China - Nanjing Road

Enjoyed a authentic Chinese dinner with the Amazon team at the famous South Beauty restaurant.

We got to try a special dish known as zong zi, rice dumplings which is a traditional food that is only served during the Dragon Boat Festival.

After dinner Kingsley and I went for a walk along Nanjing Road - the most luxurious shopping street in Shanghai and a fantastic spot for people watching.  The road was full of clusters of people singing Chinese opera and dancing.  We could have spent hours people watching along this road!

China - Shanghai

Beautiful sunny Shanghai
The Bund (which means the "Embankment") is Shanghai's famous waterfront running along the west shore of the Huangpu River.

Once a muddy towpath for boats along the river, the Bund was where the foreign powers that entered Shanghai after the Opium War of 1842 erected distinct Western-style banks and trading houses. From here, Shanghai grew into Asia's leading city in the 1920s and 1930s, a cosmopolitan and thriving commercial and financial center.

Looking out over the river I watched various cargo vessels, tourist ferries and other locally owned boats float by. The skyscraper on the far left is called the Oriental Pearl Tower. 

Many of the awesome colonial structures seen on the road along the Bund were built during that prosperous time in the early 1900's and have become an important part of Shanghai's cityscape.

Its interesting to think that these buildings are in Shanghai - it feels like it could be any European city. 

A very scenic spot for wedding photos. 

China - Summer Palace

The Summer Palace was built around 1100AD after the Imperial capital was moved to Beijing. Although its only about 40mins (with no traffic) outside the city center today, it was considered the pastoral countryside at the time of its construction. The grounds consists of a huge lake along the shore of the 200-foot high Longevity Hill. What's fascinating about the lake is it is entirely man-made, dug by hand and excavated by ox-pulled carts. The purpose of this was two-fold: built a magnificent lake, and use the earth to construct a 200 foot hill upon which to build a castle.

Notice a difference in the photo above and below? Pollution is a huge issue in Beijing. Shame that such a beautiful location is so dulled by the smog.

The Summer Palace has fallen prey to two acts of major destruction. The first took place in 1860 when the Anglo-French forces invaded Beijing. In 1888, Empress Dowager Cixi (AKA the Dragon Lady) diverted 30 million taels of silver originally designated for the Chinese navy into the reconstruction and enlargement of the Summer Palace.

The second great act of destruction took place in 1900 when the Eight-Power Allied Forces invaded Beijing. The great temples rebuilt in the 1880s were completely demolished and almost every valuable object in sight stolen by the invading troops. In 1902, when Empress Dowager Cixi returned to Beijing from Xi' an, she ordered the reconstruction of the park. According to historical records, she "rebuilt the Summer Palace with unbounded extravagance and opulence, spending some 40,000 taels of silver per day.

Just past the lake you enter the inner grounds of the Palace. The gardens here are decorated with enormous boulders, that were gifts to the Emperor. Its said the donor went bankrupt expending all his resources to move these giant rocks to the palace. As a result, its ok to photograph the rock (in photo below), but one should never be photographed with the rock or you too will suffer the same fate.

Old man writing beautiful Chinese characters in water on the sidewalk. 

The magnificent Long Corridor is 728 metres in length (was listed in the Guinness book of world record as the longest corridor in the world).

The Long Corridor is richly decorated with 14,000 paintings. The paintings depict historical and legendary figures from folk tales, episodes from Chinese classical literature, as well as traditional classical landscapes with birds, fish, flowers and all the beauty of nature. They are quite astonishing in their brilliance of color, detail and design.

The photos above and below give a glimpse of the scale of the corridor.

The Marble Boat

China - Beijing Hyatt

We really enjoyed our stay at the Grand Hyatt in Beijing.  The location was fantastic just a few blocks from the Forbidden city.  And it was a invaluably (english speaking) serene oasis to return to after our full days of effort, exploring and adventures.

The pool at the Hyatt really has to be seen to be believed. The underground oasis is set in a tropical rainforest in the basement of the Hyatt. There were multiple hot tubs that you could swim to, grottoes, palm trees and waterfalls. The workout room, jacuzzis, saunas and other facilities were equally impressive.

China - Jingshan Park

Jingshan Park which is located just north of the Forbidden city, is an especially a popular place for elderly people to gather together and socialize. On the weekends, one can often find elderly folks dancing, singing opera and doing other cultural activities.

Lets just say we were fascinated and maybe a little overwhelmed by the cacophony of the park. We witnessed ballroom dancing, singing groups, accordion playing Bollywood dancers and even watched a choir practice. I had never seen anything quite like it. There were literally hundreds of people singing and dancing in different groups, each trying to out do the other groups.
View of the massive forbidden city from the top of Jin hill which is in the center of the park. 

Yes I could not resist forcing Kingsley to dress up in the traditional bride and groom Chinese costumes.  I love how Kingsley is wearing the pearls and I'm wearing a tie!

China - Forbidden City

The Forbidden City, shares the honor of being one of five world-famous palaces with the Palace of Versailles in France, Buckingham Palace in England, the White House in the U.S. and the Kremlin in Russia.  It is the most magnificent and splendid palace complex in China and was listed as a World Cultural Heritage Building in 1987.

It was built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the construction of this group of buildings took fourteen years from 1406 to 1420. In the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it was the imperial palace where twenty-four emperors ascended the throne and exercised their strong power to the nation.

Our entrance ticket to the Forbidden city.

Consisting of more than 900 buildings the Forbidden City is absolutely huge – it’s a city within a city.

What I liked most about our visit to the Forbidden City was that even though we spent hours walking, everywhere we turned we were impressed by the massive scale and fine details of the palace. Every single inch of the Forbidden City had been crafted to be fit for the leaders of the Ming and Qing dynasties.

The Forbidden City is split into two parts, the Outer Court and the Inner Court. The Outer Court is where all political affairs were attended to and the Inner Court is where the Emperor and his Empress, wives, concubines, and wives of the former Emperor lived. The entire palace radiates from a central axis.

The central axis and the gates located on it were only allowed to be used by the Emperor himself. There were only two exceptions: one is on the Emperor's wedding day when the Empress entered the palace by the central axis, and the second is during the imperial examinations when the number one scholar was allowed to walk down the central axis to leave The Forbidden City.

Walking around the Forbidden City was amazing but also overwhelming, not only due to the scale of the palace, but of the grandeur of it. It was hard to wrap my head around the fact that such an extraordinary place could be built for one man.

Kingsley forever the tourist using his tripod and iPhone to photograph the palace. 

Colors and numbers were very important during China's feudal reigns.  Buildings were required to meet strict guidelines. Almost every roof in The Forbidden City is covered with golden tiles. Only the Emperor and temples he deemed worthy were allowed to use golden tiles. The number of protective animals on the corners of the roofs was also highly important. According to Taoist tradition women are even numbers and men are odd numbers. Since the number 9 is the highest single digit odd number, it was reserved for the emperor, so most things in The Forbidden City come in sets of nine.

China - Exposing Grandfathers

They're known as bang ye, or "exposing grandfathers"(despite their age range) who pull up their shirts to stay cool during the summertime heat. Considered uncouth in China, these men of a variety of ages, social standing, and (unfortunately) stomach sizes, have fallen victim to the fashion faux pas that's the Chinese equivalent of knee-high black socks with shorts. 

There have been efforts to try and quell shirtlessness in general, with government-officiated "civilization" initiatives, and newspapers printing images of shirtless men with bulging stomaches in order to shame them into compliance.  However the "civilization" initiative appears to have been a failure. In the age old question of comfort vs style - its pretty obvious who the clear winner is. 

China - 1993 vs. 2012

This was actually my second trip to China, the first being with my family way back in 1993.  In many ways China is a totally different place in 2012 but it was nice to see some things were still the same.

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Pictures from my scrapbook of our 1993 China trip

The Lido hotel where we stayed in 1993.  If I remember correctly it was one of the only hotel locations in Beijing at the time.  Though the ownership has changed.  It is still known as the Lido and is a very well known hotel in the city.

China - Lotus Lane

Just a few years ago the lakeside neighborhood north of the Forbidden city attracted only park-goers and weekend fishermen. Over the past year, the Bohemian area has been Yuppified, and emerged as one of the cool neighborhoods, with lots of bars, restaurants, and boutiques yes and even a Starbucks.

Posing in front of Qianhai lake.

Kingsley and I went to Lotus lane to enjoy the lake view and some lunch. I don't know if I am ashamed or proud to admit it but we couldn't stop ourselves from ordering something recognizable - pizza. There were 2 sizes on the menu small and large, though tempted to order the large we ordered the small hawaiian pizza and it was massive! However, never underestimate the power of low blood sugar combined with the mental craving for something "normal". We polished off the entire thing!

"Min i you make you face (about 20 minutes)" translation - in 20 minutes for some insane sum of money (which we will spend another 20min negotiating about) I can make a bobble head doll that looks just like you.

Kingsley giving me the please can I have some look next to the massive cotton candy. Don't worry I said NO!
Edible? Non-edible? That was often the question in China...

Tuk Tuk ride after lunch.