Christmas in Beijing


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Asia » China » Beijing
December 21st 2009
Published: January 7th 2010
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Santa made by studentsSanta made by studentsSanta made by students

An Art Class project

Editorial aside


Before I get into the description of our trip to Beijing, several people have asked about the difference between a comment and a message when responding to a blog entry. It took me a while to figure this out:
• a private message is immediately sent to me as an email and I get it right away as I check email constantly.
• a comment appears only in the blog and, if accepted, can be read by everyone who wants to read comments. I see new comments the next time I log onto the blog itself.
• I have never forgotten (or forgiven) the first comment I got: “You're setting high standards for success. A good many people fluent in English don't get your jokes, Peter. If your students do, give them an A+.” (Thanks, Joe)
• I have included links to other web pages that have more information on some of the topics for anyone who wants more. You will see something like "Click here for more information". Just click on the underlined word.

Back to the Blog


We only had three days this year rather than the four we had last year. We flew to
Main entrance to Forbidden CityMain entrance to Forbidden CityMain entrance to Forbidden City

Most of us have seen this on TV as this is where the big whigs stand during such events as the 60th Anniversary Celebrations. Pretty impressive in person. I felt sorry for the lone guard who had to stand at attention despite the cold.
Beijing Christmas Eve as it was just an hour flight, much shorter than the trip to Hong Kong.

Checking in at a Chinese hotel can be quite challenging as the staff often speaks minimal English. One of our fellow travellers had fairly good Chinese but it still took almost an hour to get our keys. The hotel was reasonably priced but there were reasons for that. Still, we spent little time there so it wasn’t a big problem.

Christmas day dawned clear and cold. Dianne and I had hoped to visit the South Cathedral for Christmas Mass but the logistics were daunting. We opted to travel as a group of 8 to a shopping street to see what was on offer. After a short cab ride, we walked a block to the pedestrian-only section and the first thing we saw was the East Cathedral! Christmas Day mass was just starting so we opted to stay while the others shopped. What a fantastic experience. While it was 100% Chinese we did recognise the hymns, prayers and rituals that are much the same in English. The warmth and friendliness of the people were special. A great way to start our
Mausoleum of Mao Zedong Mausoleum of Mao Zedong Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

It's open to the public so you can visit Mao if you wish to. We got there too late. Next time. I wondered if it should be called the Maosoleum.
Christmas break.

We then spent a fortune (relatively) in a Foreign Language bookstore and browsed the rest of the street. Cabs took us to a “western” restaurant just off Tian'anmen Square for lunch and a warmup. The weather in Beijing seemed colder than what we were used to in Dalian. There is a great shopping street leading away from the square and while we didn’t buy much we had an interesting time. We decided to subway and bus it back to the hotel just for the experience. It was an experience.

Christmas dinner was planned at a restaurant on the other side of the Forbidden City where one of our fellow travellers had eaten on a previous trip. They promised us a traditional turkey dinner with all the familiar trimmings. Getting cabs became a problem. Even with a reported 60,000 cabs in Beijing, it was hard to find two that would make the trip. No shortage of cabs, just couldn’t find two that would take us to the restaurant. One cab took a group of 4 and the other group of 4 kept looking, and walking, and looking…. We finally decided it wasn’t going to happen and walked
Moat around the cityMoat around the cityMoat around the city

The city is surrounded by a large moat and accessed by some great bridges. Click [url= http://www.kinabaloo.com/fcc.html]here[/url] for details of the city. Dianne was wondering if they had drained the moat as there was no water. Um.... it's 20 below out there....
to the restaurant, about an hour away. It would have been shorter if we had quit trying to cab sooner! The cab driver for the first group wouldn’t go down one street and dropped them about 6 blocks from the restaurant. Weird. But dinner was fun. One bit of excitement came when the server was asked where the washroom was located. “Broke” she said! Anyone needing the facilities had to go to a Public Toilet about half a block down the street! Luckily it was fairly nice, given it was a public toilet. Not sure I would want to do that in Canada! The other funny thing occurred when we tried to light the two lovely pillar candles that were on our table. As we started to light one of them, the server rushed over and grabbed the candles! She quickly removed them from our table. When we looked around the restaurant, we realized that none of the candles were lit - oh well. We were really fortunate to find two cabs to take us home as four of us really didn’t want to face the walk again. One thing I found unusual was that the set dinner came with
An inside courtyardAn inside courtyardAn inside courtyard

It was cold but not as cold as it was when we went to Harbin for New Years.
a bottle of beer.

Saturday saw us bus/subway/cabbing to the “Dirt Market” a giant flea market that also sells some pretty nice (read expensive) stuff. Dianne and I were just looking but it was still fun. One of our group bought a piece of furniture to ship home that cost just over 10,000 rmb. Pretty nice. We split into four groups for the afternoon adventure. Dianne and I went back to the hotel for coffee and a chance to read our books before heading out for a walkabout. We walked around the walls of the Forbidden City, crossed under the street that most of us saw on the recent 60th Anniversary Celebrations and wandered around Tiananmen Square. We stopped for cappuccinos at the same restaurant we had had lunch the day before to await plans for dinner. The others decided to meet at a different location of the same restaurant but we didn’t have the energy to find our way by bus/subway/cab at night.

Instead, we had a quick bite and examined the map. We charted out the walk home by a different route than we had walked in the afternoon. It was after dark by now and
Roof top viewRoof top viewRoof top view

From one of the balconies we could look out over a good chunk of the city. The number of building highlights one of the differences between Chinese and English palaces.
the Christmas lights on the shopping street as well as the massive buildings at the end of the Square were spectacular. On our map we discovered we were within a few blocks of the South Cathedral that we had missed in our search the day before. We walked over in about 20 minutes. We knew we were at the right place because we could see the Cathedral but we couldn’t find the doors! Like many Churches in big cities there is quite a build-up of small buildings around the outside of the Church grounds. We were looking at one locked gate when a chap walking down the street stopped and pointed to the entrance! The entrance was “manned” by what we thought was a police guy but he was just a traffic director. When he realized what we wanted, he showed us how to wend our way into the Church.

Boxing Day Mass was in full swing and the priest was giving quite a sermon. To us it sounded like he was haranguing the people but every once in a while they would burst out laughing. The singing was even better than Christmas Day. The people were so friendly
Part of the Nine Dragons ScreenPart of the Nine Dragons ScreenPart of the Nine Dragons Screen

Got its name from the fact that there are, get this, nine dragons in the screen. A sign there points out this baffling fact! Click [url=http://www.kinabaloo.com/fcx.html]here[/url] for more.
and cheerful that it was very rewarding to celebrate with them even though we heard no English. The choir was basically a young group and situated right in the middle of this huge building rather than in a remote loft. Our walk home was easy especially as we were so happy to have had this great experience. Who’d have thought we would get to two such wonderful celebrations in a weekend trip to Beijing. One internet site we visited says the churches in Beijing aren't recognized by the Vatican. I have trouble believing they aren’t recognized by God.

So what would we do for the third day to match what had happened so far? Well we still had the Forbidden City to visit. The book says four hours is needed to see it. More like four days. Some think it is a lot of the same thing repeated over and over and to some extent that is true. But it is so different from visiting English castles that we can say we will go back in the spring to see it under warmer weather conditions. We were amazed to visit the gift shops and find not only (some) reasonably
Front viewFront viewFront view

No matter which way you look at it, the Forbidden City is an amazing site.
priced, quality stuff but also friendly, helpful and not pushy staff. Quite a treat from some of the outdoor markets.

We had arranged with one of the “good” cabbies for him to bring a friend and take us back to the airport. Luckily this went well and we flew home without incident to find Dalian had had a White Christmas! They had more snow on Christmas Day than we had all last year. We had arranged to have the school mini-bus driver pick us up and we arrive home about 11:00 pm tired, but happy from our Beijing adventure. Some of our fellow teachers were not so fortunate. Their cab was rear-ended in Cheng Du and, while no one was injured, they missed their return flight and had to stay an extra day. That sure caused havoc with Monday teaching assignments as teachers have to fill in for each other.

Now we have four days to rest up (I mean work) before we head off to Harbin for our New Year’s trip to the Ice Festival.

We hope your Christmas was a special one and wish you all the best for 2010.


Additional photos below
Photos: 17, Displayed: 17


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Gate within a GateGate within a Gate
Gate within a Gate

As we walked down the shopping street, we could see one of the old gates to the Forbidden City.
East CathedralEast Cathedral
East Cathedral

The four main cathedrals all date back into the 1500s and 1600s. All were destroyed at various times by earthquakes and fires. The latest razings were in the Boxer Rebellion early in the 1900s. The present structures were built just after that ended. They are still pretty incredible.
East Cathedral crecheEast Cathedral creche
East Cathedral creche

Just like in Churches at home. The figures all have a very western look.
Matteo Ricci, Jesuit missionaryMatteo Ricci, Jesuit missionary
Matteo Ricci, Jesuit missionary

[url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matteo_Ricci#Ricci_in_China]Matteo Ricci[/url] was a Jesuit priest who lived in China from 1582 until he died in 1610 (most people in those days had never heard of China). The story of his time in China is pretty interesting. Click his name if you would like to read more.
The Dirt MarketThe Dirt Market
The Dirt Market

A large "flea market" that sells an unbelievable variety of stuff. There is some beautiful furniture and paintings, some genuine antiques and some real junk. You can easily browse away a whole day.
What happens if you stay outside too longWhat happens if you stay outside too long
What happens if you stay outside too long

These kinds of statues are very common in China. We might have taken more pictures of them but it was too cold to take off your gloves to operate the camera every time you saw one.
The Little Red BookThe Little Red Book
The Little Red Book

Lots of antiques as well as knock offs. I don't think these are "originals". Something tells me the Little Red Book wasn't published in English.
More Dirt MarketMore Dirt Market
More Dirt Market

The array of goods for sale was quite amazing. The sellers were all bundled up as they are outside all day. This includes squatting where ever they can to eat their lunches.
Chilly working conditionsChilly working conditions
Chilly working conditions

By the time we were all finished browsing it was time to head into the one cafe for coffee, a quick lunch and a warmup. The place was full of "foreigners". The locals seem to take the cold in stride. Wow.


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