New Year’s Day

So this looks majorly confusing as it was Chinese New Year last week but I’m writing about New Year (1/1/13) whilst I was in China.

It was pretty cool actually. We had an organised trip to the Great Wall, and had been warned that it would be very, very cold. It was cold, but no colder than it had been, although we didn’t feel the full effect of that until the top of the wall. All of the pictures of people taken up there look like they are dying inside. My friend spilt some water on her jacket and it froze almost instantly.

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This isn’t that high up but it felt like it, the steps were massive and some of the shorter girls had trouble. I had trouble on the way down because they were so uneven and had no railing, as well as the ice. But there were little kids running up and down, I wish I was younger so I could have done that too. A couple of tourists had some beer though! At 12pm in the morning! That was crazy.

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The signs are great, I particularly like the one about not using a mobile phone, not sure if you can see. It says to not use one during a thunderstorm…

After the fairly tiring trip to the Great Wall, as it was New Year’s alot of us didn’t want to stay in and sleep the day away so a small group of us went to the ‘food street’. It’s near Wangfujing and felt so out of place with the huge, western style mall as it’s very hutong-esque. The food is cheap and great though, so I was glad I went. They had starfish and scorpions too! I didn’t try them though as some people had been ill after eating the starfish…there were also small shops to buy souvenirs so that was good for last minute shopping. Haggling was a big easier there too compared to silk market so it’s worth a trip if you want to save some money!

 

 

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Happy New Year (Again)

So this post isn’t about China…except it is indirectly because last weekend was Chinese New Year! Yay! 新年快乐! (Happy New Year) My family went to my grandma’s house on Saturday for the pre-new year things, such as praying and having alot of food. That includes an entire pig, spring rolls, a dish that I don’t know the English translation for and hotpot! Not as extravagant as the hotpot in Beijing but it was less spicy and had lots of things that I’m used to like mushrooms and prawns (that sounds very boring actually).

Then on Sunday my Study China friends visited me and we went into town for the festivities as there’s a big Chinese community where I live. Chinatown was full of stalls where you could play games for prizes, buy small paper dragons, charms for good luck and of course, food! Mostly dim sum types of things and sweets and oranges as they’re for good luck too. There was the dragon that went around Chinatown and the nearby areas, and a variety show on in the ‘square’ as my friend called it, but it’s really the carpark as I explained to him…

We actually missed the fireworks, which I have been told were amazing and I’m annoyed we didn’t go, we were sat in a café catching up since study china so I’m not really annoyed but still. It was nice to see them again and to celebrate Chinese New Year with them, as we had all celebrated (Western? English?) New Year. The irony is that we did both in the wrong country…XD

New Year’s Eve

So my New Year’s Eve was pretty uneventful because it wasn’t Chinese New Year (but that’s happening this Sunday) and there weren’t many things happening. 

Since it was the last week of the programme my Mandarin lessons were revision, going over mock HSK 1 papers for our ‘exam’ on the Friday.

After that some people decided going to a New Year’s Eve party would be good (as British students we all needed some kind of clubbing) but I passed on that as it was cold and I didn’t want to pay £15 for a ticket! I can go clubbing for £5 normally so I felt it was a bit extortionate, especially for China. Although everyone who went had a great time, I’m glad I didn’t. Instead a small group of us went to the summer palace with one of our student volunteers as we thought we might be able to see fireworks or something, since we saw them preparing everything when we visited (see more sightseeing post). However this was sadly not the case as you needed a special sticker to get in and see the laser show, so we went for nothing. Except we didn’t, as we huddled in a McDonald’s until 11.50pm talking about ghost stories and what we had learnt so far on the programme. The ghost stories were great, as our student volunteer told my friend in Cantonese who then translated it back to English for us, but she got a bit freaked out as she only understood the story initially and the rest of us stared at her blankly. Let’s just say we didn’t get the bus home that night. Or any night after that.

But we had a group photo and bonded a bit more, the cold weather does that to you, and welcomed a new year with new people in a new country.

Tianjin

So awhile back I said I would post more about my trip to Tianjin and I didn’t but it’s here now! Image

So this is part of the city from the viewing deck in the tower, and you can see the frozen lakes. There’s some haze/smog though which wasn’t too pleasant but I think it’s hard to avoid nowadays, we saw the same thing from the University buildings (17 floors up) in Beijing. It looks worse on clear days but at least it’s sunny.

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That’s the lake that the tower is in. The glass is slanted so I was leaning over the edge to take this, which was scary and cool at the same time. My friend went under the barriers to lean against it but kept one hand on the rail just in case he fell through. Funnily enough nobody told us off or anything, they just carried on as if nothing was happening. That could have been because we both look Chinese…

Taking the bullet train there was a nice experience. The only thing was the language barrier which wasn’t too much of a problem as we just said ‘Tianjin’ showed our ID/passport and got tickets. We were all given separate seats though which led to one of us being sat in the dining carriage (and getting a late breakfast) whilst the rest were 3 carriages further down. It’s fast, really quiet and there’s a fair bit of legroom too – Virgin should take note of this! And that’s economy class!

Once in Tianjin we bought a map for about 80p which was our lifesaver. It made getting everywhere easier as we headed for ‘culture street’ which looks a bit out of place, oddly enough. It was built in the 1980’s (I think…) to promote tourism as Tianjin is just another city with giant skyscrapers everywhere. Culture street is a bit like a hutong, with this at one end so we knew we were definitely in the right place.

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This is from inside the street, I’m not quite sure what it says though but it was pretty.

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I’m not sure why but an escalator in the middle of an old-style cultural street was funny and a bit sad at the same time. I found it funnier than my friends did but…yeah.

There were tons of stalls there, and it was much cheaper than Beijing markets and they were much friendlier to us as well. They totally understood if we didn’t want to buy anything which was a relief. One of them was selling wooden frogs that you play to make a frog noise but we didn’t know, so the lady selling them showed us. She then let my friend try playing the biggest one so we all bought at least one. It’s one of the coolest things I bought, for £1.50. I bought lots of packs of cards too, they have anime characters, Harry Potter, even Barack Obama ones!

The only bad thing I have to say about Tianjin was the service at lunch. We didn’t expect anything glamorous or great, but they missed off part of our order – which we made sure wasn’t on the bill and just ignored us for most of the time that we were there. I’m not sure it’s because we were foreign or anything but it was disappointing.

After the interesting lunch we went to the tower, sorry for the strange order of this post. We took taxis to get there as it was on the other side of the city. The taxis are teal coloured. If you scroll up to one of the earlier pictures you can see them. The map was most useful here when I pointed at things and mumbled some incoherent Mandarin.

After the tower we got taxis back to the train station which proved to be more of a challenge than getting around in the firstplace. My taxi got there fine, I even had a quick conversation with the driver in Mandarin about our day and where we were going, but the other half of our group didn’t turn up at the station. Their taxi driver took a more ‘scenic’ route and they ended up on the other side. Buying tickets home could have been disastrous after that as we needed our UK passports and not the student ones BNU gave us. We were all sat near each other this time which was good.

The station was bigger than we initially thought as my friends had actually been dropped off at the right place to get the train back to Beijing. So we walked all the way back, passed through security and waited for our turn to board. The train station is like an airport, it’s huge and has lots of gift shops and feels very new but we were so tired by then we didn’t buy anything. We just got on the train and fell asleep for the journey back.

So that was super long, sorry but Tianjin was a great place to go to. To see the differences between there and Beijing was also incredible as they’re 30 minutes away by train but so, so different. It also gave me a chance to practise my Mandarin too!

For the ending of this post, Tianjin clock tower at sunset – it’s opposite the train station and gets lit up at night!

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More sightseeing

So I had Mandarin lessons on Saturday morning, yes, a Saturday morning! I’m not sure who it was, but someone initiated a group outing to the Lama Temple. We were accompanied by one of our student volunteers who knew the way and also brought incense sticks with her. I think it’s technically one temple but there are lots of halls where you can pray. I think most people pray in either the ones they need – like for health, job prospects etc. or they pray in every hall. You can also leave a donation too as well as the incense. I felt like a bit of a fool praying whilst all of my friends were just watching, they didn’t see the point when they didn’t understand how to pray or why they were. They just took pictures.ImageThis is the entrance to one of the main halls near the entrance. The ticket is quite cool too as there’s a mini CD included – I haven’t yet loaded it onto my computer but I will, and will probably be overwhelmed by Chinese text.

There are also cynclindral type things? (I’m not quite sure what it is..) that you can spin for good luck too, like the one below.ImageMy geekier Maths side also came out when I saw this sign outside one of the halls.

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There’s also the world’s largest Buddha (there’s a small plaque outside mentioning the Guinness World Book of Records) and it’s massive! Also apparently carved from one tree…which is pretty impressive. My camera couldn’t fit it all in one shot either.

Realising we only had a week left, my friend and I decided to visit the Summer Palace after as we didn’t have any time during the next week to go somewhere that far. My other friend had been once already which was good as he too us around the main parts.

There’s a giant lake which was frozen and people were casually walking across. We went a few steps before running back to the platform, it would not be fun to fall in no matter how many locals do it. The palace isn’t really a palace as there aren’t any walls since it was used in summer and alot of it is spread out around the lake. It’s still pretty cool to go to the highest part and look out at Beijing though.

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This is part of the lake, by the time we got there is was quite late and sunset but it meant great pictures and great views! 

There’s also a bridge leading to an island in the lake, you can walk across the ice or take the bridge like we did. The island isn’t as great as the rest of the place, but it was getting dark and cold so I’ll probably go again in the summer to see what it’s meant to be like.

When we got back we were really hungry and my friend wanted to visit Lakers as he hadn’t been yet (which was strange as everyone had been by this point) and instead of the huge 19-inch pizza I got a burger.

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Sorry for the very long post but I condensed as much as possible! It still shocks me how much we managed to do in three weeks…if we had more time who knows what else we could have done?

 

 

 

Temple of Heaven

So I forgot the past few days to write something, and I actually started some uni work…
After our uneventful few days of Christmas/Boxing Day and the day after, we decided to actually go somewhere slightly more touristy. The Temple of Heaven. I thought it was just a temple but no, it’s in a park. A big park. And there are lots of smaller temples but the one I thought of (and I suspect most people would) is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.Image

The only problem was that it started to snow whilst we were there, so it got cold very quickly, coupled with the snow leftover from the days before made our experience a bit gloomier than we expected. We carried on walking through the park to the ‘Echo Wall’ where you can hear someone from the other side because of the echoes. I didn’t quite understand how it works as it’s not hugely big so you could probably hear someone without it. 

When the snow got heavier we decided to leave as the main part of the park closed at 5pm anyway and headed back to the silk market for last minute gifts. This time we haggled more than the first time, and were much better because we knew how to haggle. That doesn’t stop it from being awkward or uncomfortable when they want a ludicrous price and we didn’t budge from our normal one. It was still fun though and I bought what I needed so I wasn’t too bothered. However by this point we had been there almost two weeks and people were getting ill (flu, food poisoning – that’s for another post…) and I was much more tired than I had been so the haggling may have felt more tiring than it actually was.