First day and everybody wasn't kung fu fighting...
Trip Start Mar 13, 2011
1Trip End Mar 26, 2011
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Heading out with my fellow first year classmates - Dan, Amanda, and Katherine - we start the day by taking the wonderful subway up to the Pearl Market. This five-story shopping center sells the most random assortment of items and has the most aggressive sales staff I have seen since the Girl Scouts of America. Considering I still haven't replaced my wallet after it was stolen in Cusco, I enjoy haggling with a vendor for a sweet Levi's leather money clip (she started at 300 yuan and I ended up paying 100, interesting pricing structure). The good news from this bartering activity is that we get recommended a roast duck restaurant to visit!
Bianyifang is a famous roast duck restaurant, and was nearly impossible to find (4th floor of a random office building). After we are awkwardly greeted by a wonderfully nice host, the smells of high-quality chinese food hit us straight in the face. This was clearly a good call... Like most of our meals so far, the food comes out with the quickness, and we have both the chef slice the duck for us, and the waitress shows us how to eat the duck / celery / cabbage / sauce "tacos." The latter was a result of us clearly having no idea how to eat it.
2 large beers, one whole duck, and some spicy mushrooms came to roughly $15 per person - what a deal! We take our time and let the food digest before we head out on our next adventure.
The Yonghegong Lama Temple was constructed in 1694 for the Qing Dynasty Emperor as his primary residence. It is the largest temple in Beijing, and is host to more than 10 buddhas, including one the stands 18 meters high and is made from one, single piece of sandal wood. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, we cannot take pictures inside any of the sacred buildings. In reality, these temples, and all of China for that matter, are much more dirty and poorly kept compared to Japan. There is still a lot to see, but monks on their cell phones and newly poured concrete diminish the "specialness."
Next up, and our final stop on Katherine's fantastic Beijing tour (she planned everything), is the ridiculous Olympic Village. The 2008 games saw the construction of massive athletic complexes and miles and miles of concrete streets. This might be the largest man-made thing I have ever seen - felt like you could see the curvature of the earth when looking up or down the expansive pedestrian streets. We stop in front of the Bird's Nest, and then head into the Watercube for some great entertainment.
The olympic swimming facility has been turned into a water park, and watching the locals splash in the wave pool and dance to a singing shark was well worth the entrance fee. The main education from this trip was the quality in which these facilities were constructed. Less than three years later and the small details of the Watercube and surrounding complex are beginning to come apart... and it appears as if this village will look terrible in 5 years time.
Our feet are starting to tire, and we head back on the subway to our hotel for a short break before dinner. Amanda has worked with our classmate Ying to meet a friend named Chao for dinner. To have a local take us out and show us the ropes is crucial and most fortunate, and Chao is both a great host and story teller! We meet him in the CBD - "Chinese Business District" - and he takes us to a traditional sichuan cuisine restaurant.
We relinquish control of the menu to our amazing host, and he orders us a smattering of great food: "real" kung pow chicken, stringy pork, slow cooked pork, garlic broccoli (amazing), pumpkin, and more duck. We stuff our faces with the tasty fare and more Yanjing beers... this wrapped a truly fantastic day. We stop in at an ex-pat bar, but two more beers in and my eyes are having a hard time staying open. Chao recommends that I go home and get some sleep, and I can't say no. What a first day, and even though everybody wasn't kung fu fighting, I look forward to seeing more of what China has to offer!