- Leo's been taking Chinese classes for a year and I wanted to further encourage him and also reward him
- To stop Paul from always asking, "when are you going to take ME to China?"
- Because I hadn't been there since 2006 and I knew it was changing fast
- And most importantly - because our good friend Jean was taking her family to China and we wanted to hang out with them (plus they all speak Chinese better than me and they had a house rented in Kunming!)
We flew on Air China which wasn't my first choice but is much nicer now. Leo was ecstatic when he found the footrest and the video games and the movie set:
Paul and Leo thought no trip to China would be complete without a visit to the Forbidden City and Great Wall so we went to Beijing first. Luckily our friends Ted and Linna had a fantastic Beijing apartment that they were not using (because they were in Boulder!) so we had deluxe accommodations out in Chaoyang (eastern Beijing). We got incredibly lucky because this is what the smog looked like in Beijing in July:
We arrived on July 10, when the smog levels were low and had clear skies until the day we left. The apartment was on the 28th floor so we had incredible views for our stay. That last day was horrible. We couldn't see anything. Chaoyang Park, across the street, had an amusement park, roller skaters, a rec center, and a lake
We visited the Forbidden City, the hutongs (old back alleyways), the art/calligraphy district, and the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. And we saw a few of my old renewable energy friends/colleagues.
The requisite Forbidden city shot (it was horribly hot - I can't begin to tell you how hot. I made my way same as I did back in 1991, from popsicle stand to popsicle stand. The cheap popsicles are 16 cents these days).
We saw my friends Xiao Gao and Dandan. We went to Houhai and pedaled a boat around the lake.
Leo soon had a new fan:
Xiao Gao is always too generous and this visit was no different. He took us to Da Dong which is one of the most famous Peking Duck restaurants in Beijing.
I've never had such fancy food. The lychees were served on a tray over dry ice so that it looked like they were smoking. The private room had real art and the fanciest bathroom I've ever seen. In fact the lid of the toilet automatically opens when you walk into the bathroom. Here's the server carving the roast duck:
It was so hot in Beijing, we had to do what Beijingers normally do in such situations - go to the mall! And what a mall. We went to Fangcaodi, which has real art. This is one of the probably ten Salvador Dali sculptures there:
Leo nearly got shot by a stormtrooper:
More art - this is a VW Bug:
They have a Din Tai Fung which is a chain of Taiwanese dumpling restaurants that is universally acclaimed. they have many different kinds including truffle dumplings. The dumplings are each folded 18 times. An assembly line of workers in a clean room is responsible for the scrumptious treats.
My friends Xiao Song and Xiao Hu and her family took us to the Great Wall over the weekend. They were over-the-top generous, driving us up and getting us the myriad of tickets that you need to get to take the bus to the Wall (you can no longer drive directly to the wall), get into the complex, take the cable up, and take the slide down. We drove up to Mutianyu which my friend Mikey had recommended for its alpine slide down the hill. It's also less touristy than Badaling but touristy enough to have a cable car up. The roads up were brand new and really nicely done. Apparently there is now a 7th ring road. I remember when the 4th ring road was in the middle of nowhere.
Xiao Hu and her family:
It was horridly hot. We made our way from one popsicle stand to the next. Prices started at 1Yuan (16 cents) at the base, went up to 5 on the Wall, got up to 10 at one of the midway towers and was 20 Yuan at the topmost tower that we reached. Needless to say, we weren't paying over $3 for a tiny popsicle. Leo did a great job hiking in the hot sun. He loves running up steep steps:
It was hard getting him down in the heat though. He just sort of melts if there is no challenge in sight.
Luckily we made it down just before the rain started.
Luckily we made it down just before the rain started.
I thought we ought to see some Chinese acrobatics since Leo has never seen them, but he preferred Kung fu. These shows are pricey now but still very well done:
Finally we managed to get Leo a chop (stamp with his name carved into it). He'd wanted one for a while. He doesn't know this but his Chinese name (ok, I never gave him a real Chinese name - I don't even have a Chinese name - so I call him Liu, which is my surname when you spell it properly) is the fourth most common name in China. We got the chop in Liulichang which is the calligraphy hutong that tourists frequented about 15 years ago. No one seems to go there now.
Tian'anmen Square was hot:
The Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) was hot too:
This is Leo's version of the temple:
We ended our stay by being nearly an hour late for dinner with Lao Li, an old work colleague. He had two parallel dinners going on in two private rooms so hopefully he was ok with us being late. It was still pretty embarrassing, however. Private rooms and fancy dinners and a lot of alcohol used to be the norm in business here. Now no one drinks because there is 'zero tolerance' for drunk drivers. And fancy dinners are less common as the government cracks down on the excesses that used to be the norm.
Beijingers are now so rich, they're traveling tons, even throughout China. Lao Li said it was a lot cheaper now to fly to Hokkaido, Japan for vacation than to go to Lijiang, Yunnan, China or Tibet. And certainly we saw very few caucasians, and tons of Chinese people in all tourist locations.
We talked about the old days when Lao Li, Xiao Song and Xiao Hu and I all used to work together. One summer, we had Xiao Song and Xiao Hu out to NREL for a sort of internship. I told them I missed them and asked how the new community was going. Apparently it's all different now. We decided we had been really lucky back then because we had such great camaraderie, we all knew each other's families, and we had so many adventures together.