Discover Beijing

Walking out of the airport into the biting winter cold of Beijing, what greeted me was the thick grey skies. It was with relief that our group boarded the bus, out of the heavy smog and bitter cold, which took us to our Bed and Breakfast place in an old Hutong.

Photo 1 - poster

After breakfast the next morning, our group made our way over to the Sun Temple in Chaoyang district. As we made our way to a central point of the park, the park seemed greener and brighter with its fresh coat of rain. Having always been a fan of Amazing Race, I was enthusiastic about the start of the Discover Beijing team exploration – the activity scheduled for the first day of our three week trip to China under the APLP program. We were soon divided into four sub-groups and each sub-group provided a mini package of essentials for the day – a bilingual map of Beijing, a mobile phone, subway cards and some sheets of papers with the challenge questions we were supposed to answer through our exploration.

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Walking around Sun Temple

Mami, Rachel and I were assigned South Beijing. We decided that the first thing we needed was some hot coffee and a few minutes to strategize our route. Exiting a gate, we came across a shopping mall.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

Expecting to find a coffee shop inside, we went in, but as it was too early, the shops were not open. The shopping mall, and its immediate neighbourhood, seemed to have a Russian influence.

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We found another café near the park gate and went in for some caffeine boost. While enjoying our coffees, we pored through our maps marking locations that we would need to visit in order to answer our challenge questions. We soon realized that the area we had to cover was too large to do so, within the given time. The team quickly came to a decision. We were doing this challenge for fun and so we should have fun, instead of trying to rush from one place to another. Prioritizing the places we were interested in most, we mapped out a route that we would follow and the time we would stop, wherever we were, to check in with our challenge hub staff who would then provide us with the mystery end destination.

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Planning our route over coffee, photo credit: Mami Sato

We decided to go to the nearest subway station of Yong’anli, from where we could take the train to Jingsong, where the first stop for our challenge – the antique market was located. We passed a street that seemed to have many embassies on it. I have always found it interesting that embassies tend to cluster themselves around a few streets in every capital city. The section of Ritan street that we passed had the Bangladesh High Commission and Brazil embassy close to each other. Thinking it would be fun to send a photo of the respective flags for our APLP friends from those two countries, we took out our camera but the security guards barked out warnings so we quickly moved on. We had difficulty locating Yong’anli because passersby did not seem aware of that station and finally we simply asked for the nearest subway. As we went along the street where the nearest subway was, we passed a bank. Recollecting that one of the artefacts we had to collect for our Discover Beijing challenge was an application form for opening an account, we popped into the bank to change some dollars to renminbi and collect our first artefact.

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At a bank counter, photo credit: Mami Sato

Reaching Jingsong, we realized that it was quite a long walk from the station to the antique market even though it was the closest station to the place. My team agreed that after the antique market, we would take cabs where possible so that we did not overwork our legs on our first day itself. It seemed it was too early for the market as most of the stalls were empty. The few that were open only sold some cheap trinkets and souvenirs. There were some shops at the end of the stall, which seemed to have stuff that looked like antiques. We took our requisite photo souvenir and answered the question in our challenge.

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Antique market

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Souvenir stall at antique market, photo credit: Mami Sato

As we came back to the entrance, we saw a group playing Chinese checkers and we decided to take a photo with them for our ‘interaction with locals’ for our Discover Beijing photo collection. The group was friendly and allowed us to take a photo with them. I had no idea how the game was being played, even after watching for a few minutes, but it looked very interesting.

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Chinese checkers, photo credit: Mami Sato

Our next point for the day was the pearl market and after hailing many cabs, one finally stopped and we were dropped off right in front of the Hongqiao pearl market in Dongcheng district. We took the elevator to the pearl exhibition hall to find the answer for the question on black pearls and to take a photo for our collection. There was delicious smells of food wafting in the air and we realized it was lunch time and that we were very hungry so we quickly wrapped up our challenge question and followed our noses to the food.

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Pearl market, photo credit: Mami Sato

Our noses led us to a hotpot shop in the building. The other two were ecstatic and I was happy to try something I had never had before. It was quite a challenge for me though as it was the first time I was seriously trying to attempt using chopsticks, where there was no alternative cutlery provided. It was quite interesting to have to be patient, when you were very hungry, and try to pick your vegetable from the hotpot carefully.

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Trying out a hotpot lunch, photo credit: Mami Sato

After spending a lot of time enjoying our lunch, we decided to move on to our next location on our route – the Temple of Heaven, which was conveniently right across the road. The temple had been constructed in the early 15th century by the same emperor who was responsible for building the Forbidden city.

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View from the gardens of the Temple of Heaven, photo credit: Mami Sato

We walked around the lovely park area around the temple and came across a group of people clapping in unison over some chorus. I have seen groups undergoing laughing therapy but I had never seen group clapping therapy or whatever that was.

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Mami with the clapping group

We walked around the temple of heaven gardens, finding the answers to the different questions on our list. We decided not to enter the temple precinct to find the answer to one final question on the Temple of Heaven, as we found the entrance ticket we had bought only covered the park area and the queue lines were too long for the temple entry.

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Temple of Heaven entrance

Since we only had an hour or so before the end of our challenge, we decided we would try to cover only two more places. We took a cab to Niujie mosque. The mosque the driver dropped us off in the Niujie area was closed but a kind lady there mentioned it was closed to visitors due to ongoing renovations and posed for a photo for our challenge photo souvenir. I later found that the Niujie mosque in Xicheng district that we were supposed to have visited was not the modern one we visited but the oldest mosque in China, built in 996 AD during the Liao dynasty.

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Mosque in Niujie, photo credit: Mami Sato

We took another taxi to the Beijing south station, which looked like a small airport from the outside and inside. After our requisite photo souvenirs, we sent a text message to the staff member, who was the contact person for the challenge, and received a message to come to Tiananmen Square and to look for the angel in red wings under the flag.

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Beijing south railway station, photo credit: Mami Sato

We took the subway to Tiananmen west and found that we had to walk to the other end of the road to reach the flag. We were tired by this time and we found security blocks preventing us from getting into the area that would take us to the flag area. Apparently, you had to be within the Tiananmen Square area by a given time or wait till the flag ceremony is over before you are let in. So, we had to be content with watching the ceremony from a distance.

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View of Tiananmen Square with the road closed off to traffic

By the time the ceremony was over, we simply wanted to get to a warmer spot. We received a text message asking us to come to the Tiananmen West station. We realized we had to walk the entire way back to the station and I think that was the point in the entire day that our group felt grumpy as we were tired, cold with two of us limping due to having walked beyond our normal walking distances. We slowly made our way back and rejoined the rest of the group.

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View of Tiananmen Square (with our Hawaiian pineapple mascot) as the road was reopened to traffic, photo credit: Mami Sato

Tired and hungry, we made our way back to our Hutong for dinner in the neighbourhood restaurant. Looking back at the day, though we were perhaps not as efficient as we could have been, we had a lot of fun and the right spirit – not that of competition but more of a joint exploration as a team, enjoying each other’s company and our attempts at locating places and undertaking challenge tasks. It was also a fun introduction to Beijing.

[I am linking this post to:

*Wanderful Wednesday, hosted by Snow in Tromso, Lauren on Location, The Sunny Side of This and What a Wonderful World

**City Tripping #37, hosted by Wander Mum and Mummy Travels]
Wanderful Wednesday

Wander Mum
Travel Notes & Beyond
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29 thoughts on “Discover Beijing

  1. I remember the first time I used chopsticks I was so hungry and having trouble getting the hang of it. I just wanted to shove the food in my mouth! haha

    Glad you had a fun time overall!

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    • I am still not that comfortable with chopsticks but at least, I am better able to eat with them than I was on that first day when I was really hungry 🙂 I had lots of fun in Beijing. Thank you for stopping by, Lindsay!

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    • It is fun eating with chopsticks. I did make an effort to eat with chopsticks during my travels around China but then I did not have any other choice either 🙂

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  2. I’ve never tried a hotpot, but I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been to try to use chopsticks while hungry. I pretty much only use them when I eat sushi. Since it’s fairly easy to pick up & not really good for using a fork, or my fingers. Haha

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    • Eating for weeks with chopsticks did improve my use of it but I did find it easier to eat rice than noodles or veggies in a soup. I am not a fan of sushi but I can imagine it is easier eating it with chopsticks than a fork. Thanks for stopping by, Jessie.

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    • I was taking photos of the clapping session this time, but one of my friends joined in 🙂 The packed challenge activity on the first day was good because it not only gave us a rapid introduction to Beijing and navigating around but also helped us overcome jet lag.

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  3. Sounds like a really fun way to get acquainted with a city! Chopsticks do require a certain amount of skill. Impressed that you managed to pick up anything at all on your first attempt! I used to play a bit of Chinese chess, a long time ago, and it’s really complex. I heard somewhere it’s even more complex than chess! I’m just rubbish at both, though.

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  4. hahah your interaction with the locals at the chess table made me laughed. Well done on grabbing that pic! It must be so nice staying in Old Hutong. Would have loved to see where you stayed! And wow to the game of touring Beijing. Very smart way to localise tourists and allow them to explore the streets on their own with hints and routes. #citytripping

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    • Thank you, May. It was indeed a wonderful way to be introduced to Beijing. More posts on my Beijing adventure coming up next month, including the Hutong photos.

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  5. What an interesting way to discover a city – to join an amazing race style challenge!! The tasks really forces you to go and find out more about the city and interact with the locals, don’t they? I can imagine it must be tons of fun! #CityTripping

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    • Yes, it was lots of fun and did involve lots of traveling around. Even though my team’s part of the discover challenge was confined to south Beijing, it was such a huge area that we only covered a quarter of the challenge by day’s end.

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  6. Ooooo chopsticks are a challenge aren’t they but when you get it, it’s fun! We enjoyed our time in Beijing and thankfully we had warmer weather 🙂 Didn’t know about the mosques though, interesting! #TheWeeklyPostcard

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  7. What a great way to discover Beijing! I have only been to Shanghai and the first leg of the trip was by myself. I remember how scared I was about navigating the city. You mentioned you visited during winter. How cold it was? Trips from Los Angeles drop a lot during winter. I am tempted to take one.

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    • I can’t imagine traveling to China on my own, on my first visit to the country. I can well imagine how scared you must have been navigating about the city, not wanting to get lost. You must have some incredible memories from that first visit, Ruth. As for the temperature during my visit which was in late October, it must have been around 10 °C.

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  8. Great introduction to Beijing. I wonder how cold it gets there in winter. As for the chopsticks, it took me a very long time to learn how to use them. And it so happen that I was always hungry when I tried to use them. It made me so mad, I wanted to throw them away every time.

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