My life has been busy lately. Ling ling is moving to California soon, and this would be one of my last trips to China prior to her move. I’ve decided to take you along, albeit in virtual fashion, hopefully to both entertain and inform those of you considering a trip to China. We spent time in three cities, and invite you to click on the place names to jump over to our flickr photo album for more eyecandy.
Those of you who know me well know this summarizes my life in a nutshell. I’ve always envisioned an end goal and never work via a checklist; I prefer flexible planning and taking calculated risks to catapault me forward. Rigid planning precludes serendipity. So much to my surprise, I met the most radiant, vibrant, and loving person in my world a year ago. Serendipity personified. I went back to see her in China one last time before she moves here to the US, and microblogged the trip. I figured I’d share some thoughts and sights here as well.
Ling ling and I segmented our trip between Beijing, Shanghai, and a small town she grew up in called Lianyungang. Her birthplace the home of the mythical Hua Guo mountain, as well as some rather humourous signage. It’s a port town between Beijing and Shanghai, and the location of the Han people’s most widely known epic play Sun Wukong (aka The Monkey King). If you ever take in a Beijing Opera performance, the legend of Sun Wukong is what you’ll be treated to. Aside from the breathtaking mountain range, the other popular place to go hang out, of course, is the windswept oceanfront.
We had a wonderful time as always with the Dai clan. As it turns out, the buzz on the trip was Ling ling’s father buying his first car. You’ve probably read about how China is moving from “green” bicycling and mass transit to commuter traffic. I was able to see the transition from the ground floor, and as such I have mixed feelings about the transition (which I’ll spare boring you with). Regardless, it was quite an adventure riding in the backseat behind a neophyte driver in a place where traffic rules are more like suggestions. He managed well enough to get us all over town, including to the beachfront to take the following picture on our last night in Lianyungang.
The other big change in their lives is the purchase of a new home in Lianyun, just a stone’s throw from their current home. They’ve purchased into the new Dacheng development, currently under construction and due for completion in 2008. According to Chinese tradition, they were delighted to inform us they will “preserve” on the three bedrooms for their daughter and news son. They’re simply the most awesome in-laws I could hope for, and I look forward to seeing the new home next year. Unfortunately, Ling ling will have to part with her favorite next door neighbor, seen with her below.
On our final day, we spent the day in a number of scenic spots at the foothills of the largest mountain in the city. The staff at Qingyu Works, who we hired to immortalize these moments was a pleasure to work with, and had a great sense of humor throughout the marathon photo shoot (which took hours). While the professionally produced photos are not yet ready, here’s a preview of things to come:
My life is typical of the information age: distributed yet ironically connected in ways unimaginable 20 years ago. In this age, home is less defined by a dot on a map and more by where you feel as though you know everyone. By that measure, Beijing certainly feels like home in every important way. The place feels comfortable the way a broken in pair of jeans does.
One of my favorite lunchtime haunts in Beijing is Bianyifang in Chongwenmen, where the prices are great, the Peking Roast Duck is delicious, the service is spotty, and Ling ling manages to get into a hysterical spat with the waitress every time we arrive. One of my favorite pics I took this trip is the following picture at the entrance to Bianyifang.
We spent some time there and then shopped around the Chongwenmen district for a bit. No sightseeing, price haggling or tourist traps this time around; I think I’m starting to feel like a local after getting the local scoop. We spent the time window shopping at the Grand Pacific, and taking in a Beijing Opera performance at the Liyuan theater. After reading about Lianyungang above, you can probably guess what epic play was photographed below.
The superbly-acted opera performance proved more elaborate than the foreigner-friendly Lao She Teahouse performance, yet the ambiance was missing. Lao She perfects makes Peking Opera an experience to be savored the way tea is to be enjoyed, while Liyuan‘s auditorium seating feels a bit more like watching a movie. On the other hand, Lao She felt rushed and incomplete compared to vibrant Liyuan; Lao She put on a performance designed for ADD foreigners taking in the local culture. I would love to combine the ambiance of Lao She with the meticulously choreographed Liyuan performance.
Surging, electric, ostentacious, dubiously architectured, China meets Buck Rogers. That’s Shanghai. If Beijing is the civic center of China, and Hong Kong is its Hollywood, Shanghai is its capitalist center.
A center crowded with people on China’s national holiday, as you can see above. In fact the crowds of folks venturing out were so thick, I would liken it to being in a crammed elevator all the time. Hailing a cab took us about half an hour at times – I was beginning to feel like Danny Glover there for a while.
Most of our sightseeing centered around Chenghuangmiao (“God’s temple in the city”) , which was originally buit in 1403 during the Yongle era of the Ming Dynasty. As the name suggests, the walled city was build to beseech the gods to protect the city. Today, it’s the largest street market I’ve ever seen. While there are a number of outstanding local eateries, it’s worthwhile to purchase the local delicacies from the sidewalk vendors who hang out a shingle within the temple walls. These seems to be popular with the locals as well as travelers from afar.
Much like the rest of the city, Chenghuangmiao was packed with local visitors taking to the streets as is common during the National Day holiday.
By nightfall, we took a walk down the colonial promenade and called it a day. The next day we made our way to the to the Oriental Pearl Tower seen below; Easily the most recognizable fixture in the Shanghai skyline.
We made our way up the tower, to an expansive view of the rest of the city from the observation deck of the tower. Before hitting the observation deck, we stopped over at the revolving floor restaurant in the middle of the tower. It was pretty cool watching a constantly moving view of the Shanghai skyline, and I managed to catch a nice snapshot of the view outside the window which includes the two tallest buildings dotting the Shanghai skyline: on the left is the Shanghai World Financial Center, to the right is the Jin Mao Tower.
Much like Las Vegas or New York City, Shanghai really shines at night. I wondered if the cornucopia of neon lighting would end up making the city look like a large scale amusement park, but far from it; the rainbow of neon lends a beautiful glow to the city.