A break from work to explore a couple of the most treasured attractions in Beijing.
Our final full day in this city was going to be focused on sight-seeing, as Alex had not been able to do anything even remotely like that yet. We arranged for a private, English speaking tour to take us to two of the capital’s most popular monuments, the Forbidden City and Summer Palace. We met our friendly guide, David, in the lobby of our hotel at around 10 a.m. and, with his help, hired a taxi driver for the day as well.
The Forbidden City
When we arrived at the gates of the Forbidden City, we were immediately awe-struck by the sheer size and scale of the Emperor’s vision and execution. The moat surrounding this massive enclave was impressive enough, but the entrance gate was something straight out of a Hollywood film with 35 foot high walls, that were almost equally as thick. In 14 short years (from 1406-1420), and with the service of 10,000 artisans and 100,000 workers, this 180 acre palace was erected. What a remarkable feat of human ingenuity and skill! For the next 500 years, from the Ming dynasty to the end Qing dynasty, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of the Chinese government.
Master Noodle and Mr. Tea
From there we circled a very busy Tienamen square on our way to Master Noodle, a local noodle shop, and enjoyed slurping on bowls of various shapes, tastes, spice levels, and sizes. After indulging in a mighty fine (and ultra cheap!) lunch, it was off to Mr. Tea where we sampled various types of China’s national beverage, including Jasmine, Oolong, Fruit, and Pu’er, which is hyped as the healthiest type available and the cream of the crop. After a lovely tea ceremony, I purchased a few different types to bring home to enjoy, and offer as gifts as well.
After that we headed to the Summer Palace, which is surrounded by a man made lake that was designed to look like a peach. We learned that this massive body of water was hand dug, and all the dirt was transported to the north to make a giant hill, which would be the foundation for the residence. This is truly another super-sized project an Emperor had commissioned to be built, but this time, for their mom (talk about the ultimate Mother’s Day gift!) We took a dragon-styled boat from the South entrance to the North, and walked down the longest covered corridor I’d ever seen— a half-mile long and decorated with over 14,000 unique paintings. It was an amazing site to see!
We took the corridor to the base of the stairs that led up to the famous pagoda and Buddhist temple. After a couple hundred steps, we entered the temple to be greeted by a massive Buddha with over 25 arms. Here we said a few silent thoughts, walked three times around the structure, and bought divine-smelling Sandalwood prayer beads to make our wishes come true.
Our last dinner and night in Beijing
After that amazing experience, we descended the hill, met our taxi driver along the east gate, and went to hotel to get rested up. Seven hours in the Beijing heat had really taken its toll on our bodies! After a short nap, we knew that we had to meet up with Preston (PK) again to say goodbye, and were pleased to learn he had the evening free. So we took a taxi near Houhai, and walked through the Hotung neighborhood, which is comprised of tree lined avenues and old, single story houses. PK remarked that this was the Beijing of 300 years ago, much different from the corporate skyscrapers that dot the city center today.
Drinks at the Orchid
We ventured through a narrow alleyway, and then an even smaller corridor, to Preston’s friend’s boutique hotel, called the Orchid. Entering through the doorway and we were greeted by 3 affable ladies who helped run the hotel, ordered some drinks and ventured to the rooftop, where there was communal tables. From the roof we could view the entire 10-room property, that were all actually refashioned from old houses—very cool! Even though the property was right in the middle of the neighborhood, it was an oasis of silence and peace, especially compared to the tens of thousands of tourists we shared the start of our day with. We all agreed that this would be a great place to stay for future visits to the city.
A chili-laden supper at Dali Renji
At that point, our stomachs were speaking to us, and made it abundantly clear it was time for dinner. Se we ventured just a few storefronts down Baochao Hutang to Dali Renji, a quaint restaurant specializing in Yunan style, ultra-spicy food, which is some of Alex’s favorite. Here we enjoyed spicy fried chicken and lemongrass, sauteed beef with chilis, and a sizzling shrimp stir fry, all of which were incendiary, but in the best, blood-pumping, endorphin rushin way.
Great Leap Brewery
After that fantastic meal, Preston (knowing Alex’s affinity for tasty, local beers) suggested we walk to Great Leap Brewing, the first microbrewery in Beijing. We entered their cute courtyard, that was bustling with lots of ex pats, foreign businessman, and went into the taproom, where Alex ordered a flight of 4 beer samples to get a good idea of the different flavors they produced. We sat outside next to a very friendly older gentleman, Dr. Ma Yang, who happened to be the VP of a civil engineering company (AECOM) based out of Hong Kong. The real crazy part was that he was originally from Irvine, which is Preston’s hometown, and now living in China, just like Preston—what a small world! We left the brewery and said goodbye to our new friend, and PK helped us catch a ride back to the Swissotel. We exchanged hearty hugs, and wished bon voyage to our incredible China connection, as he was heading back home in the morning after a long week of business as well.
Final thoughts from China
Amazing trip, everything exceeded expectations, made so much progress with creating long lasting relationships, new friends, business acquaintances, gained knowledge of how to do business here in China, which should be a continuous, life-long learning process. Now it’s off to Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand!