A Story of Friendship


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May 22nd 2009
Published: June 11th 2009
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And Now, 33 years afterAnd Now, 33 years afterAnd Now, 33 years after

Been awhile since late 70's. And since 1994, this is by far only our 3rd reunion together.
Once upon a time, there were 3 ladies in their early 20's who shared an apartment near the bank where they all worked. They lived together, worked together, dined together, shopped together, partied together, played sports together, even dated together. At the time, only 1 had a boyfriend. But every Valentine's Day and other significant occasion meant this boyfriend dating out her girl and her 2 friends.

In time, one married early. Another married very late. And the last one never married. That last one, by the way, was the one with the boyfriend who dated all 3 of them. Through the years, the friendship never faded. The unmarried one, the spinster over the hill (that is me) stood as godmother to all the friends' children. The friendship was sealed. We have become sisters. There is no telling whose child or children belong to whom. We were parents to all.

We have long planned to travel together. While some of us will visit the other (either in Manila or in San Francisco), we decided that we should try a trip together so that everyone is on a holiday mood. No one entertains no one; rather, we all holiday together
A First Reunion.....in SFO 1994A First Reunion.....in SFO 1994A First Reunion.....in SFO 1994

While I have visited May a number of times in SFO since 1986, it has been awhile since we 3 girls got together in 1994.
and entertain ourselves. And so it was that we decided to meet up in Beijing and from there travel through other parts of China before making our separate ways to head home. This is our story.

May and Mon arrived earliest in Beijing, followed by Eve, Boy and their son Paolo, and me. Hotel guests in the lobby were all surprised as we greeted each other with squeals and delightful laughter. Then and there, we decided that all 3 ladies would room up while the 2 men and the 12yr old Paolo share a room. There was a lot of catching up to do. As soon as the married ones sorted out their stuff among husband, wife and child, we were all hyped out for a long day and an even longer night. First things first though, as we rented a van and hired a guide to tour the Summer Palace that day. Not wont to waste that, we promptly changed footwear for an afternoon of sightseeing.


Summer Palace




The first collective decision we had to make was whether to walk the entire stretch or to take one of those boats to cross
Kunming LakeKunming LakeKunming Lake

Breathtaking view! Such luxury for a private park of royalty.
the Kunming Lake to get to the center of the Summer Palace. Hardly anyone was listening to our guide, excited as we were to catch up with each other. We can hardly remember who actually decided to walk instead of taking the boat (for just an additional 10 RMB on top of the entrance fee of 30 RMB). No one even remembered to consider that one of the husbands just suffered a stroke a couple of months back, and may not exactly be in the best mood to walk that stretch. Blame Evelyn, we wanted to chorus. Her husband Boy did not complain, but admittedly, we completely forgot about his medical condition. How considerate of us. Trust women who have not seen each other for some time to forget something as important as that. =(


But it was certainly easy not to mind the long walk while chatting endlessly by the side of the lake within the imperial estate. The 250 year old palaces, pavilions, temples and halls easily grabbed our attention, augmented by this ongoing wedding pictorial of a handsome Chinese couple. We took a shot of the bride and groom with such astonishing landscape as background.
My Favorite PhotoMy Favorite PhotoMy Favorite Photo

Sunlight streaming through the leaves , crossing the Long Corridor.
This imperial park drips with so much luxury, more so when we reached the double-decker marble boat beached at the lake's end. History books are not so kind to the Empress Dowager Cixi who is deemed the culprit of this extravagant folly. What a black mark on the Qing Dynasty!


By the time we reached the Seventeen-Arch Bridge and the Long Corridor, we were feeling our age as our knees started to turn jello. The Long Corridor alone spans half a mile, a short walk if only one started and ended here. With tired knees threatening to buckle, we still could not help admiring this wooden gallery interrupted by octagonal pavillions decorated with landscape paintings and depictions of Chinese legends. This lakeside gallery is the highlight of our visit to the Summer Palace. Some may argue in favor of the Marble Boat, but I'd insist this lakeside gallery should take the plum prize.


Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and Mao's Maoseleum




Slept late, woke up early. The breakfast at Beijing's Sunshine Hotel is not worth waking up to. Diluted coffee served in glasses? It was even a struggle to ask for eggs fried
Why Octagons? Lucky No. 8.Why Octagons? Lucky No. 8.Why Octagons? Lucky No. 8.

Eight sides corresponding to the 8 tenets of Buddhism towards Enlightenment, much like the octagonal shape of some pavillions.
sunny side up. How do you explain that ? So, I settled for scrambled egg. I told the group I won't be joining them for breakfast the next few days. I would really rather sleep and maybe, just pick up a cup of coffee from either Starbucks or the nearby McDonald's. Mon , having known me long enough to know how "I am" early in the morning, was so so kind to buy a cup of freshly brewed McDo coffee for me (and that is every morning). Brought back memories of those nights I slept in their home in Vallejo near San Francisco , California. Non-coffee drinkers that Mon and May are, I had to make sure I tell them to stack up on coffee before I even arrive at their place. Talk about some very demanding house guest!


We started the day with a first visit toTiananmen Square and queuing up at Mao Ze Dong's Maoseleum. We were in line for a good 30 minutes, for a brief 5 minute look-see of Mao's preserved body enclosed in a glass coffin. Our guide promised to wait for us by the Maoseleum's exit. But the 30 minute queue
Marble BoatMarble BoatMarble Boat

Beached at the edge of Kunming lake, this marble boat highlights Empress Dowager Cixi's folly.
seemed longer than that. At every corner, there were signs in English saying 'Present your ID upon entrance'. Since our guide advised us to leave all our stuff with him since no bags are allowed inside, we carried no ID's and had all these anxieties over having lined up this long only to be refused entry at the gate. We laughed away our anxieties, more so when more signs appeared at every corner nearing the entrance. We thought of many ways to dodge the guards demanding others in front of us to present their IDs. By the time we were allowed in (obviously, the IDs are required of locals but not of tourists-- don't ask me why), we heaved a sigh of relief. As we passed this huge room where people leave flowers in front of Mao's statue, Mon asked me if that was all there is to see. I answered yes to tease him. When I sensed despair, I had to admit to Mon that the next room is where Mao's preserved body lies. In a round about way, we trooped around watching how solemnly the others viewed Mao's body, till we found our way out and met our guide David. From here, we strolled across Tiananmen Square again , imagining the tragedy of 20 years ago when student protesters holding vigil at the square were shot at, injured or arrested. The Tiananmen Massacre was coined then to symbolize this most serious challenge to the legitimacy and authority of the Communist Party. This event most people associate with pictures of student protesters bodily halting tanks rolling across the square. A very powerful image in most minds.


As we entered Forbidden City, we managed a group picture, a family picture, couple pictures, solo pictures, right by the entrance to the walled city. Many tour groups with guides holding up an umbrella with ribbons, or puppets, or handkerchiefs passed us. This walled enclosure was home to 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties from 1421 to as late as 1911. Formerly closed to the public - hence the name "Forbidden City" - the place now counts among the top tourist attractions in Beijing. The complex houses several moated palaces exemplifying Chinese traditional palatial architecture. As we crossed bridges and courtyards, viewed imperial thrones and receiving rooms, looked up to count the number of figures on tiled roofs of
2 Monkeys?2 Monkeys?2 Monkeys?

There was a crowd lining up to view the Imperial Throne, so these 2 decided on another viewing option!
several pagodas, checked out the many wooden structures within the complex, our 12 year old Paolo moaned all the way through, begging to see the nearest EXIT sign. We dared not admit that each one of us was silently praying for the same EXIT sign. Our toes ached, our shoulders drooped and our spirits sagged. By the time we discovered that those Chinese popsicles on sale made of mung beans or green tea are such great energy boosters, we were half done with Forbidden City. Forbidden takes on a new meaning for us after this episode. Goodbye, Mulan. Goodbye, Last Emperor.


Lunch was in this small restaurant near Prince Gong's Mansion. David made sure we tried authentic Chinese cuisine in a place patronized by many locals, rather than by tourists. We looked at the menu, and then promptly decided to point out our orders based on what we saw at the next table. The fish in sour broth was the best dish we ever had. So with the sauteed string beans with some sauce that was to die for. Paolo likewise enjoyed the flour-coated shrimps and some meat dishes. These other dishes were equally good , but those first 2 take top honors.


On our way to the Prince Gong's Mansion, we passed many little eateries and stalls selling a wide range from souvenir items, birds, clothes, ice cream and popsicles, drinks. There was this Chinese man seated on a stool with his chopsticks feeding his birds. This was the first time I ever saw bird feeding using chopsticks. It was quite a sight. Even after taking a photo of the feeding session, I actually went back to watch for a minute more. Then on to Prince Gong's Mansion. The entrance area, with several pavillions and more pagodas was actually a tiring sight. After all, we just came from the Forbidden City. We had a break in one pavillion offering various nuts and hot tea as we watched a Chinese song and dance performance. But still, tired that we were, we didn't make for an appreciative audience. Our moods changed when we finally reached the pond with a small pavillion in the middle, surrounded by rock gardens. It was a soothing sight. Our souls were "revived" after a stroll around this pond, more so when we walked along this corridor with paintings depicting the "Fu" which
Birds Use Chopsticks Too!Birds Use Chopsticks Too!Birds Use Chopsticks Too!

Love this photo! Found this kindly man feeding his birds using a chopstick. Cool...
means blessings to the locals. Following David's instructions, we moved our two hands from top , downwards over the painting ---- for good luck. By the time Paolo found the EXIT sign , we were glad to be out. Next, David brought us to Beijing's shopping district. He promised to be back in an hour and a half, but we told him half that time would do. We walked around, found nothing, and sat it out in a small clinic within the mall where we found good chairs to rest our butts. If David the Tour Guide knew, he would be in stitches now. From this shopping district, David brought us to the Temple of Heaven where we strolled by this huge park and found many things of interest. First off, May found a group of likely senior citizens doing their dance routines in the park. May joined in and danced away as if she needed more exercise. Meanwhile, Paolo discovered the joy of playing "kick" with David, who was so surprised that we Filipinos knew how to play this very local chinese game. In another side of this huge Oxygen Bar near the Temple of Heaven Park , we found a group singing patriotic songs. David said these guys just meet and group together, with more joining in, to enjoy singing and playing instruments together. The Temple of Heaven loomed in the background, and here we were listening to these amateur performers.


Another brief stop at the Pearl Market, then we were good for a few more miles of walking back to the Tiananmen Square to witness the lowering of the flag ceremony. A word of advice here. Should any of you readers be offered by your guide to witness this ceremony, forget it! There was a crowd milling around the flagpole. We waited and waited, then a few of us tried to squeeze in through the thick crowd to witness the lowering of the flag. Well, it was lowered alright. No music, no singing acapella, no other accompaniment, no nothing, no drama! If David gave us a preview of what to expect here, we would gladly miss it.


Thank God our Peking Duck dinner did not disappoint. Listen now, it is not my first time in China, not my first time in Beijing, yet this is by far the best Peking Duck dinner I
One Big Oxygen BarOne Big Oxygen BarOne Big Oxygen Bar

Our 6 mile walk today ended with a stroll by the park near the Temple of Heaven. Here, David plays a local "kick" game with Paolo.
ever had. For only 100 RMB each, we enjoyed this famous duck, cooked 3 ways : skin and a sliver of duck meat laid out on a crepe with leeks and smeared with hoisin sauce, soup, and best of all.......meat from the duck's neck (read: minimal cholesterol) cooked with yam and served like shepherd's pie. Oh, I know, I am not doing a good job about this. But just remember this restaurant ( Beijing Jinsong QuanJuDe Roast Duck Restaurant at #826 Building Jin Song, 8 District, Chao Yang District. Tel 67712197) and try their Peking Duck dinner which serves the duck 3 ways, along with many more viands and vegetables. Trust me, it's worth every RMB you pay.


As our cholesterol levels shot up and all that carb boosting our energy, we spent the night chatting endlessly. In the midst of all that non-stop gabbing, we even remembered the ice cream we bought yesterday from the nearby supermarket. Too late. Unless one cares for a shake instead. So, off to dreamland.


One More Time, The Great Wall of China




Back in 2001, i was with 3 friends doing the sights in Beijing.
This is some chairlift!This is some chairlift!This is some chairlift!

Imagine me on this lift that never ever stops............hop on and off, that's how. But do it real quick!
One of them, Sarah, and I chose to scale the wall as far and as high as we could. It was a cold November then, and I lost track of how much time we spent climbing. What I remember most was I peeled off my jacket and before long, my nose bled. Either I pushed myself too much, or the altitude didn't suit me.


This time around, Boy and Evelyn decided to go as far only as the 3rd tower, while Mon , May, 12yr old Paolo and I chose to walk further. It was easier this time. David called it a "chair lift"..... though the rides look more like go-karts on a single track. One hops on as the "lifts" pass the track, and hops out before the track takes a U-turn. I wasn't prepared for it, thinking the lifts would stop at the end of the track. Until this Chinese guy manning the system pulled one of my legs off the lift ....... far enough to make a wide "V", thus prompting me to lift myself off lest.....y'know. As we got off and climbed up, we found ourselves on the third tower already. There were 5
23 years ago23 years ago23 years ago

Me, May and Mon back in 1986. Taken in Reno.
more to go. We thought we'd give it a try, and prayed i don't get a nosebleed this time.


After all these years, we instantly discovered age caught up with us. This is our 3rd day, and man, we are really really wasted after this climb. We stopped every so often to appreciate the view, but more importantly, to catch our breath. I had to console myself that only 8 years ago, I climbed all the way to the 8th tower, nosebleed and all. No luck this time. But Paolo was quite a revelation. We don't know whether to laugh or to declare this boy pathetic! On our way down, he could hardly stop his descent and actually bumped all the trash cans along the way! We were lucky we avoided him while he was zooming down! Lol. The laughter it drew wasted more energy on our part, as our knees were by this time turning jello.


When we found this store selling the same mung bean and green tea popsicles, it was a no-brainer to buy up the icies. Another energy booster. The only sad news is that as we went along, the popsicles seem
Scaling the Great Wall With Good FriendsScaling the Great Wall With Good FriendsScaling the Great Wall With Good Friends

Me with May and Mon at the Great Wall. Together, we discovered how our knees turned jello .
to be getting cheaper and cheaper. Whatever. Badaling pass of the Great Wall of China was quite an experience for us. Another ride on the "chair lift" and this time around, a good hop off the chair at runway's end, and we were back where we came from. We passed the same friendly, tame bears by the park as we walked back to our van. These hunks must be fed really well, as I saw one bear on a begging stance as one tourist got ready to throw an apple slice.


When David asked us if we wanted to have our dimsum lunch before or after our visit to the Olympic site, we readily agreed the dimsum lunch can't wait. Either we pushed ourselves to the limit, or the food was simply delightful, but we certainly did justice to every serving of dimsum. Paolo was yearning for a second bowl of noodle soup, while we kept our chopsticks "busy" picking one morsel after another. David had to remind us that dimsum is best appreciated when eaten slowly, savoring each small portion served piping hot, as he watched us shamelessly enjoying our lunch like there was no tomorrow. Yay!


Olympic Site: The Water Cube and the Bird's Nest Stadium




One final stop before we were dropped off at our Beijing hotel. I have looked forward to this, as there was no Olympic site the last visit I made to Beijing. The Bird's Nest and the Water Cube are enough to keep us mesmerized. Between the 2, we chose to enter the Water Cube thinking that the Bird's Nest is best viewed outside than inside where it should be a typical stadium. This was a good thing, as there were swimming competitions inside the Water Cube when we visited. Young Chinese boys and girls competing in several heats. Backstroke, breast stroke, freestyle, butterfly, medley. On the way out, we bought some Beijing Olympics 2008 souvenir items.


Out of the Water Cube, we walked over to the Bird's Nest Stadium. We found many people and vendors flying their kites . Evelyn bought a couple and promised to bring my grandchildren for some kite flying afternoon when we get back to Manila. We imagined how crowded the square must have been during the Olympics. We listened to David explain the architecture, as well as
Water CubeWater CubeWater Cube

David took this picture!
the layout, keeping true to Feng Shui principles. You have got to hand it to the Chinese for this single Olympic extravanza that may remain unchallenged, unmatched for many years. The landscape and architecture seem so futuristic , while keeping true to Chinese traditions and beliefs.


After a quick rest in the hotel and a bit of shopping in the nearby supermarket, we tried out the 4star Sichuan Restaurant right beside our hotel. David said the food outlet fetched good reviews. And rightly so. While we struggled ordering what we wanted because the serving staff couldn't speak English, we found success with the spread before us. Paolo did not complain. More so, when his Auntie May tried her damned best in asking the waitress which fish dish tastes better. Oh, you should have seen her act out her question! By the time we left the restaurant, we passsed many empty tables. We were the last diners to leave!


The next morning, we bid adieu to David as he picked us up and brought us to the airport for our flight to Xian. David, originally from Mongolia, educated in Beijing, traveled to America, speaks fluent English with the slightest Chinese accent. We wonder what he thought of of our group. He saw us walk all those 6 miles in a day, gab non-stop in the van from one tourist site to the next, seriously consider all those chinese dishes, dance our woes away in that Oxygen Bar of a park, and play "kick" with him with so much vigor and laughter. Did we make your day, David?








Additional photos below
Photos: 46, Displayed: 35


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It's the 3 of us again!It's the 3 of us again!
It's the 3 of us again!

This was shot just as we commenced our 6 mile walk. Yes, 6 miles! Too much for a day.
By the Long CorridorBy the Long Corridor
By the Long Corridor

That's May, Evelyn and me sitting it out after our knees threatened to buckle!
No Nosebleed This Time!No Nosebleed This Time!
No Nosebleed This Time!

Back in November 2001, I climbed the same Badaling Pass of the Great Wall. On my descent, I didn't notice my nose was bleeding perhaps because of the cold or the altitude.


24th June 2009

Olympic Proportions!
Wow, I can't believe you saw the water cube and the bird's next up close and personal. How fantastic! During the entire 2008 games, I was glued to the TV and loved every pan of the camera across the Olympic park. I am a big fan of all kinds of architecture. Your photo of the Long Corridor above is striking! The juxtaposition of the line of trees to that of the columns with the sun cascading through is breathtaking! Great job. Keep these adventures coming!

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