A Travellerspoint blog

My First Week in Beijing

Friends, Family, Reunions

sunny 28 °C

Monday July 13
5:30am, the plan touched down from a gray thick shroud, sunless and pale. Sweat broke free on my forehead the moment I stepped out of the cool inside. Humidity was as high as I had always remembered. The feeling of stifling heat awakened that sleeping beast, the nostalgia for one’s hometown, which sweetened the worst insufferable weather into an accustomed climate.
As every traveler leaving from North America knew, entrance into China would be formidable; should there be a hint of the Swine Flu, a week-long quarantine would be your confinement and barrier from enjoying the precious holidays. Even though my dad and I, and the university boy sitting beside us, passed the menacing temperature-probe test swiftly, a foreign woman (seen from my position) was detected to have an abnormal body temperature and the entire plane was enveloped in a disquieting suspense. My neighbor grumbled so much, that I was truly amused when he said the woman should never have boarded the plane or at least should have drank lots of “ice water” to pass the test (the remedy to which he had trusted himself at least 20 times during the flight!).
When the suspense was over, we were told to leave and have a great time. Relief washed over me as my eyes drank in the sorely-missed city. Nothing has changed since my visit last year during the busy time of the 2008 Olympics, the constancy suiting my palate perfectly.
The moment I came home (my true, permanent harbor of rest), I found to my delight a neat room prepared for me by my grandma. After about 2 hours of washing and unpacking, I went to get a haircut, which was badly needed due to the summer heat.
In the past two years that I have had long hair, I avoided bangs because they needed special care. In the summer though, I desired a change – so I finally got bangs! (you’ll see in the pictures below.) ^_^

Tuesday July 14
If my petit journey to the barber shop did not arouse your morals or upset your hypochondriac fear, (for as a potential carrier of the Swine Flu germs, I was decreed to a week-long self-imposed quarantine to prevent me from infecting others), on this day I even “shamelessly” went to the downtown shopping district, Xi Dan, and indulged in two-and-a-half hours of movie with 50 other innocent Chinese, and played two hours of arcade games with 100+ other teens.
The most memorable event was meeting with my dearest brother, Tim. From first look, I deemed him still the old, generous and good-spirited boy I encountered two years ago. Upon closer inspection, his changes and growth came into light: collected composure mellowed those flippant brows, pride and confidence gave weight to his gait, experience and reading colored his conversations with wild figures that fueled my curiosity. I am so proud of everything he’s done and so blessed to be taken on that fantastic train that will surely stop beyond success. It is so rare for me to feel at home sharing my ambitions and dreams with someone; but with Tim, it was as natural and essential as I would long for water when I felt thirsty. I loved arguing with him on controversial issues and being grilled by him on the practicality of my plans. From the discord always rises a new ambition, more firmly rooted in the earth of human flesh and human power, but more elevated in the spirit of benefiting others than myself. He isn’t an idealist, frankly as he has stated, he wants more Greenbacks than anything else. But I think as an up-and-coming businessman, profit should be the utmost goal and then magnanimity and philanthropy will spring from his prominent career.
The principle that I behold is: charge forth with a clear conscience.

Wednesday July 15
My dad and his colleagues play badminton at the university sportsplex every Wednesday, a ritual that I always attend whenever I come home. But I fell asleep and woke up after 8pm. Today was restful and peaceful.

Thursday July 16
Xiaonan Zhang, and Gemmie Qin are my best friends from elementary school. After declining Xiaonan’s fervent wish to see Harry Potter 6 at midnight on July 15, we changed the plan to today afternoon. As usual, the Harry Potter movies were too pandering to public clichés to pay homage to the peerless original novels. The love triangles between Harry, Ginny, and Ginny’s BF, and between Hermione, Ron, and Ron’s GF, were given an out-of-proportion importance; although Ron’s GF was hilariously demonstrative and possessive of her “little Ronnie.” The highlight of the movie was the scene where Harry tricked the new Potions Professor into disclosing his deepest secret, with the aid of that golden “Liquid Luck.” Harry spoke in a voice that made me laugh uncontrollably at the cinema and still elicits a wide smile every time I recall.

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Xiaonan eating our MianMian Ice, a Taiwan ice-cream desert.
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Voila! My pineapple-stewed fruit-speckled rice bowl.

For dinner, we enjoyed a relishing meal at Cha Ma Gu Dao, which features the food from the Southern region of China called Jiangnan. The name, meaning Tea, Horse, Ancient Path, was poetic and exquisite, conjuring images of a tired traveler on horseback, taking a repose at a roadside tea stand. We found both great vittles and spiritual tranquility in this dainty restaurant.

Friday July 17
Today was historic, both in the immensity of my joy in being reunited with my long-missed friend, and in the persistence of the bad weather which pursued us to the end of the day but was powerless to either dampen or tarnish our happiness.
Since our tele-conversation a month ago, we formed the great plan of going to Beijing’s newest and biggest amusemsent park, Happy Valley. As the heavens were touched by our loyal friendship to shed such an inconvenient amount of tears, we changed our plan to shopping with Bo and Hannah. This trip was beset with obstacles, the greatest of which was the apparent extinction of empty taxis. Normally, calling a cab would be a piece of a cake on such a busy street as the one on which we stood in the rain for half of hour, barely sheltered from the pelting storm. During this interval of “miserable” wetness (we bathed in each other’s sunshine), two unlicensed “taxis” offered us their service. The first time, we scorned their illegal activity. 10 minutes later, we condescended, in this extenuating circumstance, and asked for the price before it drove away out of impatience. Another 10 minutes later, we began to reflect on our “unsympathetic behavior” and to long for a third offer, which due to our misfortune (or good fortune?)never came. In the end, the bus saved us.
Bo, Hannah, Bin, and I went on a bargaining hunt in the enormous shopping centers in Xi Dan. Bo and Hannah were primarily interested in earrings, reaping a nice harvest of the trendiest trinkets in store. On my first tentative venture, I resolved to prevent myself from being cheated; a resolution taken too far as to elicit a perverse effect on the vendor – I was literally thrown out of the shop because my bid was too low to be borne. I learnt a lesson from this embarrassing but enriching experience: always leave enough profit for the vendor to feel HE is not cheated.
My successful bargains yielded a pair of baggy Hip-Hop jeans, a Lee-Hyori-sponsored baseball hat, a pair of sandals to air my toes (I only brought a pair of snickers to China…), and a Bohemian dress. I forgot this Bohemian dress in the cab when we went home together, thus was given to Bin as a gift.

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Bin and I at a popular Chinese-Western diner (it’s not the familiar chicken-cook we see in the background!)

After dinner, we decided to go to KTV. By a deep-rooted misconception that there must be a KTV cheaper than 100 yuan per hour, we walked for one-and-a-half hours, got lost twice and grew more and more scared as we came close to the cheap KTV that I had asked Tim to find. It was situated in a dark alley, named the Yong Rou Hu Tong (Lamb Alley). Bo was the only cheerful one in the mist of unknown danger, the only one gliding instead of struggling in the uncharted waters.
Eventually we all overcome our consternation, chiefly because the warm hospitality of the KTV employees melted our frosty guard and dispersed our doubt. Although the quality of the microphones and the speakers were less than satisfactory, we had a nice time singing together, especially the old songs that every could hum even in sleep, like Yu Die(the theme song from Huan Zhu Ge Ge). My favorite performance tonight was definitely Hannah singing You Yi Zhong Ai Jiao Zuo Fang Shou (That love called letting go).

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You see the beer and tea, the sunflower seeds and peanuts? They were all free with the package of 100 yuan for three hours! Even though tonight’s expense was less than expected, I still want to kindly caution future travelers to choose more expensive options for better quality and greater safety.

We originally planned for a quality day for just Bin and I, but as the number doubled, so did our fun and joy. Sometimes, change is surrendipity when you know how to embrace it like a child hugs a jar of candies.

Saturday July 18
Weekend! I had been spending everyday like the weekend this week but the golden hours on Saturday were special because I got to play golf with my dad. It was my first time, but I successfully hit more than half of the 100 balls I got on the first try, and sent at least 20 beyond the 50 metre mark! Bravo!
My palms, the circular patches below the thumb, are still swollen from the queer hand grip demanded by this demanding sport. My back was sore too while playing, because it required a straight back bent at the waist.

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Aiming at the “snowball”
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The girl behind me was coached by a professional while I freely commanded my stick to follow my caprices (miss the ball…)

Sunday July 19
Mountain-hiking with my dad, and grandparents, reduced to a precipitous climb with just Dad and I.

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My lovely grandparents with me sandwiched in between.
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Qin Zheng Dian, the Palace of Hard Work. This is the consecrated place where the emperors gave orders and managed state affairs.
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Mao Zedong worked here in 1949, the year the People’s Republic of China was born.
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Below and beyond lay the green undulating mountain ranges.
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I climbed more than 1000 of these stone-chiseled steps this day.
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Lovers have written vows on the stone ledge on top of the precipitous mountainside.
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I have achieved the goal of this day.
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Dinner was had at an ambient restaurant exuding classic Chinese traditions. Look at the wooden plates – that was the menu!
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The sumputuous dinner! Clockwise from top right: pig liver, lamb cooked with green onions, the best eggplant I’ve ever tasted, cabbage, and crispy shrimps.

Sorry for leaving you with this drool-eliciting and palate-tickling final note. If you’re someone like me who has always wanted to lose weight but finds it difficult to commit yourself, you’re perhaps luckier because, as you can see, I’m immersed in temptations!

Posted by Ceci's Cre 02:50 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Las Vegas Trip July 1 - July 2

35 °C

July 1 – July 4
Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Fourth of July
It was Canada’s national day and it was also the day my family would travel together for the first time in two years. Our destination was no other than the famous entertainment city – Las Vegas.
We decided to take a road trip, my parents taking turns over the wheel (while grumbling about my procrastination in getting my driver license). The trip was about 4 hours.

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{standing on a bridge overlooking Las Vegas Boulevard South}

I still have no idea how big is Las Vegas as a city because during the two days and two nights we stayed there, we only explored one street – the Las Vegas Boulevard South. There is a shuttle bus that takes tourists to downtown for $3 (or for an all-day ride for $7). Las Vegas Boulevard South was a labyrinth that absorbed our attention and energy for two days and still left many mysteries for us to muse upon during the ride home.
Daylight Vegas is a busy and bustling centre flooded with tourists, shoppers, and gamblers. Stripped of the neon flashes and traffic jams of the evenings, I enjoyed all of the outlandish architecture and fancy details in plain sight. One particularly interesting discovery was a bubble blower:

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{Who says toys have to be children-friendly? Vegas makes everything rauchy!}

Flanking the wide bottlenecked boulevard, hotel complexes proudly attract tourists with five-storey-tall animated screens, advertising current spectacles such as Jubilee, strip house shows, David Copperfield, Cirque du Soleil, and Phantom of the Opera.

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{The sexy and seductive ad for Jubilee at Ballys hotel}

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{Cirque du Soleil – KA, at MGM hotel}

The Hotel Complexes
During our peregrination, we came to understand that all the hotels (about two dozens) on this boulevard boast feature themes.
1. New York New York
The iconic features include a fake Statue of Liberty, a roller coaster ($14 per ride), and a children’s casino.

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{Children and kids love this arcade-style gambling centre}

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{Statue of Liberty’s sister}

2. The Venetian
We booked tickets for Phantom of the Opera at the Venetian Complex which artistically combines shops, hotel, and casino in an Italian setting. Before the show opened at 7:30pm, mom and I took the liberty to satisfy our feminine obsession with shopping.

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{Getting off the conveyor belt in the side hall, I meet the greatest Popper + Singer of all times!}

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{You can’t call it Venice without these deft boats floating on a meandering river}

I saw almost all of the world-famous brands, Burberry, Fendi, Michael Kor, Gucci… I enjoyed a wonderful eye feast while my mom foraged for an “affordable but quality” handbag. Eventually, she settled for a stylish light-brown leather bag from Michael Kor for $230. There is something else at Michael Kor that I had my heart on: sunglasses. The sleek gleaming frames around oval lenses sit comfortably on my little nose bridge (which is so endearing to me because almost ALL sunglasses scorn the smallness of my nose).

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{A snapshot of the gigantic shopping complex}

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{Frolicking by the ersatz river while dreaming of the real Venic}

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{Type 1: I love the cleanliness and simplicity of career apparel}

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{Type 2: I adore Hippy and Bohemian clothes, especially eclectic mix-matches}

At 6:30pm, we arrived in front of the theatre and seated ourselves in the back where our tickets indicated. For a while, I dozed off from fatigue only briefly because the air of anticipation was too intoxicating to ignore. When the curtains lifted, an auction in progress was seen. Suddenly, with the booming voice of the auctioneer exclaiming “Illumination!” the four circular disks that were suspended above the audience (which some had assumed to be decorations), swerved to life. The phantom music reverberated while the four disks spun menacingly, rotating and shifting positions, until they stacked on top of each other perfectly into a magnificent chandelier. This grand opening was a promising guarantee of my enthrallment for the next 80 minutes.
The performance was flamboyant, touching, resplendent, with the fanciest costumes and speediest transitions between scenes. The favorite song for me was “Music of the Night” delivered in the phantom’s slightly-raspy and levitating baritone voice, seducing Christine and the audience into fascination. The favorite setting for me was the underground labyrinth inhabited by the phantom. My breath was taken away when the phantom rowed the boat with Christine, slowly emerging from an ethereal mist; hundreds of candles magically lifted and hang in mid-air, greeting the return of their master and his guest.
There were also some funny episodes when the plump soprano attempted to defy the phantom’s order by showing up for the opera and losing her voice in surprise, and when the stage became “the stage” of the opera house as we watched the crew acting as singers in a performance in the story. It was a “double” performance.

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{I snapped down on my camera just as the usher turned her back on me. There is the side of the theatre mimicking an opera house, with real people posing as French opera-goers}

2. Caesar’s Palace

Without walking inside, I knew from the imposing façade that the Caesar’s Palace would be no ordinary place. Through the expansive casino area, we entered the shopping complex embedded in this giant construction.

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{The decorations and statues in this Palace carry allusions to Greek mythology, like this Trojan Horse}

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{Poseidon and Pegasus, my favorite mythological creature}

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{The greatest Gelato collection}

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{Presentation is 50% of irresistible temptation. It’s cute and creative!}

3. MGM
The world-renowned and children’s favorite Broadway, Disney’s Lion King, is hosted at this hubbub of theatre-lovers and show-watchers. The hotel has the most comprehensive entertainment centre on the block, including a Zoo: The microcosm of wilderness for the two star lions – I think they are the lions featured in the broadway.

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{We walked right under a sleeping lion. We could observe his belly and paws.}

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{We had lunch at the buffet, which had the best desserts I’ve ever seen at any restaurant alone: fresh fruit crème brulee, cappuciano cups, pecan bars, sugar-free cheesecakes, strawberry shortcakes, berry tarts, ice cream with an assortment of toppings}

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{I discovered Max Studio which is an OL clothing store. I think when I become a salary-woman, I’m going to buy my outfits here.}

The second evening in Vegas, we indulged in one hour and a half of mind-blowing magic show, with David Copperfield! I’m so impressed with his gift for storytelling, and the deftness of his hands. He is rated as the Number 1 Illusionist of our time, with the heftiest salary for a magician. He has made an indelible impression on me as a talented magician, humorous entertainment man, a determined adventurer, and a devoted grandson. The best trick of the night was the one he designed as a tribute to his grandfather who once disowned him for his unorthodox ambition to become a professional magician. During this magic trick, he realized the dream of his deceased grandfather by inventing a winning lottery ticket, whose numbers matched the license numbers of the two cars his grandfather had owned, which were the same numbers that his grandfather had stubbornly used in entering lotteries and never won, until now. I felt he was more than a magician, better than an illusionist. His charisma and loyalty won my total admiration.
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Posted by Ceci's Cre 19:11 Comments (0)

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