Friday, November 30, 2012

Chinese Fire Drill

I survived my first Chinese fire drill…at least the first one not involving a car.

While in school in the US, we had strict fire drill protocol.  If you heard the piercing fire alarm, you lined up at the door and quietly walked out of the building in a straight line.  You were to remain silent, and a teacher would take attendance ensure everyone made it out safely.  Once given the all clear, you would walk back into the building and continue business as usual.

Imagine my surprise when I heard loud fire truck sirens outside yesterday morning.  Meg (my co-teacher) and I stumbled outside to find kids hauling it out of the school.  I must have had a look of amused horror on my face because a local teacher started laughing and said,

“Don’t worry.  It is not real.”

I grabbed my phone and got some footage. 

The drill fascinated me.  Kids sprinted outside with white cloths to protect their faces from fumes.    I was amazed that no one tripped nor was anyone trampled. While the scene was chaotic, the kids ran right to their class lines in the schoolyard.  When the alarm stopped, the kids stood at attention and listened to what I assumed to be a fire safety lecture. 

Rumor has it that sometimes in China firefighters will start a small fire and extinguish it in front of the kids as part of the fire drill.  Much to my dismay, our drill was smoke free.   What an exciting interruption of my day!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Beijing Part Six: The Frosty Summer Palace

After being soggy for about 12 hours, Chris and I were ready to start day two of our Beijing trip with a sunny, cold visit to the Emperor’s Summer Palace. 

Despite the freezing temperatures, Chris and I had a great time warming up with hot chocolate and checking out this place where royals rested and entertained.

Yes, I know I look like I am about to knock off a store, but I was COLD!!! :)
After we entered the palace we saw this lion statue, similar to the one at the Forbidden City.
To start our tour, we hiked over 17 Arc Bridge to South Lake island.  The emperor would go to South Lake island to pray to the gods for rain.  I was secretly praying the wind would stop blustering.

Much of the architecture looked very similar to the Forbidden City.  I was still amazed at the amount of detail they placed on their homes.

After we walked to South Lake Island, we took a stroll under the Long Corridor.  Each beam on the corridor had a different landscape painted on it.  I felt like I was walking though an art museum, not a lake house. 

After walking thorough the corridor, we visited the Tower of Buddhist Incense.  As soon as I saw the outside, I knew that I was going to get an amazing cardio workout.

I had made it this far during the trip.  I guess a could handle a few stairs.

And a few more....
The stairs were multiplying!!!!!

We are almost there!!!!
This was out view once we made it to the top.  I am embarrassed to say I did not get a better shot, because I was so taken with the view behind me.

Behind me was a temple with this gilded statue of Kwan-Yin Buddha.  The whole experience was breathtaking.

We had a wonderful time in Beijing, however if I were to visit again, I would go in the summer.  After we visited the palace, it was time to go home and thaw out for Turkey day!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Beijing Part Five: Beijing Kaoya Hen Hao Chi

After our long day of exploring Beijing, Chris and I were famished. It was time to forage for Beijing Duck.

The first time I ever considered trying Beijing Duck was when our Chinese Teacher, Jie, taught us the phrase,
“Beijing Kaoya Hen Hao Chi”  (Pronounced Beijing Cow Ya Hen How Chur”)  As she said this sentence, she rolled her eyes back in her head, and she rubbed her stomach.  I knew from that moment eating Beijing duck was on the bucket list.

After we had cleaned up from our day’s adventures, we headed down to the concierge and asked,

“Where is a good place to eat duck?”

“Go to Quanjude Duck Restaurant.  They have good duck.”

So, we headed down two blocks to a place I like to call duck heaven.  The restaurant served four levels of hungry folks who wanted to eat duck.

If they didn't have good duck, at least they had a fun statue. 
Chris and I were seated in a crowded, loud cafeteria like room.  Lesson # I stopped counting:  If you are going out for duck and want ambience, make a reservation. 

We ordered the duck and hoped for the best. 

About ten minutes later, Chris and I embarked on what is known as a culinary religious experience.  A man in a chef hat wheeled out the most beautiful roast duck. 

The chef prepares to carve a work of art.

While the chef slowly cut off the excess duck skin (the tastiest part), a waitress set a plate of thin tortilla-like pancakes, a brown sauce, and scallions on our table.  She then handed me a commemorative post card identifying the duck (complete with bar code). 

It has been mentioned that China has some food safety issues.  This Duck was certified AWESOME!
I sampled the skin… it was crispy, but melted in my mouth.  It was better than anything Col. Sanders could EVER produce. 

When the chef finished carving the duck, the real feast commenced.  There is a special way to eat Beijing duck.  We dipped the duck in the sauce and placed it in the pancake/wrap.  Then, we added the scallions.  Finally, we wrapped it up and dug in!  

Bring on the duck!!!

As we took our first bites, we entered a culinary nirvana similar to that experienced at Thanksgiving dinner.  All I can say is Beijing Kaoya hen hao chi!

AMAZING!  I LOVE Beijing duck!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Beijing Part Four: Olympic Beijing

After our snowy Great Wall experience, Tony took us to Olympic Park to see the Beijing National Stadium (aka the Bird’s Nest) and the Water Cube.  I have often times wondered what these venues are used for now that the games are over.

I still wonder how this place makes money.

The Bird’s Nest is a big tourist attraction.  For 50 RMB ($8 or so), one can take a tour of the 80,000-seat sculpture/stadium.  Sometimes the stadium is used for concerts, an occasional soccer match, or even a outdoor snow theme park.  However, it does not house any major sports teams.  I am amazed that it is still profitable.

The Water Cube is beautiful at night!

After the Olympics, the Chinese government spent around $32 million to transform half of the Water Cube into a water park complete with water rides, a wave pool, and spa.  Whoever came up with that idea is genius.  Kids can play while the parents relax!

After our final stop, it was time to catch some dinner…

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Beijing Part Three: The Great Wall

For the past five months, I have been dreaming about and planning the kinds of photos I would take from the Great Wall of China.  I had been hoping to get some panoramic shots of a sprawling, majestic wall and breathtaking Chinese countryside.   Sort of like the photo below that I ripped off the Internet.
A girl can dream, right? 
However, that is not what happened during our trip to the Great Wall. As you can see from my Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square post, it was a rainy day when we visited the Wall, so we got some shots of a different kind.

After lunch we took a 1.5 hour drive to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.  We chose this area for a few reasons:
1)   It is less touristy and crowded than the Badaling section of the wall.
2) Visitors can take a cable car to the top of the wall instead of making a 40 minute uphill hike.
3) Visitors can toboggan down the wall when they finish their visit. 

Since it was raining during our trip, we were not able to toboggan down the wall.  However, we did take a nice ride in an enclosed cable car to the top of the wall. 

This was our cozy ride to the top.
About halfway up our foggy ride, I could not believe what was happening.  Snow was starting to fall!  It makes sense; high altitudes plus rain plus freezing temperatures equals snow.  This was NOT what I expected for our Great Wall trip.
We made it to the top!

We stepped off the cable car and trekked up the slippery, uneven stairs to the top of the wall to find a full on snowball fight! 
Snowball Fight!!!
A friendly tourist smiles before pelting the snowball.
The Great Wall was something like you would see in a dream.  The winding, hilly, slippery path led to the clouds. 
Chris slips down the wall.  I never realized how many steps there were on top of the wall.
Once we were on top of the wall, I could not quit laughing.  "This is insane," was my only thought.
There were little gun holes all along the wall where soldiers could stick their weapons.  Very clever!
Tony models what to do if we slip on the wall.
We slid along the wall for about 30 minutes when we made the call that it was getting too icy to walk.  So, we made the cable car trip back down and warmed up during the two hour car ride back to Beijing. 
This will definitely be a trip I remember!
I do plan on visiting the Great Wall again to get the perfect shot, however I do not think I will do so in the winter.  I guess I now have a little more time to plan for the summer.  Next’s duck time!