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Tom and Simone in Beijing

Our daily adventures in Beijing...
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Diary Entries

Saturday, 07 August 2010

Location: Beijing, China

It's a bit naughty to be using a travel blog when were living so permanently overseas... so Tom has helped me to set up a proper blog. Have a look at

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Location: Shen Zhen Airport, China

ooh... make Chinese people wait 15 minutes to board a domestic flight and they will gather round and yell at you!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Location: Shen Zhen Airport, China

Excuse me sir, I think you can switch off your mobile phone and save yourself some money, because you're already projecting your voice... um... beautifully.

Sunday, 06 June 2010

Location: Beijing, China

Ok, so I didn't actually write or post this on the 6th of June, but the truth is when you have something interesting to write about, you often don't have the time to write anything at all.
Had I not been exhausted on the 6th of June, I would have come home from dropping Fiona off at the airport, switched on the computer and written all about her week long visit, so here goes!

Fiona is our first official visitor in Beijing, so we excitedly whipped out the air mattress and set about showing her around our favourite spots in the city and discovering some equally excellent new places in Beijing and also further afield!

First stop, Summer Palace. I've been to the Summer Palace once before, but only in Winter. Funnily enough, there's a reason why it's the Summer and not the Winter Palace. This time the lake wasn't frozen over and it was really quite beautiful. We wondered around the lake, basked in the sun, climbed millions of stairs to take and pose for almost as many photos (watched by an equally large amount of spectators) and I got to tell someone off for taking a photo of me without asking!
The next day found us wondering around a Yong He temple (Beijing's Lama temple) and then a tourist market so we could both buy things to take home.

After Tom got off work we headed to Houhai for dinner and a drink. We arrived there just before sunset and wandered around the drum tower and some of the lanes by the lake, where we ran into Ben and Sherry (friends from Taiwan) and ended up having dinner together at Hutong Pizza - a pizza parlour in a converted courtyard house, complete with a glass floor covering a fish pond.

Tom was able to get a couple of extra days off work, so we took a 'long weekend' from Monday to Thursday and headed out of Beijing.

First stop Shan Hai Guan, a city on the coast, with a few Great wall spots nearby. We went to Jiu Men Kou first, just out of Shan Hai Guan. Jiu Men Kou is a quiet spot along the Great Wall which is nice in itself, but the main attraction is that this is the only part of the Wall that crosses a river. Usually rivers were seen as a natural defence mechanism. This part of the wall spans the river in the form of a huge bridge with nine arches (jiu men kou is literally nine door mouth)

The other part of the Great Wall we went to was Lao Long Tou, or Old Dragon Head. Here we boarded a boat to see the only part of the Great Wall that meets the sea. The boat driver was an expert at being an idiot and asked us if we would like to 'have fun' apparently 'fun' was a display of his attempts to make the boat overturn. I'm sure Fiona and Tom will tell you that I was very brave. (Brave, unnaturally pale... same difference)

The next day we headed to Chengde, the summer hunting resort of the Manchu emperors. It took the emperor and his hunting party seven days to get to Chengde from Beijing by horse. I'm glad the train only takes 4 hours! The train passed by some rotting remnants of the Great Wall as it wound its way through the mountains to Chengde.

The old resort - surrounded by it's very own wall - is beautiful and we spent most of the afternoon chilling under the trees. We spent the rest of the afternoon sheltering from a thunderstorm under a building by the river, before setting off to find dinner.

The next day we went back to the resort, hired a boat and paddled around the lake for the morning, before heading to 'club rock'. Club rock is a massive piece of rock, looking over Chengde. We caught a chairlift up to the rock and took in the panoramic view, dotted with other interesting geology. And, just because it's so much cooler than the Hard Rock Cafe, we sat at club rock with a couple of beers taking in the view and basking in the warmth of the afternoon. We headed back to Beijing by bus that evening.

Back in Beijing we headed to Qian Men (front gate) Near Tiananmen Sq. and rented some very rusty bicycles. we rode around Tiananmen Sq, visited a kite Shop and then fronted up at the Forbidden city... just in time for closing time.

Fiona and I went back to the forbidden city on Saturday afternoon, after a morning trip to the Temple of Heaven. Again, I've been to the Temple of Heaven before, but early on a Saturday morning, it's something quite different. There are people everywhere, dancing with ribbons, playing that feathered hacky sack thing, a game that looks like a badminton / ping pong hybrid, dancing in groups, writing calligraphy on the ground with great sponges and water, and walking in slow motion taichi moves. It was really alive there.

We ended Fiona's visit with a trip to the Acrobatics. I haven't actually been to see the acrobatics in China before. It was really amazing. The youngest of the troupe is nine years old but looked about six!

Three cities, two parts of the wall, a palace, two summer resorts, two temples a market and the acrobatics... not bad for a week!

Friday, 21 May 2010

Location: Beijing, China

We had another free trip today with the university. This time they took us to a Peking Opera Theatre. I’ve seen Peking Opera before, but it was in Taiwan and because of China and Taiwan’s differing recent history, the two are quite a bit different.
The theatre is actually a very big teahouse with tables set up facing a big stage. The troupe has its very own pet foreigner - an Iranian born Englishman who currently lives in Beijing and California. He told us that he used to be… let me think… a dance / choreography animator… something along those lines… and then one day, 15 years ago he saw a Peking Opera performance and it changed his life. He moved to Beijing to become a Peking Opera Performer. He talked about some of the background of Peking opera, sent a couple of students backstage to be made up as Opera characters (my classmate came back with a dazzling white and black face), called a couple of us onto the stage to teach us dance moves and explained some of the mimes and characters they have in the opera. It was really interesting, but I have to admit I actually just sit through the opera parts and wait for the fight scenes and acrobatics. I know, I’m a philistine.
After the opera we were able to make our way back home instead of hopping on the bus, so a couple of us headed to Qian men, or the front gate, near Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden city. Qian men is a hutong area, really popular with tourists. It’s been done up and very touristy, and my teacher told me any Chinese people you see there will be from outside of Beijing. It was still fun wandering around there though and we found a cool restaurant with a mezzanine floor, black and white photos of old Beijing Street Scenes hanging on the wall and revolutionary opera playing on a TV screen downstairs. It was the ‘preference’ for this kind of Opera during the later half of the 20th century that makes the Opera you see in Beijing different to what you see in Beijing. The opera we saw at the teahouse wasn’t revolutionary opera, they were traditional stories about doomed emperors and the monkey king making trouble in the Dragon court. But I remember being told in Taipei that the Opera academy there has stories that didn’t survive more turbulent times here. And it’s not a matter of sharing in order to promote the growth of the art form either, our guide in Taipei said they are very protective of these stories.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Location: Beijing

I\'ve been meaning to print some photos for sometime now, but it\'s taken me a while to find a shop around where I live and study.
Today my classmate told me there\'s a shop on campus, so we went to find it... and ended up disturbing a Chinese family lunch.
We walked into the shop and all the computers, printers, etc were covered in sheets, so I asked the family of three (a married coupe and mum) eating their lunch at a newspaper covered card table in the middle of the shop if I could get photos printed \"What did she say?\" She asked my equally foreign Korean friends \"I want to get photos printed.\" \"Oh, I couldn\'t understand her...\"
So the card table is pushed aside and the canon inkjet printer is uncovered and we set about watching (all six of us) as my 34 photos slowly print out.
They started to chat with us, pass my photos around one by one (\"It\'s ok, you can look at your photos\"), discuss whether I looked more my Mum or Dad (Verdict: I\'m an even mix, especially in the nose, but I look more like Mum - same smile - and my Dad has an excellent beard).
And then comes the inevitable question:
\"Have you eaten lunch?\" \"no not yet,\"
\"Then have some of ours.\"
\"It looks great, but no thanks. We really couldn\'t eat your lunch.\"
\"Try. Auntie made it herself, you have to try.\"
so we tried their lunch. complimented it, discussed if the flavour is the same in Korea...
\"Have some more.\"
\"Oh, we couldn\'t.\"
\"They don\'t like it.\"
\"oh we do, it\'s delicious, but we couldn\'t eat your lunch it wouldn\'t be fair.\"
the last comment was me, opening my big fat mouth. Do this in China, and food will inevitably land in it. The first time we were allowed to use the chopsticks ourselves to Grandma\'s pork dish... the second time we weren\'t so lucky. It was really embarrassing, having a grandma feeding me like I\'m a baby bird (the daughter helpfully pointed out -twice- that it looks like I\'m a baby) and we were all laughing, so it took a couple of attempts to get hold of this pork and end my humiliation. All in a days photo printing, I guess!

Saturday, 08 May 2010

Location: Beijing, China

It was Tom’s Birthday today. I bought a traditional, handmade kite as a birthday present (tea and kites - we both managed to do cultural presents this year) from a little kite shop near Tiananmen Square. Ok, actually I bought two kites. The first kite I saw was a handmade dragon, made out of paper thin material and bamboo. The lady assured me it would fly, so I said I’d take it… then she pointed out and awesome dragon head, connected to lots of little circular masks with feathers jutting out of them, which makeup the dragons spine. This dragon was so long, he hung from one side of the shop to the other. I bought his smaller cousin and the original dragon as a ‘wall kite’ (he’s so beautiful I’m afraid if we fly him, he’ll end up stuck in a tree, or breaking on impact) and scampered out of the shop before I could be tempted to spend any more money.
We went and had Birthday cake, cooked in our new toaster oven and then went out for dinner at a place called “Café Sambal,” a Malaysian restaurant in a converted courtyard house in an area pretty close to Hou Hai and the Drum Tower. It’s the first courtyard house we’ve been into and the area is really funky. We had a really nice dinner and then a bit of a wander before heading home.

Saturday, 08 May 2010

Location: Beijing, China

Beijing Big Foot
When I was little and my feet started to grow at an exponential rate I was actually quite proud. My aim then was to be the tallest in the family, so it made sense that my feet should grow first. I didn’t realize big feet were ever going to pose a problem for me until I came to Beijing the first time and discovered that large shoes just don’t exist in some countries. Subsequent trips to China have taught me that big feet are not only rare, but incredibly interesting. People will notice your feet, have a good old stare and then engage in a form of eye tennis, where their eyes will dart from my feet to their own, sizing my clod hoppers up. It doesn’t seem to matter how I house my feet, I’ll still get at least a glance most days. I’ve noticed that hiking shoes and open toe shoes seem to draw the most attention, though. Those dazzling white toes of mine do just ask to be stared at, after all!
While I was living in Taiwan I made do with the shoes I had, bought more whenever I left and bought shoes that went into men’s sizes, like converse, havianas and hiking shoes. Most people come to Asia and stock up on cheap clothing and shoes before they go home. I go home and stock up on expensive shoes before I come back.
I’ve actually just given up looking at shoes here. I know already when I come across a nice pair that they won’t fit me anyway and I’d much rather be out walking somewhere interesting in the shoes I already have than going on a hopeless mission to buy new ones. But last week came across a market in my guidebook that caters to the foreign market, one of the markets attractions just so happens to be the ‘big shoes shop.’
So, armed with a couple of middle aged Chinese ladies (Fang and her best friend) and a driver (Fang’s friends son), Charles I headed to the Yashow market, near Sanlitun.
Sanlitun is a diplomatic area, where all the rich foreigners hang out, so Yashow is not a cheap market. You still have to bargain though and the shop keepers will quote an especially high price if you are a foreigner. Most people who shop here have plenty of money to throw around and are most likely comparing prices to their home countries, so it’s understandable. My local friends however, were not about to pay inflated prices and set about telling stall holders off for quoting me foreigners prices. The general line was "you wouldn't quote my own daughter such a price and my friend here can speak Chinese, so give her the kind of price you would give her if she were my own daughter." The stall holders would reply "Of course I'm quoting you a fair price, my friend. I can hear her speaking Chinese to you and because i think it's so good I'm quoting her a Chinese price." Fangs friend is a master bargainer, so I think we did pretty well. Although she does get so into it that at one point I was stuck wearing a cotton qipao while fangs friend engaged the vendor in an argument about whether the price was fair. Usually if you don't like the price you just walk away. This technique is a bit tricky when you are still wearing the garment and depending on the vendor to hold up a curtain for you to change back into your own clothes!!!

Wednesday, 05 May 2010

Location: Beijing, China

The sun is still shining and the wind is still blowing!

I continued my great tradition of the week, by completely over indulging at a lunch provided by a very generous classmate! My Korean classmate (an older, university professor) won a prize for good attendance last semester and decided to treat the entire class to lunch to celebrate (we\'re talking 20 people)> We went to a hot pot restaurant near my house and, just like yesterday, waddled back out a couple of hours later!

Tuesday, 04 May 2010

Location: Beijing, China

The sun is out and the wind is blowing, but now we have an entirely different kind of snow. This snow appears in Spring and floats upwards, instead of down... these fat cotton snowflakes are actually seeds, dropped from a kind of tree here. They get picked up by the wind, assault your nostrils (or if they can, the inside of your mouth) collect by the roadside in huge fluffy balls and find their way into buildings and subway stations. There aren\'t so many today, because the wind has been huge overnight... about the only advantage I can see from really windy weather (not great friends, the wind and I, especially when my preferred mode of transport is my bike)!
Today, my Korean friend treated us to lunch. We went to a Korean BBQ... Korean BBQs are usually excellent and always make you waddle out the door when you\'re done! We even BBQ-ed Kimchi. It tastes as odd as it sounds... less sour and more charcoalie.
After lunch, Tom and I decided that the weather was too nice to go home, so we headed across town to Ritan Park. The park used to have an altar to the sun god, where ritual sacrifices were made (Tom\'s theory is that before the internet there wasn\'t much else to do). The park is beautiful and the weather was warm and the trees green. we sat for a bit by the lake, then found a cafe/bar we\'d heard about, called the \'Stone Boat.\' It is literally a stone boat that has been \'docked\' by the lake. A very nice setting to drink cocktails and browse magazines.

Don\'t think I took a picture of the stone boat bar, but here\'s a link to someone elses :)

Monday, 03 May 2010

Location: Beijing, China

Why planet ranger is adorning my page with ////////////\'s, I don\'t know!

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Recent Messages

From Kerry
HAve fun on your way back to Beijing through China, hopefully no more dramas!
Love you
Response: I hope so too. Flight to Changsha already seems a tad delayed and the natives are getting restless!!!
From Kerry
Hello Simone from Kirra & Jess . We are having fun at your mums house we are
making things.
Response: I heard you were having lots of fun. Hope the cake was really yummy!
From Julia Sung
They are cool photos. I love them.
Julia from Taipei
Response: Thanks Julia. Please say hi to everyone for me ooxx
From Kerry
Happy Birthday Tom
Have a Great Day!!!!
From El
Hi dear! email me through hotmail... by the way, i need a mailing address, there\'s something i urgently need to send you ;-) xoxo
Take care!
Response: Great. Email headed your way :0)
From Julia
Happy birthday for yesterday Miss Cook, hope your exams went okay!
Response: Thanks smyffie. Fingers crossed, but I think they went ok!
From ric fisher
Hey little cookie cuz, hope you had a great birthday! Sounds like things are going awesomely for you. Keep up ur graet work and we\'ll chat sometime. My MSN is is the same as the email I\'ve attached for the blog message in case u can get MNS there. Cheers kiddo xo
Response: Thanks, Ric. I have to resort to old fashioned forms of communication these day like email! Yes, things are going awesomely. Someone asked me if I was having a 1/4 century crisis, but I don\'t think you\'re allowed to when life is this good! How are Jan and the kids? Hope everyone\'s great!
From Kerry
You are right - it definately is a clone of Hobart\'s Government House. Right down to the \'tower\' that the xmas tree sits in every year!!! LOL!
I remember that article too!

Response: how serendipitous :0)
hey simone,

gemma,chelsea,jacky and myself would like to wish you a happy birthday. hope all is going well. looks like your having a great time good on you.

The Graham Family xx
Response: Thanks guys!
I was thinking about Gemma on Saturday and wanted to send her a birthday message, but don\'t have your email. Hope you\'re all well and everything is great :0) Much love ooxx
From Andrew Halliburton
Hi Simone,
Just wishing you a happy birthday and it sounds like your having a great time!
Hope all is well and speak soon
Response: Hey Andrew!
Thanks :0) We are having a fantastic time in the big smoke :0) How are things going with you? Back from South Africa? Could you send me your email sometime (and my other favourite cousins)?
From Mayling & Steve
Feliz Cumpleanos!!!
Dear Simone: Have a wonderful day. Big hugs and best wishes :)
Response: Thanks Mayling! How is married life Treating you? Hope everything is great. Where are you at the moment? Your big celebration is in June, right? Best wishes for that. Say Hi to Steve for me! ooxx
From Jeanette & Jade
Happy Birthday! Hope you have a lovely day. Love the pictures of the great wall, what an amazing experience.
Response: Thanks :0) How is everything going?
Hope everyone is happy and healthy. ooxx
From Kerry

Happy birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday Dear Simone Happy Birthday to You!
Have a Fab Day!
Love and Best Wishes Mum & Dad
Response: Wow, you even broke out your singing voices for the occasion! Thanks, guys :0)
From Tabea
Happy Birthday!!!
Response: Thank you ooxx
From Ella
Hey Mone, sounds like you\'re having a fabulous time. The Wal sounds amazing! Just wanted to wish you a very happy birthday as you turn 25! Thinking of you and sending love and a hug your way.x
Response: Hey El, long time no hear :0) Thank you, and happy Birthday for Wednesday. Would you send me your email when you get a chance? I don\'t actually know how to contact you anymore!
From Kerry
Love the pictures of the Walk, they really show how amazing the Wall is and what a fantastic construction it is.

Have a great Day tomorrow

Happy Birthday!!!!!
Response: thanks
From Father of Xmas
Those two ladies dancing inthe park are a stark contrast to the \'old gentlemens\' sitting on the park bench.
Is that because the old ladies have just rec\'d their daily dose of dung beetle whilst the old guys are still waiting patiently for theirs??
Response: oh, charming. No, it\'s because men are Lazy.
From Kerry
Sounds like a valuable lesson, at least you wont forget those 2 things now!!!
Good luck for the next 3.
Response: The trouble is, I can always remember the context, but often can\'t retrieve the actual word... my memory is excellent, but unfortunately it can never determine between the useful and the debris!
From Julia
I also forgot to tell you we have Taiwanese Bubble Tea in Hobart. Yes saw the March 22 entry thank you muchly. Also love the Chinglish photos - Dangerous for drowning indeed!
Response: Watch out for that bubble tea... I\'ve heard it can be dangerous for drowning :0)
From Julia
Hey Mone,
Just reading you 4 April entry. V funny miss cook. Did you hear we are about to get a Greens Minister? We\'ll see may all fall apart yet...
Response: Hey there Ju-ju, I hope you read March 22 as well! I did hear that the GG had made certain recommendations. In an ideal world, a Greens Minister could be awesome... But I don\' think you can put \"politics\" and \"an ideal world\" together without getting an oxymoron!
From sarah
Just found this
Glad the helmet is working for you :)
Response: Helmets aren't a common sight here, but Beijingers are usually way too busy being indifferent to stare. I overheard a dad telling his daughter that in some countries we have to wear them. It's worse for Tom. He rides to work, so he looks like a Mormon in his suit and helmet!
From Taa Faa -bleep-
Hello, it's very beautiful there. We hope you have a good time together. Faa is waiting for your mail. We all miss you.
Response: I miss you guys too!
From Michael (the dutch o
sounds like your chinese is moving the 'right' way...what's next??? Learning how to say "How can I turn my master yoda dog into a nice scrumptuous meal for my lazy husband?" haha
Jiayou!!! ;)
Response: Good to see you haven't lost your edge Mike! Unfortunately I don't have a dog, or a lazy husband, so I'll never be able to practice that particular phrase.
From Kerry
I think the lake will look quite spectacular when the lotus flowers come out! Did you end up finding a Teahouse on the way back?
Response: Tried... we went to one in Houhai, but it was full! So we ended up in a funky restaurant instead.
From Kerry

Happy Easter
Simone & Tom