Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China

Tiananmen Square

Some interesting facts before we get out of the bus...

Tiananmen Square or Tian'anmen Square is in the centre of Beijing name after the Gate of Heavenly Peace, a gate that one separated the square from the Forbidden City.

The Square contains,

   the Monument to the People's Heroes
   the Great Hall of the People
   the National Museum of China
   the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.

The square is about 109 acres and was designed and built in 1651, and since then been enlarged four times since, the most recent upgrade in the 1950s.

The Monument to the People's Heroes

This is a ten-story obelisk built to commemorate the matters of the revolutions.  It was built between August 1952 and May 1958.  On the pedestal are reliefs depicting the eight major revolutionary episodes.

The Great Hall of the People

This was opened in September 1959, and covers 171809 square meters.  The Great Hall is the largest auditorium in China and can seat up to 10,000 people.  The State Banquet Hall can seat up to 5,000 diners.

The National Museum of China

This is one of the largest museums in the world and the second most visited museum in the world after the Louvre in Paris.   It was completed in 1959, and sits on 65 hectares, and rises four floors.  It has a permanent collection of over 1,000,000 items.

The Mauseloum of Mao Zedong

This was built shortly after his death, and completed on May 24th, 1977.  The embalmed body of the Chairman is preserved and on display in the center hall.

My own observations

This is huge; one of the largest public squares in the world, and if you're going to walk it, like we did, make sure you've been exercising before you go.  It covers 44 hectares, borders on the Forbidden City, and has a memorial to Chairman Mao in the center of it.  But you cannot go near it, it's fenced off, and it is guarded.

That's both the statue and the square as there are random guards marching in random directions all the while watching us to see that we don't misbehave.
No one wants to find out what would happen if you jumped the fence around the statue, but I'm guessing you'll have a few years to contemplate the stupidity of your actions with some very unhappy government officials.

           Around the edges of the square are huge buildings, on one side is the museum 

           and on the other is the Chinese equivalent of parliament.

           Around the sides are also large gardens

At one end, where the Forbidden City borders on the square, there's a huge flag pole flying the Chinese flag, and this too like the monument is fenced off, and guarded by members of all of their armed services.  No tanks rolled out during our visit much to our disappointment.  There is no entrance to the Forbidden City from the square

             At the other end is the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, which was closed the day we were there, as was the museum. 

            There are four sculptural groups installed outside the mausoleum.

          Other than that, it's just another square, albeit probably one of the largest in the world.  It can, we were told, hold about a million people.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Longjing Pearl Factory, Beijing, China

The Longjing Pearl Factory is located at:
No.2 Zuoan Gate Inner Street, ChongWen District, Beijing 100061 China.

This Pearl Center specializes in both freshwater and seawater pearls, with a reputation backed by the government of China, with a big selection and of the highest quality.  There were all kinds of jewelry made of pearls in different colors, shapes, and sizes.  
They also had, as an interesting sideline, famous Chinese traditional cosmetics such as pearl cream and pearl powder, reputed to make your skin smoother, tendered and most importantly, younger.
We were advised of all of this well before we arrived at the factory, and of course, one suspected the glowing review, with emphasis on the fact it was a government operation and therefore trustworthy, suggested we should buy, meant the tour guide would receive a commission on each sale.
This is nothing new, it's the same the world over, so it's up to the visitor to buy or not to buy.

As soon as you get in the door you are taken to the group's guide for the tour (and afterward, available for help on making purchases). who gives you a rundown on the different types and colors of pearls.  This briefly is,
Pearls come in two main categories: freshwater cultured pearls and saltwater cultured pearls. Various types of pearls are the result of the environment in which they live, and different cultivation techniques used by the pearl farmers. 
Freshwater cultured pearls are grown in lakes and rivers, whereas saltwater cultured pearls are grown in bodies of saltwater such as bays.  The most commonly used pearls are Freshwater pearls.  
Freshwater Pearls come in various pastel shades of white, pink, peach, lavender, plum, purple, and tangerine.  
South Sea cultured pearls come in shades of lustrous white, often with silver or rose overtones. 
Black pearls are known as Tahitian pearls and come most often in shades of black and gray. While a Tahitian pearl has a black body color, it will vary in its overtones, which most often will be green or pink.
Then there's a demonstration, where one of the tour group is selected to pick an oyster out of the tank, and then there's the guessing game as to how many pearls are in the shell, with the winner getting a pearl.

Guesses ranged from 1 to 23 and the answer was 26.  Nearest wins, and one for the person who picked the oyster out of the tank.  After this demonstration, we move on to the ways we can tell the difference between real and fake pearls.
It seems strange that they would, but we were guaranteed by both the tour guide and the lady delivering the lecture that the pearls we were about to buy were real, so how could we suspect there was anything dodgy about them?  Besides, now we could tell real from fake!
We then move onto the showroom floor where there are casements of pearl products, in the form of necklaces, earrings, and any number of variations and uses.  And, just to let you know, the prices are very, very expensive, even if they say they have a special.
Perhaps the best products, and those that found favor with many of the women on the tour, was the pearl crames and powders.  These were not expensive, and, as we discovered later, actually worked as described.

On the road to Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China

One the first things you notice when driving around Beijing, other than the roads are congested with traffic, is the number of trees and flowers that have been planted, in the median strip as well as along the edges of the road.

What you also notice is the large number of multi-story apartment blocks, which are needed to house the millions of Beijing residents.  What we have, so far, rarely seen, is single-story houses.
These continuous areas of trees and rose bushes are, every now and then, broken up by very colorful garden beds:

Nearer to the square we are able to get up close to the flowers.  These, we are told, are a variation on the rose, one that flowers for nine months of the year.

They come in a variety of colors.

And they are literally everywhere you go, on the side of the roadway, often blotting out the concrete jungle behind them.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Beijing Zoo, Beijing, China

Beijing Zoo

Founded in 1906 during the late Qing dynasty, it is the oldest Zoo in China.  It also has an aquarium and has 450 land-based species, some of which are rare and endemic to China like the Giant Panda, and 500 marine-based species.  Other rare animals to be seen are the Red Panda, the Golden Snub-nosed Monkey, the South China Tiger, the White Lipped deer, the Chinese alligator, the Yak,, and the Snow Leopard.
Most of the original animals were bought in 1908 from Germany by the viceroy of Liangjiang Duanfang.  The Zoo first opened on June 16th, 1908.
Currently, the Zoo grounds resemble classical Chinese gardens, and among the attractions are a number of Qing dynasty buildings to view, as well as an Elephant hall, a Lion and tiger hall, a Monkey hall, and a Panda hall.  In all, there are 30 halls.
The Zoo is located at 137 Xizhimen WaiDajie in Xicheng district, near the 2nd ring road.

We are primarily at the Zoo to see the Pandas, and there is a specific hall devoted to them, and by the way, it costs extra to see them.  Everyone in our group is particularly interested in seeing them because it's rare that any can be found anywhere else in the world.
Perhaps if there had been more time, another hour, maybe, it might have made all the difference, but I think that extra time might have clashed with the pearl factory, and that, for obvious reasons, was deemed to be more important.

Our first stop is in the Panda hall.

There are two pandas that we can see, one of whom is a little camera shy, and the other, above, who is demonstrating how pandas eat bamboo.  They are behind a large glass wall, and you have to wait for the opportunity to get a good photo, and, sometimes only enough to include the top of the head of the person in front of you.  Unfortunately, the Chinese visitors don't understand the polite excuse me in English, and, can at times, be rude enough to shove their way to the front.

What is also a problem is the uncooperativeness of the pandas to pose for photos.  I guess there's no surprise there given the thousands of visitors every day with only one purpose in mind.  We counted ourselves lucky to get the photos we did.

The hall itself is built on to the external enclosure where there are a number of giant pandas some of whom that were on show were relatively lethargic, as though they had a big weekend, and we're sleeping it off, like this panda below:

Then, remarkably, we came across one that decided to be a little more energetic and did a walk in front of hundreds of Chinese who had undoubtedly come to show their children the animals.

This Panda was also easier to photograph whereas the other panda, one chewing on a morning feast of bamboo, saw a lot of pushing and shoving by the spectators to get the best spot to take his photograph.  Having manners just doesn't cut it here, so do what you have to to get that photograph.

We also saw a couple of monkeys that were also in the panda enclosure, but they were not much of a side benefit.  They may have been there to use the Panda's exercise equipment, though it was not quite like what we use.
There was no time really to wander off to see much else, but apparently, there were also red pandas, and surprisingly, a category call Australian animals.  But, who goes to another country to view your own animals?
The cutest animals were the stuffed pandas, and they were quite reasonably priced.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Beijing Friendship Hotel

The hotel according to their website:  http://grandbuilding.beijingfriendshiphotel.com/info/

The Friendship Hotel was built in 1954 to house foreigners; refurbished in 2002, and these days it relies more on tour groups.  Many of its rooms, done in a traditional Chinese style, are in need of renovation and more up-to-date furnishings.

The Beijing Friendship Hotel Grand Building is located in China's Silicon Valley-Zhongguancun Science and Technology Park, close to the major universities and research institutions in Beijing. Jinyuan Lufthansa Shopping Center, Contemporary Shopping Center, Shuangan Shopping Center are within easy reach, and the transportation is convenient.  

Each room is equipped with an LCD TV, broadband Internet access, a minibar, and more. The Deluxe Executive Room is equipped with a personal multifunction fax machine.

We did not get a Deluxe Executive Room.

And, unfortunately, there were no photographs on their site that matched the room we were given.  They were only of deluxe and business rooms only.

 The Friendship Hotel of Beijing is one of the largest garden-style hotels in Asia. The Friendship Hotel neighbors many world-famous tourist sites and universities such as Tsinghua and Peking University, the Summer Palace.   

It covers a total area of 335,000 square meters of land in the capital city, of which 200,000 square meters are landscaped gardening in the traditional Chinese garden style. The Friendship Hotel of Beijing represents classic Chinese architectural elegance and presents the most pleasurable views.  

There are more than 1,757 guestrooms, apartments, and office rooms, 28 restaurants, and banquet halls of different styles and capable of catering for 2,600 guests at the same time.
This is a plan of the location:

In another post, I'll show some photos of the buildings and gardens.

I don't think by the end of the stay the hotel finished up with any friends.  But it was probably good that we started with the oldest and most quirky of hotels, setting the tone of what we can expect, and hoping it could only get better.
The whole setting for the hotel is amazing, with buildings set in beautiful gardens.  The foyer was polished marble, cavernous, and implied a luxury we expected.

By the time we got to our rooms, all those expectations were shattered.  All show and no substance, it is an omen.  Even the passageways belied what was behind the doors.

 Perhaps it would be better to label it as an army barracks because that's what some people said it reminded them of.

And the bed?

A 6 by 3-foot lump of five-ply board would have more give in it.  Don't try jumping up and down on these beds or you'll break a leg.

Our guide tells us that these sorts of beds are good for us.  Maybe if we had been using them since birth, but not when you're pushing 70.  So much for that Feng Shiu north-south thing which I find somewhat hard to understand. 

Breakfast is in the Friendship Palace a room set aside that is rather like a barn with all the breakfast food arranged down the middle and tables scattered either side. 

One small observation which I thankfully noticed at the end of the stay was the carpet stains that emanated from under the food and spreading out towards the tables, no doubt made by food sliding off serving utensils and plates, and not being adequately cleaned after the hoards of 'trip a deal' visitors were finished.

Perhaps whoever organizes the accommodation might consider a better introduction to China that to have everyone starting with the impression Chinese hotels are small, cramped, and suffer from a basic lack of cleanliness.

After breakfast we assemble in the foyer ready to be taken on our first adventure, to negotiate Beijing traffic. 

Here is where we first learn about scooters, and the fact anyone can buy one, no license needed, and for anyone else on the road, beware.  We soon learn why we are being cautioned to look in every direction before stepping onto a road.

And we get to see the infamous Building No 4 in daylight:

Saturday, March 7, 2020

We've just arrived in Beijing International Airport, China

Instead of making a grand entrance, arriving in style and being greeted by important dignitaries, we are slinking in via an airplane, late at night.
It's hardly the entrance I'd envisaged. 
At 9:56 the plane touches down on the runway.  Outside the plane, it is dark and gloomy and from what I could see, it had been raining.  That could, of course, simply be condensation.
Once on the ground, everyone was frantically gathering together everything from seat pockets and sending pillows and blankets to the floor.  A few were turning their mobile phones back on, and checking for a signal, and, perhaps, looking for messages sent to them during the last 12 hours. 
Or perhaps they were just suffering from mobile phone deprivation.
It took 10 minutes for the plane to arrive at the gate.
That's when everyone moves into overdrive, unbuckling belts, some before the seatbelt sign goes off, and are first out of their seats and into the overhead lockers.  Most are not taking care that their luggage may have moved, but fortunately, no bags fall out onto someone's head.
The flight had been relatively turbulent free.
When as many people and bags have squeezed into that impossibly small aisle space, we wait for the door to open, and then the privileged few business and first-class passengers to depart before we can begin to leave.
As we are somewhere near the middle of the plane, our wait will not be as long as it usually is.  This time we avoided being at the back of the plane.  Perhaps that privilege awaits us on the return trip.
Once off the plane, it is a matter of following the signs, some of which are not as clear as they could be.  It's why it took another 30 odd minutes to get through immigration, but that was not necessarily without a few hiccups along the way. 
We got sidetracked at the fingerprint machines, which seemed to have a problem if your fingers were not straight, not in the center of the glass, and then if it was generally cranky, which ours were, continue to tell you to try again, and again, and again, and again...
That took 10 to 15 minutes before we joined an incredibly long queue of other arrivals,
A glance at the time, and suddenly it's nearly an hour from the moment we left the plane.
That's when we got to the immigration officer, and it became apparent we were going to have to do the fingerprints yet again.  Fortunately this time, it didn't take as long.  Once that done, we collected our bags, cleared customs by putting our bags through a huge x-ray machine, and it was off to find our tour guide.

We found several tour guides with their trip-a-deal flags waiting for us to come out of the arrivals hall.  It wasn't a difficult process in the end.  We were in the blue group.  Other people we had met on the plane were in the red group or the yellow group.  The tour guide found, or as it turned out she found us, it was simply a matter of waiting for the rest of the group, of which there were eventually 28.
Gathered together we were told we would be taking the bags to one place and then ourselves to the bus in another.  A glance in the direction of the bus park, there were a lot of busses.
Here's a thought, imagine being told your bus is the white one with blue writing on the side.
Yes, yours is, and 25 others because all of the tourist coaches are the same.  
An early reminder, so that you do not get lost, or, God forbid, get on the wrong bus, for the three days in Beijing, is to get the last five numbers of the bus registration plate and commit them to memory.  It's important.  Failing that, the guide's name is in the front passenger window.
Also, don't be alarmed if your baggage goes in one direction, and you go in another. In a rather peculiar set up the bags are taken to the hotel by what the guide called the baggage porter.  
It is an opportunity to see how baggage handlers treat your luggage; much better than the airlines it appears.

That said, if you're staying at the Beijing Friendship Hotel, be prepared for a long drive from the airport.  It took us nearly an hour, and bear in mind that it was very late on a Sunday night.
Climbing out of the bus after what seemed a convoluted drive through a park with buildings, we arrive at the building that will be our hotel for the next three days.  From the outside, it looks quite good, and once inside the foyer, that first impression is good.  Lots of space, marble, and glass.  
If you are not already exhausted by the time you arrive, the next task is to get your room key, find your bags, get to your room, and try to get to be ready the next morning at a reasonable hour.
Sorry, that boat has sailed.
We were lucky, we were told, that our plane arrived on time, and we still arrived at the hotel at 12:52.  Imagine if the incoming plane is late.

This was taken the following morning.  It didn't look half as bland late at night.

This is the back entrance to Building No 4 but is quite representative of the whole foyer, made completely of marble and glass.  It all looked very impressive under the artificial lights, but not so much in the cold hard light of early morning.

This the foyer of the floor our room was on.  Marble with interesting carpet designs.  Those first impressions of it being a plush hotel were slowly dissipating as we got nearer and nearer to the room.  From the elevator, it was a long, long walk.

Did I tell you about the bathroom in our room?
The shower and the toilet both share the same space with no divide and the shower curtain doesn't reach to the floor.  Water pressure is phenomenal.  Having a shower floods the whole shower plus toilet area so when you go to the toilet you're basically underwater.
Don't leave your book or magazine on the floor or it will end up a watery mess.
And the water pressure is so hard that it could cut you in half.  Only a small turn of the tap is required to get that tingling sensation going.
It's after 1:30 before we finally get to sleep.
As for the bed, well, that's a whole other story.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Every flight is different - Sydney to Bejing

Sydney to Beijing - Qantas A330-200

Boarding 11:45, everyone on board by 12:02, for a 12:10 departure.
Pushing back 12:12
Take off 12:27


Airline food is getting better but the fact they serve it up to you in a metal tray with a thick aluminum lid does nothing for the quality of the food inside.  I get what the chef is trying to do but often there is too little of one thing and too much of another and what you finish up with is slop in a tray.  Sometimes it's edible sometimes it's not.  
Sometimes the meat is tender and other times it's like boot leather.  As it is today.
I think it's pork, I should have had the chicken.  Or perhaps it was chicken.  I hate it when you can't tell what it is that you're eating.
But, the drinks were good.

Rest or Sleep, maybe

It's going to take 11 hours and 20 minutes from Sydney to Beijing, a long time to sit in a plane with nothing much to do other than crosswords, read a book or newspaper or magazine, listen to music on your own device, or the in-flight entertainment, watch a movie again by the in-flight entertainment - if it works - or try to get some sleep.
I started with the crosswords but got bored quickly.
I fiddled with the in-flight entertainment, looked at the movies and tv shows but none really interested me, not then at least, so I set it to the flight path.
Not exactly stellar entertainment, but it's always interesting to know where the plane is.
Or is it?
If we crash, what good would it do me to know it's somewhere over the ocean, not far from Manila, or somewhere else.  It's not as if I could phone someone up, on the way down, to let them know where we are.
But, just after dinner, we still haven't left Australia

However, by the time I've finished fiddling with and dismissing all of the entertainment alternatives, it's back to the flight path and now we are...

Somewhere approaching the Sulu Sea, which I've never heard of before, so it looks like I'll have to study up on my geography when I get home.

OK, Manila looks like somewhere I've heard of, so we have to be flying over the Philippines.  Not far left of that is Vietnam.  Neither of those places is on my travel bucket list, so I'll just look from up here and be satisfied with that.

Working, or not

Chronic boredom is setting in by the time we are just past halfway to our destination. We are over 6 hours into the flight and there no possible way I'm going to get any sleep.
I brought my GHalaxy Tab loaded with a few of my novel outlines, and planning for missing chapters, thinking I might get a little thinking time in.  Plane rides, I find, are excellent for getting an opportunity to write virtually unhindered by outside interruptions, if, of course, you discount the number of times people brush past, knocking your seat, the person in front lowering the seat into your face, or people around you continually asking you to turn off your light because they're trying to sleep.
Sorry, I say, but you can suffer my pain with me.  It's one of the joys of flying with over two hundred others in a claustrophobic environment.  Besides, aren't the lights supposed to be slanted so only I get the rays of light?  Except, I guess when the fixed light doesn't line up with where the airline has fixed the seat (usually so they can squash more people in).
So, sorry, not sorry, take it up with the airline.
Back to work, and I put in some quality time on a part of the story that had been eluding me for a while.  I knew what I wanted to write, but not how I was going to approach it, so that blissfully quiet and intense time worked in my favor, something that would not have happened back hope.
I won't bore you with the synopsis, just suffice to say it's finally down on paper, digitally that is, and it's a huge step forward towards finishing it.
There is, of course, the end play, the reading of the will but not before there's a few thrusts and parry’s by some of the players, but all in all the objective was to showcase a group of people with their strengths and weaknesses pushing their characters in various directions, some at odds with what is expected of them.
But enough of that.   A quick check of our position shows we’re still over water but closer to our destination, so much so, we might start the pre-landing rituals, starting with food.


7:00 - Dinner is served, well, the lights go on and a lot of tired people try to shake the sleep, and sleeplessness, out of their systems.
Then flight attendants that are far too cheerful, and must have beamed in from somewhere else, serve another interesting concoction that says what's in it but you can't really be sure of the ingredients.  It comes and it goes.
9:10 - We begin our descent into Beijing, you know, that moment when the engines almost stop and there's a sickening lurch and the plane heads downward.
9:56 - We touch down on the runway, in the dark and apparently it has been raining though from inside the plane you'd never know.
10:10 - the plane arrives at the gate,  the usual few minutes to open the door, and, being closer to the front of the plane this time, it doesn't take that long before the queue is moving.
Early or late, it doesn't matter.  After clearing customs and immigration, we have to go in search of our tour guide, waiting for us somewhere outside the arrivals terminal.