Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Beijing Stop No. 2

The Temple of Heaven is a complex of various prayer halls, but the most famous it the round one behind us.  The emperor would come here to pray for the crops and good harvests.  The number 3 was very significant to them so you'll see it everywhere in the architecture.  If I remember correctly the first tier of steps signifies the earth, the second  is people, and the third is heaven. 
Ellie was very keen to climb all the steps by herself.  Note; there are nine steps for each level up the the temple.  Nine was also very important (3x3), and it represented the emperor.

While we were walking from this hall to the Circular Mound Altar we ran into a lady peddler selling scarfs for very cheap.  Crystal and I are both suckers for scarfs, so I got one and she got two Crystal paid her with a 100RMB note.  She slipped it into her stack of bills (thinking she was sly) and then pulled out another slightly torn note and said "Oh, this one too old, give me new one."  But Crystal was quick and had noticed her slight of hand, and that the note she was presenting was a fake.  Crystal said no way and told her to deal with it.  You've got to admit, it was a pretty sly trick.  Most foreigners wouldn't notice the difference and wouldn't have any issues trading her for a "newer" note.  Then the lady would have made twice as much money off of them.  But she couldn't fool my genius cousin!

So here is the Circular Mound Altar, again repeating the 3 motif.  Also, the rings of stones that surround the altar increase by the power of 9 (Ben loved this stuff, so did I actually).  For instance, the first ring of stones around the central altar stone had nine stones, the next had 18, the next had 27, etc. The emperor would stand on the central stone and become the direct connection to heaven and pray for good weather and rain for the crops.
And now tourists stand here and take photos. Including us.

After we were done here we took the subway down to Tian'anmen Square, hoping to look around, but it was pretty dark and we were starved.  So we found a nice little restaurant with the most unhelpful staff (that was not a requirement, but customer service is very very low on the totem pole for the Chinese), and had the famous Peking duck.  It was very tasty, but I sure did miss the timeliness of most Japanese and American restaurants.  It took quite a while to get our meal, and with a squirrely, hungry, and tired baby...well, you get the picture.

Monday, January 3, 2011

First Stop in China: Beijing

Ben and I have only been married 3 years now, so it should come as no surprise that beside roadtrips, this is the first big family vacation we've had.  Honestly, we wouldn't have even thought of doing it if we didn't live so close to China...or without Crystal and Aaron living there as well.  Anyway, it was a huge adventure and went without a hiccup...until the last few hours in Shanghai (but we'll get to that later).
I thought for my sanity and your's I'd break down my posts into the sites we saw, because we crammed a lot into a few days.

Really, our first stop was the airport, where we caught this in action.

We landed in Beijing on Friday night and took a taxi to our hotel. The first thing I learned about China is that their drivers are INSANE.  I thought Rome was crazy, but it was nothing compared to the speeding, law-ignoring chaos that was Chinese traffic.  Never in my life have I been so afraid for my life.  But we arrived intact and had a moderately decent rest on the second hardest bed I've ever encountered.  Apparently the Chinese believe that the firmer the mattress the better this is for your back.  I weep for pregnant Chinese women everywhere.

Lama Temple-Honestly, I'd never heard of this place, but it was really close to our hotel, and was recommended to us by some of Crystal and Aaron's friends.  I looked it up on wikipedia, and is it one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world.  And it was huge.  I wish I had known more about it before going, because I think that always makes things more interesting to see.
 So here are the three of us, fresh from bed, as you can tell by Ben's hair.

After the temple we had a wonderful traditional Chinese meal with the family of Crystal's Chinese tutor, Annie.  My favorite part was the duck, while Ellie was all over the red-bean paste hedgehog shaped dumplings.

And then Ellie passed out during the taxi ride back to the subway station.  It was wonderful, and a skill she continued to hone during our trip (thank heavens)!

That night we went to the Silk Street Market to do some souvenir shopping.  We let Aaron do the bargaining for us (he speaks Chinese) and picked up some great stuff for really cheap (*pashmina scarf-$5, cultured pearl necklace-$13, hanging cherry blossom painting-$30ish).  We discovered that the key for us was deciding beforehand what you would pay and walking away if you couldn't get it.  Invariably they shouted prices down the aisle as we walked away until they caved to our price.  We win!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Ellie Kisses

We just got back from our Christmas vacation to China to visit my cousin Crystal and her husband Aaron.  We had an amazing time and it was great to be with family for the holiday.  I've got tons of pictures to go through and posts to right up about it, but in the meantime please enjoy quite possibly my favorite moment from the whole vacation.  It is about 3 minutes long, so I don't blame you if you stop half way through since it's all pretty much the same thing.  But it is ridiculously cute.  Just thought I'd warn you.