Today was a very busy day. In saying that we actually got a sleep in til 730am. Had a Lovely buffet breakfast downstairs. Very east meets west. Importantly there was jasmine tea, so yummy. It's great to see people eating breakfast with chopsticks and others with knives, forks and spoons. Interestingly enough the previous day on both flights the eating implements of choice were the knive, fork, spoon combination.
After breakfast we were off to see the hutongs of old Beijing. This involved another drive through the city to reach the hutongs. Again, astounded by the calibre and scale of the buildings. Attention to detail is definitely something the Chinese excel in. We arrived and jumped in our rickshaws for a whip around the narrow alleys. It was so cold but fortunately we had the protection of a big fat doona. Back in the day the size of the hutongs would have been fine for the transport of the time but it's a wonder how so many cars for down them. All the doors were still decorated for Chinese new year which was last month. It is the year of the rabbit so there's lots of rascally rabbits around the place. Part way through the rickshaw ride the chain came off my rickshaw but sure enough the bloke didn't even have to get off the bike to fix it, he had a chainpullerupering device on his bike, no loss of time or speed. Our rickshaw ride came to an end and we had miraculously stopped out the front on a hutong. We went inside the family home, which is still functioning. Weird to just lob in on someone. So the layout for the hutong is in a square. There is a central courtyard area with the parents wing to the north (the favoured position, warm in winter, cool in summer), the boys wing to the east (to get up early with the rising sun), the girls wing to the west and the guest/living wing to the south (least favourable). The gate to the hutong is always off centred. In the central courtyard there was a big fishpond and usual courtyard stuff. All this stuff is to encourage good feng sui. Things like water, trees and jade are very important. There were also canaries in cages and one of them would say 'ni hao' back to you. Very clever and friendly birdie. It was cool to see the inside of the hutongs as from the outside they do not look inviting, big concrete/brick walls without much character. Also the bigger and more fancy the gate, the more important the people that live there.
Next we were off to see the drum tower. This involved climbing many big steep steps, I'm guessing about 50 of them, fantastic lunges, definitely got the heart rate up. This was karma as I had been whinging about the tiny in-between stairs all about the place. Once at the top we had a great view over the city. There was them a performance of the drums that lasted for about 5 mins. You could feel it in your chest, some really deep base. The drum tower was an early clock, there was a waterclock that released 3600 balls over 24 hours to maintain time. The drum tower was also a place of announcement where news, especially from the emperor was delivered. Across a large courtyard there was also a bell tower, an equally impressive building b In Chinese culture drums and bells go together. Where there's drums, there's bells, a yin yang balance.
After the drum tower we went to a buddist temple that housed the biggest statue of buddah in the world, i think 18m high. Before you got to the statue though you had to walk through many other smaller temples all with other likenesses of buddah and other important figures. There were prayer wheels galore, plenty of buddahs bellies to rub and it was 3 incenses to pay homage to buddah. Even though it is buddist they also welcome other faiths to worship. According to our guide 60% of Chinese are buddists of some degree. It was just great to see so many people openly expressing their faith.
We next visited the ancient university of Beijing. This was where the emperor would deliver his speeches to the upper class and educated from within a large temple. The people would then disperse the knowledge. It would also function as a regular university as well.
Next door to the university was the Confucian temple. This again was a place of higher learning where the Confucian philosophies were taught. The emperor also believed the teachings of Confucius, thus he was given a very grand temple of his very own.
Now it was time for lunch. We went to a traditional Chinese restaurant, Sichuan folk. We were presented with tea, beer, rice, a spicy tofu dish, peppered beef and a chicken dish that had more bones and chillis than anything else. They were very tasty, in fact the beef was super delicious. So many onions. The Sichuan people are renowned for spicy food an they certainly lived up to that reputation with those dishes. We also had a non spicy soup to balance it out. Once again too much food for two people. We had been eating for a good 30mins and it hardly looked like we had touched a thing.
After lunch with a very big bellyfull we went to a teahouse for a tea ceremony. The teas were fantastic. Some of the best I have ever tasted. So many different varieties too. Makes all the tea I've drank before seem sub par. Consequently we purchased some for our big train journey. We learnt all about the different tea pots, ie clay vs ceramic. We sampled 4 different types of tea, oolong, jasmine, some other health weightloss blend and a lychee/rose mix. They were all great but we decided on the lychee and the oolong, for daytime and for dessert consumption. There were so many beautiful tea sets, beautiful but expensive. If I was only going to china I would have considered a purchase. The best part was their little temperature gauge to determine whether the water is hot enough to make tea, it was a little terra-cotta boy and if the water was hot enough when you poured it over him he would wee, very projectile like. Very funny.
Next we went to a pearl factory. We had a demonstration about how pearls get their different colours from the minerals they absorb, eg Copper produces yellow pearls, calcium = white, iron = black. An oyster was then opened and the pearls dug out. I guessed 5 pearls, Michelle guessed 3 but there were around 25 in one oyster. Amazing. They weren't huge but still impressive, especially since we got to choose one of our very own. We looked around the showroom upstairs at all the beautiful pearl jewellery and cosmetics but everything was on the pricey side and that which I may have considered I wasn't sold on anything. Nevermind.
Our next stop was the Beijing zoo to see the giant pandas. We saw a few. One guy was pretty active but the others were very sleepy. It would be great to see them in the wild. We had time so we looked around the rest of the zoo. Being patriotic we went and saw the Australian animals, a few kangaroos, wallabies, emus and a few parrots. We also saw tigers and lions. The poor things looked so sad in their prisons. We also saw monkeys and foxlike creatures. One little fox was the only guy in his enclosure but he still had to dig and hide his food. Instincts!
After the zoo we went to the CCTV tower which is the old headquarters of CCTV. You get a great appreciation for the size of Beijing from 238m above the ground. I still don't think I saw the edge of the city. It was very windy so we didn't do a second lap around the top. We went back down a level to the inside where it was warmer. After that it was time for dinner in the revolving restaurant. There was a magnificent buffet, western, Chinese, seafood, Japanese and most importantly dessert. We also shared a bottle of great wall red. Not a bad drop.
After dinner we were supposed to be finished for the day but it was decided that we would do our illuminations tour that night instead of Friday night. We went and saw the Olympic site in particular, the watercube is quite impressive as is the birdsnest. There was a television tower at the games site that was to house a few countries broadcasters. France was supposed to have the second tier down but because of all the issues surrounding the Olympic flame and free Tibet protests when it made its way through France the Chinese never built their tv room. Maybe some type of sweet revenge. There is so much neon in Beijing, alot of it red too. One of my favorite things was the big neon rainbow across one of the main streets. Very friendly. Yet again it was quite late once we returned so again shower and bed ready for new adventures.