Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

EVA Airways “Lounges” at TPE Airport

If you were ever wondering how to pass the time at Taiwan/Taiyuan (TPE) airport, we have a suggestion. Depending upon the class of service and credit card tier and how you’ve booked your ticket on EVA Airways, their passenger lounges are absolutely the best bet. The airport terminal itself rivals any modern, upscale shopping mall, so there’s lots of shopping, eating, and browsing to be done. EVA hosts 4 passenger lounges, the Garden, Club, Star & Infinity and are on the second level.

This trip, we visited the Star & Infinity where the staff is courteous and extremely helpful. The space also has other amenities besides the usual tables, chairs and refreshments. You can also shower or catch a quick nap in one of the flat-reclining chairs in a dark corner of the space.

Did I mention refreshments? Yes I did. There is a large oval serving table in the middle of the food service area. Something for any taste East or West. A few soup selections, dumplings steamed or fried, congee, and noodles among the assortment. There is also a nice cooler full of crisp salads as well as another cooler filled with cold beer, juice, sodas, and waters.

One of our personal favorites happens to be the over-sized hot dogs, fresh off the grill. They have regular and cheese-stuffed with amazing tasty fresh buns. This is the only place I’ve been able to find these hot dogs in Taiwan. I wonder where EVA buys them? Never seen them at a night market.

I think probably the best part of the EVA lounge selection before boarding a continent-spanning flight is either a do it yourself liquor bar and a serve yourself Haagen-Dazs ice cream freezer. Either one of which would provide ample motivation to miss your flight.

In these days when passengers are alerted to report to the airport hours before flight time and are often stuck in extended connections, it’s very nice to know that EVA has thought ahead, and taken care of their customers on the ground in the same style and comfort as they do in the air. A quick call to the EVA toll free number can help you determine the qualifications required for entry into any of the EVA lounge areas.


Visit Chinatowns around the World

This page list the Chinatowns covered in Chinatownology. The current list has 35 Chinatowns in 19 countries spread over Asia, Europe and USA.





Today would be a double barreled day of Beijing tourism, punctuated by a huge lunch.Beijing Day 6 050 Beijing Day 6 021


Our first stop was The Temple of Earth (also referred to as the Ditan Park) was constructed in 1530 by Emperor Jia Jing during the Ming Dynasty. The park covers a 100 acre space outside of Beijing’s Second Ring Road, in the middle of a heavily populated area.


The park features lush gardens and tree lined paths. Beijing Day 6 048 Beijing Day 6 049 Beijing Day 6 042During the Cultural Revolution of China, the temple was damaged; however, the site has been restored and renovated since then.

As I had seen on several other buildings in China, the glazed figures adorning many of the rooftops were colorful and

looked as if they could have been made yesterday. At the museum section of Di Tan Park, there were several displays of

these intricate characters that could be seen up close in order to appreciate the craftsmanship.

Beijing Day 6 036 Beijing Day 6 023 Beijing Day 6 047Many of them were cast and fired in a mass production kiln, but each of them was meticulously hand painted so no two are actually alike.

Even the railing posts and guttering was ornate and featured a cast of these characters.

Many rooftop versions were protected from lightening by a halo of metal wiring. If you visit any of our other travel tours from this region, keep looking at the rooftops and corners of the building for examples of these figures.

The Temple of Earth was used for a specific purpose. Emperors of the Ming, and then later the Qing dynasties used the Temple for sacrifices which were used to appease the gods, who in turn would help the nation. These sacrifices took place at the Temple of Earth during the summer solstice. Some things that sacrifices were done for include good harvest, a strong stable nation, and good weather.Beijing Day 6 058 Beijing Day 6 059 Beijing Day 6 060

During the Chinese New Year (which usually begins on the first day of the first lunar month of the year) the Temple of Earth holds a very popular festival. The festival features thousands of red lanterns hanged on the many trees of the park, and thousands of locals and tourist flock to the park every year to participate, so if you check your calendar for the Lunar New Year date, it’s be a good time to be in China, generally, but especially in Di Tan Park.

The altar in the middle of the Temple of Earth in Ditan Park is called Fang Ze Tan, or “square water altar”. The altar is square shaped, once again referring to the old Chinese idea of a square shaped Earth. The altar used to be surrounded by water, but these days it is drained. The altar was used to offer sacrifices to the Earth God. On a north-south axis, the temple consists of 5 main buildings.

Once again wood-burning and incesnse pots were at every turn. As most temples, the sprawling walkways out from the cnter of the focal poiont were oriented to some celestial or lunar event, Stonehenge style. There is also usually an official entry point for many of the temples, like these gates into the Temple of Earth.

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On a north-south axis, the temple consists of 5 main buildings. The Fangze Altar, The Imperial Respecting House, The sacrifice Pavilion, The Fast Palace and the Divine Warehouse. For thousands of years, the Chinese have believed that important cosmic things could be symbolized using common shapes and directions. Because the Temple symbolizes the Earth, its footprint is square in shape. The square is a powerful symbol in Chinese culture and mythology which can mean Earth or the ground. The Temple’s construction mirrors these beliefs with its many square walls and altars. The Temple of Earth is also located in the north of Beijing, north being the direction associated with the Earth. In contrast to this, the much larger Temple of Heaven is circular in shape, symbolizing the heavens and sky, and is located in the south of Beijing. These two temples, along with the Temples of the Moon and Sun (located in the west and east, respectively), interact with each other in spiritually important ways. The Chinese government has listed the Earth temple as one of the most important historical monuments under special preservation.


Also, in one building, more like a museum, there were examples of items used by the emperor and his staff in carrying out the temple rituals, including a sedan chair to port the empress, an assortment of bells, chimes, drums.

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There was one final building to check-out called the Bell Tower. It’s a replica of the original.Beijing Day 6 045

As mentioned, Di Tan Park is part Temple of Earth…but it is mostly a park. A beautiful park, well cared-for with floral displays, exotic trees and shrubbery. Therefore, even after you’ve pondered the mysteries of the temple rituals, a wander through the landscaped area enhances the reality that the Earth is, also a temple. As we left the Temple of Earth section, it was a time for peace, quiet and reflection…and you’ll sense in this collection.

In closing, I think that if you are a farmer, gardener, floral designer, have a green-thumb, or are in any way connected to the agrarian world, a trip to the Temple of Earth is a must stop on your Beijing visit.

On the streets outside the Temple, there are many small stores selling ornaments and flowers, and incense to use ceremonially inside.Beijing Day 6 064 Beijing Day 6 065



No.2A Qianmen Main Street, Chongwen District, Beijing, China

Firstly, I wanted you to know that there are actually two railway museums in Beijing. If you want to see the history and the details of China’s vast rail history, you should visit the former Zhengyangmen East Railway Station of the Jingfeng Railway just southeast of Tiananmen Square. This location was opened in 2008 and is very accessible by bus and subway. There are 4 floors of exhibits tracing the history of railways with models, photos hardware and plenty of rail history in the form of smaller displays.

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As a long-time rail buff, I was determined to see some of China’s history. There are 4 floors of exhibits tracing the history of railways in China. If I guess correctly, every train enthusiast has their own special fondness for aspects of train lore. Mine stemmed from growing up in Indiana and being at the crossroads of three major railroads that came through town on a regular basis, including an abundance of steam locomotives. I’ll allow you to look through the photos of my few hours there.

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For those of you want to see real locomotives, they are 15km northwest of the city on the way to the airport. I enjoyed the museum in town although I would have vastly preferred to see some of the real “iron horses” in person. It is a vast collection of mostly steam locomotives. However, I must warn you. It takes forever to get there and is not (to my knowledge) served immediately by any subway service. You’ll need to plan this as a full day next time.

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I’ll know to plan a full day just for the “other” rail museum. Meanwhile, back in town, there was still plenty to look at in the few hours I had dedicated for this visit. Of interest were several models of proposed and under construction new rail stations in various cities throughout China.

The other China Railway Museum is a Chinese museum preserving locomotives built in the People’s Republic of China since 1949. The museum offers a total exhibition space of 16500m² and 8 exhibition tracks. The museum is located in Chaoyang District of Beijing City, some 15 km northeast of downtown Beijing, inside the circular test track that is part of the China National Railway Test Centre. There may also be excursion available through your hotel. Don’t drive.

For a sneak peak…here’s a borrowed photo of what to expect if you decide to make the day trip.Beijing Day 6 010

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FORBIDDEN CITY (Palace Museum)

Today, The Forbidden City would be our target. It is actually called the Palace Museum, since the entire compound is technically a museum, but Forbidden City sound more romantic and mysterious and was so named because for over 600 years, only dignitaries and members of the royal family and court could enter .


As mentioned, there are gates at the north and south end but you can only enter the north. We stopped briefly at the south gate for a few photos since our hotel was near the south gate. Then, we re-traced our steps as we had done going to Tiananmen Square around the perimeter or the compound to the south side. In all my photos you’ll see lots of parasols. The sun and heat were very intense and a parasol is a very common year round item to protect from the sun. In China, a tan is not considered healthy or desirable, so men and women both protect themselves from the sun. Many of these parasols are UV treated for extra protection.

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JianShan Park is directly opposite the north gate, so we spun around for a photo of the beautiful hillside and temple on top, before heading south for the Forbidden City entry.

We waited in line for a ticket for about 20 minutes. The tickets were 60 Yuan (about $8) and the lines to the ticket windows were in the baking sun with a sea of tourists, bearing parasols in front of us.


After getting our tickets, we entered through the huge gates and entered the first courtyard containing a sea of people


just wandering around trying to soak-up the size and scope of the environment.

The first thing one notices and continues to see throughout the place are hand carved stone railings, stairs, balistrades, walls, and ornamentation that gives the first inclination as to meticulous but massive work that went into the construction, begun 600 years ago. Of course, Bo always had his trusty yellow iPhone with all his Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter/Facebook) at the ready. Curiously, the outside world could never enter this place for centuries and now there’s virtual communication in and out to the rest of the world on a hand-held device.

Some other recurring icons were lions, dragons, and huge metal incense pots


It was, at this point about high-noon with the sun directly overhead. Shade in any quantity was at a premium. There were many additional side avenues and walkways running east and west where one could make a detour from the steady trek north through the center of the complex, with occasional stops for restrooms and refreshments. In Beijing, people do not drink the city tap water, so bottled water is commonplace. It’s even more necessary to carry water with you everywhere since there are no public water fountains.


Next building was Ti Shun Tang, (Hall of Intense Happiness) home of the Empress…


…followed by Yang Xin Dian (1537), the Hall of Mental Cultivation

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and then the Jiao Tai Dian (1522) Hall of Union and Peace. Clear English language signs tell the history and background.


Near the end of the large series of halls was Kun Ning Gong (1420) another residence for the various empresses.


Incidentally, in addition to wives, the emperor had many concubines who all had private quarters elsewhere on the compound. This is summer and not traditionally the best time for foreign tourists, but most Chinese from all over the country make pilgrimages to Beijing during the school’s out summer holiday. I am sure that it was many Chinese first and only visit to their capital city and were in as much wonderment at we westerners at the history and massive undertaking of building this palace.

I stopped for a few moments to let a tour group pass. They are everywhere, usually clad in matching shirts, hats, and led by someone carrying a pennant to keep everyone together.


A mother and two young daughters came over to me and wanted me to be in photo with them, for which I happily obliged their request. More ethnic celebrity. They get the Forbidden City and a tall American all for one price.

The next massive doorway enters into the Emperor’s gardens.


The formal gardens are the only places you’ll see any vegetation or foliage in the Forbidden City and it’s near the north gate exit, the oldest part of the compound. There are flowers, trees, and shrubs and one large stone-like grotto.

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From the gardens, we exited through the north gate. As mentioned, we were now almost back to where we started near the hotel which was one good thing about entering on the south and exiting the north…we were hot, exhausted, but practically home to the hotel with a shower and nap at hand.

On the walk back to the hotel, I captured a few iconic items including the new-fangled “rickshaws”. Now, electric motorized with a driver in front and a rear facing seat for 2 in the back. I’d like to have one of these in NYC.

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There were also large tricycles everywhere that seemed to be the mainstay workhorse vehicle for hauling, delivering, or transporting everything from trash to beer cases, to lumber, to fruit and vegetables.

Following a few hour rest, shower, and change of clothes, we headed out to the newest, modern shopping mall of mostly upscale clothing with everything from Armani ,GAP, Nike, Farragamo, Rolex, Perry Ellis, etc. The food court featured a huge Burger King and Starbucks amid a plethora of smaller specialty eateries.

The shopping street outside was wide and busy, full of people and well decorated with flowers and sculpture.

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Near the mall on a side street was, no doubt, the employee parking lot…for bicycles.


So in one day, we went from the Beijing of centuries ago to Beijing of today. From Forbidden City to Shopping Mall. Near the mall was Bo’s parent’s home in one of the old Hutong districts, so the family treated me to the Roast duck, some amazing whole fried fish, some rice wine and more Yan Jing beer

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I taught Bo’s father one English word, “Cheers!” We had copious handshakes and good nights before Bo and I headed back to the hotel.

Walking to the bus-stop, Bo called one of his friends (we’d met at karaoke) named Wevy (it’s a nickname, I don’t know what it means and it’s not Chinese, but he is). Wevy works at the Cartier jewelry store in Beijing and speaks very acceptable English. He also lives it the same neighborhood we were in, so Bo beckoned him to join us.


A few minutes later he showed up on his bicycle. Rather than take the bus back to the hotel. Bo, Wevy and I walked and talked all the way back. It was a beautiful night and most wonderful day.


Wow! …I’m really in China!

Tiananmen Square

Although most of the visit would be headquartered on the far west side of Beijing, for the three days that we’d be seeing

the sights in the historical district, we stayed at the Red Wall Hotel, conveniently located near the Forbidden City and

affording us an opportunity to be closer to the places we’d be visiting.

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This was Friday and Tiananmen Square was the destination and was at the south end of the Forbidden City which was

really only a few blocks from the hotel. We walked down the street and took a photo when we were across the street

from the North Gate. However, since Tiananmen Square was at the South gate, we had to circumnavigate the entire

Forbidden City compound to enter on the other side, which was about a mile walk.

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We snapped a few photos of the grounds, the moat, and the scenery along the way before arriving at the other side Where the South entry to the Forbidden City opens into Tiananmen Square.

Against the wall and over one of the entry gates is the iconic photo of Chairman Mao.

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White carved stone gates, walls, staircases and other ornamental objects are everywhere. Although this day was spent on the outside of the Forbidden City (technically called the palace Museum, generally only westerners refer to it as the Forbidden City). The square is huge. It’s bordered by the National Museum on one side with very large red signs on the front. That would be a trip for another day. Then there was Chairman Mao’s Memorial with the two tiered roof on another side of the square, where the Chairman’s body remains on exhibit several hours per day.

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There are some government buildings on the third side where the national Congress meets. There were thousands of people milling around, monuments, gardens and other memorials covering the square, including the Monument to the People’s Heroes. This huge structure is in the center of the square. As I walked through the area around the Forbidden City and the Square there were occasionally security guards who were mostly quite young, standing at attention for hours a day, looking exhausted. There was one guard at the Monument, standing with rifle at arm as if someone would try to sneak off with the monument in their backpack. I think is a great honor to serve as one of these guards. There is a guard’s dorm nearby where some off-duty soldiers were playing a kickball kind of game in their spare time.

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The far south side the square opens into Tianmen Street, a popular shopping street with a big entry gate, lovely shops

and a trolley car that ran back and forth on the tracks down the center of the street.Beijing Day 2 062 - Copy Beijing Day 2 066 - Copy

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After walking through some of the side streets with vendors selling countless items one cannot live without and just before dark we went back over to the main shopping street which is literally one fine restaurant after another, so we stopped in front of the few more famous (and more expensive ones) for a quick photo. Among the pricey and famous eateries are many smaller and equally delightful places to get certain specialty items like dumplings and soups.

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We finally arrived at a favorite spot of my host where some of his friends joined us for dinner. There was a set of statues in front of the restaurant of 3 Chinese men looking at the menu. The place had apparently been there for many, many years albeit through several reconstructions and incarnations. The entry was a doorway of hanging beads that were tied back. There was a boy at the entry whose job it was to see that the beads remained neatly tied. He re-tied them several times during our visit. Just down the street was a world class restaurant that served the famous Peking Roast Duck, but I just took a picture, far cheaper than eating there. Besides, I’d have a roast duck adventure on another night.

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I sampled some things and liked the steamed dumplings, but not the flavorless rice soup, as the pictures indicate

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I also discovered a delicious local beer, Yan Jing, in a large green bottle that became my drink of choice for the

remainder of the trip. I later learned that Yan Jing was the official beer sponsor of the 2008 Olympics, is the biggest

brewery in Asia with a plant that covers 550 acres.

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As darkness fell, the buildings, street, and gateway became brightly and colorfully illuminated and was quite spectacular.

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Most of the building were well illuminated and I got a few night shots as we walked back to the hotel.

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This was a full day and an early night. On this warm summer night, after hours in the sun and seeing history before our eyes, Beijing became a truly magical place.

Jade-Silk-Massage-Cloisonné Tourism stops along-the-way

The tour guide explained to us that after the morning visit to the Great Wall, we’d make a series of stops. This is not unusual. On almost every tour of any part of China, you’ll wind up lengthening your excursion by stopping off at several places along the way. Although the goal is clearly to sell you something, I found that I enjoyed most of the stopovers and was able to restrain my spending. Usually, I did get some small token from the places. So I had a souvenir, and a story to go along with it, something I would not have had if I’d limited my shopping the general merchandise tourist shops. The first of which was a jade factory where many items of jade were manufactured. Jade is extremely popular in China and comes in many varieties of quality and purpose. As our van pulled away from the wall, the inbound traffic was incredible. Our drive was about 30 minutes to the Jade factory where we could see items being made.

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After walking through the factory, there was (of course) a trip to the massive showroom, where we could purchase something. In the showroom there were many incredible jade carvings, some huge and priceless. I’ve never seen such an amazing collection of artifacts, all from jade and in many cases, intricately carved from a single piece of stone. On the attached photos, I am showing you some high resolution pictures of the items. Please magnify them to take a closer look at the artwork and craftsmanship.

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Following the jade factory, it was lunchtime, so next stop was lunch at a huge government operated restaurant along the highway. It was a beehive of activity with dozens of tour busses coming in and out. The lunchroom had large round tables seating 10-12 people each. The place was massive and set up to serve several hundred tour busses a day. The meal was also a very traditional Chinese meal with 8 or nine entrees served on a giant lazy-Susan in the center. Our table seated 10 and there was more than enough food for all and it was quite good.

It is also quite traditional to take photos of food and meals in China. Almost everyone I met there took a photo of everything they ate and posted it to their social media followers. Photos of meal platters would be posted globally before the first bite was taken. For this reason, I opted to NOT take any food photos at this stop.

Back to the bus…

Following the lunch break, we headed to the next stop, the Ming Tombs, where 13 Emperors of the Ming Dynasty are buried. The actual tomb complex was completed during the last 100 years of the Ming Dynasty before they gave way to the Qing Dynasty. Had the Ming Dynasty continued, there would have been allocated space for future burials. If the Ming ever return, their burial plots are ready and paid for


It’s really a long sweeping set of stairways passing through some temples and bell towers.

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The largest building at the top is a meeting and banquet hall set up with typical furnishings and bells and a striking blue ceiling.

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The actual tombs are underground and spread throughout the area. Only one has been excavated.

Our tour guide had a pink parasol and spent some time here speaking with Bo, since he was the only Chinese person in our group. It was a relief for him to get to speak Chinese for a while as it was a relief for me to speak English with the British couple and Danish family for most of the day


Our next, stop would be another factory where the famous cloisonné pottery and decorative items were made. Once again, we were afforded an opportunity to hear about the manufacture and watch the craftsmen making these items. I purchased a small acorn-shaped container here.

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Quite beautiful, and unlike most souvenirs, useful and decorative…also with a story behind it.

Back on the bus…

Next, we stopped for a look at the athletic complex home to the Asia Games. We were treated to a foot massage by students at a massage school on the premises. This part of the tour was kind of a surprise, but refreshing given all the walking and climbing and shopping.

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Next, we weren’t done yet. After the massage we headed to a nearby silk factory where we were shown how silk is made from worm to finished product. As usual, we wound up in a vast showroom of silk sheets, suits, shirts, bolts of fabric and all manner of silk apparel and items.

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The factory was upstairs in a huge traditional looking Chinese building with a large statue of Qin, China’s first emperor who unified China (221 BC) on the stairway.


The final stop of the day was at a tea palace, where we were given an explanation of the proper etiquette of tea brewing and the significance of tea in Chinese culture and the tea ceremony. Obviously this experience was followed by ample opportunities to purchase some exotic teas as well as tea paraphernalia. I got two tea-making tea cups, one for myself and one for my friend who is a regular tea drinker and was back home in NYC watching my cat during my journey.

Finally, the van returned us to the hotel at 5:00pm. This had been a really full day with the Great Wall, Ming Tombs, a lunch, a foot massage, and visits to tea, silk, jade, and cloisonné factories. The whole day tour cost only 180 Yuan per person, about $30.

Although we’d checked out of the hotel in the morning, they kept our luggage for us while we were on the tour. Bo had called ahead of time and had our regular driver meet us at the hotel to take us back to the apartment.

I am sure we must have had dinner somewhere that night, but it escapes me. There is a very nice shopping mall near the apartment that, of all things, has a Papa John’s pizza restaurant. We may have just thrown in the towel and gone there.

We were exhausted following four consecutive days of trooping around Chinese benchmark locales.

Temple of Heaven


I think overall, this is the only ‘must see” place in Beijing. It is a huge garden and lawn and wooded complex, home to The Temple of Heaven. This is where the emperor regularly came to acknowledge the gifts of heaven. A remarkable blue tower is the centerpiece of the compound. It is remarkable beautiful, historical, and reflective. A perfect combination of nature, culture, and mysticism.


A ticket is required for entry, so we stopped at the ticket booth for a photo at the front gate, then entered the Temple of Heaven. I suggest that anyone interested read about this place for far more detail than I can convey. I took a photo of the map and legend at the entry, you might want to zoom in on that picture and look around.

Wonderful buildings, intricate stone carved railing and stairways and fences. Rooftops and simple tile drainpipes adorned with glazed statues and figures that could look as brand new. The colors, the tiles, the glazings, all from 500 years ago, same vintage as the Forbidden City, remarkably and vibrantly still colorful.

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There were also massive incense pots and burners. Some look like cauldrons, others like 2 handled coffee pots.

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The main temple building was incredibly beautiful with multi-colored (mostly blue) tile adornment and was a huge single altar room. The locale was on a hill, with modern Beijing skyline in the distance.

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There was also a flat alter that looked like a layered wedding cake and a center stone that was central to the astronomy of the time marking the equinox, much like Stonehenge with an entry through large carved stone gates, lined up to welcome the sunrise



Legend has it that if you speak something from the central point of this temple, the heavens will hear you, so there is never a shortage of people to stand and be heard.

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The grounds were very peaceful and well laid-out, including century old twisted cypress trees and formal gardens.

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As we walked across the grounds, we heard music and followed the sound to a beautiful twin-towered structure where a vocal group was performing (or rehearsing).


It was connected to several other outdoor gazebo-like buildings. This was an area for relaxation and reflection.


There was a smaller temple structure off to one side and more intricate glazed figures along the eaves. Modern day lightening receptors surround the delicate glades figures to protect them.

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Part of it visiting the building and reading the history, the rest enjoying the peacefulness and the grounds.


Departing the Temple of Heaven, we passed a few more workhorse tricycles…


…and met-up with some more friends who’d made dinner arrangements at an area near a lake with illuminated restaurants, shops, and markets.

We were very hungry. There were six of us and we had about ten courses to share (all meals are shared in a Chinese restaurant). Yes, they had Yan Jing Beer.

It was about a 45 minute walk on the warm night back to the hotel, but a very full day. It was getting dark and the combination of the lights and the darkening sky was beautiful.


OK, sometime, it’s good to be a kid again, or at least act like one. Our intrepid group of local friend and I decided to hit one of Beijing’s amusement parks, There are several, the largest of which closed before it opened. Today we’ll go to the Shijingshan Park on the western side of Beijing and not far from the Number 1 subway line and only a few stops from where I was staying in Pinguoyuan. There was some sort of exotic ticketing experience and coupons that my colleagues engaged in to get the best price for all. It was August, but there was still a Christmas tree at the entry plaza.

Great Wall

Beijing Day 3-4 198This would be the last day in the hotel. My entire trip was planned to be done without any formal tour guides or excursions. The only slight exception was that the hotel offered, through its tour desk, a daily trip to the Great Wall. When I made the hotel reservation, I signed up for the day trip, as well.

We checked out of the hotel early in the morning and the van carrying about 8 other people from other hotels, picked us up at the 7:00am. We had 2 Korean girls, a Danish family of 5 (with 3 small children), a Japanese girl, an older couple from Hastings, U.K. and a man from Albania. Everyone spoke English. There was a driver and an English-speaking tour guide. She explained where we be going and what the day schedule would be. The first stop would be Badaling, where a section of the Great Wall comes nearest to Beijing. First glimpse of the wall through the morning haze was amazing.

Our drive to Badaling was about an hour through relatively unremarkable rural scenery. We did start to notice a change in the topography with the presence of hills and small mountains. My first glimpse of a wall section was as we turned off the main highway and I spotted a wall section atop a mountain. Upon arrival at the parking area at 8:20am, we were told by our guide that we’d be on our own for two hours and to meet back at the van at 10:20am. The parking area opens directly to a series of walkways to ascend to the top of the wall. The goal here is to walk along the top as far as you like, within the time allotted.Beijing Day 3-4 209

There are many sections of the Great Wall. It stops and starts over a thousand miles of territory. Some of the wall sections are connected to each other, some are not. There are, therefore, many Great Walls. Arriving at the Great Wall early would turn out to be a great idea since the influx of tourists increases remarkably as the morning wears on.


The wall is wide; however the section where we were is on a sweeping uphill grade with very steep steps, making the trip more of a climb than a walk. We could see a steady stream of people trekking up (or down) the wall.

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The wall here is near a river and extends from the river upward to the top of a mountain. At the lowest part at the river, a section of the wall was a bridge with several taller buildings built up and over the river. I presume this was a primary staging area for supplies being shipped to the wall as it was being constructed and to supply to soldiers who patrolled the wall, keeping the Mongols away.

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There as a tower at the top and the wall took a right angle and went toward another tower and then, still another tower along the top of the mountain. There are, along the way various courtyards and places that could have served as barracks and guard posts.Beijing Day 3-4 218

The heartiest and most athletic could perhaps make it to the second tower and back within the two hours. No one in our group did. In fact, few made it to the top of the mountain to the first tower. I actually didn’t come to China to “climb” the Great Wall…I came to “see” it and spend some time walking around it.

The weather was sunny, but there was a lot of morning fog and haziness, adding an eerie quality to the landscape. I did take a few photos off in the distance to see portions of the Wall and well as looking up and then looking back down from the section on which we were walking/climbing. The countryside is dotted with other ancient buildings, temples and out-structures that can be seen from the wall, although exactly what they are is not explained.

Beijing Day 3-4 224At the base of the wall near the parking area is a large white stone with the official name of the wall section cut into it in Chinese calligraphy with everyone clamoring to get their photo in front of it.

We climbed about halfway up and them back down to explore some of the other building connected to the wall.

As our van pulled away from the wall, the inbound traffic was incredible. Many Beijing Day 3-4 217newly-arriving tourists opted to disembark from their tour busses a mile or more away from the wall. It was total gridlock. Had we not come as early as we did, we may still have been there. Keep in mind, as I said before, there are many Great Walls and where you are in China determines what Wall you will be likely to visit. Many sections are vastly remote and accessible only by special tour. Other sections are near larger cities and smaller villages offering accommodation and amenities without the vast crowds. Because the wall was built over many centuries, where you decide to visit it may also alter the building materials, the technology, and the purpose for the section. I was in Beijing and this part near Badaling is the closest to the city. It was also summer, Chinese tourist high season. Should you visit Beijing in Fall, Winter, or Spring, the crowds would be far less.

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OK, I did it. Made it to the Great Wall.