Weekly Photo Challenge: Green

This green challenge comes at a good time as I’m rapidly losing the green outside in Shanghai. I need to hold on through the bleak winter until a little relief comes in the form of a 12 day trip to Thailand! There is nothing like 33C in February! That little respite will have to last me until April when the leaves emerge from their slumber once more.

We’ll start off with some of the wilder parts of the Great Wall where the foliage is encroaching upon the man-laid stone.

Next up some strikingly green water lilies.

Now a serene bamboo grove

Oh woe is me! Can I get through the dreary winter? It will be months before my street resembles this again , and I can go out and play!

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Near and Far

The week’s China theme on the Weekly Photo Challenge : Near and Far

Let’s start out with the always photogenic Great Wall! It keeps going and going and going and going.

Moving on to the empty grasslands of Inner Mongolia. We present to you our piece simply entitled “Nothing”.

Now time to head over to the ancient walled city of Pingyao in Shanxi province. Great view over the city. The same view the guards in the towers enjoyed 800 years ago.

A quick jump , skip , and a hop away is Shandong province with the holy Mount Tai. Everyone worth their salt , including Mao Zedong and Confucius , climbed this bad boy. Here is my friend and there is the sun , 91 million miles distant.

Hmm, now on to San Francisco. I was on my way to China two and a half years ago and enjoyed a stop in one of my favorite places on Earth. While enjoying the pleasures of coffee and beer, I was coaxed by a nice person to check out an exhibit . He took me here.

Well next to here. Does anybody know?

The freakin’ Scientology headquarters of San Francisco!! I took one look , shook my head for a free crystal reading , and got far , far, far away from there!

Beijing Summer 2011! (Part 1)

Alright everyone back on track! I know everyone (all 3 of you) were going through withdrawal , sitting around feeling cold then hot then cold and all sweaty all the time. But fear not! I am back with yer fix!

We pulled up to Beijing West Train station after the lovely soft sleeper class , curse you parents! , now I always want to take soft sleeper!, and my parents got to experience a great example of the “lining up system”, queueing for you redcoats out there. Notice the “lining up” is in quotation marks. Here in China lining up means a vastly different thing. It means stand in a general mass of people all striving and pushing forward at the same time. Don’t worry if there isn’t any room in front of you! Space will be made by simply shoving into the already immobilized crowd. This does actually happen, however, it wasn’t quite that bad here in the train station. We were waiting in the taxi queue to make the journey across the city , unfortunately Beijing West Station is quite far from the metro and the parents don’t travel backpacker style., and man that 1.5 hour wait sucked. We had to constantly pay attention and fend for ourselves to stop those old ladies from shoving ahead and cutting in line. My Pops got his technique down , simply use your suitcase shoved against the railing to create an impasse and stop the cutting. We still had a bunch of people get ahead of us somehow but whatever.

Another great hostel recommendation I have for y’all is the 9 Dragons Hostel near the ZhangziZhongLu Metro station. This awesome little hostel is tucked into one of the traditional , but rapidly disappearing , Hutong neighborhoods. This means traditional alleyways, no tall skyscrapers, more community life, and a taste of the old times. Some of the Hutong houses don’t have bathrooms inside and residents go to a public neighborhood toilet for taking care of business and showering. An elementary school is nearby the hostel and so returning to the hostel in the afternoon or venturing out in the morning you can witness all the parents waiting for the horde of students emerge from the building or saying farewell and starting the day. The hostel has three floors and a great balcony to relax with a beer and watch the neighborhood cats leap from roof to roof.

After depositing our things it was time to venture off into the city! We went out to start being Beijing tourists with the standard Tiananmen Square , adjacent Palace Museum and a walk to the nearby Wangfujing street. Upon arrival at Tiananmen (well actually upon arrival in the city) we noticed a disgusting amount of air pollution. From the time I visited in 2007 to now the air quality has always seemed to get better but today was an exception. The smog was thick and choking , nasty! Moving on, Tiananmen is massively big , one of the largest public squares in the world , it can fit around one million people. I’ve been there quite a few times now , maybe even 10, and the enormity of it has since ceased to amaze me as much as the first time but I will tell you it is mind-boggling at first sight. Tiananmen is the heart of it all featuring: the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China (dedicated to Chinese history predating 1919). The square is under heavy security , one must pass through checks to enter the square, and has many police, uniformed as well as undercover. Leaving the square we walked to the gates of the Forbidden City.

Built between the years 1405 and 1420 this massive imperial complex is known as the Forbidden City because for nearly 500 years the public was not allowed inside. The Emperors ruled China from inside and very few were admitted entrance. Today is it the largest remaining palatial complex in the world. (China boasts many of the biggest and best historical as well as modern structures). This is a must go if in Beijing. It’s fantastic to be able to get a grasp of history by visiting and the architecture and interior design is befitting of an emperor. Walking through the entire structure we emerged from the opposite gate and took a long walk along the surrounding moat until we returned to Chang’An Rd and then cut into Wangfujing Street. If you have the time make sure to go up in Jinshan park (golden mountain park) and climb the to the tallest park , you will be rewarded with an amazing view over the imperial city and its glittering golden rooftops! By the time we had arrived at Wangfujing the skies turned fierce-looking with intense storm clouds rolling in.

Wangfujing is a giant pedestrian shopping street but I did not come for the shopping. I came for the food street!!!! The parents wisely bought a set of umbrellas before we ducked down the alley to the food street and boy were they glad they did! This food street is loaded with various restaurants , all sorts of food, and creepy crawlies on sticks! The food street is perhaps best known for its starfish , scorpions , and seahorses (all still wriggling and alive skewered on sticks) waiting for you to purchase and consume. We decided not to stick to the outdoor seating, as by this time the skies had unleashed a deluge of rain, in fact as we found out later these rains caused the heaviest flooding in Beijing in decades! We found a great restaurant that had the best 番茄鸡蛋 ,tomatoes and eggs of my life. This is a simple dish with eggs tomatoes and sauce but when made right man it is great! When the rain finally subsided we went back to the hostel and called it an early night.

The next day we went on a Great Wall tour offered by our hostel. Normally I’m not a fan of the tour package but the hostel does a great job with it. We went off to a section of the Great Wall that has a giant sign saying “section closed to the public” our guide laughed and said don’t worry the villagers all encourage tourists to come here ( as it supports the local economy) and saying that it’s just an edict issued by the party that gets conveniently ignored. Nice! I highly recommend you make it out to one of the non restored, less visited sections of the wall. For example, avoid Badaling at all costs, this section of the wall is easily accessed via metro and is completely restored , packed with people , and with the people come the super annoying vendors. Take the effort to get away from that and you will be rewarded. The only souls we ran into that day on the wall was a group of Americans who miserably camped out on the wall the last night in the heavy rain but who were in good spirits when we arrived. They said they would have offered us beer but they drank it all the last night due to low morale issues , I completely understood. Like I mentioned before, the Great Wall continues to astound me every time I see it even after 8 or so times at various sections. An absolute must see! Which makes me feed bad my good dawg Linda G didn’t make it here when we were in Beijing last summer. Come again aye Lindsay?? After arriving back in the town I took the family to see the very nice HouHai park. It is also located near to the Imperial palace. It is part of a chain of three connected lakes and parks but this part is the cool hip area with many bars (expensive), awesome outdoor seating on couches near the lake , and cool light shows in the trees. An excellent way to idle away the time on a nice weather night. After all the walking my parents were exhausted and went back to sleep. I on the other hand hit up the hostel bar for a while and met some cool travelers.

Day three featured a trip to the Summer Palace , a visit to the Beijing Zoo,  and finally a stroll through the Olympic venue of 2008. The Summer palace lies in one of the Western suburbs of Beijing , easily accessible by metro. Now last year when I visited there was no metro station there, yay for development! The park’s history stretches back to the year 1750 when the massive Kunming lake was dug out entirely by hand! Yikes , when an emperor wants something done it gets done , kinda like the communist party of China today. This palace resort served as a summer getaway for the rulers of the land and features impressive gardens , boating on the artificial lake, and many laid back palatial buildings. This park is truly huge stretching out about 2.9 sq. kilometers. This park was also destroyed two times in its history , both times by an invading alliance of Western powers. Thankfully it was rebuilt both times so we can continue to enjoy it today.

Now next stop is the Beijing Zoo. It’s a pretty decent place , although living conditions for the animals aren’t quite what we are used to back at home , especially not when we have the excellent Cleveland Zoo  and I’ve visited the world-famous San Diego Zoo , but hey its a good for a visit. As expected in China its all about the pandas. They are panda crazy over here. Not much really to say about the zoo with the exception that canals run through the zoo and you can take a really fast speedboat through the canals and hit massive wakes. I’ve never seen such a thing at a zoo before. Can’t say I agree with a zoo having roaring load boats in the zoo but hell it does look really fun. After the zoo we were on a mission to find one of my favorite restaurants. I discovered this Yunnan restaurant last summer with Linda G and proceeded to eat there 3 times in 5 or so nights. Soooo good! Spicy, exotic (roots and fried flowers) and has the great Dali beer. I was soo happy to discover this place still existed. It also seemed fitting to eat some Yunnan food as I would be flying to Yunnan in a few days woo hoo!

Last stop of the day is to walk the Olympic greens. I visited Beijing before the Olympics of 2008 and after and I can’t believe how much the city has changed.  The entire Olympic area was built for the games , there was no pre-existing infrastructure and wow is it huge. Some of the stand out buildings include the Swimming Center and the Bird’s Nest Stadium. I’m really happy that three years later the venue is packed. At night-time there were tons of people ; domestic tourists , foreign tourists , and plenty of locals there. The locals use the area as a huge public place to dance , work-out , Rollerblade , fly kites , and just hang out. I’m glad this massive area wasn’t erected and then forgotten about doomed to collect dust and slowly fall apart.

Alright that’s it , I’m done. Beijing is being split up into a two-part series. Still a few days left over and I’m tired of writing after so many words. You may have noticed the amount of detail drop as this piece has dragged on haha Peace out enjoy the photos!