China – Day 1

Hongqaio Market

After our school visit, we had an extra hour to visit the Hongqaio market and haggle with the shopkeepers for the best deal on a variety of goods. Our guide spent time explaining the finer points of getting the best price, and not to worry if the retailers called us stingy or told us they were losing money on the deal – that is all part of the game. He also explained some important price points and that “special friend’s” price was definitely not the lowest they would go.

Of course, the first thing I spotted was a Starbucks – even here in Beijing a vanilla latte tastes the same. After a quick coffee and observing some of my fellow educators bargain some amazing deals, I tried out my skills and scored a bluetooth speaker and headphones and a new iWatch watch band, each for under $20 (if you know how much a watch band for an iWatch costs stateside, then you know what an awesome deal that is). I have to admit, it was a bit exhilarating. For someone who is not generally a shopper, the challenge pumped me up and I left with several bags of goods.

Factory 798/Dashanzi Modern Art Zone

Next on the agenda was a visit to the modern art zone. We didn’t have much time to explore, but I made the most of it. I explored the streets and alleys and came upon some truly amazing artwork. I particularly enjoyed a store called Sticky Monster. It was every bit as cool as the name would imply, with a variety of works of art, pins, statues, journals, and more unique items. Another interesting place was Cow Park, dedicated to the cow, of course. There were cow statues large and small and even a little green space for some grazing. Finally, I stumbled upon PandaMandy – my favorite, obviously. No haggling necessary here. The price was the price and very reasonable. Each vendor had its own flavor and provided a unique experience.

Aside from the shops there was artwork everywhere, even on the walls and fences. The graffiti art was outstanding and stood on its own as an outdoor exhibit. One gallery was dedicated to the superhero and another displayed antiques in sculpture. Dashanzi offers insight into the Chinese culture through art. It’s yet another face of this incredible country.

Yonghe Lama Temple

The Yonghe Lama Temple is a Buddhist temple in the middle of Beijing. On the day we visited it was raining hard, as June is the rainy season in China. This added to the atmosphere of this beautiful place. Built in the 1700’s it is home to the Wanfuge Pavilion, which houses the largest Maitreya statue in the world. It was carved out of a whole piece of white sandalwood and stands 18-meters high, with an 8-meter-deep foundation. No pictures are allowed inside the buildings or I would have one here. You’ll just have to go and check it out for yourself.

The temple is still in use today as a monastery. Monks study there and begin their journey toward enlightenment. Each building contains various statues of Buddha. As I was headed back to the entrance, I could hear a woman wailing in the second building. She was praying to the statue for longevity. Her wails were so heart-wrenching, I began to cry as I looked on at her bowing and praying. Her daughter stood in front of her watching. It was truly heartbreaking and powerful – such grief and faith together. Hundreds of Chinese were there to light incense and pray to the Buddha. It was overwhelming, really, to try and absorb it all. One day, I’d like to return and take my time – let the power and peace of this place to soak in.

Hutong Tour in a Rickshaw

The Rickshaw ride was a fun way to see the Hutong. Hutong are the original dwellings in Beijing before the population boom and expansion. Each house is small and made of gray brick. Riding in the rickshaw gave us time to observe and really see this historical area of the city. Families still live in these tiny homes, but they are worth a great deal of money now. The homes are not sold to private investors, as they are considered historical and need to be preserved. Instead, the government will sometimes pay to relocate families at the high price of $4,000,000.

Riding in the rickshaw was a kick in the pants. Rickshaws are not a common form of transportation as they used to be. They are now mainly for tourists. This is obvious, when you sit in the seat and the driver immediately offers to take your picture for a souvenir. Our driver struggled with my camera and I ended up with a short video instead of picture, so we settled for a selfie. The driver’s seat was a tad too high for him, and he used a wire strung from the back wheel to the front as a brake. His calves were mighty. It would be a difficult job, especially having to rely on tourism for an income.

Dinner in the Hutong

Dinner in the Hutong was a highlight of the day. Our tour group is quite large, so in order to accommodate our group, the family set up a table in the upstairs loft bedroom. Eating between a shower and a bed was an interesting experience. The family prepared and served the meal, which consisted of traditional Chinese fare – sticky rice, vegetables, small bits of meat, and beer. Everything tasted delicious and the hospitality was incredible.

After dinner, the patriarch of the family spoke to us about his story. He was a Kung Fu Master for many years at a local sports college from which Jet Li graduated. Both of his sons work in Kung Fu, too – one even choreographed the fight scenes for the movie “The Great Wall.” It is quite the story and according to our guide, every word is true, as the school displays many pictures of the Kung Fu Master throughout its halls. The family had several birds in cages hanging outside. The birds had fallen from the tree and the family was caring for them. They’ve rescued several birds over the years and one, which they let go, still lives in the tree and visits. It’s a magical place, this Hutong with it’s Kung Fu Master patriarch.

Whew! What a first day!

One thought on “China – Day 1

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