. I checked the subway map and saw that Line 4 and Line 2 had a common section so I would only transfer once. I sat there and recalled all the things that have happened that day. I had a lot of things to reflect on and I was thankful on how the day turned out. I sent my sister an SMS telling her that I was on my way back to the hotel. She replied that Arman and her went back to Silk Street since Arman wanted to purchase an iPhone knock-off. I transferred to Line 2 at the Xianwumen station and after a total of 30 minutes, I was back in Novotel.
Since Arman and ate were still in the Silk Street market, I resumed my recollection by checking out the photos I took that day. Cheesiness aside, I was really smiling when I was looking at the photos. The places that I visited were once just fantasies of mine – places that I never thought I’d be able to see. My mind’s flight was cut short when someone tapped my back… it was Arman.
We went to our hotel room and shared a few tidbits of our day to each other. I took a shower after since I would be meeting up with Deng at 7:30 PM. While I was inside the shower, someone called our hotel room and it was Deng. He arrived earlier than I expected so I had to rush.
I went down to the hotel lobby and saw Deng sitting there. He was on the phone with someone and his laptop was open. Boy, he sure is a workaholic. When he saw me, he waved hello and told me to wait just a moment. After his phone call, we began asking how each other has been. Prior to that meeting, I last saw Deng way back in January. We walked outside the hotel while still catching up on each other. He was thinking where he could take me for dinner, but since he was unfamiliar with the area, he called a friend of his who grew up in Beijing (Deng’s from Jiangxi).
We went to Beijing Bianyifang Roast Duck Restaurant (北京便宜坊烤鸭集团有限公司), a restaurant which is less than 10 minutes by foot from our hotel. The restaurant is inside the China New World Shopping Mall along Chongwenmen West Street. It claims to be the first Peking Duck restaurant in Beijing.
I felt a little uneasy inside the restaurant since the place looks like a very expensive place to eat in. I knew that Deng would be treating me to dinner but I felt that the place was too much. Anyway, it was too late since the waiter came, handed us the menu, and Deng started ordering. He asked me what I wanted to eat but I told him to choose whatever he thought were the best of Beijing’s cuisine. He was pointing to a lot of stuff on the menu and I was worried that he might order more than we could eat.
We talked a little bit more after he ordered food. We were mostly talking about the people in Globe and our current projects. Aside from the work-related exchange of stories, I told him about the places I visited in Beijing. A few minutes passed and our snacks arrived.
Deng told me to try each one of them. It was a bit weird that our dessert came first but what the heck, I loved the Aiwowo.
The other orders were coming in but the one that I was looking forward to try the most was the Beijing Roast Duck. According to online forums, a visit to Beijing is not complete without savoring Beijing’s Roast Duck. The restaurant’s chef and an assistant came to our table with the roast duck. I was a little horrified because for one, I thought that Deng ordered the whole duck. We might spend hours there and still not be finished eating the whole thing. Another reason was that the duck was, well, whole – with the head and all. I felt bad when the chef chopped off the duck’s head. They served the roast duck with some sauce, cucumbers, onion leeks, and steamed pancakes.
The roast duck was really delicious! It was a bit fatty but I guess that’s how roast ducks are supposed to be. The skins was light and crispy and the meat was very flavorful. I took two slices of roast duck, dipped them in the sauce, and rolled it in the steamed pancakes with slices of cucumbers and leeks. Yum!
Two other orders came in. I was wondering how we could eat up all the food on our table but I just stopped thinking about it. Deng and I continued our conversation while eating. I even showed him some of our new Peso bills and he liked the new design.
When were already full, Deng asked for the bill and for the waiter to pack the remainder of our food. I wasn’t able to see the exact amount but the bill was somewhere north of 400 RMB (~2800 PhP). I told Deng that I’d pitch in but he insisted that our dinner was his treat. He told me that it was a thank you for being their tour guide while they were in Manila.
We left the restaurant after the waiter handed us our take out. Deng and I walked to the underpass but we parted ways since he had to ride the subway back to his home. I went back to the hotel and did some last minute packing. Good thing that I have already packed most of my stuff beforehand so I wasn’t rushing.
Arman, ate, and I agreed to leave for the airport at around 10:30 in the evening. Our flight schedule was 1 AM the following day and we had to be in the airport at around 11:30 that evening.
That’s it for my second day in Beijing. I’ll be posting our wonderful experience going back home soon.
(I started this entry right after publishing Exploring Beijing – Day 1. I was only able to finish it now though since I was quite busy.)