From April 2007

South Korea

South Korea Flag

In case anyone’s wondering where I am, I’m currently in Seoul, South Korea for a short holiday before heading back to London next week. The journey here on Friday afternoon from Beijing unfortunately turned into a big nightmare – plane was delayed two hours (whilst sitting in it on the tarmac), upon landing discovered my phone doesn’t work in Korea (their telecoms networks are way ahead of ours!), i got off at the wrong bus stop so missed my friend (who had already been waiting for hours) and then to top it off I lost my credit card in a moment of being completely stressed out with the situation. Did I mention I only speak one word of Korean? It was not a fun evening but eventually managed to get to the hotel, meet my friend and cancel my lost card but I’m hoping that’s the last of my troubles for this journey! To be continued… πŸ™‚

Update (2/5): After another tortuous journey lasting around 24 hours I’m back in the UK. I’ll give a fuller update once the jet-lag has worn off, sufficed to say Korea was great!

Birds Nest

On Sunday last weekend I wandered (or should I say hiked) over to the Olympic Park in Beijing which is still heavily under construction in hope of getting a few snaps of the amazing “Birds Nest” stadium which is nearly complete. Unfortunately the perimeter of the site is almost completely fenced off and well guarded which made getting a good photo difficult and none of mine came out very well. Maybe I was just looking in the wrong place but it appears others have had more luck…

National Stadium - The Bird's Nest
Image Β© Pen9

View from the road
Image Β© Pen9

Built using 36 km of unwrapped steel, with a combined weight of 45,000 tonnes the structure makes no distinction between the faΓ§ade and the superstructure with both supporting each other. The concept of interwoven twigs making up the “nest” is ingeniously reflected in the design which is simple but very effective – at an estimated cost of 3.5 billion yuan you’d certainly expect it! Check out this NY Times article for more info about the design.

DSC_4577

One thing I certainly noticed in abundance on the construction site was the vast number of migrant workers living in fairly basic prefabs who were obviously bemused as to the reason why I’d turned up to the park a year early! Apparently there were as many as 7000 working on the nest in 24hr shifts alone at one point… food for thought…

Weekend in Wuhan

Apologies for it being rather quiet around here the last few weeks – been fairly hectic at work and not had much free time for updating. Unfortunately next week will be my last in China and, whilst I would love to stay longer, I’ll be back in the UK at the beginning of May after a short holiday somewhere east of here (more on this soon). Whilst it’ll be sad to leave Beijing, having gotten pretty accustomed to things, I’m sure I’ll be back again at some point…

DSC_4471

I spent last weekend visiting a friend in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, and the most populous city in central China with over 9 million inhabitants. Whilst I very much enjoyed my time there the weather was not much good for photography – the sky was filled with a thick haze the entire time I was there. Even so, I still managed to see some great sights and indulge in some truly amazing food!!

DSC_4489

Huanghelou (The Yellow Crane Tower) – actually built in 1981 and even has an elevator!

Having been destroyed & rebuilt many times throughout history The Yellow Crane Tower has a fascinating past and is one of Chinas most renowned towers. Its 5-level roof is covered by 100,000 yellow glazed tiles with upturned eaves which are designed to resemble a yellow crane in flight. The view from the top is equally impressive.

DSC_4497

Guiyuan Buddhist Temple (Temple of Original Purity) – contains 500 Buddha’s/Lohan’s, each with unique facial expressions.

DSC_4517

Wuchang (East Lake) – the largest lake within a city in China… if you could see it!

DSC_4531

Moshan Hill – on the south-east side of East Lake. Interesting carvings & statues in the undergrowth.

Wuhan positioned roughly in the centre of China so you are more than likely to visit if you travel around the country and I’d say it was worth it πŸ™‚

Yuyuantan Park

April is the ideal time to see the cherry blossom in east Asia (called Sakura in Japanese) and last weekend I ventured to Yuyuantan Park in Beijing to enjoy the warm weather and take a few snaps of the trees… unfortunately a considerable proportion of Beijing’s 14 million inhabitants also seemed to have the same idea! Whilst this somewhat spoilt the atmosphere it was still quite enjoyable and I took a few snaps as usual…

DSC_4452

DSC_4442

DSC_4352

DSC_4353

DSC_4363

DSC_4451

DSC_4364

DSC_4367

DSC_4389

DSC_4369

Wedding Photography

DSC_4374

DSC_4381

DSC_4384

DSC_4388

DSC_4390

DSC_4396

DSC_4398

DSC_4413

DSC_4417

DSC_4421

DSC_4423

DSC_4439

DSC_4456

DSC_4454

In China cherry blossom is apparently the symbol of feminine dominance and beauty which seems an odd sort of combination but with around 2000 cherry trees from over 20 different species on display in the park the latter can certainly be said to be true (I can’t figure out how any symbolism of dominance comes into it!).

Of interest nearby to the park also lies the China Central TV Tower (the tallest structure in Beijing) as well as the imposing China Millennium Monument which, even though it was built for the millennial celebrations (as you would imagine from the name), is about the most communist looking building imaginable!

White Cloud Temple (Bai Yun Guan)

One of the largest and oldest active Taoist temples in China is situated in west Beijing, known as the “White Cloud Temple” or “Bai Yun Guan” in Chinese. Its importance is reflected in that fact that it is home to the office of Taoist Association of China and one of “The Three Great Ancestral Courts” of the Complete Perfection Sect of Taoism, as well as being known as “The First Temple under Heaven”.

DSC_4318

Having been brought up on mainly a diet of western/Christian philosophy I wasn’t entirely clear about the differences between Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Apparently they are similar to each other, using basically the same literature, or scripture, and having the same goal with a different approach…

“Buddhists have a psychological approach that is interested in changing human perception by being more separate; by going deep within themselves and detaching from the physical world. Confucians are rational and Taoists focus on an intuitive approach. They all strive to reach unification with Tao/Brahman.”

So there you have it in a nutshell! Perhaps this accounts for the similarities which could be seen between here and the Lama Temple which I visited last month, certainly in architecture at least.

DSC_4295

It was nice to visit somewhere which wasn’t horribly crowded for a change and the atmosphere was very relaxed and peaceful – probably as it’s not on the main tourist trail and a little outside the city centre (see map).

DSC_4337

The temple consists of six courtyards alone its main axis surrounded by a number of halls, towers, and pagodas which are dedicated to various Taoist deities, such as the Jade Emperor and the Three Purities, Qiu Changchun and the Eight Immortals (whoever they are!). Next to the entrance there is also a small bridge underneath which are hung a pair of bells that people throw coins at supposedly for good luck.

DSC_4341

Although not as impressive as some of Beijing’s other attractions, if you have a spare few hours this is definitely worth a visit on a lazy afternoon. More photos here.

Geospatial Beijing

I’ve you’ve been following my blog this year you’ll have seen many of the pictures and stories from my travels in Beijing (and beyond). If you’re planning a trip here or just curious to see where these great places are exactly I’ve used Google’s new map creation tool to mash it altogether on a pretty detailed satellite map of Beijing.

Beijing Google Map
Click to view

If I do say so myself I think it’s pretty neat! Be sure to check out some of the cool things to the north-west of the centre (including where I live!) and come back again as I’ll be updating it frequently.

Fragrant Hills (Xiangshan Park)

DSC_4265

Last weekend I took a trip to Xiangshan Park on the eastern side of the Western Hills, around 10km west of Beijing. Also known as the “Fragrant Hills“, the park contains a number of landscaped areas and cultural relics as well as traditional architecture. Dating back to the Jin Dynasty (1115 to 1234) the park was also home to a certain Mao Zedong who planned the founding of the People’s Republic of China here in 1949.

DSC_4274

The so called “hill” is actually around 1800ft high at its peak and whilst there is a cable car for the lazy it was out of action when I visited which was probably a good thing as it deterred the hoards of tourists you might usually expect. It took around two hours to climb to the top which rewarded some spectacular views (and a well deserved ice cream!!).

DSC_4225

It would probably take more than a day to see everything in the park (especially if you climb to the top) so it’s worth reading a map before you set out to decide what you want to see. Be warned that Mao’s villa closes at 4pm, a fact I discovered to late in the day so missed out on that little gem πŸ˜‰

DSC_4245

Using AutoStich I’ve merged together a panorama from the top of the “hill” – pretty impressive view of west Beijing even though it was a hazy day!

Fragrant Hills Panorama

Check out the Large or Huge version for a closer look! More photos here.

Englishman in Beijing

Last night I won a small victory when I got in a taxi to go home, told the driver where to go in Chinese, and for the first time he understood without me having to repeat myself ten times to get the right tone (for even the simplest of words there seem to be a thousand ways of saying it) or show my bit of paper with it written down on! Even through I’ve been in China over 2 months now my progress on the language front has been frustratingly slow – I often feel like it’s been designed to be purposefully difficult for foreigners to grasp (and that they’d like to keep it this way!). When I get round to it I’ll compile a “survival guide” with some essential phrases to post here.

28032007

If you like your food hot then the dishes of the Sichuan region in China may be just what you’re looking for. Pictured above is a dish I had last week which consisted almost entirely of red-hot chillies with some chicken thrown in for good measure. If this doesn’t blow your head off nothing will! I think this review sums it up nicely:

“There is hot food, then there is scorching. But when it comes to spicy cuisine, China’s Sichuan Province is in a fiery class of its own. Likewise, the mind-numbing flavors of this fascinating part of the Middle Kingdom.”

I literally couldn’t feel my mouth till the next day – I’m still in two minds about whether I enjoyed it or not!!

Every morning I get the bus to work; not because I have to (my company would happily pay for a taxi), but because I enjoy watching the world go by on the 30 minute trip. People precariously riding tandem on the back of bicycles, proud mothers with their single child, old men sweeping the streets, the occasional horse and cart, frequent near-miss traffic accidents, hordes of workers building ever upwards, roadside merchants selling anything and everything, towering housing estates, and a million unintelligible signs all pass me by in a haze. With such an outwardly facing but inwardly reflecting society it’s no wonder that privacy is sparse. I still don’t fully understand Chinese culture but one thing you can be sure of is that in 10 years time things are going to look a whole lot different – blink and you’ll miss it!

A few more observations:

  • A green man light at a crossing does not mean it’s safe to cross, just that you are less likely to get run over – look both ways (then check again)!
  • Taxi drivers speak no English – even if you’re confident of your pronunciation make sure you have where you want to go written down in Chinese or someone to ask for you.
  • The locals have a nasty habit of spitting on the street (even though it’s banned), really unpleasant.
  • You can only exchange travellers cheques at the Bank of China, don’t bother with any other banks
  • Some police carry electrified cattle prods – you don’t want to be on the receiving end so best avoided!
  • If you plan to use the subway and buses a lot in Beijing it’s worth buying an “IC card” which works the same was as an Oyster card in London (20 RMB deposit required).
  • When bartering the rule of thumb seems to be to start at 1/3 the asking price (at least) – if you reach a stale-mate in the negotiations walking away usually wins you the deal πŸ™‚