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.....
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!
As we all know the Christmas period is always crazy busy, stressful and tiring but when not working you actually have a lot of fun. December was a mad month, with Christmas classes, caroling, nights out, cooking, shopping, Jordan's birthday and no holiday until the very end. But we survived it with many interesting stories to tell.
Some of our fellow teachers formed a punk band and had a gig in a tiny bar near Lama Temple. I love live music and Beijing doesn't disappoint, there are numerous open mic nights, local band nights and just lots of people who enjoying singing. The gig was immense, I haven't heard real punk for a while and gee it was good! Paul (the singer) was screaming down the mic, running through the small crowd and yelling in your face...It was great! The Chinese bands were also exceptional, with violins, red leather trousers, sunglasses and at one point seven of them on the smallest stage. Towards the end we formed a mosh pit. During a concert with lots of people you don't really get too pushed around or battered, but here in the tiny bar, with not a lot of people, mainly us group of teachers, we could have caused some serious damage! But after months of work, everyone a bit stressed out it was good to basically charge at each other....good times indeed!!
Whilst Beijing hosts great music events, it also hosts some very strange winter activities! Rather than do a secret santa at school we decided a trip to the snow park would be much more fun. During the summer it is a water park with some pretty good slides, yet in winter it is transformed! Now many of us who have lived in China for a while should know not to have high expectations of things as you are most likely to be disappointed, yet for some strange reason, maybe because it was Christmas and you know at Christmas there should be miracles, we were expecting the most amazing snow park ever!! We should have known better! Alas as we approached with hopes of massive slides, loads of snow, maybe a polar bear or two we found ourselves in a water park, with a little bit of snow. So we went on the few slides, did some strange taser game where you got an electric shock and walked around getting cold. As we were about to give up and head home we found our Chinese co-workers, standing in the wave machine pool which was filled with snow. So automatic reaction, throw snow balls!!!!! Thus we started a rather large and very fun snow ball fight, did a few weird games, threw more snow, did a three legged race and attacked our boss with snow! All in all not a bad end to what could have been a very very disappointing day!
Where their is snow there is ice and we love ice skating! Down in Hou Hai the lake is partly frozen over during the winter months and they have ice skating, slides, mini bicycles, chairs and sleighs which you can chose to your own content. So as the last day of the holiday arrived and the wind had finally died down, we decided it was time to embark on this lake of ice! Now being a little bit of a sceptic, I hesitated as I stepped on to the ice....well you never know!! However it is pretty solid, just very slippery. Paul and Danni, two friends of ours, got ice skates, whilst Jordan and I decided on the chair. Only in China do they have chairs on ice! So we set off, with Paul pushing us, not realising that he was also steering us, into the crowds of people! Almost taking out quite a few people, breaking up a massive train of chairs, falling over, losing all feeling in our toes, we successfully managed a few laps around the lake before we had to give in to the cold and retire to ground! Great fun, but so cold! As we headed back to the subway we found a small crowd gathered, wondering what it was we pushed our way through. There we found a hole in the ice and some crazy Chinese men, stripping down to their swimming trunks and jumping in! I have don't one New Years Day swim at home and that was beyond freezing so I can't even begin to imagine how cold Hou Hai Lake is!!! Good on them, one crazy way to shake off the cobwebs and start the new year!
Everyone I know knows that I hate shopping, unless it is for books or films! I despise shopping for shoes, especially with my mother, and well the whole idea of shopping just fills me with dread at times! Don't get me wrong I like wandering around shops, but if I actually have to get something then it's a different story. My hate of shopping has been increased since living in China, mainly because it is such hard work!
Yesterday Jordan and I went on a shopping mission to the Pearl Market to buy fifteen silk scarves for my mother...yes all shopping relates back to my mother! As always we prepared ourselves and had a walk around before we started to bargin. In August Martha and I bought scarves in the same market so I decided to go back to the same woman. Jordan and I both have enough Chinese to communicate without using
English so this occasionally works to our advantage. So the bargining process began....
We started by asking how much for one scarf, we went back and forward with 'real silk' vs 'shit silk' according the 'nice' woman trying to rip us off. She kept talking about factory prices and her voice was
getting louder and louder. We told her we wanted fifteen in total, of the 'real silk' scarves and asked how much for them all. This caused more confusion and lots of typing numbers into calculators and arguing about prices. She was extremely offened when we typed 500 and started getting angry and yelling in
both Chinese and English.
We began to walk away, she took my arm and pulled me back, still yelling at us. In the end we made it as far as the stairs when she finally agreed on 550yuan. At that point we decided to be done with it and just buy the scarves. So after twenty minutes of shouting, arguing, pulling, almost crying and debating we walked away with fifteen silk scarves and two sore heads!
The Bookworm is a reminder of home. A place were you can drink coffee and indulge in books, many many books. I love reading, I love books...I do not like kindles or ipads or computers for reading. Everyone tried to convince me to get a kindle before I went back to China, my mother even offered to buy me one. But I refused! Why do we need kindles to read, have we become so lazy that the effort to carry a book is too much for us these days. I left Ireland with nine books, I have read most of them...Jordan could not understand why I was wasting valuable luggage space on books when I could have taken several boxes of chocolate and percy pigs but I was persistent and I was rewarded. I love holding a book, turning the pages, the smell of the paper and not worrying if I spill coffee that it will stop working. A co-worker of mine argued with me that a kindle was the best invention ever. He had hundreds of books available to him at the touch of a button, however when I asked him what book he was reading he did not know as he could not look at the front cover. Alas I won the arguement because when you have a book in your hand at least you know what your reading. Thus the Bookworm situated in Building 4, Nan Sanlitun Road, Chao Yang District, Beijing, has everything I need. You can buy brand new books or join their library system which is great. For 200yuan, (20 pounds) I became a member and I can take out two books at any time, there is no fines if you return them late and there are hundreds of books to choose from. There is a great restaurant and coffee shop, supplying you with lovely delights as you read or watch the world go by. They have Book Festivals, film screenings, quizzes, interesting talks and much more. But it is the access to books which is most important. In China it is hard to get books, don't get me wrong you can buy books but they are expensive and often there is only a few to choose from. What is so pleasant about the books in the Bookworm is that all these books have come from different countries, they were owned by travellers or expats, they all have a history. It is like lifting a book in a hostel and finding someones travel notes, a message from a family member or simply a name and date. Books are important to me, they take you on adventures and therefore I cannot replace them with a kindle...no matter how heavy they may be!
Badachu Park is in the wild west of Beijing. From were we live at Bajiao Subway stop we can take the 598 bus the whole way there. We have been there twice since moving to Beijing, the first was part of a team building exercise with school and the second was just to get out of the city. Badachu is still being redeveloped, temples are being built or restored and the pathways are still being formed. Yet once you get past the diggers and food stalls you trek up a few hundred steps to get to the top. The view of west Beijing is great, we can see our flats, were we shop, were we eat and the road we take to work. On a really clear day I'm sure you can see most of Beijing, but clear days are few and far between. On the way down you can take the mountain path, a little more exciting and rewarding, especially if like me you grew up surrounded by parks and mountains. I'm not a fan of bugs, of any kind and was terrified by the huge grasshoppers that kept jumping across the path, Jordan found it hilarious as I ran through the branches whimpering to myself. We made it out without being eaten by giant grasshoppers, however I, as per usual, got several mosquito bites! There is a slide that you can take down the mountain, which is pretty exciting. You can buy wooden sticks from a little old man at the top, which you use to hit yourself with....it's not as crazy as it sounds! There is horse riding and no doubt other activities hidden within the park to keep you happy for a whole day. Badachu Park isn't a place visited by many tourists but if you live in Shijingshan it's a great place to head to for a good walk and some bug viewing!