Talks of visiting China were in the works at least a month before I actually got to score promo fare flights. Never did I expect to get this far for this year’s travel, but thanks to my tita and mom’s generosity, I got to go (yey!). Two weeks before the planned trip, mom and I secured our tourist visas in the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China (located at the World Center, Gil Puyat Ave, Makati). A week before the trip I was booking us tours for the many attractions in Beijing, and 2 days before the flight, we were packing our bags. My suitcase, tickets, Insights Guide book, and my energy we’re all ready, however, my communication skills weren’t - nonetheless, we were all good to go!
Our flight was at 735PM bound for China’s capital city - Beijing. Its a 4 1/2 hour flight with no time difference and arrival was July 8, 2011 past 12 midnight in the Beijing International airport. Immigration was smooth since there weren’t other flights arriving and they have this really cool camera thing on the immigration booth that takes a photo of you and records your information. We had airport employees assisting us since we asked for wheelchair aid for my aunts and I was trying to figure out what they we’re telling us, and them the same thing. The language barrier was pretty hard to deal with for first timers like us. I seriously tried learning useful phrases in Mandarin, memorizing the intonations, syllabication, and pronunciation using online tutorials and my guide book, but when I got there I didn’t have the guts to utter any of it because I might end up to be a comical fail. I did try some small words to say in broken Mandarin, and lo! one of the employees asked me (in Mandarin of course) if I was the tour guide and if I spoke Chinese (hahaha. who’d have thought na naintindihan nyo ung mga sinabi ko, di ko nga sure kung tama! haha), the only part of which I understood was the “if I spoke Chinese” part (He later politely translated it in English after seeing my dumbfounded face). Of course I had to say no, otherwise I’d end up communicating with him with a big question mark hanging over my head, but it was nice to know he thought I actually can! big LOL. After the immigration, the mishaps did not end there! (kakalanding pa nga lang umeepic fail na kami! haha) My aunts in wheelchairs were brought ahead to the waiting shuttle of Sheraton Beijing, and since my mom and tita where far behind because they had to do forex, we had to wait for them only to realize in my horror that I’ve lost the employees who were suppose to point us to where the shuttle was parked. My niece and I had to scramble for a few good minutes to locate wherever it was and I went down to the arrival area again to search for some guy in yellow. Thankfully on my 3rd attempt to circle the arrival area, he was there and he led us to the shuttle. We left the airport waaay past 1AM and checked-in the hotel at past 2AM. Tired from all the epic fail instances, we all tucked in for some rest to get ready for our first day in Beijing. Thank goodness, the bed was so fluffy and comfy.
We woke up to this view from our hotel room in the Great Wall Sheraton Beijing which is located in the Chaoyang District. Big thanks to one of my Uncle’s Starwoods privileges, we got a hot rate. It was past 8AM and the city was waiting for us. We had some cup noodles from breakfast (yes, it pays to have some baon in case of quick food emergencies) and got ready to get somewhere in the city. I didn’t book any tours for our first day so we’d have all the time in the world to take on Beijing by ourselves and by our own pace. So we decided to have our first stop within the Wangfujing area to visit St. Joseph’s Cathdral (and give thanks for a smooth flight and arrival). Taxis were readily available at the entrance of the hotel, and the doormen are nice enough to translate your destination to the driver, when they still can’t figure it out, the concierge gives you a card written with Chinese characters of the places you want to go to. Since communicating is hard, do remember to bring a map, highlight where you want to go to and show the drivers in Chinese characters. The government normally mandates all licensed Chinese taxi drivers to learn English, but since I think it is a very tedious task for them, most just carry on without the lessons.
We haven’t fully decided where to go and since it was nearing lunch time already, we decided to be dropped off at Donghuamen street - the area near the Forbidden city. We left the hotel at around 10am, only to be welcomed by rush hour traffic. It was like EDSA all over again, and the jam is an apparent annoyance to all taxi drivers, seeing them cursing and getting out of the car to check on the hold up. The heat was not helping either as it was summer time in China, the temperature was up at around 37 degrees Celsius, and the cab we were in had poor air conditioning. The traffic lights hold up to about 5 (or maybe more) minutes before it turns green and since we were on the main street, imagine how many 5 minutes it was before we could reach our destination.
We were dropped off at past 11AM and since we were in 2 taxis, it was inevitable to lose our other companions. Hungry from only the cup noodles breakfast, my mom, my niece Alia, my auntie Lillian, and I grabbed some sesame sandwiches being sold on the side street to get past the hunger pains.
Sesame bread with ham, egg and greens. It was actually pretty good for a side street food. The sesame bread/muffin was really tasty. It reminded me of a puff pastry outside and soft pandesal on the inside. We ate and walked along the stretch of the street to try our luck in finding my other titas. Good thing we spotted them crossing the street on the next block whilst taking pictures. Obvious na obvious na kasama namin. hahaha!
After being reunited, we carried on to find some place to eat, which was a very challenging task as all the establishments were in their Chinese names. You can only tell its a food place because a) pictures of food plastered on their walls (duh!) b)there’s a crowd gathering at the entrances c) there’s people eating inside.
We decided to settle in this restaurant, which I have no idea what it’s called in English so I continue to call it “The Chinese resto at the right corner of Donghuamen street.” HAHAHA. If anyone ever figures it out, pleeeez let me know! But even if I still don’t know, the food was delish especially when we had this:
Authentic Peking Duck right smack in the heart of China! If you have been watching NatGeo’s Food Lover’s guide or have been eating Peking Duck since you ever found out how yummy it is, you’d know why I have my photos arranged in this manner, if not, well here’s a short explanation: They thinly slice the roasted duck into strips (it is that delicate!), and mind you, in amazingly proportional sizes, and lay it down on the plate. They serve the wrapper, the Hoisin sauce, and the fruits and greens that go along with it. You take a piece of wrap, pick up (use chopsticks please!) some spring onions and use it to dab the sauce on the warpper, take a piece of duck, add whichever sidings you want, roll it, and enjoy it! Although for some, the taste and texture may need some getting used to (you know its not the same as chicken once you eat it) but it is Beijing’s most famous dish, so make sure to have one whenever visiting.
Here are some of the other dishes we had:
We had a good lunch for our first day, and the Manager was very helpful too since he can converse in English. After settling the bill, we all agreed to just walk the length of the street to find the church we were to visit. What better way to explore than walking right?!
The afternoon sun had no mercy, but thankfully there was a cool breeze and less pollution along the street, so taking a leisurely walk was not as horrible as I imagined it would be. There were a lot of shops selling souvenirs which tend to be overpriced for tourists, remember to bargain just like in Divisoria (DuoShao = How much, Tai gui le = too expensive).
Along the way, we saw so much of these on the side walks. Curiosity got the best of me that I just had to ask the middle-aged couple selling them (who fondly called me Filipina - haha they know). I soon found out that it was a cold yogurt drink, and because I’m a fan of yogurt, I wouldn’t let this chance pass up. I can’t quite remember if it was sold for 2 RMB or 5RMB, but it was soooo good, especially in beating the heat. Plus, how it was sold was too cute! It in ceramic jars covered with those white paper and you just punch your straw in. You have to drink it where you buy it though because you have to return the jars.
Post yogurt moment, we made our way further along until we hit Wangfujing Street like BAM!
Pinch me! I must be in Times Square… Times Square of Beijing that is. Billboards, electronic ads, crowds of locals and tourists, street cafes, ginormous shopping establishments flashing the big and the branded - We have reached the holy land of shopaholics! Napa-WOW nalang ako.
Before I broke into the impulsive-shopaholic-kahit-on-a-budget, we took a left turn on the street to first locate the Cathedral we have been hoping to see since we left the hotel. After one block, tananan!
St. Joseph’s Cathedral (Dongtang in Chinese) has this grand structure from the outside to the inside. You wouldn’t really think this beautiful church would sit so perfectly in the middle of a shopping district.
It is one of most recognizable Catholic monuments in Beijing and was originally built for Jesuits who used to reside there in the 16th century. It has also been destroyed and reconstructed many times until its present structure. The Catholic churches in Beijing however are not recognized by the Vatican or is officially affiliated to Roman Catholicism as the religion is technically illegal in China because of their communist party system and beliefs. The churches here are run under the supervision of the state and does not accept the rules of the Vatican having had a long and complicated history with the establishment of Catholicism in the country.
We said our prayers and wishes for awhile and then continued with our city escapade.
It was past 4pm when some of my titas decided to call it a day and go back to the hotel. Hungry for more city adventures, me, alia and my mom decided to stay a bit longer to explore and ogle at the items being sold on every corner.
We made our way to the Jade Palace where tons of people flocked in. There was so much stuff being sold in there for bargain prices that we ended up getting baskets and filling it with the loots parading the halls of place. Jade necklaces (which I pretty much am sure are fake, but still nice to look at), figurines, pens, fans, paperweights, bracelets, key chains, phone charms, individually packed rice cakes, preserved fruits and even Peking ducks were sold there. I grabbed some rice cakes and preserve fruits which were sold by the pound, china doll phone charms, and necklaces. I wanted to contemplate on some more stuff to buy but the volume of people coming in made it hard to navigate and do business. We had to give up and move on from the place - walang naggawa ang hustler Divisoria shopping powers ko since they don’t really understand or even bother when you say “excuse me” makitulak ka nalang rin! Haha.
(Hermes, Chanel, Gucci, Cartier… PERA ASAN KA BA?! HAHAHA)
We explored the malls some more and went further down Wangfujing. At the end of the street which leads to Beijing’s main highway was this structure commemorating the 90th anniversary of China’s Communist Party
The Communist party currently headed by President Hu Jintao is the revolutionary organization founded in July 1921. It is the unitary government that centralizes the state, military, and media (www.wikipedia.org). The anniversary is felt all over Beijing because there are many of these structures and banners displayed in the streets and places of attractions in the city.
After strolling for about an hour, we headed to the nearest McDonald’s to grab some early dinner since we were all too tamad to explore anymore authentic Chinese food. A good thing about McDonald’s all over the world is that it will always have an English menu even if it is not an English-speaking country (same goes for the branch I once visited in Paris) which you can just point at when the person over the counter does not understand you. The place was packed with both locals and tourists, but the interior of the place was pretty modern and hip. They also had additional stuff on the menu like Chili Wings, different dips for the nuggets, and more flavors for their sundaes. I had a double cheeseburger and Coca-cola.
Other than Mcdo, we also grabbed some Happy Lemon while strolling and making our way to our last destination for the day: Donghuamen Yeshichang or the well-known Night Food Market that lights up the strip of Donghuamen street. It opens as early as 5PM, and its a must for food lovers, tourists, and extremists who loves too much adventures in life. Numerous stalls are lined up on the side streets selling the most varied and exotic street food imaginable. How exotic? I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Here’s my mom happily enjoying her Watermelon, perhaps the only food that she could fanthom eating in the night market.
crickets, beetles, scorpions anyone?!
Holy kamote, SHARKS on stakes?! After seeing them displayed in one of the stalls, and even worst, deep-fried to chicharon crispiness, I totally chickened out on trying anything at all.
I originally planned way before arriving in Beijing to try a deep-fried starfish, but after seeing the sharks, wala na talaga. At may snake meat pang katabi ung starfish, look! I lost all the saved up lakas-ng-loob right there, and just contented myself with pictures. I’m sure Patrick Star was very happy that I didn’t attempt eating his relatives.
For the most part, the place is actually one of the tourist attractions in Beijing. It happens every night and so many people (especially visitors) gather to either just check it out or actually feed their tummies. Since it is situated on the street, I am not so sure by the cleanliness or freshness of the food being sold. The manager from the restaurant that we ate in earlier actually discouraged me to do so since I am a first timer and have only so much precious days to spend in the city. I wouldn’t want an untimely stomach ache would I? Coincidentally, our tour guide the next day also said the same, but in her experience, its always a must-see for anyone visiting Beijing.
We called it a day after reaching the end of the stalls and hailed a taxi that would bring us back to the hotel. As oppose to taxis on queue in front of hotels, you have to be really patient and smart it getting one when in the city. Some taxis tend to charge you a fixed rate which may be double or triple the amount you should pay (they are normally the ones parked on the street or standing by touristy areas). Do bring along a card with the hotel’s Chinese name on it to hand to the driver, so they don’t have much of a problem locating where to bring you. Our taxi driver was pretty cool, he had a GPS installed on his taxi and just entered our hotel name, and we got back to the hotel in no time (no main street traffic!).
Kicked off our shoes, and killed some time with MTV China (which played Kpop stuff! hihi) before tucking in. The next day, we submerge into history.