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Beijing and Zhengzhou 2012

First stop in Beijing was breakfast at this bakery near my serviced apartment in the Central Business District. This place reminded me so much of the bakeries in Japan, all the way to the "honey toast" which was supposedly invented in Tokyo.

This was my third visit to Beijing, so I didn't need to queue-up for a tour of the Forbidden City. When I came up from the station, I was more impressed the the array of cameras and spotlighs on these poles out front.

Yes, everything is China is big and sometimes pointless. I like the way the stairs in front of the National Museum are completely blocked. The real entrace is via a little opening off to the left.

The museum had the obligatory ceramics collection, lots of old coins, a display of Tibetan art, and these more modern oil paintings and sculptures. I guess I am too Western, because I liked these much more than the traditional watercolor scroll paintings and all.

One of the special displays at the museum was a collection of African sculptures. The room was packed full of statues, masks, and other knickknacks none of which were individually labeled. I actually have a mask like the one in the middle on the bottom… must be worth something, right?

I admit that I probably ate more Japanese food than Chinese food during this trip. This particular hot pot variation may originate in Taiwan, but I think it is most popular in Japan. The funny thing is that shabu shabu is expensive in Japan whereas it is served as fast food in China. I got this mountain of beef, veggies and my own soup pot for like 7USD.

Sanlitun is known for two things: 1) quiet, ritzy housing and shops for all the embassy workers and 2) a variety of bars, clubs, etc. I took this photo from the outside of a pizza place where passersby can see young girls, with barely more talent than karaoke goers, singing on stage in short skirts.

After eating at the shabu shabu place, I noticed that this chain is all over Beijing. The stylized characters read Xiabu Xiabu.

I spotted this in front of a subway station. I assume there is some big library somewhere and you can have your selection ready for pick-up at the station somehow. I still prefer Kindle, but this is a cool idea.

This street sits behind the Summer Palace which is only 14km northwest of the Forbidden City (or Fall-Winter-Spring Palace). Supposedly actors were hired to tend the shops on this fake street so that the emperor could wander around and pretend he was a commoner.

Cute temple at the top of the hill on the Summer Palace compound. The tiles and statues were all ceramic which is a bit unusual based on my experience with a few hundred Buddhist temple visits.

Everything from this hill to the other end of the lake was part of the Summer Palace complex. The emperor spent time in the buildings below where the first phone line was set-up to keep him in contact with the Foreign Ministry back in Central Beijing.

This covered walkway follows the water front around the Summer Palace lake. It is supposed to be the longest corridor or something, which shaded the emperor from sunburn.

The waterfront is really a nice place for a stroll. Notice the lotus plants (not in bloom) and the fact taht every window in the wall on the right is a different shape. Oh, and the weather in September can be great!

There was some old sculpture behind this sign, but it seems like the rail around the cultural relic is just as impotant as the relic itself?

This is a bad photo of a refreshing yogurt drink that is sold all over Beijing. You pay an extra $0.25 or so for the ceramic container and get your deposit back when you return it.

This is what bridges looked like before the draw bridge concept was invented, I guess. Overall, I agree with the emperor: this Summer Palace is a great way to escape the city. Next, we went to the electronics and technology center to look for iPhone 6!

I couldn't take any photos inside this place, but the Shunjing Hot Spring is the most extravagant hot spring complex I have ever seen. This photo from their webpage only shows the entrance, which is less than 20% of the entire complex. I am not sure the water comes from a natural hot spring, but the facilities and variety of pools are just amazing. Well worth the 30USD entrance!

That night, I met my Japanese brother, Yuichiro, at this restaurant which has a really impressive selection of Japanese sake. Yu was having a bit of extra stress on this vacation due to the diplomatic row between Japan and China which was leading to more and more exciting demonstrations on both sides...

This shows part of the serviced apartment that I rented for $100 per night not far from business hotels that go for 3-4 times that price. Oh also, I finally found a pair of yellow pants to replace the ones I bought in Spain back in 1998!

Remembe that silly dispute over some uninhabited islands between China and Japan? Somebody in the building I was staying in thinks it is really important. According to some people I talked to, many Chinese don't care unless they work for the government or are encouraged to stir-up trouble.

Typical street scene in Beijing. I always love the random power lines strung here and there. I came to this neighborhood to see the mosque in the background but a walk anywhere in Beijing can be fun.

Guidebooks recommend a visit to Ox (Niu) Street to see how the Muslims in Beijing blend into Beijing. I saw very few people who look like the Muslims who live in far western China. At this school for the Hui People, everyone was indistinguishable from the Han majority.

I love how there are still plenty of old dumpy houses throughout Beijing. I guess they are slowly disappearing, but even after all the clean-up and re-development for the Olympics there are places like this in the shadows of giant housing developments.

The noodles were actually delivered from Japan by my Japanese brother, but the cool thing is that you can get free hot water on any train in China, even ones traveling about 100 mph (150km/h). The most popular uses are 1) making instant noodles or 2) tea. I take my noodles with a beer, though.

Ok, this early morning photo did not turn out at all, but the point was to show that the air pollution in Zhengzhou was far worse than Beijing during my visit. A bright red sunrise with hazy skies is the classic sign. It could be partly caused by the giant iPhone factory found here...

The real reason for a visit to Zhengzhou is a visit to the famous Shaolin Temple which is the birthplace of Kungfu. It is featured in many Jackie Chan movies as well as the more recent Kungfu Panda flicks. This is not the temple though :)

The scenery around this area is so beautiful and unique. I'm glad that I found a group to go hiking with out in these rugged hills. They look nice from below, but we are heading straight up to the right.

Just one example of some of the crazy bouldering that we had to do to scale these steep walls. I am surprised nobody got hurt really, but everybody was quite friendly and helped each other out.



You can't really see it from here, but there is a huge drop off the left and the right. Those of us who arrived sooner (I was looking for a place to pee) sat and laughed at the others as they scrambled up the last bit of this steep climb.

Yes, I was here.

Usually Chinese guys just lift their shirts to expose their bellies, but this guy went for the whole topless look. Hey, he earned it right? Shortly after this exchange, he insisted on taking a photo together. Nice guy.

Lunch atop the Song Mountain range. I was quite impressed with the spread, but I did not recognize some of the foods. I went for instant noodles and something new that I always wanted to try...

Chicken Feet! Not much meat on there… and a bit fatty really. But not nearly as bad as it looks :)

Back in Beijing, I went for a more traditional food at a fast food place in the train station: dumplings, jiaozu, or gyoza. Boiled, of course.

I think this used to be the main train station. Now it is the Railway Museum of Beijing.

This slogan was posted all over Beijing. It seems kinda harmless, but I am not sure how many cities in the world would list patriotism as the first key to their spirit. Inclusiveness sounds nice, though.

Last stop on this trip was a classy lounge bar back in the Sanlitun area. One goal of this trip was to consider whether I might like to live in Beijing some day. Thanks to really nice weather, friendly people, and cozy places like this, I think I could live here.