jump to navigation

Beijing – Part 3 September 24, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Beijing.
10 comments

Instead of writing a 5,000 word essay covering all of our adventures in Beijing, Katie and I decided to sit down and conduct a more formal interview. Katie prepared a series of questions which I did my best to answer. Here is a transcript of the interview.

Click here if you missed Part 1.

Click here if you missed Part 2.

Katie: I have a challenge for you. See if you can make it through this entire post without mentioning sports.

Jordan: No problem. I wouldn’t want to talk about sports either if I didn’t know who Albert Pujols was. I’d like to thank everyone who wrote in and supported my outrage at your ignorance. We’ll all get through this together. Let’s move on.

Katie: Good idea. Why don’t we get things started by having you briefly describe our longest day.

Jordan: Well I’ve already made reference to several aspects of this one particular day in previous posts. It started off with me on the toilet around 6am minutes before our driver showed up for the 1 hour drive to the Great Wall.

We were lucky to have our own private driver who could have pulled over at a rest stop if neccessary, but his English was very very limited, so that would have been an interesting conversation involving some comical hand gestures. Just imagine me pointing at my butt and then mimicking an explosion with my hands and you get the idea.

Katie: That last sentence wasn’t necessary.

Jordan: I know, but I’m a little concerned about the content of this post so I may have to use some extreme measures.

Anyway, we never had to ask our driver (his name was Li) to pull over and we made up to the Great Wall and back in good time. We had also negotiated with him to include a visit to the Summer Palace on our way back so this was our second destination that day.

Here are some pictures:

IMG_6286IMG_6279

The Summer Palace is mainly dominated by Longevity Hill (60 meters high) and the Kunming Lake. It covers an expanse of 2.9 square kilometers, three quarters of which is water. The central Kunming Lake covering 2.2 square kilometers was entirely man made and the excavated soil was used to build Longevity Hill. In the Summer Palace, one finds a variety of palaces, gardens, and other classical-style architectural structures.

IMG_6282IMG_6251

The Summer Palace started out life as the Garden of Clear Ripples in 1750 with artisans reproducing the garden architecture styles of various palaces in China. The palace complex suffered two major attacks, the first during the Anglo-French allied invasion of 1860, and during the Boxer Rebellion, in an attack by the eight allied powers in 1900. The garden survived and was rebuilt in 1886 and 1902. It served as a summer resort for Empress Dowager Cixi, who diverted 30 million taels of silver, said to be originally designated for the Chinese navy, into the reconstruction and enlargement of the Summer Palace.

Katie: What’s a tael of silver?

Jordan: No idea. Ask Wikipedia.

So basically this place was the Emperor’s cottage that his enemies liked to attack. Eventually some lady came in and took over the joint, and spent 30 million taels (?) for renovations and expansion instead of spending it on defense. Typical.

All jokes aside it truly is a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design.

IMG_6277IMG_6265

The natural landscape of hills and open water combined with artificial features such as pavilions, halls, palaces, temples and bridges form a harmonious ensemble of outstanding aesthetic value. Overall, not a bad place to spend a long weekend with family and friends. I didn’t see any beer fridges or driving range though.

Katie: You’ve reached the 600 word mark and it’s not even lunch time yet. Pick up the pace. I don’t think I can handle doing a part 4.

Jordan: Don’t blame me. Tell Wikipedia to tighten up their descriptions of historical landmarks. All this copy/pasting takes time.

After the Summer Garden, our driver was supposed to be done for the day, but since we had taken much less time at both destinations, I think he felt like he should take us somewhere else. We were extremely hungry, but wanted to take advantage of his generosity and visit one more tourist attraction.

For the sake of time (and my stomach), we opted for a fast and safe choice that goes beyond any language barrier. McDonald’s. He took us to the closest one and we ate it in the car en route to our last destination of the tour – Olympic Park.

Not much else to say here except that both the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest are much more impressive in person.

IMG_6298

I guess our only regret would be that we didn’t come and see them at night when they’re lit up. Luckily, our buddy Zeff was visiting China during this same vacation only in reverse order (he went to Beijing first, then HK) and took some night pics which I’ve stolen from his Facebook profile.

Jeff_bird's nestwater cube_nightPretty cool. I wonder if these architectural marvels will survive the test of time. It was cool to compare the main stadiums from the past two Summer Olympics held in Asia exactly 20 years apart.

This is the Water Cube and Main Stadium (Bird’s Nest) from the 2008 Games in Beijing…

IMG_6301IMG_6302

…and this is the main stadium from the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul.

IMG_5890Now this picture doesn’t do it justice, but in person it already looks extremely dated and worn.

Katie: Riveting. Not only are you talking about sports, but you’re now comparing stadiums from the world’s largest global sporting event!?

Jordan: Technically, this is more of a architectural discussion but I apologize nonetheless. Let’s not kid ourselves, we all knew I wouldn’t make it.

Speaking of architecture, one of the kids in the classroom next to me decided to give himself a new name and it’s pretty damn funny. Little Alex has decided to rename himself – Architecture. He goes by Archie for short, but I always call him by his full name. I love this place.

Katie: Don’t forget the 7-year old girl who fell down a flight of stairs and was taken for an MRI by her crazy mother. She also blamed the school and withdrew her daughter even though she was wearing high heels and was running. Yup, a 7-year old in high heels.

Jordan: Speaking of high heels, have you seen the “Single Ladies” music video? I guarantee Beyonce wouldn’t fall downstairs in heels. I’ve heard that song a bazillion times but I’d never seen the video. Kanye was right, that video is insanely good. What were we talking about before?

Katie: You were in the process of answering my first question from 1100 words ago.

Jordan: Oh yeah, so after Olympic Park our driver dropped us off at our hotel. We rested for a few minutes and then headed right back out to one of the famous markets known for counterfeit goods.

We had already visited one the previous day so we had an idea what to expect, but if you don’t like being bothered by sales people when you’re shopping, this isn’t the place for you.

I personally hate being badgered when I’m shopping. If I can’t find something or I need help finding a size, I’ll ask someone for assistance. All I ask is that they politely acknowledge my presence and let me do my thing.

Well, these markets do the exact opposite. They are shameless. They will hound you and wear you down so that it’s impossible to say no and you’ll buy something just so they’ll leave you alone. At first I tried to avoid eye contact with the people at each booth, but that doesn’t stop them. Most of them are all selling the exact same things and will see you rejecting or ignoring all the booths before them, but does that deter them? No chance. Some of them will even physically grab you and drag you into their booth.

As soon as you express the slightest, and I mean the slightest interest in any item, they’re in your face and the negotiations have begun. Once I got used to it, it actually became somewhat enjoyable. They always quote you a ridiculous price at first hoping that you’ll accept. And when I say ridiculous, I mean like $30 for fake Ralph Lauren Polo shirt which is the same quality as any shirt from the GAP. So really it’s not a bad deal to start. As soon as they would quote the price, I would put the item down and walk away. They would then grab you. Literally grab you, (Katie had a bruise on her arm the next day from one lady – no joke) and ask you what your price is and  hoping it would be reasonable. Regardless of what you said, they would act surprised and insulted, and quote a price somewhere in between. This is when I’d walk away again and they would either let me go, or in most cases grab me again and give in.

We also played a little game of good cop, bad cop where I would hold all the money and Katie would start the negotiations for an item she was interested in while I casually looked around. Once she got the price down to a certain level, she would ask me for money and I would look at the item and ask how much. Regardless of the item or the price, I would scoff and walk away disgusted. This game was lots of fun for me, but not as much for Katie as she would be left awkwardly with the salesperson and would have to chase me down for money to pay for an item that she actually wanted. We saved a bit of money with this strategy but it definetly wasn’t Katie’s favourite.

I ended up finding an area devoted to golf and spent some time going from booth to booth carefully inspecting certain items. The first booth quoted me $20 for a fake Titleist hat. I walked away. The next booth quoted me $7 for the exact same hat. The next booth quoted me $4. I went for the jugular and countered with $1. She then informed that she had watched me go from booth to booth looking at the same hat and knew that I wanted it. I was running out of golf booths, so after haggling over $0.50 for a few minutes, we settled at $3.

IMG_7090IMG_7091Fully-embroidered and virtually identical to a real Titleist hat. Not bad for $3. I might actually wear it.

Katie: No chance.

Jordan: Yeah, you’re probably right. I’m more of a Taylor Made guy anyway.

After my success with the Titleist hat I decided to see if I could work my magic elsewhere. I ended up finding a Billabong hat that I was mildly interested in and commenced negotiations with a young lady while her boss or mother (or both) monitored the situation. I explained that I had just paid $3 for a golf hat and wouldn’t pay more than that. She acted pissed off and tried to keep the price up. About midway through her broken English rant, I decided that I flat out didn’t want the hat anymore. It could have been free and I might not have taken it. I tried to politely explain this but it didn’t go over very well. The boss/mother intervened and tried to resolve the situation. They couldn’t understand why I didn’t want the hat anymore even though I had gotten my price. They were perplexed and insulted. I didn’t feel like carrying around some crappy hat that I would never wear. Eventually I just had to walk away. She’s probably writing about me on some blog about how cheap Canadians are.

That’s another thing we quickly learned. They always asked where you’re from. We just assumed it was small talk and a way of trying to engage the customer, but apparently they would quote the initial price of an item based on the perceived wealth of the country you’re from. I don’t know where Canada was ranked but we made out all right in the end.

Aside from the physical and mental abuse that we endured, the market experience was definetly worthwhile and something we’ll never forget. It also helped me gain some perspective which will hopefully allow me to be more understanding next time I have a slightly overzealous salesperson back in Canada.

Katie: Isn’t it nice to know we’re all better people.

Jordan: I couldn’t agree more. Let’s do this again and I’ll finish our story about the longest day ever with the dinner we had at our (my) new favourite restaurant.

Katie: Ok, but this is the last one. Stay tuned for Part 4…

Beijing – Part 2 September 16, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Beijing.
5 comments

Instead of writing a 5,000 word essay covering all of our adventures in Beijing, Katie and I decided to sit down and conduct a more formal interview. Katie prepared a series of questions which I did my best to answer. Here is a transcript of the interview.

Click here if you missed Part 1.

Katie: What was the first tourist attraction we visited?

Jordan: The Temple of Heaven. Or in layman’s terms, the Emperor’s church. The Temple of Heaven is a complex of Taoist buildings situated in the southeastern part of central Beijing. The complex was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest.

IMG_6125

The Temple complex was constructed from 1406 to 1420 during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, who was also responsible for the construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing. The complex was extended and renamed Temple of Heaven during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor in the 16th century.

Temple_of_Heaven_Panorama

The Temple grounds covers 2.73 km² of parkland, and comprises three main groups of constructions, all built according to strict philosophical requirements.

Katie: Wow. I can’t believe that you can remember all that information off the top of your head. Sometimes I forget how brilliant you are.

Jordan: I’m just getting started. Fasten your seat belts. For more information on this impressive architectural masterpiece, click play on the video below:

Katie: Next question. What would you have done if Federer and Brady both lost on the same day?

Jordan: Excellent question. This past Monday was almost a complete disaster. Fortunately, the Pats made a miraculous 4th quarter comeback that made me feel slightly less guilty for taking these pictures and preparing to do a post about Tiger, Brady and Federer all winning on the same weekend. 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, but Federer’s loss was the most unexpected and crushing.

IMG_7042IMG_7031Jordan: So good to have the Golden Boy back in my life on a weekly basis. My students had no idea what American Football was, but they do now.

Katie: You’re a loser. What would say was the most relaxing part of our time in Beijing?

Jordan: That’s easy. The $5 foot massage. We found this place by accident in one of the markets we were visiting after a very long day of touring which included our trek to the Great Wall. We were navigating our way through the market trying to avoid making eye contact with shopkeepers who would do anything short of waterboarding you into buying a fake $10 Polo shirt. We were getting tired when we found a nail salon that offered a variety of services including 1/2 hour foot massages for $5. Sold!

It was one of the best half hour experiences I’ve ever had and my feet have never felt better. Although I will concede that the first few minutes were a bit awkward as I came to grips with the fact that my masseuse wasn’t female. Fortunately, it never moved (Seinfeld reference) and we never made eye contact. In my mind, he looked exactly like Carmen Electra. Katie managed to get some video of the incident but I burned the memory card once we got back to Seoul.

Katie: You burned the wrong memory card.

Jordan: This interview is over. I promised Lee (fake name I just made up) I would never post that on the internet as long as he used extra oil.

Katie: Quit being a baby. You loved every second of it. We even went back the next day and you were disappointed when you didn’t have Lee.

Jordan: It’s all true. I also made the mistake of accepting the new girl’s offer to have my feet exfoliated. I didn’t even know what this meant but it was only an extra $5 and it seems like such a nice word that you hear in face wash commercials all the time. Guys – if you’re ever in China and asked if you want your feet exfoliated for $5 – say no. This poor girl took a chisel to my feet for over 30 minutes and carved off enough skin to feed a cannibal convention. Sure my feet has never been smoother but she’s going to be having nightmares for the rest of her life. At least she made a cool $5.

Katie: My pedicure was fantastic. Thank you for pretending that we didn’t know each other after the exfoliation incident. That entire salon was traumatized. Was this the most painful experience of our trip?

Jordan: No. That would have been the frequent (at least 4) trips I took to the bathroom between 6am and 6:45am on the first morning in our hotel. Our driver for the Great Wall tour was arriving at the hotel at 7am and there were a few moment when I didn’t think I was going to make it. We had only eaten two meals in Beijing since our arrival the previous day and they were both in hotel restaurants. Needless to say, we ate out for the rest of our stay. It’s weird because I usually love the MSG in Toronto.

Katie: Dead skin from your feet and now MSG diarrhea. Stop it, you’re making me hot. Can you answer a question without potentially inducing vomit from our readers?

Jordan: I’ll do my best. One more question for this post.

Katie: What was the biggest disappointment of the trip?

Jordan: Are you sure you want to bring this up again?…I can’t remember how the conversation started, probably because I’ve tried to suppress the entire ordeal into the far reaches of my subconscious, but I started talking about baseball. We were sitting in a western-style restaurant called Grandma’s Kitchen that was recommended in our Lonely Planet tourist guide. I had just ordered a BLT and fries, while Katie had ordered a club sandwich and a milkshake. The restaurant had Wi-Fi so we were both checking the internet while we had the opportunity. I stumbled upon an article about Albert Pujols’ pursuit of the triple crown and asked her if she knew what this meant. Not only did she not know what the triple crown is, she hadn’t even heard of Albert Pujols.

Katie: I’m going to read. Take out the garbage before you come to bed.

Jordan: Maybe it’s because he plays in a small market in St. Louis. Maybe it’s because we’re bombarded on TV by the media’s east coast bias which focuses so much on Red Sox vs Yankees. Maybe I’m just a bad husband who never took the time to expose her to his greatness. Regardless of the excuses, I was shocked and appalled at her for not knowing who he was, and at myself for allowing this to happen.  Let’s just say that few words were exchanged for the rest of the meal.

I won’t make the same mistake twice.

PujolsAlbert Pujols is a professional baseball player who has played his entire career in Major League Baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals. Currently a first baseman, Pujols is well-known for his ability to hit for both average and power. His consistency over his nine years in the Major Leagues has earned him the reputation as one of the best players in the game today and the most feared hitter in baseball, according to a poll of all 30 MLB managers in 2008. Since debuting in MLB in 2001, Pujols has been selected as an All-Star eight times, has won the National League Most Valuable Player Award twice, and won a World Series title in 2006.

Check out his career starts here.

Here’s his most famous home run from the 2005 NLCS. Sorry for the crappy background music, it’s the only clip I could find.

Jordan: Stay tuned for Part 3. Hopefully I can convince Katie to join us…

Beijing – Part 1 September 10, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Beijing.
11 comments

It occured to me this morning that its already been a month since we returned from our trip to China. Having only written about the Hong Kong portion of the trip, I vowed to finish Beijing today and try to write a couple more posts this week.

Instead of writing a 5,000 word essay covering all of our adventures in Beijing, Katie and I decided to sit down and conduct a more formal interview. Katie prepared a series of questions which I did my best to answer. Here is a transcript of the interview.

Katie: What was the biggest highlight of the trip?

Jordan: That’s easy. The Great Wall of China. It wasn’t even close. We were fortunate enough to pick a  less-touristy portion of the wall (Mutianyu) and hired a private driver to take us to and from, rather than just signing up for some tour group where you’re herded around like cattle. We arrived as early as possible and virtually had the place to ourselves for a couple hours before a few other tourists trickled in.  Even then it was never close to being crowded.

IMG_6175This picture features me first touching the wall after climbing an obscene amount of stairs just to get to it. Luckily, I barely exercise anymore so I was feeling pretty good at this point.

Here’s what we saw next…

We’ve heard many stories and read all about just how awe-inspiring this wonder of the world is, but no picture or description does it justice. You have to see it in person to fully understand the scope of not only how big it is, but how steep some of the sections of the wall are, and how steep the hills are on either side. It’s absolutely astounding that this was built by hand thousands of years ago. I thought building the driving range on an uneven rock surface at the cottage was difficult, but this might actually be more impressive. I’m still undecided.

We covered as much ground as we possibly could and saw 75% of this particular portion. There are boundaries at both ends which forbid tourists from passing as these sections have not been restored. It’s also nearly impossible to find a perfectly flat surface along the path. You’re constantly going up or down to varying degrees, some of which is so steep that it feels like you’re climbing or descending a rock ladder. We tried to take some video/pictures but it doesn’t capture how truly steep it is.

IMG_6193IMG_6192Imagine walking up and down this sort of terrain non-stop for over 3 hours. The best analogy I could come up with (don’t worry, it’s sports-related) was walking from the first row of any Major League Sports Stadium with a seating capacity over 50,000, all the way to the very last row in the upper deck. Then turn around and come back down. And then go back up. Don’t get me wrong, it was worth every step but it was physically taxing.

The only negative aspect of the entire experience was how smoggy it was. I can only imagine how breathtaking it would look like on a clear day, but clear days in Beijing in August are few and far between.

IMG_6191IMG_6190

Once we reached the last guard tower, I managed to find a crumbling piece of stone inside and may or may not have kept a substantial piece of it as a momento. We then returned to our initial point of entry for the long trek back down the stairs, but not before stopping for a quick refreshment. Our first chinese beer – Tsingtao.

IMG_6236Katie: Could you please keep your answers to under 5 minutes. You’ve already eclipsed the 600 word mark.

Jordan: Yes. Sorry about that.

Katie: Oh, and I just bought two new skirts like the one featured in the pictures from Lululemon. They’re super comfortable and great for travelling.

Jordan: Next question.

Katie: OK…What was the coolest unexpected experience which quickly became awkward?

Jordan: Good question. First let me preface this with the fact that I’m a firm believer in karma. What goes around comes around, and the story I’m about to share is a prime example.

After exiting the airport shuttle train in central Beijing, we were confronted by a pushy cab driver who couldn’t speak English but insisted on driving us to our hotel. I asked him how much and had a pretty good idea that the hotel wasn’t that far from our current location. I also knew that cab drivers have been known to prey on foreigners and try to rip them off. Our Lonely Planet travellers guide warned us of this and advised to always use the meter, don’t accept a flat rate. He offered to do it for 150 Rmb’s which equates to approx. $25 CAD. Seemed a little steep to me so I simply asked to have the meter on instead. After hesitating for a split-second he accepted.

About halfway into our 10 minute cab ride, I quickly realized that we had been had. The meter started going up faster than anything I’ve ever seen but started to slow down as we approached our destination even though our speed and distance hadn’t changed. Coincidentally, the meter ended up charging us 140 Rmb’s. After taking our first cab after that from the hotel we confirmed our suspicions as every other cab ride of that distance was never more than 20-30 Rmb’s. Somehow, our first driver had rigged the meter so that even if the unsuspecting foreigner opted for the meter, it would always come close to 150 Rmb’s, if not exceed it. We’d been in Beijing for less than a few hours and had already been ripped off.

Fast forward to our next unusual travel experience. We were leaving the famous Pearl Market after doing some shopping for counterfeit goods when we quickly realized that it was rush hour and that traffic was going to be a nightmare. We approached a few cab drivers outside the market but they all insisted on flat rates and we had already been ripped off once by these guys. We started to walk a few blocks and hail a regular cab, as opposed to the guys hovering outside the market who try to fleece foreigners, and weren’t having much luck until fate intervened.

We had a gentlemen on a large tricycle with two seats on the back stop and offer us a ride. He had already approached us as we walked out of the market, but we had declined. Our situation had changed somewhat now, so I asked him how much. He said 40. I said too much and started to walk away. He said 30. I looked at Katie and we decided to give it a shot.

My first thought was “I can’t believe this guy is going to drive us across the city for about $5 CAD”. My next thought was “how are we going to tell him where our hotel is?”. Fortunately, I had the address of the hotel on the paper which accompanied the key card for the room. Unfortunately, he still didn’t know exactly where it was, but appeared determined to find it.

And yes, we have some video…

After a few minutes it became clear that he was lost. He asked us to see the address again and was looking around like he should have been sitting in the back with us. Finally, he stopped to ask someone  for directions.

I think this next video captures the mood of the moment quite nicely…

After about 45 minutes, our surroundings started to look much more familiar and we recognized our hotel in the distance. After getting a bit closer we were starting to feel guilty for paying another human being to bike ride us across the city. I decided that we would give him a generous tip and started to discuss it with Katie. Once we were within a few blocks of the hotel and were stopped a major intersection, we motioned to him that we would get off here and hadn’t him the generous sum of 50 Rmb’s.

I wish I had a video of the conversation that took place next. It went something like this.

Me: (I hand him 50 Rmb’s instead of 30 as we disembark from his tricycle) Shez shez (“Thank you” in Chinese)

Him: (Gets very irritated and starts shouting) 300! 300!

Me: You said 30. Katie did he say 30?

Katie: Yes.

Me: You said 30.

Him: (Getting angrier while pointing at his legs in an attempt to acknowledge that he’s tired from peddling us across the city) 300! chinese obscenities 300! chinese obscenities. 300!

Me: Here’s another 10. That’s all I have on me. (I motioned to my pockets and showed him that they were empty)

Him: 300! More chinese obscenities. (I don’t even know for sure if they were obscenities or not, but sometimes you just have a feeling)

This conversation continued for what seemed like forever until we slowly backed away feeling guilty and scared that he might call some of his other tricycle buddies and follow us to our hotel. Thankfully, I don’t think he could afford a cell phone and we managed to get back safely into our hotel unscathed.

Katie: That story was over 900 words. You’ve eclipsed the 1500 word mark and I’ve only asked 2 questions.

Jordan: Why don’t we split this post into a two or three-parter so our readers’ legs don’t get numb.

Katie: Good idea. Hopefully you won’t be wearing that stupid Red Sox shirt in every picture in the subsequent posts.

Jordan: I can’t make any promises. Stay tuned for Beijing Part 2 later this week.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.