Monday, February 28, 2011


As mentioned in my last post, we went out for Peking Duck and the restaurant had the BEST Engrish menu I've ever seen. For the uninitiated, Engrish is 'unusual English originating in East Asian countries.' Some great places to view this phenomenon are and, or this one restaurant on Nan He Yan Road in Beijing.

Yes, that last word is 'boner.'

It's a turtle :(

And finally, a bonus sign from the Beijing Zoo:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

I Need More Names for my Beijing Posts - Part 6

When we left Lama Temple and the surrounds, we met up with our friends at the hostel and commenced proper New Years celebrations - drinking and fireworks! First we went out for dinner, to a place recommended by our hostel. The main item on the menu was Peking Duck (we got four for under $100, a bargain) but the best items were in Engrish. I spent a good 10 minutes taking pictures and I intend to put them all in a post somewhere. Here's my favourite:

On our way back to the hostel we passed something which seemed to be a designated let-fireworks-off street. There was a small stall selling them for cheap and a few policemen keeping their eyes on the festivities. Every few minutes, someone would walk down from the apartments nearby with an armload of fireworks and spend a good amount of time setting them up before letting them off. As soon as one cacophony of explosions finished, another one would begin. The street filled up with smoke and bright bits of paper, and more than once we were hit with flying debris. We bought a few fireworks of our own in preparation, and our hostel  put on a little display in the alleyway outside. 

Roman candles: $2.50. Five metre roll of crackers: $4. Chance to use MasterCard slogan: Priceless.

Then: drinking! We gathered up the cups from our rooms and banded together to drink 40c Tsingtao and Baijiu, Baijiu is China's soju, but it's lethal. The stuff we got was some horrible percentage of alcohol (Baijiu is between 40 and 60%) and it made me make this face afterwards:

But we are New Zealanders, and years of drinking Kristov and Tui have prepared us for booze like this. We started the evening like this:

A few hours later we looked like this:

And in the morning we all ended up looking a lot like I did, three photos up. Because I still want to have SOME stories to tell when I get back to New Zealand, this will have to suffice: At one point a few of our group had a Roman Candle fight, one person bit another and then poured their own drinks at the bar. One lovely fellow forgot how to play the guitar and yet another tried to steal the fire extinguisher. One likely lass put herself to bed and missed half the fun. It was a much needed improvement on our awful morning.

Beijingaling - Part 5

New Years Eve in Beijing was awesome and awful. We experienced the awful part first.

Although they have fireworks and drinking in common, New Years in China is a little different than in New Zealand. It's a time for Chinese people to visit their families and celebrate together (read the Wikipedia article for more detail!) So many people travel during this period that the process has a name: Chunyun. Work days are altered in order for people to make it home in time for the Eve, and many of the local attractions close early. We didn't know any of this when we woke up early to continue our exploration of Beijing.

The first stop was Tiananmen Square, a 'short' walk from our hostel. The square had been closed for the past few days so we were able to look around for the first time. The reports are true, it's really big. We were hoping to see the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall (as the Aussies had recommended it over Christmas) but we were in for our first disappointment of the day. It was closed, and it wouldn't be reopened until after the 15-day holiday period was over.

Still full of tourists.
Disappointed but not defeated, we crossed the road to give the Forbidden City a go. The entrance was teeming with people - one of them was helping his kid pee on the gate - and following the advice of the Lonely Planet we walked through the first two gates until we reached the proper entrance to the city itself. There were a few men standing outside the gate, preventing people from entering much to the befuddlement of Chinese and Western tourists alike. After failing to find an open ticket booth or any answers, we flagged down a German tourist and he suggested we give the north gate a go. 

The Forbidden City is HUGE, so instead of walking around we caught a cab to the far end and tried to get in again. After deciphering a sign written in Chinese, we realised that the City was closing for the day and we wouldn't be able to get in. Damn.

A little defeated, we consulted our list of attractions-to-see and got on the subway towards Lama Temple and Ditan Park. The park has a festival over the New Year period which sounded awesome, and it's a little harder to close a park.

Are you picking up a theme? The festival was a bit of a disappointment. Aside from some cool food stalls and lantern displays, it was more like a carnival. There were shooting galleries and clown games and hoop games, it just seemed cheesy and Western. Here are a few pictures of the good bits:

After spending a few yuan on some food at the stalls, we walked towards Lama Temple. The temple is one of the largest and most important Buddhist temples in the world, and guess what? It was closed too. The incense stalls which lined the street outside were open though, and this is where Beijing started to become more awesome.

According to Chinese mythology, the New Year period began with a fight against a beast called the Nian. The Nian would attack and devour crops, livestock, villagers and delicious juicy children. To protect themselves, villagers would wear red and make heaps of noise. The solution: red fireworks! Chinese people roll out metres and metres of firecrackers and set them off throughout the day outside their stores and apartment blocks. We wandered away from the temple feeling dejected and entered a bit of a warzone - gunpowder filled the air, all we could hear were loud explosions and the ground was covered in burn marks and red paper. 

Incense lined up for sale.

This little Chub was sooo cute!
In the interests of keeping my blog posts short(er), the awesome part will be continued in the next blog entry.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Korean Snakebite

Mix equal parts Chilsung Cider and crappy Korean beer, add a shot of soju and drink.


This beverage may cause you to break into the swimming pool at your hotel so you can go for a swim at 3am.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Yeah Beijing! - Part 4

To continue the theme of excessive walking which permeated our visit to Beijing, on the Tuesday after we arrived we visited the Summer Palace, haven for Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing Dynasty. The palace started out as the Garden of Clear Ripples and was first built in 1750, and it covers 290 hectares. The grounds are three-quarters water - in the form of the manmade Kunming Lake. The lake covers just over two square kilometres and is about a metre and a half deep, the excavated earth was used to build the palace's other major feature - Longevity Hill.

And now that I've bored you with facts cribbed from the internet, on to the actual palace. Entry is about Y30 ($6) and we paid an extra Y30 for a through ticket, which let us in to a few extra areas, like galleries and gardens. Like everything else in China, the Summer Palace is HUGE and we spent about 6 hours walking the grounds. It was a walk just to get to the palace in the first place, the entrance is located about a kilometre from the subway exit and we ended up just following the crowds as there weren't any decent signs and the Lonely Planet sucks (see the previous entry for more details about how much.) 

About here I have a confession. I found the Summer Palace to be a little boring. In part, it's because it's the Summer Palace. As we were in Beijing during the bleakest part of winter, the lake was completely frozen and the trees were leafless and the gardens were fairly blah. A lot of the cool activites you can do at the palace - like paddle boat across the lake! - were closed because it's winter. I was also suffering from what I call 'temple temple temple,' everything started to look the same and I couldn't appreciate the interesting bits because I was all templed out. In Europe this phenomenon is called 'church church church' or 'museum museum museum'. The third (and probably biggest) factor was that this was my fourth day of just walking around and looking at stuff. I'm lazy as hell and going from deskwarming to walking for 10 hours a day was a bit of a shock to the system. 

The highlight of our day here was the frozen lake. On one side of the island in the middle, you could rent some sled-type contraptions for Y25 ($5) and slide around the lake, which kept the four of us entertained for half an hour. Somehow I forgot to take pictures, probably because I was busy shrieking like a 6 year old after some raspberry fizzy. Below are a few pictures of stuff I liked.

The beautiful Seventeen-Arch Bridge leading to Nanhu Island.

View from Nanhu Island to Longevity Hill, across the frozen Kunming Lake.

Ignoring the 'Don't walk on the ice' signs everywhere, we walked on the ice.

Photo taken mid ice-walk, looking at the Jade Bridge.

Looking back over the lake. The cluster of black specks near the island are people on sleds.

The Marble Boat

The Long Corridor, it stretches for over 700 metres and has 14,000 individual paintings.

This guy. Look at those PANTS!

The steep ascent to the Tower of Buddhist Incense

To summarise: the Summer Palace would probably be magnificent in summer. It was pretty good in winter but I wasn't in the mood for it. I'm quite keen to head back to Beijing in summer so I can see it in the right conditions.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Kia Ora Beijing - Part 3

After enjoying several hours at the Beijing Zoo, we moved on to the freaking sweet Beijing Aquarium. It's set in the back of the zoo grounds and matching the immense zoo it's the largest inland aquarium in the world, covering 12 hectares. As I mentioned in my zoo post, the entrance fee is pretty hefty at Y100 ($19), but the aquarium puts Kelly Tarltons to shame.

I've been wanting to go to an aquarium for ages, and after two failed attempts in Seoul (one on Christmas Day, when the line was sickeningly long, another a few weeks later, when we arrived just as the place was being closed for the night) I was determined to see this one. In fact, it was the only thing I requested we visit in Beijing. Before you're horrified, Lauren and Tom had amassed a list of attractions which encompassed pretty much everything else.

The first thing you see when you get inside is the 'Rainforest Adventure' and although I'm fairly sure you can't find them in the Amazon there are massive tanks writhing with koi carp. Apparently you can buy some pellets to feed them and it must be a popular practice, judging by how nuts the fish went when I leaned over to get a better look into the tank.

Here's a picture of the HUGE carp that I babble about in the video, to prove it's real. Those other carp are normal sized (about 30cm long) to give a bit of scale.

The 'Rainforest Adventure' became less rainforesty as we continued walking, but as I am a small child inside a 26 year old's body it was still an adventure for me. Also included in the rainforest were:

Some surprised looking goldfish (what goldfish aren't surprised, really?)

These colourful little dudes

Giant mystery fish and their catfish friends
Lauren and I were utterly disappointed when we realised there weren't any piranhas. Take note, Beijing Aquarium!

After leaving the 'rainforest' we walked past the 'Tidal Encounter' where for about Y15 ($3) you can feed a few different sea creatures, including some turtles. We bypassed the Encounter and bought ourselves some icecream, before spending a good 10 minutes infatuated with a large tank at the end of a giant hallway. Inside the tank, twisting and dancing in the blue water were two Beluga whales. There was a soldier standing guard who paced past us a few times as we watched. It was mesmerising.

After tearing ourselves away from the Beluga, we explored the rest of the aquarium. the sheer number of creatures on offer was impressive and I had to tell myself to stop taking so many photographs. Unfortunately most of the photographs I took were wobbly and out of focus as my camera kinda sucks. Below are a few of the good ones, most of them were taken in the 'Wonder of Coral Reefs' section which was huge and awesome, like the rest of the aquarium. I like looking at integrated enclosures and this was right up my alley. I also missed out on diving when we were in the Philippines (Tom still needs to write about that...) so this tank almost made up for it.

I think I stopped taking pictures at this point which was a bit of a shame, as one of my favourite things about the aquarium was the Marine Mammal Pavilion. The Pavilion includes a 3,000 seat theatre where dolphins and sea lions perform tricks a few times a day during the high season. As it was low season, the theatre was deserted except for one lone soldier and a few dolphins. I didn't end up visiting Olympic Park but I feel like the Park and the Pavilion had something in common - huge, empty, expensive spaces that are practically useless most of the time.

I feel like I've done a terrible job of documenting this truly awesome aquarium. My photographs don't do it justice, but I can say that the entrance fee was worth it. We spent about two hours wandering the halls and it was fascinating, the two Seoul aquariums have a lot to live up to.

My favourite thing about Korea right now

I can pick up 750g of these beauties from an ajosshi on my walk home, and it only sets me back 4000 won. Tom and I have eaten about 6 punnets in the last week. Worth. It.

Now back to Beijing.

Obligatory Great Wall Post

I recently wrote an essay for, which you can read here. Anyway, China...

Thanks to prompting from xkcd and the peculiarities of the Korean education system, we've both spent a bit of time lately deskwarming and reading the Wikipedia article List of Common Misconceptions. There are three in particular that are important. The first is that the Great Wall is visible from the moon, obviously bollocks since it's no wider than an ordinary road. The second is the idea of the "Great Wall" itself; it'is not one structure but many different walls built over many centuries for a number of reasons (admittedly a lot of those reasons are of the "keeping the Mongols out" genre). The biggest misconception about the Great Wall is that Lonely Planet City Guide: Beijing will tell you how to get there.

That last one isn't in the Wikipedia article (yet), but it might turn up in an angry email to Lonely Planet depending on how bored I am at school this week. There was a homeless guy we ran into one night outside our hostel, and I think his advice for Great Wall visits (limited as it was to falling off his bike and grabbing people inappropriately) would be more useful than Lonely Planet's.

We decided to make two visits to the wall, one to a restored touristy section and another to an original unrestored part. We skipped Badaling, the most commonly visited part of the wall, because it looks like this:

No thanks.

We decided the Mutianyu section would be a better bet for our touristy visit and headed there first. On the advice of our faithful travelling companion we caught the bus out to a town called Huairou, about an hour out of Beijing. This would be fine except that LP says to catch the express bus, but gives you no idea which one that is.

From Huairou we were supposed to get a minibus to Mutianyu for Y25 (about $5). A minibus driver found us on the bus, but it turned out that both he and the LP use the word "minibus" to mean "some guy's smelly car with no seatbelts." As it turned out, he was really helpful, waiting for us while we were at the wall and helping us find the bus to get back, but it was pure luck that we got him and not (spoiler alert) a dangerous lunatic.

Anyway, the wall was amazing. We took the cable car up - not very authentic but great views -and we were pleased to find the place not too busy. We stayed up there for a couple of hours walking around, taking photos, and agreeing that it was a bad idea to climb up the massive steep hill section.

Bloody tourists.

The slogan in the top left means "Stay loyal to Chairman Mao". Pro tip: save money by eavesdropping on other people's tour guides.

There was also a donkey.

Because Mutianyu is one of the more touristy parts of the wall and China has an awesomely misguided approach to preserving its history, we rode a toboggan down the hill. It wasn't a real toboggan - more a big metal slide that you rode down on a small cart - but it was real fun. Yay, history!

The choice for our "old wall" visit a few days later was made for us, but we weren't disappointed. The Simitai section was closed and our friends at LP had neglected to include any useful information to go with the pictures of Jinshanling, so we settled on the out of the way and officially closed Huanghua.

On the same bus to Huairou I was accosted by some Chinese dude who got on the bus just to yell at me to go with him to the wall. Uh. No thanks, crazy man. At the real bus stop we found a familiar lack of minibuses, plus a group of middle aged Chinese men waving their arms wildly and yelling "minibus" at us. They were a hassle to negotiate with but we eventually got a return trip for the same price we paid to go to Mutianyu.

There were five of us this time so we had to split up and take the two dirtiest cars in China. Again there were no seatbelts and the car smelt awful, but that was where the similarity with our other driver ended. At the first intersection he came within inches of causing two accidents. He drove fast and stupid, passing everyone in sight and narrowly avoiding several head-on collisions. Judging by the lunatic grin on his face he seemed to get a kick out of playing scare the white people.

Lucky to be alive, we arrived at Huanghua. Unlike Mutianyu, which runs along a stretch of rolling hills, Huanghua is at the bottom of a steep valley, with sections of wall climbing the hill on either side. It's quite beautiful, particularly as you get further up and can see more of the wall snake away in the distance. This part of the wall is officially closed, but the locals will let you in for Y2 (40 cents). We set off up the more accessible eastern side, which involves walking across a dam, scrambling up a steep hillside and then climbing a dodgy ladder up to one of the watchtowers and onto the wall.

Huanghua is the wild wall in all its shabby (mostly) unrestored glory. It feels much more authentic than Mutianyu, with crumbling towers and big bits missing from the sides. It's also really steep so we didn't walk too far, but we still got some sweet views. Past where we walked we could see an even more rugged section of wall that seemed to be fading back into the wilderness.

Building a huge slide on the wall is, apparently, fine.

On the way back down we bypassed the ladder and used the other access: through someone's backyard. We were charged another Y2 for the privilege by an old Chinese woman who handed us tickets with "Y2" printed on them. In what must be one of the world's least rewarding scams we were charged again when we got to a gate at the bottom of the hill. The man at the gate said our other tickets were no good, and pocketed another Y2 from each of us. Still, it's hard to be too annoyed when you're ripped off to the tune of eighty cents.

We swapped cars for the drive back and it was much less terrifying - I even got a seatbelt! When we got back to Huairou but the drivers insisted we owed them more money than we had agreed to, even calling someone who spoke no more English than they did (essentially none) to try to explain it. We figured this was all an act when they weren't prepared to walk across the street after us.

Overall the Great Wall was an amazing experience, just leave the Lonely Planet at home and be prepared for some interesting (read: terrifying) transport.