Monday, October 22, 2012

Day Three [including Hutong Tour and Kungfu Panda Show] - My 8D Beijing/Chengde/Tianjin Highlight Tour (8天皇城北京/承德/天津精选游)

The third day of my tour was easily the most grueling and it all started with a drive from the hotel back to the center of Beijing, where most of the actions are.

Yet another hazy day! Well, at least the sky was blue instead of the disgustingly grey tinge that was so not optimal for photo-taking.

China National Children's Theatre - constructed in 1956, this theatre is the oldest one in China built specifically for kids. Soong Ching-Ling, the famous widow of Dr Sun Yat-Sen named and penned the Chinese inscription for the theatre.

Our destined location was a place i literally walked past in day one! Make a guess from the above picture that shows many empty stalls. 

It is the popular Donghuamen night market!

Tong Ren Tang [同仁堂] - an agent commissioned shopping trip; i have to say i was pretty impressed with the whole 'show'. 

A senior professor came into the room and shared with us the medical philosophy of wellness and after talking for 30-45 minutes, he invited his junior colleagues to take our pulse. Not surprisingly, i am diagnosed to be suffering from weak kidney (given the lack of sleep) and supposedly needed expensive Chinese medication to improve my condition.

It was obvious the whole tour group bought very little products (most of us are seasoned China travelers)! Nonetheless, the itinerary must go on and let's continued our journey to the Temple of Heaven! Click here for my post.

The funny looking bread car, a motorcycle convert, acts like the tuk tuk in Thailand and was a common sight on Beijing streets. I am more curious to know if it is air-conditioned!

Lunch at Diamond Grand Restaurant [钻石大酒楼]; a posh establishment that counts high level military and government personnel as its loyal customers.

Shopping (again) at the silk shop under the management of Jiaruihua [家瑞华]! Once again, the purchases were low from our group and the salespeople had to slash the price of a silk bedding set drastically from 3,800 RMB to 1,200!

What pissed us off next was that since most of us were not interested in silk products, we proceeded to the coach while waiting for the two mates who were being 'harassed'. The air-conditioning was on when we boarded the coach but upon receiving a call (presumably from the guide); the driver switched off the air-conditioning without any explanation and left us to sweat in a temperature that was hovering around 28-30 degrees celcius!

That unprofessional attitude definitely affected our mood although we tried to brush aside the unhappiness and concentrate on enjoying ourselves at the Summer Palace. Click here for more details!

A trishaw that would bring you to other attractions within the vicinity. It's just a matter of time before the fast food giant sues the trishaw rider for infringement of the symbolic golden arches logo!

Anyone has an idea what this sign means? No fireworks on cars?

Beihai (which means the Northern Sea) was part of the 500 RMB optional tours that each of us forked out. It was simply put, an overkill given that the Summer Palace was on the same day. Check out my post here.

Things started to improve slightly as we would be taking the trishaw for a touristy ride in the narrow Hutongs [胡同];  which are essentially alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences (as taken from Wikipedia]!

Both my parents, like myself, have never been on a trishaw even though they were commonly found in Singapore's cultural spots like Bugis Street, Chinatown etc.

Young lady sketching the traditional way of life - due to the booming population and the astronomical real estate prices, many hutongs are disappearing in Beijing and in exchange, you get a lot of high rise buildings that can be found in many cities outside China.

Doggy (golden retriever to be precise) on the street! By the way, we were supposed to take a boat cruise at Kunming lake (Summer Palace) but the lack of boats (when i could see many empty ones) resulted in an itinerary switch to take a rickshaw in the hutongs.

I am not so sure about you but i felt sorry for the dwellers. Having a constant flow of tourists roaming around my flat to see the Singapore way of life can be very frustrating in the long run.

Preparation of chicken skewers on the street!

A good rest for my feet as the rickshaw weaved in and out of different alleys, passing by houses that belonged to notable figures like Jet Li, Mei Langfang and imperial mansions.

Riding a rickshaw is tiring work and the driver assigned to me had his shirt soaked with sweat!

Passing by the 'shopping street' where i can see many vendors holding out this book with the title "Secret Legends of He-Shen". He-shen was a corrupt official who served Emperor Qianlong and he was believed to be the start of the eventual downfall of the Qing Dynasty.

How innovative can people be? To show his displeasure towards the Diaoyu islands dispute, this van owner wrote down his protest on the dust-covered window screens! Get a proper car decal lah!

Our hutongs tour lasted around 15 minutes.

We waited for the rest of our tour mates to arrive at the Yinding Bridge (银锭桥) which sounds phonetically like sure win bridge! For Chinese, this is a good sign and you can find many people taking pictures in front of the bridge.

Right in front is Qianhai (Front Seas). Beijing is nowhere near the sea yet there are six connected lakes next to the Forbidden City given the 'sea' title; Nanhai (南海), Zhonghai (中海), Beihai (北海), Qianhai (前海), Houhai (后海) and Xihai (西海).

It was a busy street filled with activities and definitely worth a stroll should time permits. 

There was even a sightseeing electric car that you could utilise even though i am unsure if it was chargeable. Nonetheless, it would be so much more relaxing to be a free and easy traveler! 

Candy floss that was huge! I had so much time because two of our tour mates went missing! Twenty minutes passed before we caught sight of their rickshaws approaching Yinding Bridge. The reason for their lateness? They stopped the driver in the middle of the route for shopping! 

Watching the beautiful sunset as we walked towards the place for dinner! Gosh were we famished! 

Peeping into the tiny courtyard of a siheyuan! I remember watching a documentary on hutongs and the rooms were super cramped! Some of the owners actually allowed people to visit their houses for a nominal fee.

We had a better deal; an authentic Peking dinner at No 7 Xiaojinsi Hutong (小金丝胡同)! 

The owners (a friendly couple) managed to set up two restaurant-sized tables, complete with plates, cups, chopsticks, soy sauce, toothpicks etc, for the twenty of us in what appeared to be the living room! 

Everything was prepared and cooked in the private kitchen that we had to stride past in order to get to the dining tables. 

Simple yet comfortable home cooked food (including Beijing dumplings) that was beyond doubt the food highlight for the trip! 

Xiao Cheng told us that one tour group was so impressed with the meal that they purposely returned on the following night. This was one of the rare times that i genuinely trusted his words. 

Time for a walk to digest our heavy dinner! We were moving towards a nearby theatre to watch a kungfu show that was part of the optional tours we paid for. 

Cages housing white rabbits which would likely end up as food on tables. Back in my kampong days, we had a big rabbit pen solely to provide another source of protein for the family. 

An hour - that's how early we were when we reached Shichahai Theatre (什刹海剧场)! I am not a person who would waste my precious time sitting on the cushioned seat and waiting for the show to start. 

I took the opportunity to explore the streets! Yippeeeee!~!

As it was already pretty late, i could only find shops selling food (the establishment in the above picture was offering donkey meat) and it was a matter of time before i found myself in a cafe drinking an expensive cup of latte.

Was on time to catch the opening of "A Kungfu Spectacle - ShiChaHai [北京风情功夫剧 -什刹海]"! To summarise, it was a story between two pandas that were passionate about Kungfu and decided to hone their skills by finding a master in the pugilistic capital of Beijing.

Featuring the seniors and juniors (师兄,师弟) of Jet Li, many of whom are national winners, this should be a highly anticipated show that would break many boundaries!

Guess a patron in front of me was thinking along the same line as she was blatantly recording the whole show on her mobile phone! 

With a prologue and five acts, it was a story plot that mapped the Pandas' journey that brought them to the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and even Quanjude Roast Duck restaurant. 

There was the usual contortionist (she was not too bad) and even the face changing master (he needs more training).

Their kungfu skills were certainly impressive; should i be the one jumping up and down, i would likely break a bone or two. 

And it was clear that a lot of money and effort were spent on decorating the stage and designing the many costumes for the different acts.

BUT, the storyline was super duper weak (guess it was just to bank on the highly popular Kungfu Panda movie franchise) and it was very irritating to have the characters speaking in Mandarin first before translating the whole conversation into English! 

This was by far the worst show i have ever watched.
Totally not worth the 280 RMB (S$56) ticket price! 


[Update] I forgot about the last itinerary; a leisure walk at Nan Luo Gu Xiang! Please check out my post here

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