A China Christmas, Part 5: Beijing (2 of 2)

On New Year’s Eve we went to check out Olympic Park, site of the 2008 Summer Olympics. Highlights were the Bird’s Nest Stadium (currently playing host to a winter-wonderland) and the natatorium, which I refer to as the Bubble, but they like to call the Water Cube. We were unable to actually go inside any of the buildings. Meredith was beyond excited to be there, she LOVES the Olympics.

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Then it was on to the Lama Temple, the largest Buddhist temple outside of the city of Dali, I believe. It also has the largest statue carved from a single tree – a Buddha 26 meters tall carved from a single white sandalwood tree. The air was scented with incense burned by people offering prayers to Buddha.

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After the temple we headed back towards our hutong, stopping for a late lunch at one of the many restaurants there. After nap time, Mere and Dad wanted to head back out to find the night food market again. I was not keen to leave my warm bed unless I knew exactly where we were going. Since they were pretty sure they knew now how to get there, but not 100% sure, I passed on the excursion, as did Mom, Kelsey and Stephen. We four eventually rolled out of bed around 6pm to go to WuMart for the rest of our NYE supplies. While we were out, we ate dinner at…McDonalds! It was a nice break from all the Chinese food.  Meredith and dad eventually returned after finding the night food market. So everyone was happy. Let’s just say we had no problems polishing off that bottle of rum.

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After our little NYE party, we all slept in until around 9:30am. Breakfast was toast and instant coffee in the common room and then it was off to view Mao. We younger folks weren’t too interested in seeing a dead Chinese dictator’s body, but Mom and Dad thought it was important for the historical aspect. Well, in the end no one got to see him because his tomb was closed for the holiday. So, it was on to the silk market, very similar to an American mall, but the stores are much smaller and there are tons of them all selling the exact same thing. We ate lunch in the food court, but made the mistake of not asking for the price before hand. 6 noodle bowls were 220 kuai, which was a total rip-off. For comparison, the Beijing BBQ place we ate at and loved was only 98 kuai. Meredith is sure they gave us the “foreigner’s price” at the food court. While we were shopping, some girls ran by us, pushing through the crowds, their arms loaded with bags and purses. Looking around, we saw a couple police officers walking down the row of shops. It was surmised that the bags they were running off with were counterfeit and they were running from the cops! After shopping we decided to see if the Summer Palace was open. Apparently the only way to do that was to actually go there, and it was a 45 min subway ride away. Luckily it was open, or else there would have been a few cranky members in our group, including me. However, it was totally worth the 45 min subway ride. It is a large complex made up of multiple buildings built on and into the side and top of a mountain. Even though it was so cold, it was so beautiful. The view from the top was amazing, and the buildings themselves were fascinating.

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We made our way back to the hostel where Stephen and I hung out in the common room while everyone else napped and rested. Then we bundled up again and headed out into the ever-colder night. Our destination was the night food market that Meredith and dad had finally found the night before. Once there, you could purchase almost anything on a stick – spiders, snake, starfish, lizard, scorpions, squid, centipedes… We stuck with some yummy chicken, hot pear tea, and sugar-glazed strawberries. Those strawberries were one of the best things we ate all trip. By the time we had walked up and down the row of stalls once, the temperature had dropped from the high of 28 to around 20. It was steadily getting colder, so we practically ran home. The high the next day was 23, so I was glad we were home-bound that afternoon! We spent our last morning packing up, doing a tea tasting, and then making our way to the airport. We did have to take two cabs, but since this time we knew where we were going, it was ok!

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