Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Future

Our trip of a lifetime is about to become just the first of many.

We've decided to go to London for the 2012 Olympics and to wherever the 2016 Olympics are held. With what we've learned from Beijing and through talking to other multi-Olympic attendees, we feel like it is entirely possible that we could become true Olympics junkies.

Our plan for London is to go in a couple years and get the sightseeing out of the way and do some groundwork research so when we go to the games in 2012 we can totally focus on the Olympics and do so without spending a ton of money.

For 2016, the location will be announced in October of 2009. Our plan is to immediately start learning the language, do similar pre-visits to the city like we're doing for London and then do the entire 17 days instead of just the last half or so like we did in Beijing. The candidate cities for 2016 are Tokyo (which would be awesome), Chicago, Rio de Janeiro and Madrid.

Of course, full trip blogging and photo posting will be included.


We had our Flip video camera with us but didn't think to use it very often. We did however get a few clips of the people performing in Jingshan Park (from Day 1), a couple clips from the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square.

Jingshan Park

The Great Wall:

Tiananmen Square:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Nothing like 60 degree weather, blue skies and a civilized three-foot personal space bubble to make you feel like you're back home.

We got up at Noon on Monday (Seattle time) and got in at 9 am Tuesday. That's a long freakin' day, my friends, even with dozing off on the flight. We're trying to stay awake until this evening to do a brute force body clock reset. Angie's already fading, partially because she's one step away from being narcoleptic normally but also because she came down with a nasty head cold before we left. I keep telling her it's the SARS. She's not amused.

The unpacking went pretty quick. The cats are still under the bed. Lola has been retrieved from Puppy Heaven over at her Godmothers' house. Life is almost back to normal, or will be once we both crash and sleep for a day or two.

Before you go, there will be one more post-trip entry with some final impressions/observations of Beijing and our list of Won't Miss/Will Miss things about our trip. Oh, and I have a ton of photos to go through and post to Flickr. Stay tuned for just a little bit longer.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Beijing Day 10 - Summer Palace

As Scott previously mentioned, we ditched our official tour guide and decided to do the Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven on our own. Neither one of us wanted to spend another day with Shall's lecturing (we believe she was reading the signs back to us). So today, we headed off to the Summer Palace. Once there, we were very glad we didn't try to do the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven in one day. Both are massive. We spent 4 hours walking around the Palace, got lost a few times and still managed to cover only about a quarter of the structures. We purchased this awesomely illustrated map that was less than helpful in finding out where you were and how to get to the next location. We were again thanking our trainer for all the squats and lunges that we having been doing. We'd have never made it up and down all the hills and stairs without them. Even so, there were a couple of places I thought I was going to die before we reached the top of the hill. Steep, steep, steep and stairs that are about half as deep as modern steps and twice as high.

Beijing Day 10 — Summer Palace — 43

The architecture is pretty much what we saw at the Forbidden City which I thought was weird. If you want a summer retreat, wouldn't you like new or different walls to look at? Scott guessed that it was to impress upon people that whoever was in the Summer Palace had the same power and authority as those residing in the Forbidden City. Scott has pictures to post and they tell most of the story. There were easily 50 different buildings, several galleries of artifacts where the newest items was more than 100 years old and lots and lost of opportunities to buy souvenir crap, including at least 6 Official Olympic shops.

Scott made the comment this park and the buildings had been here for hundreds of years, that you'd think that every Chinese person alive would have already seen then and wouldn't need to visit them again. I think he was just frustrated at the crowds. It was more crowded than the Temple of Heaven and all the areas where you could get away from the crowds, you had to be a billy goat to get to.

Beijing Day 10 — Summer Palace — 31

After walking around for about 3 hours, we took a short boat ride across the lake. The Summer Palace is more than 20 hectares in area (don't ask me what that is in acres) and more than three-quarters of that area is lake. We rode across to a little island and then walked across a bridge with 17 arches and then kept walking until we reached the gate where we came in, taking detours and meanders whenever we saw something interesting.

Beijing Day 10 — Summer Palace — 75

At the gate, we went to go catch a taxi. There were about 6 of them lined up. We showed them our hotel card and one guy that wasn't dressed in a taxi driver uniform grabbed the card and said he'd take us. He started leading us towards his car which was black and didn't have a taxi sign on it. We hesitated and asked if was a taxi. We'd heard of scams where drivers wouldn't have a meter and they take you to your destination and demand an outrageous amount of money. If you called the police, you'd always lose and end up paying and apologizing to the driver. He claimed he had a meter and when we took back the card and tried to show it to another real taxi driver, he said something to them and they handed it back to us without a word. Against our better judgment, seeing that he did have a meter, we got in the car. He kept talking about what a nice car he had and how it was so much better than a normal taxi. Right. When we go to the hotel, he charged us 4 times what a normal taxi would and insisted that he had a nice car. In reality, we are only talking $20 USD difference in fare, but it's aggravating being taken advantage of. Again, we wish we would have been able to learn more Chinese so we could have told him to bug off.

The rest of the day was spent showering and pre-packing. We just had dinner at one of the hotel restaurants (they have three) so that we were eating "safe" food. It was really good Chinese food, but cost about as much as it would in the U.S. Neither one of us was willing to take a chance with intestinal distress right before such a long travel day.

We'll be up again at 3:00 am local time to finish packing and catch the shuttle to the airport. That'll be noon on Monday Seattle time. Barring any delays, we should arrive in Seattle at 9:30 am on Tuesday, one hour after leaving Beijing based on local time. We are going to time travel again.

More Photos

Here are some photos of the medal ceremony for Women's Basketball.

Women's Basketball Medal Ceremony — 32

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Beijing Day 9 — Temple of Heaven

Our plan for the day was pretty loose. We wanted to try and get as close to the Olympic Green as we could to see the fireworks from the Closing Ceremony. We were both pretty beat and didn't really want to go out. Angie is coming down with something and we've both just about had it with the crowds and heat. But, we've only got a couple days to go — we can rest when we get home.

We started out kind of late, mostly because we were unsure of what to go do. We settled on starting with the Drum and Bell Towers, the ancient Beijing versions of Big Ben — used to communicate the time and/or public messages before the advent of speaker towers. When we got there, both were "Closed long time" — according to the sign. Okay, plan B.

Beijing Day 9 — Wandering — 1

We weren't too far away from one of the lakes that stretch down towards the Forbidden City, so we decided to walk down there and stroll around. Touristville, big time. We actually rode through part of this area on our bike tour, but I don't think we got a very good look at it. There were "Visa, the official card of the Beijing Olympics" signs every 10 feet. Seriously. I have a picture to prove it.

Beijing Day 9 — Wandering — 5

We did have several opportunities to buy Rolexs. One woman in particular really tempted me as she whispered, "Lolex" and started to unzip her fanny pack. If anyone really wants a Rolex, which I'm sure is real, I can hook you up with her.

We decided to ditch the Rolex crowd — we were asked 4 times about Rolexs — and head over to the Temple of Heaven, one of the major historical sites in Beijing. Originally, we were scheduled to see the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace, the Emperor's palace away from the palace, tomorrow as part of another formal tour with Shall. Neither of us have been looking forward to it since we were confident that A/ more forced shopping would be involved and B/ she'd fly us through both locations so that we could have more time for A. She ran us through the Forbidden City in a half hour. When we went back through on our own, we were there for 4 hours and still only did about half of it. Knowing that both the Temple and Palace were as big or bigger than the Forbidden City, we knew Shall would shortchange us again. Before we left the hotel, Angie called and canceled the tour.

The Temple of Heaven really is a massive place. Like Jingshan park, the spot we visited on our first full day here, this was exactly what we needed at this stage of our trip. There were a lot of people here, but they were all so spread out that it felt like we had space and could meander as we pleased. Even inside the areas where the main buildings were, until you got up to the primary focus of a particular place like the spots you could see into the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, the crowds were manageable.

Beijing Day 9 — Temple of Heaven — 3

The whole complex was built so that the Emperor could do ritualize sacrifices to Heaven. The sacrifice process was long and involved, took several days and each step had it's own building. Even the warehouse that they used to store everything was sacred and given the same high status architecture as the more important buildings. One of the funnier spots is the 70-year old gate. The staff of one elderly Empreror had a hole cut into the wall surrounding the main Hall so that their 70-year old Emperor wouldn't have to walk so far during the normal ritual. He thought the door was a cheat, but still used it. To keep anyone else from taking advantage of the shortcut, he decreed that no one under 70 could use the gate, so it became to 70-year old gate.

I think that the Chinese still hold this place in higher reverence than some of the other spots we've been. There were fewer vendors and the ones that were there were concentrated in a couple spots. There were fewer people performing like we saw in Jingshan park. It was much quieter and peaceful. It was a welcome break from normal life in Beijing.

Beijing Day 9 — Temple of Heaven — 17

As we left the park, we tried to get a taxi to the Night Market once again, figuring that it was about the cheapest place to eat and neither of us got the squirts after eating there. One guy wanted to charge us 100 RMB to get into the cab. Since that is easily 3 times what any other cab ride has cost us, we walked away. The next two cabs we tried to get flat out said no to us and said something about "Olympics." Feeling like we were missing something big, like the city was being locked down due to the Closing Ceremonies, we decided to hoof it over to the nearest subway. It was a bit of a hike, but we found it and rode up to the stop we thought was closest to the Market.

We missed it by one stop, we discovered, after walking for about a half hour or so. We finally found our way to the street where the Market is and found that it was closed. Angie thinks that the cabbies were refusing to drive us because they knew the Market was closed. Since there were tons of cabs up there, I think they were being dicks. Either way, we decided to head back up towards the Olympic Green and try to find a good spot for the fireworks.

We got off the subway at a spot that we thought would be closest to the east side of the Bird's Nest. It was, but we were still a couple miles away. The maps we have are horrible on scale and it's been very difficult to estimate distances. So we walked, and walked, and walked. We got turned around and had to walk back a bit. By the time we got close-ish to the stadium, we found the first police barricades.

They had a perimeter blocked off around the Olympic Green of about a mile in all directions. By this point, it was getting dark and we were getting pretty tired. We were already worn out before the day started and, with the walking we'd done in the park, were up to about 6 hours of walking today. With no clear view of the sky due to buildings, powerlines and trees, we were about to give up. I convinced Angie to go a little further before we bagged it and cabbed back to the hotel.

We found a street going in the right direction and were able to get about as close to the stadium as possible. We could see the top of the broadcast pagoda and the glow from the Olympic Flame in the mist. It was still about a half hour before the start of the Ceremony, so we staked out a spot. And stood there. And stood there. And stood there. And decided since the fireworks were only going to really go off at the end, which was 2.5 hours away or so, and since we were both very tired that we'd bag it after all and go back to the hotel.

So we watched the Closing Ceremonies and fireworks like everyone else, on TV.

We could see bits of the fireworks from our hotel room, but they were all in the distance. They were spread out all over the city by the looks of it. We were fairly frustrated that we weren't able to correctly communicate with anyone that we had wanted to watch the fireworks. Communication, even with English-speaking Chinese, has been spotty. You can never be sure that they understood your question or the intent of your question. The answer they give you often is very limited to the specifics of your question, if they get it right. They don't offer any other information, such as "No, you can't get on the Olympic Green to watch the fireworks without an event ticket, but if you want fireworks here are the 6 other locations you can go." Or, if they aren't sure about what you've asked, they just give you a no. We've really had to work hard to ask the right questions the right way in order to get the information we want, and even then we can't be sure until we get to where we think we're going that the information we received was correct. The Chinese people, except for a couple small instances, have been very helpful and seemed honestly sincere in their attempts to be good hosts, but the language barrier was a lot bigger than we'd expected and it hampered us in a lot of ways.

So, by the end of our "take it easy" day, we'd walked 25,000 steps according to Angie's pedometer. I don't know what that translates to in miles, but it felt like lots.

Tomorrow is our last full day in China and we're heading to the Summer Palace for one more sightseeing jaunt. Then, it's a full day of airports and no leg room.

Oh, one more thing — we saw a cat in a dry moat around the Fasting Palace in the Temple of Heaven. It was the first cat we've seen and I tried to follow him, but we lost him. I think I miss our cats.

Beijing Day 9 — Temple of Heaven — 46