Archive for September, 2009

Summer Travels: Through the Eyes of E

Despite Godzilla’s most amphibious attempts, my family and I indeed reunited in China. Their plane was delayed in LA, which meant they missed their connecting flight to Beijing, so they spent the night in Tokyo and caught a flight out the next morning. It’s interesting that that will probably be the only time when they’re in Japan and I’m not.

It had been about a year since I had seen my sister. Wow, she has grown. Not only is she eye-level with my mom, but in terms of maturity, way past me. As such, she had the foresight to keep a journal while we traveled through China; with each place we visited, she and my mom would write a little blurb about the sights, smells, and ever-present streetside vendors. So, when I struggle to meet my readers’ demands for a detailed account of our trip, I just need to turn to the responsible one in the family. And so I present China: Through the Eyes of Elizabeth (with my occasional additions/revisions).

Peking Duck Banquet at China Lounge Restaurant:

While this was not our favorite meal I highly recommend it to first time China visitors. The duck wasn’t particularly good was especially delicious considering half of it was fat but it was a sight to behold watching them cut it in front of us. The restaurant itself was very beautiful and elegant. Most importantly they offered a fork to Elizabeth when she couldn’t figure out how to us her chopsticks gave up on Brandon’s instruction.

Changpuhe Park; Tai Chi and Qigong:

Elizabeth and Brandon sadly missed this opportunity because they couldn’t be woken up at 6:45 to make the early walk over, but not to worry, mom and dad gave us a full account later. As our inexperienced American tour group tried to find their inner chi, the local Chinese walking in the park began taking pictures of them. Sadly I’m not sure any one was any more relaxed than they were before.

Beijing-Houhai District:

If you can get a pedicab ride it makes this area a little more enjoyable, accessible and easy to cover.

While in this area a must is Madame Sun Yat-sun’s residence, a very influential woman in China’s history. There is a museum there which you can tour that is very educational. Not exactly Elizabeth’s favorite. If you can visit one of the local’s homes take the opportunity. We visited Madame Lou and her husband’s (a pigeon keeper and racer – pigeon racing?!) home. No pigeon for lunch though!

The speedy pigeons are in the cage at the top.

Summer Palace:

So beautiful! If you’re in Beijing you must see this beautiful garden and palace. We didn’t get to see the palace itself but we did tour the amazing gardens and exquisite walkways beautifully painted. We ended our visit with a boat ride around the lake surrounding it.

Great Wall Mutianyu:

This is obviously the first attraction people think of when they go to China. While it is a long drive from the city it is definitely worth it. Just be prepared for a lot of walking and sweating. You can take either the chair lift or gondola up to the wall depending which you feel more comfortable with. This is a prime picture taking spot though you’ll probably be sweaty in all the pictures. There are great views from the top of it. For those who take the chair lift the best part is coming down. There is a huge toboggan slide you can ride down from the top to the bottom. Definitely Elizabeth’s and Brandon’s favorite part.

Xiaolonpu Restaurant:

This restaurant is conveniently located at the foot of the great wall. Considering the location of the restaurant it’s very good. I would recommend it if you are planning to see the great wall although it is not worth the long drive out their just to go to the restaurant. No funny stories to tell while we were here except we had to wait forever in line to go to the bathroom because they had only two stalls. It also had the strangest fish I have ever seen. They had bills like a duck.

Fish/Duck? Dish? Or...nevermind.

Red Umbrella Market:

Sadly I forgot the specific name of this market but I did distinctly remember the long rows of red umbrellas that to Elizabeth never seemed to end. Name any organ of any animal you know and I can guarantee they had it. Our family’s favorite happening to be the sheep’s penis. We had to practically pull Brandon away before he ventured to try one and experience a case of major diarrhea.( Though Brandon did get a case of diarrhea which lasted one or two days, but at least it wasn’t from a scorpion. Probably the watermelon at every meal- I don’t eat too much fruit in Japan.)

No caption needed.

Shanglinyuan Restaurant inside Beihai Park:

This was our farewell banquet in Beijing with the local alumni. I really can’t tell you what we ate and how it tasted because I wasn’t hungry and couldn’t recognize a thing. I can tell you that was the first time I remember using a squat toilet which is an experience all alone. One thing for sure it is not easy. You have to have some major leg muscles to hold there in a squat position for a long time. By the end of the trip I was still holding the walls as I was squatting (Brandon still does). In fact one of the older women got stuck in that position and couldn’t get back up. It really shows how much we take for granted here in America with our western toilets.

Dumpling Banquet at Defachang Restaurant:

This was the biggest meal we ate throughout the whole trip. As you walk into the door of the restaurant you are met with a huge golden dumpling which suggests right away what your main course will be tonight. Little did we know then that we were having a total of eighteen different dumplings. By the end of the meal, suffice it to say we all felt like huge giant dumplings.

The Dumpling Place

Sofitel Hotel:

If you are staying in Xian I would definitely recommend this hotel because of its modern beauty, extensive pillow menu (you have the choice of Natural Buckwheat Filling Pillow, Allergy-free Hypodown Pillow, and Isotonic Temperature-sensitive Foam Pillow, among others) and closeness to the local bell tower area with many beautiful buildings. Because of its convenience to the dumpling restaurant a few of our tour members decided to walk back to the hotel around 10:30-11:00 at night including our own family. We weren’t five or ten minutes into the walk when we promptly got lost. Brandon asked one of the locals if he knew where our hotel was with a lot of hand motions and a sheet with the name of our hotel in Chinese characters on it (plenty of practice with that). The older man asked a girl on a bike he knew to accompany and lead us there even though she didn’t understand much English. We finally made it there and gave her a tip for helping us get there. We started walking inside, her following us in and heading to the front desk. We all felt bad thinking that she didn’t know how to get home when she handed us a note that said “If you have any more trouble here is my cell phone number………..” Our first Chinese friend! On the other hand, this gives new meaning to child labor.

Terracotta Warriors:

Most everybody reading this knows who and what the terracotta warriors are so I won’t spend the time to explain them. It is a marvel to see these clay figurines that have lasted the test of time for this many centuries. I can’t imagine how beautiful they must have looked in their day with all the bright colors and unharmed parts. This was defiantly worth seeing and I recommend it to all China tourists even if it means fighting the crowds for the best picture.

This is one of three giant buildings containing the statues. About 6,000 warriors have been excavated, and they predict there are another 4,000 left to unearth.

Each statue has a unique face, armor, hair, etc. Although, once, they found twins.

Muslim Street and Mosque:

If you want see some true culture this would be a good place to go. The mosque is not really that big but it is pretty and you can hear the local Chinese Muslim kids learning Arabic in summer school. It is a great place to walk around and relax but if you miss it is okay.

Han Emperor’s Tomb at Yangling Museum:

Not as impressive as the Terracotta Warriors, but the tomb is interesting. It is air conditioned which during the summer in china is a major concern. You don’t really have to fight the crowds like you do at the Terracotta Warriors which is an upside.

They are about a third of the size of the Terracotta Warriors, but the whole floor is made of glass so you can stand over and see them close-up.

Hu Xe Yan Grand Garden Mansion:

The restaurant is not a walk-in one and I believe you have to make reservations for larger parties in advance. It was a rich man’s mansion before he died and now has been converted into a private restaurant. The first thing you’ll notice when you sit down is how low the seats are and how high the table. Brandon could finally feel normal sized. The next surprise of the evening was found out and experienced first by Elizabeth. The waitresses walk in with this big bowl that kind of looked like a witches cauldron and set it down on the table. Elizabeth got curious and stood up to reach over and find out what it was. There sitting in the pot of hot water was a whole chicken, head and all. By the end of the meal no one had touched the soup. Brandon had discreetly scooped some into his bowl and dared Elizabeth to try it with him. They both thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Eclipse:

A little early but definitely worth it. This wasn’t the highlight of coming on the trip for us, but after we saw it we all voted this was absolutely one of our favorite parts of the vacation. For those who haven’t seen one, it is an amazing event, and for those who have you know what I am talking about. It is a slow process but the few minutes of totality are really spectacular. Our favorite part was the diamond ring effect just as totality was finishing. Even our cameras couldn’t capture the spectacular view we saw.

I put my camera into the looking lens of a sun-filtered telescope and came out with this. The moon is coming down from the top and is about halfway from completely elicipsing the sun.

This shows all the phases of the eclipse. It begins on the top left and moves like you're reading a book. The top and bottom are the same sun, just that top was taken with two filters on the camera lens (giving the sun a red tint) and the bottom with only one (making it appear white).

Closane Factory:

It was really cool to see how the make them and how much hand work is put into it. It looked like excruciating hard and boring work. We got a look inside the store where Elizabeth bought some bracelets for her friends and mommy bought a Christmas ornament.

Meijiawu Tea Plantation:

We watched as they ground and prepared the green tea leaves for drinking. Then we all sat down to two rounds of green tea which Elizabeth wanted to spit out the whole time and listened to the tea plantation employee explain to us about the health benefits of green tea, especially their own Dragonwell kind. Everybody swore she was funny enough to be on David Letterman. She did her job well because now we have two cans of green tea that won’t go away.

The Tea Place


If your missing American culture, there are plenty of KFC’s around to chose from which seems to be their favorite fast food restaurant. Don’t worry about communication because you can point at the picture menu. The only problem is the pictures aren’t very realistic; for example, when daddy ordered his chicken meal, he didn’t realize that meant a drumstick and a drink. Not exactly American sized portions.


This a restaurant and shopping district in the French Concession area that is very westernized. There are many American restaurants as well as some Asian ones and all are very high quality. If you want a break from Chinese culture this is a great place to spend an afternoon or lunch.

Shanghi Museum:

Very interesting. What we were most surprised about was what little they had for a civilization so old. We learned that a lot was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and a lot was shipped to Taiwan. Our favorite sections were the bronze and furniture. This is worth seeing.

The Bund:

Very, very crowded! But the skyline was spectacular because of all the different shaped buildings. A mini New York Times Square!

And that’s the China trip!