Monday, May 21, 2007

After Work, It's All Play

I finally got a chance to take a tour today to see a little bit to Beijing. Going to miss the Great Wall and Ming Tomb this time around, but I think I've had my fill of the city for now.

Today's tour was actually pretty good, but the guide didn't really say much when we were on route - i was hoping for a little history lesson and tidbits about China. We took an hour just picking people up and another hour dropping people off.
First stop - temple of heaven - neat story about the 28 pillars, but we didn't stay there long.

Lots of groups of exercisers doing taichi and little feather hacky sacks.

Second stop - Silk factory - saw the two different kind of silk worms - one with an individual worm used to spin thread and the other with two worms that are strech out one of them to make blankets.

Third stop - Tian anmen Square - not much there except a very large square facing the picture of Chairman Mao. They erected a countdown to the Olympics on the face of the National Museum that is currently undergoing renovation.

Fourth stop - Forbidden City - much of it was undergoing construction. Walked by the Starbucks that infiltrated the City. The sign is down, but the aroma of coffee is unmistakable.

Video of one of the courtyards in the Forbidden City - can you spot the Forbidden Starbucks?

Fifth Stop - Lunch - it was ok, but they served a dish of french fries - that was weird.

Sixth Stop - Pearl shop - they explained that if you rub real pearls together, it produces pearl powder and you only need to buff the pearl to make it shine like new.

Seventh Stop - Summer Palace - took the dragon boat across and saw the marble boat. We didn't get to go into the temples or climb the stairs - instead, we just walked along the infinite corridor which was ok. Nice breeze.

Last stop - instead of going back to the hotel, I had them drop me off at the silk street market (aka counterfeit market.) I didn't get much, but I did get a "silk" table runner and a "Nike" shirt for Ted.

From there, I just walked walked walked for about 3 hours. I went into the friendship store, the walked past the Hyatt and from there down a street where there were a lot of shops and turned left at the end where it was night time and there were lots of food stalls with lanterns. Scorpions and Centipedes. Yum. Don't worry, I didn't have any.

For dinner, I had 8RMB noodles at the food court and a 16RMB watery orange julius - highly disappointing. Passed up starbucks more than once here which is selling more than at home!

Overall a satisfying first trip to China.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

First Day in China

We landed around 2pm in China and upon debarking, we walked down a hallway lined with Visa advertisements endorsed by world famous faces such as Yao Ming and Jackie Chan. I normally wouldn't have taken notice, but in a payments article written 2005 years ago, the author noted the same experience.

The customs process was fairly easy but I was reprimanded for not writing my full "given name" with my maiden name "Lei". The Intercontinental Beijing Hotel is pretty amazing, complete with complimentary bottled water, flat screen tv (sound piped in to the bath area with a window for easy viewing), and modern furnishings.

I debated whether to book a tour for Saturday after the conference or go for a self-guided walk, but I figured for the first time in China, better to be in a group. Everyone is extremely friendly. I think I surprised the concierge by wanting to find the food court for some cheap eats. He recommended a sit down restaurant, but that wouldn't have been as interesting. I headed towards the nearest shopping centers and soon felt out of place in my skort so I was looking for three things - ping pong paddle (Butterfly brand), Li Ning sports wear, and a pair of pants.

The first shopping center was definitely for the locals - booths side by side - crammed and a bit overhwleming. You can bargain for the goods, but everything is already marked down significantly. Ping Pong paddles are everywhere, but the Butterfly brand is hard to find. One vendor had only one without the instructions and the other told me that I wouldn't be able to find any since it's "too high class." After touring the food court, I went back downstairs and found a vendor with a nice pair of tan pants. She said she would sell it to me for 90 RMB, I started to walk away, but she pulled me in and asked what I wanted to buy it for. I said 40 RMB - I hadn't really figured out the conversion yet and it was taking me too long to calculate in my head. She said 60 and I said 50 and she started to chuckle saying that she wouldn't even sell it to the local for that low. What do I know. I said my Mandarin was poor, but my mom told me to always bargain. So she said to come in, I stepped in hesitantly and she sold it to me for 50RMB which I calculated later to be $6.50. Not bad. I think the easiest wasy to convert the approximate price is just to divide by 7. Close enough. As for the Li Ning sportswear? That's a surprise for Ted.

I walked around some more, found some mangostene fruit (4.5 RMB - 26 cents) Went back to the food court - had no idea what I was doing in selecting some ingredients to steam and sautee so I followed the person in front of me. (7RMB - $1) and then to the dumpling stall (18 for 5RMB - 80 cents) for takeout. Awesome. Not sure if I liked what I ate, but you can't beat the price.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Monterey Bay Aquarium

This year for the annual cousins' trip, we embarked on a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but not before we decided to hand decorate bright pink t-shirts so that we can be easily identified as being related. Thanks John for the great idea and for the guys to agree to wear pink!

Since this is my first blog, I will be brief.
We had a great time at the Aquarium - spend over 5 hours there going through the new jellyfish exhibit and the sea otter habitat exhibit - I guess it's not so new, but we haven't been there for over 5 years.

We watched the blue jellyfish swim about (points for anyone who know the actual name of these species)

Then there was the sea otter feeding which was also considered part of their training. They used to give them clams in their shells, but the otters tried to break them open on the plexiglass. Needless to say, the trainers stopped that practice by doing the work for them.