Beijing World Park is a must see if like us you enjoy the random and crazy things the Chinese build. The World Park is in South Beijing, Dabaotai Subway (end of line 9 and change on to the Fangshan Line) so it is a bit of a mission to get to but if you have the time its worth a visit just for the absurdity of it all. The park is divided into countries, you can travel the world in a few hours and see all the sights that you may never get to see in real life. I guess for many older Chinese people who have never left China it must be great to have your photograph taken at a mini Eiffel Tower, or trek through the Grand Canyon, walk across London Bridge and climb the Pyramids. Whilst some of the 'mini' buildings are pretty good replicas of the real thing the bit based in Africa is a little strange and well did they really need a mini Great Wall running through Paris. It was an interesting afternoon taking photographs of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Vatican, Sydney Opera House and downtown New York. Many young Chinese couples were having their wedding photographs taken around the world, without even leaving Beijing, definitely one for the photo album!
Recently the weather has been awful in Beijing. Grey sky, rain, not a hint of the sun and even hail stones and there we were hoping to work on our tans and enjoy our last few weeks in the city. Yet even with the miserable weather we found ourselves exploring the many museums and galleries that are on offer in Beijing. Our first port of call was the Capital Museum at Muxidi Subway (line 1). A very impressive building, very modern and new. Some of the exhibitions were interesting, although we couldn't work out why there was an electric fan amongst the pottery from the 5th Century, must have left it there by mistake. The Buddha's were very impressive but overall there just seemed to be a lot of wasted space. Maybe they were between exhibitions or maybe it was the lack of translations to explain the art and sculptures. Whilst the Capital Museum is an huge, awe inspiring building, it lacks information, if like me you like to know a little about what you are looking at.
The Beijing World Art Museum just behind the Military Museum was much more exciting. Although they did have an exhibition about the Huns and lots of prints of tigers and Chinese women. The Art Museum is based in the Millennium Monument, a large circular building with a huge spike at the top. Not very interesting or exciting to look at but then again the Millennium Dome in London is also just a circular building. The paintings were interesting; some were beautiful, the colours merging together, others were just very strange and amateur. The exhibition on the Huns was very interesting, although the translated information was a little mixed up, you could get the hang of what they were explaining. The paintings of these big, strong warriors fighting, dying and living are unique and fascinating.
Our next museum calling is the National Museum at Tiananmen Square.....
"Long after our cities are condemned and deserted, our city parks will stand as a testament of the serenity of our weekends to distant trespassers." Benson Bruno
As we come into our final months in Beijing we have been exploring all the places we have yet to see within the city walls. Beijing has many parks and in a city which is so busy and sometimes stressful it is wonderful to find a place were you can sit without the noise of cars, without the crowds and without the high rise buildings. Our favourite parks include Yuanmingyuan park, next to the Summer Palace, Zizhuyuan park beside the zoo, Jingshan Park behind the Forbidden City, Beijing Botanical Gardens and Babaoshan Sculpture Park. So if you are looking for some peace and quiet take yourself to one of Beijing's many parks.
During the May Day holiday Beijing hosts a number of music festivals including the Strawberry Festival and Midi Music Festival. Music Festivals in China have suffered some criticism over the years due to cancellations, poor sound, lack of alcohol and super early ending times. We westerns are used to full scale amazing festivals, partying for two or three days, and enjoying a line up that is bound to impress. However if you forget your previous experiences of festivals and embrace China's music festivals for what they are, they actually don't disappoint!
Myself, Jordan and a few friends went to the second day of the Strawberry Festival. The line up included Lenka, Pony Pony Run Run and Queen Sea Big Shark as well as a number of DJ's and other Chinese and Foreign bands. Having only heard of Lenka we wondered what the day had in store for us. Tickets were easy to get at the gate, there were no queues and we got through security with our water bottles filled with vodka! It was a glorious day as we walked through Tongzhou Canal Park, checking out the little stalls filled with handbags, t-shirts and stickers. We had our faces painted at the Tuborg Beer stand, but unfortunately didn't get any beer. We walked around looking for the beer tent but were disappointed when we realised there was no beer tent, the only beverages to be served was water, coke and ice tea. Good thing we had vodka! We got ourselves some strawberry smoothies and found a spot on the hill between the School of Rock stage and the main stage. Basking in the sunshine we listened to a Chinese band rock out and watched some interesting characters walk by. The stages were so close together you could sit at a certain point and watch two bands at the same time....good value for money and you don't miss anything!
As the afternoon wore on we stumbled upon an American band called Wiretree who were pretty great, we later ran into them at the pizza stand and had a good chat about China. We watched kids doing some crazy dancing, threw a frisbee around, got some free pink hats and wigs, had many photos taken with random people and even watched a fashion show. We found a woman selling beer and soon we were back on the hill watching some crazy Chinese woman rock out on stage. We made our way down to the main stage to watch Lenka. Unlike other festivals were people are usually cheering, going a bit mental and maybe falling about due to too much warm beer, the crowd was pretty tame. But we didn't let this stop us from cheering at the top of our voices and acting like idiots....
Lenka was pretty good, the sound didn't fail and the crowd seemed to enjoy it. For someone we did not know much about she proved to be a hit. The festival ended promptly at 9pm and we followed the crowd towards the exit. Overall it had been a pretty great day, the weather had been amazing, the music pretty good, the style very interesting and strawberry vodka smoothies are my new favourite thing!
One sunny Tuesday, myself and Jordan decided to explore the Lama Temple. Although a popular destination for tourists in Beijing we had never been there before and as we are leaving Beijing this summer it was on our to do list. I love strolling around the Hutongs in Beijing, it is bustling with life but at the same time very peaceful and often quiet. The Lama Temple is very beautiful, but if like us you have been to lots of temples in China, they tend to look all the same. But we had a nice stroll around, sat in the sun and enjoyed the quiet.
For lunch we headed to the Veggie Restaurant, just down from the subway at Lama Temple. We had heard good things from friends about this restaurant so we decided to give it a try and it was well worth it. We love hummus and dips and its one of things we miss most. Hummus is hard to find in Beijing and although we could make our own, chickpeas are also hard to find at times. We shared the platter with five different dips and lots of whole meal bread and pitta bread. It was delicious. Even though it looked quite small when it arrived at our table it was so filling and we struggled to finish it all, but we did! So if you are looking for something different to eat I would recommend the Veggie Restaurant....just for the hummus alone!
Egg rolling is an art! It requires concentration, determination and skill. That is why only a few people know about it and most of those people seem to be from Northern Ireland. Thus when ever I mention egg rolling people look at me as if i am insane. But it is an Easter tradition and a very fun one.
Easter Egg Rolling Step 1: Boil eggs
Step 2: Let eggs cool and get your paints and markers ready
Step 3: Paint eggs
Step 4: Climb a hill, mountain, great wall.....
Step 5: Roll eggs
This year we decided to climb the Great Wall at Mutianyu and roll our eggs. As per usual it was cloudy, cold and very grey but this seems to be the normal conditions at Easter. There was many a year we sat at the top of the mountain in Rostrevor, freezing and wet, rolling eggs and eating lots of chocolate. We hiked along the wall for a while trying to find the perfect spot. Alas we reached a bit that didn't curve too much and didn't have any steps. We got our eggs ready, stood in a line and rolled them down the Great Wall. People must have thought we were crazy!
Before school started in February we had a couple of days to relax and get ready for the new term. However being the 'organized' people that we are we decided to head away on a two day trip into the Chinese countryside. We contacted the group we went camping with back in October and they suggested an ice fishing and hot tub trip they did for two days. As soon as the words hot tub were mentioned we were in! We pictured small hot water pools, surrounded by greenery and waterfalls, sipping cocktails and looking up at the night sky...
We set off early on Wednesday morning, the weather was beautiful and we were excited to head out of the city before the madness of school began. We drove for two hours, passing the Great Wall at Badaling, before turning off the motorway and ambling down a very small dirt road. Our driver got lost in the smallest village, we were stared at by the locals, and almost crashed before we arrived at a frozen river. Jumping out of the bus we all skipped off like kids to stand on the ice, throw fireworks at the ice and generally act like a bunch of idiots! Sometimes I think we are more like children than the children we teach. We started walking up stream, past farmers, corn fields, cows...at one point the boys were so transfixed by the cows you would think they had never seen one before...and most of us come from the UK or Ireland. We kept walking until the ice began to disappear from the river. We finally found a good place with enough ice and water to fish. Setting up the BBQ, we got our fishing rods and bate, ready to catch a few fish for lunch! Thankful we had brought sandwiches, sausages and bacon because not only did we not catch a single fish, we couldn't even get the bate onto the rods.
After failing at the fishing, we attempted to break the ice, once again this was unsuccessful! Fred, the guy who runs the trips, told us we needed to get to the other side of the river for the hot tub experience. Now this was a dilemma, the ice had melted so much upstream that we couldn't walk across and from what we could see there wasn't a bridge in the distance. Common sense would have been to cross earlier when the river had been covered in ice but well what can you do! So we packed up and began walking...We heard Fred suggest we wade across, bags on our heads! We began to panic, not only was it freezing, the river was deep and the river bed was muddy and well none of us wanted to die! We kept walking and finally saw a part of the river that was shallow and stony. Still unsure of what we were going to do, Fred lunges into the river and is on the other side before we even have to time to blink. Thus we pulled our shoes off and plunged into the freezing water. Thankfully no one fell, although Mike released after he walked across in his trainers that he had waterproof shoes in this bag.
At this point we were expecting to see some beautiful scenery as we ambled closer to the Hot Tubs...instead we found ourselves trudging through three inches of mud, breaking and then climbing over a fence to find ourselves in a construction site. Ah China! So forget what you imagine when you picture hot tubs and you find yourself in a field, with corrugated roofs, and two smallish tubs with hot water in them. There were no trees, no cocktails, there was a few dogs, a man washing his car and lots of dust, oh and not forgetting the trains that passed every thirty minutes! Only in China would you find yourself in a construction site for a holiday. Well we made the best of it. The rooms were hot, thanks to the flowing hot water into the bathrooms, not to mention the steam and water dripping from the ceiling, and the beds were comfortable. We put the bikinis and swimming trunks on and headed to the hot tubs. We drank beer, we roasted ourselves in the water and to be honest if you ignored the guy washing his car it was pretty darn good.
We sat in the tubs until we went wrinkly, then we grab a very interesting dinner and made our way back to the tubs for some night time swimming. The boys decided to cannonball into the tubs, making loud splashes, water going everywhere, and they weren't exactly deep. We did get told off for this and promised to remain seated like normal human beings. It was good fun and for my first hot tub experience, although it may not have been the most beautiful location, the water was hot and when you don't have baths in your flat its the next best thing.
The next morning we woke to find ourselves in the middle of a dust storm, with trains blaring past every ten minutes. We had a breakfast of runny, watery eggs, salty potatoes and bread, not the best thing I have eaten but its the best you can do when on a construction site. As we drove out of the hot tub place we could see all the construction going on and in a few months/years it will probably be very beautiful but at the minute unless you are desperate for a bath I would avoid this place until it is finished! However that's not to say we didn't have fun and well it makes for another interesting and strange trip in the land of China.
We finished school at the end of January and as I have spent the last two years in China for Spring Festival I took the opportunity to head home to Ireland for two weeks and boy was it worth it!! After the longest journey in the world from Beijing to Moscow to London I eventually walked out of arrivals to be greeted by my father and a pint! Then it was on wards to Belfast were I was greeted by my mother and home! Even though a year is such a long time once you walk through your front door it feels like you have never been away. Home comforts are the best, eating food that you can't get in Beijing, watching TV without having to choose it, being surrounded by English speaking people, having a decent vodka and seeing friends and family. It was great to go out for a sandwich, drive my mother's car, head to the pub and hear different music, go to Topshop, chill out with my gran's and have a second Christmas dinner. I went walking with my mother, gulping huge amounts of fresh Irish sea air, feeling the rain on my face and walking on green, moist grass. Beijing can be harsh on the body, especially in winter and it was wonderful to escape it even for a few weeks. I headed to Liverpool to see my sister, went down to our old house, caught up with great friends, went to London to see the family and ate vasts amount of food. It was a holiday that was badly needed and it gave me the energy to head back to work and back to Beijing. I didn't miss Beijing but when I got back and jumped on the packed subway, with the pushing, shoving and spitting, part of me was like, Oh I'm home!