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Temple of Heaven and Dragon Empress Summer Palace

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Temple of Heaven and Dragon Empress Summer Palace

Our next day with Lucy was one of my faves. We went to the Temple of Heaven first thing in the morning. The temple itself was quite nice, but what was great to see was the big park surrounding it. There were groups of people everywhere doing dancing, Tai Chi, playing cards, dancing with swords, playing some kind of game where you toss a ball back and forth with a flat paddle, all sorts of stuff. It was really great to see so many people out in the park having a nice time and being active.

After that we went to the Summer Palace of the Dragon Empress. It was an amazing location along a lake with nice landscaping and architecture. Not too bad a place to get away from it all I suppose :)

Forbidden City

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Forbidden City

After the Great Wall, we hit the Forbidden City the next day. It really was a city. The site is HUGE and we spent a 1/2 day just walking the small parts that we saw. For me, it was enough. But You could spend 2 days there easily I think if you were a real history buff.

We started at Tienanmen Square and aside from knowing the history, there’s not much to see there to be honest. It’s a big open paved area with government buildings on each side.

Opposite from that is the Forbidden City, inside are the richly decorated buildings and architecture that you would expect. Gate after Gate, courtyard after courtyard, it just kept going. Everything about it was arranged based on running the country and the government system, so it was interesting to learn about the different functions of the buildings and how far into the center you could reach based on your rank.

We had a nice walk home to the hotel and stopped once again from some great food, including more Delicious Eggplant which Aunt Mac was loving ;)

The great wall, and the Dragin’ Ladies

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The great wall, and the Dragin’ Ladies

Next up was the Big Event, The Great Wall.

Luckily our dear friend Charles had put us in contact with a tour guide while we were there. Here name is Lucy and she turned out to be quite fabulous! A young lady, she had a great grasp of English with not only translations, but also the meanings. So she did not just repeat what she knew she was actually quite good at having a conversation. Aunt Mac was smitten I think, and Lucy certainly dotted on Aunt Mac as well. Lucy quickly figured out who was calling the shots in our group…..she affectionately said Aunt Mac was like the Dragon Lady (Empress) of olden times.

We headed to a more remote part of the wall from Beijing (again, GREAT tip from Charles). This area was much less crowded but very easy to get to and very nice. We were one of maybe 30 people on that section of the wall that day. Aside from the remote location and less crowds, one of the reasons we picked this location is that there was a cable car that took you up to the top,easier for Aunty you know? But as fate would have it, we were just starting high season and the car was not running yet. It started next week! Oh dear. So, up the stairs we started.

Along the way we picked up some tag alongs. Just sort of out of no where, these three women were walking with us. They said hello, but aside from that, not much. I assumed they were on their way to the all to set up vending stalls. But as we stopped to  rest, they too would stop to rest. Lucy explained they would make the journey with us and there was not much to be done for that. They never tried to sell us anything. They were not beggars, and were in fact very friendly and nice.

As we made our way up (and up, and up) the slope we got to our first set of stairs. Aunt Mac put on a brave face and started the climb with a bit of a steady hand from me. After a short bit we got to a point and rested. As we went onto the next one, the girls were closer and offered a hand to Aunt Mac. How nice….. but then after then next as I went to help, I was gently nudged out of the way and with a girl on each side, Aunt Mac was escorted up the stairs. It continued that way for the next 2 hrs!!! They insisted on helping Aunt Mac on all the flights and rested when she wanted and started up again when she was ready! Later we said Aunt Mac had met the real Draggin’ Ladies, cause they dragged up and up that wall and all those steps!

It was actually quite touching. Aunt Mac had not thought she could do it, but we gently encouraged her to try and take her time. We had nothing else to do that day but this, so with a little help she made it up and there and got to see the amazing views and the Great Wall.

After that there was a bit more we could climb, but Aunt Mac was done with all those, so our unofficial guides offered to walk her back while Paul, Lucy and I kept on for a bit. Yes that’s right, I sent my Aunt off with some Chinese village people so we could continue sight seeing. It sounds so bad when you put in writing….. We continued on and saw a bit more, before heading back. Sure enough at the base there was Aunt Mac with the girls and now she had a few souvenirs with her…. They waited to the end to sell us a few things from their backpacks. I have say for the price of a few fans and picture book it was well worth it for all the help they gave us and for being nice rather that pushy vendors harassing us the whole time.

All in all it was a great day and a fun outing. We spend the following day with Lucy as well, more on that to come, but if you head that way, I highly recommend the extra time to go to the more remote section of the Great Wall, seeing it without all the crowds was worth it.

If you need a guide, please do look up Lucy, was great. lucy810825@aliyun.com

Panjiayuan Market aka Heaven for Ryan

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Panjiayuan Market aka Heaven for Ryan

Day 2 of our adventures involved a visit to the Panjiayuan Antique/Junk/Wholesale market. I loved it.

It was MASSIVE, crowed and full of stuff. And it kept going, and going, and going. It’s divided by zone for stone, metal wares (statues and such), pottery, stone statues, fabrics, furniture, gems, books, and God knows what else. Bargaining was required and Aunt Mac soon became a pro at it picking up a few treats friends and family back home.

The best was we saw one stall selling very nice and unique tassels. These were about 12″ long and had different types of decorative charms attached to them. She wanted to get 4 or 5 of them and so we talked to the shop girl and thru the calculator on our phone we bargained for a price. But the price the girl was giving was quite high. So in the end, we had to walk away from them.  We continued to shop around the market and found a few things that we wanted. But near the end Aunt Mac was still thinking about those tassels. We said, just do it, we won’t be back this way so go ahead and get them. We went back and there was a guy there this time. We collected the tassels we wanted and asked him the price. His was about 1/2 what the girl had told us! Out the corner of my eye I saw the girl starting to come out and immediately said we’ll take them! Just then she came up and spoke some words in Chinese to the man while gesturing at us… too late, his new deal was done and Aunt Mac had her tassels. ha!

After we walked the market for a very long time, we thought we would take the other exit, well, turns out on the other side is a whole different section! This side was more like a flea market with people selling stuff out laid out on blankets. So of course we had to explore that some more :) I ended up finding a great carved head of the Goddess of Mercy that’s about 15″ tall. Of course it’s all cash there and I was out of money. Fear not. Even though the nice lady who sold me the head could not speak English, she knew my problem (I showed her my empty wallet and said ATM?) she grabbed my arm and escorted me to the ATM while I pulled out cash to pay for my new find. She also got to make sure I did not change my mind :)

Aunt Mac also got here first introduction to Chinese public toilets….

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We visited a huge marked where we got in the spirit of bargaining.  That was totally expected and by the time we were ready to go we had gotten pretty good – except for Ryan – he overspent on 1 item.  LOL

It was there that I was introduced to the public toilets.  WOW  No doors on the stalls which were just over waist high, no toilet paper and no TOILETS – just a hole in the ground and was at least covered with porcelain or stainless steel.  See I told you there were sights to see!

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Well, the good news is there are a lot of public toilets around the city….The bad news as she notes above is that the stalls can be a bit tough at times. Of course for guys it’s a bit easier most of the time, but for the ladies….Well, Aunt Mac is a trooper she handled it like a pro and in fact most likely better that I could have if I had to squat at at stall with no doors!!

But, all in all, a great day at the market looking at all the treats on display and having some fun haggling for souvenirs.

Beijing- Day 1

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Beijing- Day 1

Our first day in Beijing we took it easy as we got to know the city. Nothing big planned just a trip to Wal Mart :) Aunt Mac was fascinated to see what Wal Mart looked like in China and got the biggest kick when I told her there was one in Beijing. It came up because she was nervous about what to pack and I told her “Don’t worry, if you forget anything we can get you what you need, they EVEN have Wal Mart in China” Well, that had to be seen :)

That proved to be a good excuse for us to go out and get to know the subway and just take it easy. So we got our directions and headed that way. Along the way we found a great little bakery and thru pointing and smiling picked out a few pastries to try. They all looked the same on the outside, but inside on was dark red and another was bright purple! all were super tasty and in fact we never found those same pastries again, even though we looked.

The Wal Mart was such a sight to see, and I think my Aunt was amazed at how…Western it was. It’s liked the picked it up from middle America and just filled it with Chinese people. The same signs, same layout, everything about it was very Western.

We walked around the area some and then made our way back to the hotel. After 4 days of Asian food, I decided Aunt Mac might like something more accessible and I found a cute Italian Place in the old Hutong (Chiniese alley neighborhoods) for us to explore. We took the subway and then walked down a main road which was bustling with new shops and restaurants and was very fun looking. Then we turned to head into the Hutong areas and found ourselves walking alone down a narrow road/alley all alone! Oh man, my poor Aunt, who knows what she was thinking. But we kept on walking, take a few turns, passing one or two people and then at last came to a busy corner and there tucked among the homes was this little Italian Restaurant called Mercante! (http://www.timeoutbeijing.com/venue/Food__Drink-European-Italian/15359/Mercante.html)

So we headed in and had ourselves some lovely pasta,wine,and steak. Aunt Mac wanted the Bolognese but they were out that evening so she had steak instead. At the end we had a good laugh about our first meal in China being steak dinner, but it was very tasty and we knew there was plenty of Chinese food in our future.

Adventures with Aunt Mac

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Adventures with Aunt Mac

As you know, any visit that involves us must involve a lot of good eating. We can’t help but want to share all the amazing flavors we have discovered in this region with those that come for a visit.

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Aunt Mac again:

Food was a big adventure and I have to say there was not one thing put in front of me that I would not eat again.  From Chili and Black Pepper Crab to Peking Duck – I loved it.  I also learned to use chop sticks with some proficiency.

Aunt Mac comes to town #NiHaoYall

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Aunt Mac comes to town #NiHaoYall

Whew! What a whirlwind month March was. Quit my job, found a job, went to Bora Bora, and then had a awesome visit from my Aunt Mac and we went to Beijing for a week.  What a hoot it turned out to be! We had so much fun, showing her around, exploring Beijing, trying new foods, and just making some awesome memories. I made a hashtag called #NiHaoYall for all out photos, so if you search Instagram you well all our adventures ;)

I’m going to turn things over for a bit to my Aunt who was kind enough to write out a few things from her visit.

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First I have to say how excited, and proud I was to have Ryan and Paul invite me to tag along with them to Bejing.  (China – I was really in China!!)  My friends were all telling me how blessed I was to have nephews invite me for such a trip, and all I could say was I know.

As you may know I flew to Singapore first (all by myself for the first time) and Ryan and Paul already had a tour set up for me on my first day (they still had a couple days to work before vacation started for them.  With directions in hand – I was off to meet the tour guide.  It was a wonderful experience going through Little India and learning so much about Singapore and yes seeing the sights.  We toured the Buddist Temple and I learned so much.  I was especially enthralled by the story the guide told of Ganesh – the elephant headed boy. There was a huge fish in the wet market, one of Ryan and Paul’s favorite places, that had another large fish sticking out of its mouth like a tongue.

On the way home, even with directions I got turned around in the subway.  As I was looking at my directions, a lovely young Singapore lady asked if I needed help.  She looked at my map and the map on the wall and said she knew which exit I should take and she was going that way.  She held my elbow up the steps and across the street putting her umbrella over me to protect from the sun and insisted on walking with me almost to the front door of the apartment building. I was very impressed with the friendliness of the Singaporeans.

The next day I was off to the Gardens by the Bay and to explore the MBS (Hotel that looked like 3 towers with a ship on top).  The Gardens were exquisite with tulips in full bloom.  Off to the MBS to the top to see the infinity pool and the breathtaking view.  I explored the waterfront, of course, saw Merlion where an Indonesian lady asked (with hand motions and camera) to take a picture of me.  Guess it was old white haired white lady that was so strange to her!!  I saw the line of people waiting to pass the body of LPK the former, much loved and respected prime minister of Singapore.  The guys had recommended taking a taxi back but I saw the bus stop first and figured out to get back.  Off I went – no problem but Ryan and Paul  were amazed that I had done it.

Ryan had taken the day off on Friday to personally be my tour guide.  Off  we went to Little India and as we crossed the street the first thing I saw was a big circle with “ALBERT” on it.  Ryan took my picture and it made me both sad and happy knowing that my much loved husband, and Ryan’s Uncle Al could not laugh with us, but he was indeed with us.

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