The trip to Beijing was great, if short. I stayed there only one night, so it wasn't exactly relaxing, but it was still good to finally get out and see another part of China. I have over 200 pictures, even after deleting the awful ones, so choosing what to post won't be easy!
The high speed train took three hours from Jinan to Beijing. It was comfortable, with padded reclining seats. I didn't have a window seat either direction, so had to take pics when my seatmates went to the washroom. I discovered that the landscape between here and Beijing is as flat as Illinois. Here are a couple shots from the train.
This is a wheat region rather than a rice region. It looks like the first crop has been harvested, as I saw people burning stubble in the fields. I did see a number of other crops here and there as well, the most interesting being lotus (the roots are edible), which was grown in square fields among the other crops but these squares were dug out and filled with water. Lotus growing are very beautiful. Once in Japan I got to see some lotus in full bloom up close, which was unforgettable.
The Beijing train station is very modern and clean. The bright pictures are the waiting area and the dark picture is underground where it intersects with the subway system. The subway system is excellent in Beijing, it's even air conditioned (for which we were very grateful).
Be careful not to bleed on anyone while in the subway train!
We found our hotel without much problem, as it was within a block of the subway. The front facade and lobby were impressive, which my friend told me is pretty common here. The first photo is the main lobby, the second is the 7th floor lobby by the elevator. Love the antique cart used as a coffee table. There were a number of such relics in the main lobby too; the photo shows only the center section of the main lobby.
Our room was quite comfortable, and the furniture looked quaint with carved wooden headboards and fancy light fixtures. The bedding was good quality, which made me happy.
The bathroom... well, look at the pictures. I've never seen a shower crammed in like this before. The curtain goes in front of the counter, leaving the toilet and towel rack inside the "shower" area. The spray didn't hit the towels, but the toilet needed to be wiped down after showering. From what I've seen advertised, apparently having a shower in your room with hot water 24/7 isn't always available here, so I was happy to have it. Besides, where else can you sit on the toilet and wash your hair at the same time?
Just like in the US, the hotel provides a few things, such as toiletries, food, and other items, which, if you are not careful, you could end up paying outrageous charges for. There was a price sheet on the table, from which I was able to determine by process of elimination which things we could use free of charge. Here are some of the things that we could pay outrageous prices for. I love the names on some of these things. I had to look at the picture of "closestool cushion" to figure out what it was, and "hair and body shower juice" gives me a shiver.
After settling in, we went out around noon to explore the surrounding area. While looking for a place to get some food, we found this interesting old building, which is currently serving as a college of medicine. My friend told me that the number of animals on the corners of the roof ridges used to be an indicator of the building's importance and this one had five, so it must have been at one time quite important.
Also similar to at home, lifelike, life-size bronze statues are scattered around here and there, and they are very popular. People were constantly taking one another's photo standing with or sitting on the statues. This one is a man holding a tray of baozi (steamed dumplings).
Just across from this building we found a pizza restaurant and had some lunch. No, pizza is not like it is in the US, but we enjoyed it anyway. We then went to a couple of bookshops where I got some maps, children's books (Dr. Suess) and a dictionary, and on the way back to the hotel, we found this funky little Bohemian pub. The signs outside were hand painted on burlap. The art inside the pub is the most creative and crazy thing my colleague and I have seen so far in China, and we loved it. The sign advertised two beers for the price of one, which turned out to be a good thing as one beer was double the prices we are used to in Jinan. We figured it was worth paying the inflated price to support such a cool, creative place and for the smiles it gave us.
After hanging out here for a while, we headed over to the Silk Market. Don't let the name fool you, there is little silk to be found there. It's on a street called Silk Street, and is a market for tourists, a huge building filled with stalls selling every manner of item - shoes, luggage, clothing, jewelry, toys, porcelain, teapots, you name it. The building has several floors and is the modern, compact version of a street market. Every stall has someone who will chase after you. "Hey lady, you need some shoes?" "Hey lady, look, nice bags." It was quite exhausting. You are expected to haggle over the price of almost everything (tea was an exception). I bought some Ecco sandals straight away before I realized just how much they inflate their prices; I got a good deal by US prices, but I could still have gotten them for much less. (I discovered this by watching my colleague shop.)
There was one stall with bolts of silk fabric. I took a photo of this dress they had on display because I liked the style, but you can see the rolls of fabric behind it.
I also learned a valuable lesson when I had to carry my backpack with all my clothing and the additional books and shoes in it around the Summer Palace the following day... in the future, I will do my shopping at the END of the trip.
Of course, I took a ton of pictures at the Summer Palace too, but I've had enough blogging for now, so will upload them later.
As for my health, I'm feeling much better, although still not as well rested as I would like. The cough and cold symptoms seem to be gone now; I'm afraid to even mention it lest I jinx myself!