Some Down Time in Hong Kong

It was time for me to adventure out in my own since Leslie had to go to work. I decided to take the day and head to Kowloon and conquer the Ladies Market. I had a friend that requested a few items and I took my negotiation skills and pictures to the market to find some purses and belts!

The market was not nearly as overwhelming as Beijing or Shanghai but walking through the streets, a constant comment of “copy bag or copy sunglasses” was whispered under hushed breath breath. I was looking at some sunglasses just because I thought they were cute and the guy asked to see my Jimmy Choos I was wearing and told me he had a copy. I pointed and said “these are real” and walked away.

Having had my adventure and also just wandering the streets, I relaxed a little bit back at the house before heading to dinner at Oola Petite. This is another local spot for Leslie and we opted to order some fajitas. With all the various cuisines I was consuming, why not throw some Mexican in there?

The next day Leslie had to work again and I was just plain old tired. I took the day to Netflix and chill. When Leslie got off work, we went to dinner for bottomless sushi! It would seem my last few days were focused on food which is absolutely okay with me!

Rodeo Drive in China

Waking up in Shanghai at the JC Mandarin was like waking up on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Outside the window was Cartier, Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and almost any other designer you could imagine. This was a vast contrast to the ancient architecture of Beijing.

Shanghai literally means “above the sea,” and is China’s largest and most dynamic city with a population of over 23,000,000 people! One of the most popular stops in Shanghai is the Bund which divides old Shanghai and new Shanghai where you can see the western commercial influence and power by the number of hotels, banks, offices and clubs.

Shanghai166

After a walk along the Bund we went to visit the Oriental Pearl Tower  and the Shanghai Municipal Wax Museum. The Pearl Tower offers amazing 360-degree views of Shanghai. It was only once I saw the vastness of Shanghai from this view that I was truly able to grasp how large the city really is.

131

After viewing the city we were able to head one floor down (about 88 stories) and walk along a glass floor and look at the city in a different way. Needless to say this was an experience I will not forget!

140 142

The last stop was the Shanghai Wax Museum which was fun but nothing to write home about. The best part was upon the exit where there was a Spiderman exhibit and the option to take silly pictures!

154153

 

We had an option to attend a Shanghai Acrobatics Show that included plate twirling, hat dancing, motorcycles, bicycles and of course ton of acrobatics. It was an entertaining show and reminded me a lot of Cirque Du Soleil. Finally, we had to go to a local bar we had walked by just because of the name! It was a fantastic first day in Shanghai!

170 169

 

 

Temples and shops and palaces, oh my.

Day 5 brought us to our last few sites in Beijing before our flight to Shanghai. We stopped by the Temple of Heaven, the Pearl Shop and the Summer Palace.

At the Temple of Heaven during the winter solstice, the Ming and Qing emperors would perform rites and make sacrifices to Heaven praying for good harvest for their entire empire. The most striking edifice is the “Hall of Prayer of Good Harvests,” which according to the emperor’s Fengshui masters, is the exact point where heaven and Earth met. Built in 1420 this masterpiece of Ming architecture, features triple eaves, dramatically carved marble balustrades, and a gorgeous glazed azure roof that symbolizes the color of heaven.

127

After our visit to the Temple of Heaven we made a stop at the pearl shop for a tour and education all about pearls. China has some of the highest quality pearls in the world due to the ideal climate in Southern China. China was the first country to develop cultured pearls in as early as 1082. If you want to know how to tell if a pearl is real or fake, you can rub one against your tooth and see if it has a gritty texture. However, many retailers may not approve of you biting on their pearls so rub them together and there should be some friction between them. Never get duped again!

Our last stop in Beijing was the Summer Palace which was the summer retreat and playground for the imperial family and royal court during the late Qing dynasty. This is most famous for Empress Dowager Cixi‘s rebuilding of the palace after it was destroyed by the British and French troops in 1860.

128photo

Finally, it was time to jump on our flight and head to Shanghai!

 

You are not a hero until you climb the Great Wall

Chairman Mao said, “You are not a hero until you climb the Great Wall.” There are various interpretations of this quote but the general idea is there.

Day 3 in Beijing had a lot in store for us. We started with a trip to the Sacred Way of Ming Tombs followed by a visit to the Jade Store and a hike of the Great Wall that ended with a photo opportunity of the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube.

The Ming Tombs were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in August 2003. They were listed along with other tombs under the “Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties” designation. It was a beautiful day to stroll through the various statues.

085 091094 099

On our way to the Great Wall we stopped at the Jade Store to learn about various types of jade as well as how to tell if jade is real or fake. If you hold jade up to the light, you should be able to see imperfections in the stone. If there are no imperfections you probably have a plastic or glass manufactured piece. While on our tour of the jade store, we learned that jade is an ever growing commodity and a great investment as the price is not depreciating. However, I would do a little research before selling my stocks and investing in jade!

The Great Wall begun construction in the 5th century BC to keep out foreign invaders. Construction continued for centuries, eventually linking up the walls of the former independent kingdoms. The Great Wall meanders through China’s northern mountain ranges from the Yellow Sea to the Gobi Desert which is over 3,500 miles! There are various sections of the Great Wall that you are able to climb and we were taken to the Badaling section. When you get to this section you can choose the easy side or the harder side. We were told the harder side had less people and of course we opted for that. There are no words to describe the feeling that came over me when I reached the end of the Great Wall and took a moment to sit and reflect on all the history under foot.

101 104 yay106 109 111

I didn’t think there could be anything else to see that would follow up a day at the Great Wall, but I am obsessed with the Olympics. We had a moment to stop and visit the site of the 2008 Summer Olympics and see the Beijing National Stadium as well as the Beijing National Aquatics Center. I went to USC and thus I have had the opportunity to constantly visit the 1984 Olympic Coliseum, but the Bird’s Nest puts that one to shame!

photo (22) 124

Finally, we were back at our hotel where in room one-hour reflexology massages were offered for an incredibly cheap price. Kalindra and I both indulged and felt immediately relaxed after all the walking we had incurred.

Since our first duck dinner was not the “traditional” peking duck, we thought we would try one more time to see what it was all about. As far as duck goes, I can say it was quite delicious but I am not the biggest fan.

This was one of the best days I have had in any country I have been to!

Chinese lesson of the day – Thank you – Xie xie

Beijing’s Imperial Treasures

Day 2 in Beijing was the first official day of our tour. Included in our great deal from ChinaSpree was breakfast at the hotel every morning. There were options of Western as well as Chinese meals and coffee and tea and juice. Needless to say, breakfast really became the most important part of this trip with the very long hours of tours.

Day 2 was a tour of Beijing’s imperial treasures; Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. I would suggest reading more about each of these in detail on Wikipedia.

Tiananmen Square is a large city square in the center of Beijing named after the Tiananmen Gate (Gate of Heavenly Peace) located to its North, separating it from the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square is the third largest city square in the world covering 109 acres and capable of holding a million people. Many people come to visit Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum or take a picture under the famed portrait of Chairman Mao. Mao is the founding father of the People’s Republic of China established in 1949. The beginning of the People’s Republic of China also marked the end of the Qing Dynasty with Emperor Puyi as the last emperor (more on him later and also check out the 1987 drama The Last Emporer directed by Bernardo Bertolucci).

059064

There was a wicked cold breeze throughout the day and Kalindra and I had to get very creative with our scarves. Needless to say, people were staring at us and a few asked to take our picture.

The Forbidden City is a 9,999 room compound where the 24 emperors of the Ming And Qing Dynasties ruled for nearly 500 years. Although the 9,999 rooms is more of an oral tradition as the celestial emperor is said to have 10,000 rooms and thus the emperor could have one room less. The actual number of rooms is 8,886. In 1987, UNESCO considered the Forbidden City a World Heritage site as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

070 071 073 068

Yellow is the color of the emperor and thus all the roofs will be yellow in the Forbidden City. You will not find this color roof anywhere else except at the Beijing Temple of Confucius. Emperor Puyi was a young emperor that liked to ride his bike throughout the palace. The thresholds often got in his way and he would ask them to be removed which was against tradition. One of the buildings where he liked to ride his bike “accidentally” burned down one day, and many say this allowed the evil spirits into the palace and this is the reason Puyi was the last emperor of China.

After an incredibly interesting day, we had the evening off and once again, Ian came to the rescue with his girlfriend Leslie, and took us out for hotpot at Haidilao. If you have never tried hotpot then I suggest you find one in your area as it is absolutely amazing!

084

Baijiu is a Chinese liquor distilled from sorghum. You have to taste it to understand it but Ian insisted that we try it.

079

Chinese lesson of the day – When looking for a man they must have the 4C’s: Car, Career, Credit Card and Condo

One night in Beijing makes a hard man humble?

My first day in Beijing may be one of the longest days I have ever had in a country. 5:00am arrival with a 1:30am bed time that evening. Somehow, Kalindra and I managed to stay very busy!

We arrived to the Traders Hotel Beijing around 7:30am. Unfortunately, our room would not be ready until about 2:30pm so we took off on our first China adventure. We stumbled across one of the only places open for breakfast on our way to the Silk Market and had the choice of noodles, congee or some Chinese steamed buns. Nothing like jumping straight into a local breakfast on day 1! The Silk Market is absolute insanity and also referred to as the knock-off market. Louis, Gucci, Prada, Hermes, Goyard oh my! They were all there and ready to be negotiated for. Purses, scarves, shoes, clothes, jewelry and anything else you can imagine were displayed in all their glory. Had we not been so exhausted I am sure we would have done a bit more shopping damage but instead we only walked out with a few items. However, after a few hours of browsing we jumped on the subway to head to the Lama Temple.

Figuring out our subway route

The Yonghe Temple also known as the “Lama Temple”, is a temple and monastery of the Geluk School of Tibetan Buddhism located in the northeastern part of BeijingChina. The building and the artworks of the temple is a combination of Han Chinese and Tibetan styles. Inside the temple is a Guinness Book of World Records holder for a 26m tall White Sandalwood statue of the Maitreya Buddha.

Guinness Book of World Records holder.

Lama Temple

It was getting to be check in time and we had to shower and get ready to meet my friend Ian from college who now lives in Beijing. There is something to be said about a local to show you around a foreign country. We  went to the following places:

1) Atmosphere – This is the highest bar in Beijing and really offered us amazing views for sunset.

2) Masuka – One of Ian’s friends said we had to stop by this place as they had the best draft beer and then we could brainstorm about our dinner options.

3) Hong Lu – We wanted some peking duck and luckily we were with people who spoke Chinese because they ordered for us and the food just kept coming. We had a smoked duck which was not the traditional peking duck and an array of other dishes.

4) Migas – Continuing on our tour of local Beijing nightlife, we were taken to Migas which is a gorgeous rooftop restaurant and bar. It was a freezing cold and windy night and this place was super warm and a nice reprieve from the bone chilling wind.

5) Heaven – I don’t even know where to start in describing this place. This is a liquor store with tables that basically becomes a bar. Tons of expats go to this bar and they have sort of taken it over as their place to go.

6) Mix – Ian was determined to show us various aspects of Beijing and thus we ended up at Mix which is a Chinese nightclub. There were multiple rooms with different DJs in each room and music so loud that we could not hear each other think. We didn’t last long here.

035

7) Chocolate – This little Russian night club was quite the gem that even included a cabaret show. During World War II there was a large migration of Russians into China which led to a mix of Russian-Chinese relationships and children. The mix is absolutely beautiful! Ian’s girlfriend also met us at this club to wind down the night.

Finally, the day caught up with us and it was time for bed. All and all, I think we had an awesome first day adventure in Beijing!

Chinese lesson for the day. Hello – Ni Hao

A quick trip to China? Why not?

I found myself taking a quick trip to China because of an amazing deal I found on Travelzoo for ChinaSpree. My good friend Kalindra decided to be my partner in crime for this epic adventure and we really had no idea what we were getting into.

20131118-153650.jpg
ChinaSpree is a great organization that plans everything for you from getting your visa, to arranging your arrival and departure, to securing your entrance fees and arranging everything at your hotel. We basically just had to pay our money and show up to the airport!

Our flight left at 12:40am on November 8th for a 12.5 hour flight from Los Angeles to Beijing. This means we were up all day Thursday to catch our flight early Friday morning that then landed in Beijing around 5:00am Saturday morning.

The trip started with Kalindra forgetting her carry on at security and then a gentleman anonymously buying us a burger at the airport. The flight was relatively uneventful until Kalindra threw my neck pillow across the plane and we had a small giggle fit. If this was a sign of anything to come then we knew we were in for a crazy 7 days! Stay tuned over the next few days for the adventures that occurred in Beijing and Shanghai!

Be seeing you. I hope not sporadically.

Part of the fun of traveling is being spontaneous. Travelzoo is one of the best sites to inspire a spontaneous trip if there is a little flexibility with your work schedule or if you just want to have a little fun. Last year I found out about a crazy airfare deal to Peru around 8:00am and had my flight booked by 5:00pm that evening. Apparently there was a glitch in the airline system and the rates were incorrect, but they had to honor the reservations that were made. Some people went to book this deal later on and it was GONE!

Travelzoo sends emails everyday or once a week or however often you choose and they always have tempting deals. This year I received an email from Travelzoo that caught my eye for a 9 day trip to China inclusive of airfare, hotels, tours and some meals through China Spree that was beyond cheap! Obviously I had to book it! Stay tuned for updates about that trip in the next few weeks!

Be spontaneous! Be adventurous! Be daring! And hopefully, I’ll be seeing you.