Massage is very popular in China and very different from the types I am familiar with. China is full of ?¢‚Ç¨?ìBlind Massage?¢‚Ç¨¬ù shops and people stop you on the street to persuade you to get a face or foot massage.
Chinese massage is a pulse point based massage, not relaxing massage. People get these massages as a part of their regular health regime. Many of the Blind massage parlors are just a great big room with many tables. People come and go like crazy, TV or radio playing and cell phones like crazy. I wasn?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t sure I was ready for such a Chinese experience and went for a more moderate first try.
I went to a Japanese style massage parlor called Ming Massage. Ming offers two types of massage, foot massage and body massage. Each costs $100 rmb ($12) or you can get a Ming special for $188 rmb. Ming offers a special for women from 1-4:00 PM where I actually got the Ming special for $142 rmb (about $17).
I arrived at Ming and got changed into the cotton pajamas provided. The slippers are also very nice. My massage experience began with walking back to the foot massage area. In the Japanese style, there is a waterfall ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú sort of like a river, with a small bridge. There were candles, soft lighting and soft music.
Seated in my chair, the foot massage began with a glass of lemongrass teas and a soak in a cedar bucket. The water in the bucket is heated with hot rocks, and actually was quite hot. After the soak, my feet were wrapped in towels, then individually moisturized and massaged. Massaging the pulse points hurt slightly, every now and then but on the whole it was a terrific experience. I even fell asleep toward the end of the massage. For the last 10 minutes, my legs were wrapped in hot towels. It was an amazing experience.
At the end of the first hour, I moved to the massage table. Most of the body massage is based on the back. But toward the end I actually sat up and the massage therapist got on the table to get a different angle. It was impressive.
After the massage, as usual I felt slightly disoriented ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú like always, but later I was not as tired as typically after a massage. I did sleep great ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú and I suspect this $18-$20 pleasure will be an amazing way to overcome jet lag.
Beijing ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú China?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s Capital
Beijing, formerly known as Peking is the capital of the People?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s Republic of China. Thinking of it as the nation?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s capital really helps you take it all in with perspective. Visiting Beijing, especially the Forbidden City/Tian?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢anmen Square area is like visiting Washington DC. Visiting Mao is like visiting the Lincoln Memorial.
More than anything, Beijing is a major modern city. All of China, at least all the parts we have visited, is getting ready for the 2008 Olympics, but in Beijing, this means the whole city is getting ready, not just the sports areas and arenas. The whole city. There is construction going on, which seems to be everywhere in China. And, there are many people hoping to sell you anything, or take you anywhere, or just get you to spend some money with them. In some ways, this is not so different from visiting Washington DC.
Many, many tourists visit Beijing, and not just foreigners. It is the top destination for Chinese visitors as well. Considering this, I would think it would be easier to get around. It?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s not impossible, but we found it more difficult than Shanghai.
History of Beijing
Generally historians agree that Beijing was first settled around 1000 BC, making it a truly ancient city. The Chinese government records 1045 BC as the official beginning of Beijing. The Jin dynasty as recorded by the Chinese was the first to claim Beijing as the capital in 1115 AD.
Restaurants in Beijing
Lonely Planet is almost always our start guide for restaurants and travel and Beijing is no exception. We found several nice restaurants for this trip in our guide.
The Taj Pavilion is an Indian restaurant located in the China World Trade Center, right by our Hotel. This was possibly the best Indian food we?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ve had in China. We loved it, thank Lonely Planet for their help, and recommend it strongly.
Another recommendation was the Metro Caf?É¬©. This was an Italian recommendation, we had some difficulty finding this restaurant, but honestly I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢m not sure it is difficult to find. I think our taxi just didn?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t want to go quite all the way there, or was possibly confused. We almost gave up, but I was glad we didn?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t. I had a pretty good tomato mozzarella salad and nice ravioli. I also had some nicely chilled white wine.
Our first night in Beijing we set out for the bar district. This was difficult too, again possibly our Chinese, or our taxi driver, or the directions the hotel gave us ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢m not sure. I ended up calling this restaurant from about two blocks away, and the directions I got were ?¢‚Ç¨?ìLook down the street, see that small street to the right with no signs? Turn there and start walking. Soon you?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ll see us.?¢‚Ç¨¬ù This was especially difficult since I had not brought the official name or address of the restaurant in English. Again, we almost gave up. The restaurant was called Hidden Tree. We had a nice thin crust pizza, half of the pizza was with a 4-cheese topping, I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢m not sure what was bad about it, but it definitely had to do with the blue cheese. Stay away from that one, allow some time at this restaurant for people watching ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú and bring the address.
I had read in several sources about a meat pie called roubing ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú supposed to be cooked bread filled with shredded pork, a popular street food in Beijing, we did not eat any street food, but I did east this specialty in the Food Mall of the Oriental Plaza. I really enjoyed this food mall ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú they had every type of Asian food in a great big cafeteria. I especially liked this pork dish, in fact I got it two days in a row. It was shredded pork, not like hamburger, more like chopped pork, and was mixed with cilantro. The cooked bread I would describe as a cross between a pita and an English muffin. I also had a terrific squid, with Sichuan pepper. This food mall included all the usual suspects as well, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds, Papa Beard, Gill Wonton, Baskin Robbins, several Thai and any number of Chinese restaurants. And something with curry ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢m not sure which one, but I could smell it.
The Chinese restaurant in our hotel ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú This sounds somewhat boring, but we had the most amazing scallops ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú huge, and still attached to their shells. With some type of red pepper and lots of garlic. When Dean ordered two orders, each order consisted of two scallops, the waiter was surprised. The size of the scallops, when they arrived surprised us. One would have been enough. The duck was good and we also enjoyed some eggplant.
Tian?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢anmen is a giant area; this is the part that seemed most like the Capital to me. This area is more than 108 acres. The concrete portion of the square is Mao?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s vision and development, but this Public Square and center of the government has been here for many years. You can also experience the tradition of kite flying here, although at least half the people flying kites are actually trying to sell one to you, not just flying them for their own enjoyment. You will also be asked to buy many other things in this square, Chinese flags, Beijing books, watches and possibly Beijing 2008 hats.
Records show that some of the parades here during the Cultural Revolution were as large as a million people. When Mao died, a million is also the number of people who officially attended his funeral here. It seems fitting, due to his personal history here that when you visit, you can see him ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú still here.
This is a political place, beginning in 1919, when the May 4th Movement broke out here with students and residents protesting. Students protested here again in 1935 ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú the December 9th movement against the Japanese and Chiang Kai-shek. Students and residents again protested in 1989-this is the most well known and tragic of the protests. More recently, Falon Gong protests have gone on here.
I did visit the Mao Mausoleum and saw him myself. This is an interesting experience. Visiting is free, but you need to check any bags you have. This includes ANYTHING you can?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t put into your pocket. I checked my wallet (cash removed), cell phone, and camera. You must check any cameras. This was very confusing because you actually check your bag across the street, just look for the spot and check it. I recommend carrying as little as possible, or bringing a friend and taking turns if you are nervous checking. Both my Beijing books said a passport was required to enter, so I had mine, but no one, Mao or otherwise requested it.
The line looks long and intimidating, but it moves pretty quickly. Chinese run out of line to a stand to buy fake flowers to carry in. I did not buy any, but I did buy a Mao brochure on my way in for about .10. First you enter the memorial where you can see a marble Mao, Abraham Lincoln like in white marble, seated in an armchair. At this point, people get out of line again, to leave their flowers in a designated area, and bow, paying respects, just like at a Buddhist temple. Amazingly, staff is on site to remove the flowers when there get to be too many, and sell them again at the entrance.
After the marble Mao, you go on to the actual preserved body.
He in there, in a glass room, with soldiers guarding his body. It was a strange and surprising feeling. There was a light shining on his face, as though he was lit from inside. Chairman Mao, as he is known, is actually mechanically raised from a freezer each morning, and then put back at night. I was so interested to see Mao, partially for the experience, but also because I was interested to see a man who was on display since 1977. On your way out, you can buy any kind of Mao junk, and everyone is buying. By junk, I don?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t mean interesting things that you might want to remember your trip, I really mean junk. There is also a Mao brand of cigarettes.
Then Chinese government call The Forbidden City, the Palace Museum and considers it a part of Tian?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢anmen Square. This complex began in 1406 and took 16 years to complete. 24 Emperors lived here, and it became a state museum in 1925. It has been open to the public since that time. A restoration project, the third since 1925 is going on now and will include multilingual brochures, as well as a complete renovation in bathrooms (I think that part is done) and maintenance to the antique buildings. My first trip, I went on an audio tour led by Roger Moore ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú not my favorite James Bond, but a pretty good guide. Even more helpful was the little flier I got to follow for the Tour since it showed the major monuments in order and was in English.
Since my visit, I have actually learned much more about the complex, so I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢m already planning my next trip. The Forbidden City is the largest collection of historic buildings in China, and many believe it is also the best preserved. Only two dynasties of Chinese Emperor?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s lived in the Forbidden City, the Ming (1368-1644) and the Ching (1644-1911). It is also interesting to note, since the Forbidden City is such a symbol of imperial China that the Ming was the only Chinese dynasty to live there.
The Forbidden City consists of three major gates, the Meridian Gate, the Gate of Supreme Harmony and the Gate of Heavenly Purity. Each gate leads to a major part of the complex. The Meridian Gate leads to the city, and the area around it includes the Golden Water Bridge. The bridges were designed to look like five arrows reporting to Heaven, as the Emperor was considered the Son of Heaven. The Golden Water River is actually a second moat for the city, mostly used for fire prevention. The Golden Water Bridge is also known as the Five Marbles Bridge, these five marbles were designed to represent Confucius five virtues for a ruler: benevolence, right, righteousness, intelligence and fidelity. The Meridian Gate also five major entrances, the one in the middle for the Emperor, one of the east for high ranking officials, one of the west for royal family and the outside two for petty officials or commoners as needed. You can actually walk through the Emperor?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s hallway now. This was basically the public part of the city. These halls were used by scholars to record the daily activities of the Emperor and for translators.
Next is the Gate of Supreme Harmony, which leads to the part of the city that was used for government business. In front of the Gate are two bronze lions symbolizing Imperial Power. These lions are copied all over China, even in the US as an important Chinese symbol. The area includes a three-tiered marble terrace, three halls and the Great Carved Marble Ramp. The Halls in this area are the Hall of Supreme Harmony (throne room), the Hall of Complete Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony. Around these Halls are the storage rooms for the imperial treasures. The ground in this area is laid with bricks. There are 7 layers of bricks. One of the Ming Emperors did not feel safe in the city, and was afraid that someone would tunnel in, so he had the bricks put in, in alternating layers. The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the most important building in the Forbidden City; it is actually the largest wooden building in the entire country of China.
The Hall of Complete Harmony was basically used for final touches and for examining seeds for the spring planting. The Hall of Preserving Harmony is a showpiece of Ming architecture. In this Hall, the Imperial Examinations were given for Civil Service Jobs.
The Great Carved Marble Ramp is fascinating as well, it is a massive piece of marble, and was used as a special carved walkway for the Emperor. It came from outside Beijing, and basically was dragged to its site by freezing the path in sections and pulling. This ramp weighs more than 250 tons.
The third gate, Gate of Heavenly Purity, actually leads to the portion of the Inner Court where the Emperor?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s wives, concubines and children lived. With the exception of the Emperor and his eunuchs, men were not allowed in this part of the city. This portion of the city includes not only the Inner Court, but also the Palace of Heavenly Purity, the Hall of Union, the Palace of Earthly Tranquility, the Imperial Garden, the Hill of Collecting Elegance, and the Hall of Imperial Peace.
The Palace of Heavenly Purity is actually where the Emperor lived. The Hall of Union and Peace was used when the Emperor gave honorable titles to his Empress. It also contains a water clock, built in 1745. The Palace of Earthly Tranquility was the home of the Empress during the Ming dynasty, but the Emperor was allowed to stay with her for the first two nights after their marriage.
The Imperial Garden was fascinating too. It was not so much a garden as a small park. There were small spots to site, pagoda type buildings to relax in and rocks from around the empire, including corals. The hills are an interesting idea as well, man made, to symbolize a mountain so the Empower can remember and reflect on the other parts of the Empire. Yearly the Emperor and Empress would climb this mountain. This was very impressive, until you notice the steps leading to the topmost part hidden behind a tree. The garden was terrific and very nice places for a bottle of water after a hot walk through the city.
One thing I left out was the western influence on the Forbidden City. While visiting, you can go to Starbucks. Starbucks has a regular branch in the city, with a sign and everything. This was almost offensive to me. There are many small shops throughout the city, but no much you would want to buy. I did buy a beautiful silk scarf with a map of the city on it. Since most of the maps are in Chinese, maybe next time I visit, I can just bring the scarf along.
The Forbidden City is very traditional, men enter from the South, women from the North, fire is an important symbol in the South, and the tops of the bridges are actually designed to look like torches.
Fire is also very important to the city, pine branches were burned whenever the Emperor was there, in whatever building he was in at the time as a special type of incense. This and other uses of lanterns caused many and regular fires in the Forbidden City. A major use of the moat around the city was actually fire prevention, not just to keep invaders out. There is also large bronze and formerly gilded tub s throughout the city where water was kept in case of fire. Interestingly enough, this water froze during the winter, so small fires had to be kept burning all the time to keep it liquid.
One of our favorite things in Beijing were the parks. The first is Beihai Gongyuan (North Sea Park). This park has a nice lake, which may have been built by Kublai Kahn, and you can walk around, take a boat on the lake or even go to a small caf?É¬©. My government guidebook actually says this park was built in 1179. This park is actually even older than the Forbidden City. A major site is the White Dogba, a white stature built for a visit from the Dali Lama in 1651. It also had the Nine Dragon screen which is basically a ceramic wall with 9 dragons, playing in the waves with pearls in relief. . There was a group there practicing Chinese music, and another practicing dancing. This was a quiet and relaxing place, and very nice to visit.
The second park we visited was the Jingshan Gongyuan. This park is also known as prospect Hill Park. It is more of a high hill to climb, but when you do, you get an amazing view of Beijing and the Forbidden City. Legend tells that this hill is from the digging of the Palace moat. This park is also famous because the last Ming Emperor hung himself here as the Mongols stormed the city.
Shopping in Beijing
Panjuayuan Market. I must admit I had an amazing time shopping in Beijing. China is really honing my shopping skills, and interesting me in many types of shopping, just for fun. I started my Beijing shopping with a trip to the Panjiayuan Market, also known as the dirt market, because so many things are displayed ?¢‚Ç¨?ìin the dirt?¢‚Ç¨¬ù. It is a massive amount of stalls with antiques, and Chinese antique like stuff. This is just a weekend market, and was one of my favorite things in Beijing, although I spent less than $5 there, and most of it on bottled water as it was a hot day.
Hongquio Market (Pearl Market). This is a shopping warehouse, my shopping guide said it was a little scary, and was completely right. The first floor is full of junk, like the kind of junk you find in the checkout line at Wal-Mart. Get right on the escalator. Up on the second floor, you find every kind of fake shoe and bag, and some other random fake clothes, especially North Face. I was not in the market for this stuff, and the plastic smell permeated the floor. On to the amazing third floor. The third floor is the Pearl Market. It consists of about 50 stalls with pearls and various rocks etc. Both my grandmother?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s would have loved this market. So many types of agate, tigers eye, coral, turquoise, and every kind of shell pearl and freshwater. Possibly some better pearls, but I am not a jeweler, so I stuck to fun, junk jewelry. The turquoise from the Heibi province was some of my favorite. Also, every color and size and shape of pearl. Plastic made of shell, freshwater, everything. So you basically pick your strand, by the look, and the price, then they string it for you with the knots and everything. The clasps are all just terrible, but they can be replaced by a jeweler later. For now, this was really a fun shopping experience. I can?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t wait to go back. And since then, I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ve heard that the 4th floor has some interesting shopping as well.
Xiushui Shichang (The Silk market). This is not a silk market at all, but a fakes market. With everything you can possibly think of. We have a market like this in Shanghai, so I was not really interested, but it was there, in full force. I had heard there were interesting silks to be found in this market, but I either did not find them, or they no longer exist. In any case, I had come from the Pearl Market, so was probably shopped out ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú if it is possible.
Beijing Friendship Store. In the old precapitalist days of China, I know that these Friendship Stores were supposedly good places to shop. This was especially true for Beijing. I did see one cute leather jacket pretty cheap, but it was much too hot to look at coats. Most of the merchandise seemed a little too much like expensive Chinatown for my taste. I like my Chinese stuff a little more contemporary. But it did have a good selection of things, a Starbucks, and clean bathrooms. There was also an extensive, yet at the same time poor selection of books. I bought some postcards here, but they are the same kind you can buy everywhere in Beijing. If you are looking for some particular, special Chinese thing ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú and actually know what you want, you might want to stop here, because I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢m sure they?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ll have it. The grocery store on the first floor was pretty good. You can get clothes and bedding custom made at this store.
Things still to do in Beijing
Visit Ming Tombs, Great Wall, and Summer Palace and of course eat Peking duck. Visit Tian?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢anmen after dark.
Reflections on Beijing
It is much more difficult to get around Beijing. I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢m not sure if it is our Chinese or what, but I hope there is a plan to clean up the taxi culture before the Olympics, or I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢m sure everyone will be reading about the problems. Since my visit, I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ve been doing research and have seen several articles about cabs and other services just not being quite as specific, not so obsessed with every little bit spent in Beijing, unfortunately none of this flexibility was in my favor and it seems crazy too complain too much if you are gypped out of .25-.50. Streets are much wider and this should help traffic, but traffic is getting worse and worse, almost by the month.
Restaurants were good, and the city was easier to understand, built in a more organized way than Shanghai. It is not so easy to get lost. Touts (people who come up and try aggressively to get you to do something or buy something) are more aggressive in Beijing, and are around every tourist site. And there is not much available to read about such an amazing city. When I come to the US for Christmas, I plan to do some Amazon.com shopping. All in all, I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢d say I have only begun to experience Beijing; there will be more interest, more history and more trips to come.