Friday, May 25, 2012

Winter Sonata in China

When I arrived in Beijing Capital Airport Terminal 2 from Manila, I am glad to see a sunny weather outside the building. Thinking it wasn’t that cold, I decided to wear only a cardigan to cover myself. But the moment I step outside the door of the arrival hall, there was suddenly a breeze of a full blast air-conditioned air that is so cold! I was caught in surprise! The sunny-like weather deceived me. The coldness of the place is the true reality. Chill easily ran through my skin and my back, so I urge my travel mates to get a taxi immediately as I cannot endure the cold wind anymore!

Back at the taxi seat, random thoughts circled my mind on this trip. I rarely experience Winter in overseas trips. Maybe because I’m used to a tropical weather of my home country and chooses places to visit with the same tropical weather. Honestly, I have second thoughts on pursuing my winter trip to China. I thought that visiting the country on a winter season wouldn’t be an enjoyable trip since the weather is cold, therefore it is hard to roam around and the surroundings like trees and plants are dry and withered, thus not perfect for souvenir photos. But despite of those thoughts, I still had an enjoyable worthy time in China at wintertime. And Beijing is a perfect city choice to explore China during this season. No chilly wind, cold weather or even frostbite can stopped me in exploring China!

Winter Sonata in China at Beihai Park lakeside view.
When we arrived at the hotel where we will stay for the next three nights, we almost had a whole afternoon conversation and argument with the hotel staffs due to language barrier. We had difficulty to converse with them in settling our hotel accommodation because they are really “no-English” speaking people. Good thing, I bought a calculator which really help us alot in dealing with them. Funnily, we also did charade and drawing just for them to understand us. The language barrier was quite a challenging experience in Beijing.

My first “Winter Sonata” experience in China started in Beihai Park. This imperial garden situated at the heart of Beijing is perfect for afternoon walks and relaxing strolls. Even expose on a chilly weather, the vast lake that greet me upon entrance in the park keep me warm with its scenic feast. It was here I experience my first winter sunset in China. Seeing the sun sets against the dried branches of the the tree was a dramatic sight to behold. As we further explore the surroundings of the park, I saw snows piled on the ground! My reaction was kinda like the delight of a first-timer to see a snow as it really is my first time to see a snow though it was melting already. 

Winter Sunset...
Snow! Melting already...
My first winter sunset in China...
I trek the top hill part of the park called Jade Flowery Islet where main landmark of the park can be found – the imposing white dome called White Dagoba. At the back of White Dagoba, there is a viewing deck where one will see a vast view of the entire Beihai Park complete with lake and city skyline view. On the way down, I explore the Chinese pavilions surrounding the lake side of the park. But it was really the serene lakeside view of Beihai Park that my eyes keep looking upon. The tranquil lake is surrounded by dried trees while shinning in flashes of golden color because of the sunset. It was a very picturesque view. The winter scene was intense after the sun sets with the winter sky turning violet with haze of amber and yellow.

Trees sleeping in the wintertime of Beijing.
White Dagoba at Jade Flowery Islet.
Winter in China!
It was a chilly night coupled with freezing blow of winds, when we arrived at Tiananmen Square. But even with a dropped temperature, it did not discourage us from exploring this huge square with a significant historical background.  Tiananmen Square is the site of Tiananmen Square protest of 1989, a pro-democracy movement which ended on June 4, 1989 with the declaration of martial law in Beijing by the government and the death of several hundred civilians commonly known as Tiananmen Massacre. One of the famous landmarks of Tiananmen Square is the Tiananmen Gate or Gate of Heavenly where a picture of Mao Zedong – leader of the Chinese Revolution and the founding father of the People's Republic of China is displayed. Crowds of local tourists also flocked the square even in a very cold weather. This just proves that Tiananmen Square us a popular tourist site in Beijing.

In the morning, we return again to Tiananmen Square. It was cloudy and cold morning but crowds of visitors still flocks the grounds of the square. From the Tiananmen Gate, I can clearly see the Monument to People’s Heroes and Great Hall of the People across a street. We proceeded inside Tiananmen Gate, but the wide opened doors dotted with small gold circles seems to fascinate visitors and rubbing it as if getting a “good luck” after doing so. Inside the gate, I saw a large square grounds where there is a group of Chinese military soldiers doing a morning exercise routine.

Night time at Tiananmen Gate.
Tiananmen Square.
After Tiananmen Gate, is the Meridian Gate that serves as entrance to the Forbidden City. This interesting sight of Beijing is one of the best historical site that must be visited by any local or foreign visitor to the city. It presents the rich historical heritage of China as well as a sample of imperial life inside the palace of imperial China. It also a perfect place to appreciate Chinese architecture due to the structures’ amazing construction and design that stands against time. Forbidden City is literally a huge palace grounds. It is so huge that I call it a “Palace City” and it needs almost a day to fully explore every corner and grounds of the palace. Inside Forbidden City, I saw how huge the palaces,  grand thrones and artistically designed hall rooms of the emperor leaders of the ancient China. Also, I did saw hundred furnitures, thousand accessories and even beds used by the emperor himself and his family (the empresses, princes and princesses) during the dynastic period of China on display. One of the best remembered imperial history I learned and depicted inside Forbidden City is the rise and fall of Pu Yi – the last emperor of China. A trip around the grounds of Forbidden City is an ultimate trip down to history books of China’s history. 

Goodluck charms at Tiananmen Gate.
Morning routine of Chinese military army.
The exit gate of Forbidden Palace, leads to Jingshan Park, an imperial park that is just separated from the palace by a street. Inside the park, most of the trees and plants were withered and dried due to Winter which quiet disappointed me because I imagine that this place was nice with all these plants and trees. Perhaps the better time to visit Jingshan Park is on Spring or Summer time. But as we roam around, I saw some shrubs with buds already – signifying their readiness to bloom in the upcoming spring and some tall trees have full leaves already. I rested for a while in one of the benches to regain energy as I still feel weariness from the hours of walking the huge Forbidden Palace. Then, together with my travel mates, we trek the highest hill of the five hills found inside the park to see a rewarding panoramic view of Forbidden City. Even on a cloudy weather coupled with mist and haze, I was still able to clearly to see how huge is Forbidden Palace and every detail of the buildings inside it. This is the best admirable view at Jingshan Park! While at the back of the viewing area, visitors will also appreciate the view of the rest of the park grounds and on the left one will see the Beihai Park and its prominent landmark, the White Dagoba.

Meridian Gate - entrance to the biggest historical palace that I have been!
The throne in the Hall of Preserving Harmony. The largest hall within the Forbidden City, it was the location where Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty Emperors hosted their enthronement and wedding ceremonies.
A gilded lion in front of Hall of Supreme Harmony at Forbidden City.
It's Spring! The stairs going up to the highest hill in Jingshan Park.
We took a taxi to proceed to our winter exploration of China in Beijing Zoo. Of course, we immediately proceeded to the must-see animal of the park – the Giant Panda! Giant Panda is endemic only to China and is an endangered species so measures are taken to preserve its population. The Giant Panda's diet is 99% bamboo. In the wild, it lives in a few mountain ranges in central China, mainly in Sichuan province, but also in the Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. As a result of farming, deforestation and other development, the panda has been driven out of the lowland areas where it once lived. They are extremely cute and cuddly so I’m glad to heard in the news that despite being an endangered specie, their population is rising due to consistent conservation measures.

Other unique animals that I saw in the park were Peacock and Peahen in which the Peacock made a flash of his tail to woo the Peahen, a too much sleeping Red Panda, Crown Pigeons, a weird looking bird, Ibis, jumping Ring-tailed lemur and night-dweller Tarsier species. The grounds of Beijing Zoo was also perfect for afternoon walks and relaxing strolls as it has scenic spots like lake swimming ducks and swans with landscape gardens and benches set in between huge landscape trees to rest upon.  If you still have time to roam around,you may also visit Beijing Aquarium to see marine animals on display and sea creatures performing tricks.

A scenic winter view inside the facades of Beijing Zoo.
Sleeping Red Panda.
An odd bird, Ibis - one of the displayed birds at Beijing Zoo.
Swan Lake.
The star of Beijing Zoo - The Giant Panda.
A visit to Beijing Zoo is also an opportunity to visit Julong Underground Market connected via the subway station of the zoo. The market is perfect for shopping good bargains of class A branded bags, clothes and shoes. Just be sure to haggle a lot so you get bigger discounts. Although, language barrier will be a hindrance for shopping in this market, there’s no harm in trying if you want to get good bargains. Plus sellers are usually open to haggling their commodities and goods.

The National Centre for the Performing Arts or popularly known as The Egg because of its structural oval shape was our next destination. Here, we got time to relax again because it has large spaces to rest upon and spots to seat so we can have relaxing afternoon before the sun sets. Temperature starts to drop this time because its going night time already. Yet, I leisurely rest here while waiting for the nighttime because the building is said to be beautiful at night because of its amazing lighting.  I noticed that some locals were also doing afternoon strolls here while others were doing a jog exercise by circling around the structure. The Egg is one of structural wonders of Beijing as it was very modern in its design. It is surrounded by an artificial lake and entrance is only made via an underground tunnel under the artificial lake. It is covered with titanium plates that has a modern concept with ultra-white glass designs to make it beautiful and stunning.  By nighttime, it glowed with a starry night like concept with random distribution of blue lights around the structures’ metal cover. I was quite disappointed with the lighting I saw as it was different from the pictures I saw from the magazines which were brighter and livelier but nevertheless The Egg is perfect for both appreciation of magnificent architecture and for enjoying various art performances staged here like operas, ballets and dramas.

Probably the biggest egg in the world... or the National Center for Performing Arts.
Strong freezing wind starts to chill our spines and longed us for a warmer place to stay. This led us to explore the nearby place in our hotel and a very popular place in Beijing - the lively Wangfujing. It is basically a long street of shopping malls, boutique shops and commercial place in Beijing but it also popular with its night market scene. It is a lively place in Beijing because it never runs out of crowd and things to see and to do. It has a very active scene from strolling, shopping, dining up to sightseeing!

One of the main night market we explore was the Donghuamen Night Market which is mainly consists of long line of stalls of various food and grilling stations. It was perfect for our growling stomachs after a day of exploring Beijing. I tried grilled pork (5 Yuan per each stick), Banana custard cake (10 Yuan for 2) and Sugar-sprinkled Strawberry on-stick (10 Yuan per stick). But one streetfood in Beijing that really got me addicted is Caramelized fruits on stick or Bingtanghulu which either comes in Strawberry, Crab apples (Chinese Hawthorns) or mixed fruits of Kiwis, oranges, crab apples and strawberries. I think I had a stick of it every night in Beijing! But if you have brave stomach you might want to try their other exotic food on a grill like starfish, seahorse, scorpions and snakes.

One of the grill stations at Donghuamen Night Market.
I love Bingtanghulu!
The following morning, we started early to travel to Mutyaniu in Huarou country to see the Great Wall of China despite of a cloudy winter weather again.  I was praying for a clear weather to clearly see the wall but it seems cloudy is a typical sky during winter in China. It was almost a two-hour trip via bus and a private hire taxi to Mutyaniu.  At the Great Wall grounds, visitors have options to hike up the wall – hiking and cable car. We opted to do cable car going up then to do a hike going down to feel what its really like hiking the Great Wall. The cable car was a faster way going up the wall. And when we reach the summit view of the hall, I was in awe to see face to face one of the world wonders made by man. The Great Wall of China was a wonderful work of Chinese people. The wall is gliding on the ridges of the mountain top and hill curves. Even expose on a colder breeze of air and freezing weather because of the high elevation, the Great Wall was still a magnificent sight to behold. Even from the far mountain slopes that it reaches were vague because of foggy winter weather, I was still able to clearly see how long the wall reaches thru. It is said it is visible to the outer space of Earth. I explored the towers that serves as command posts and signal stations of Chinese imperial army during its dynastic period. I peeked to the viewing decks of the wall and side windows of the towers, and I realized how high it is located in the mountains but the views also greeted me with beautiful mountain scenery.

Winter all over the Great Wall of China - Mutianyu section.
As I expected it was less crowded and touristy in Mutianyu. So it was perfect for me and my travelmates not just to have numerous souvenir photos but do tranquil exploration of one of the greatest work of mankind. While on exploring the wall and sees how far reaches through the mountain ranges makes me think that the wall never ends. So after reaching 8 towers we decided to hike down on the Great Wall which lasted for about 30 minutes including rests in between. It was a tiring hike but a good and healthy hike as it let us exercise our muscles and joints.

It's time to do a "Dragon Hike" to the Great Wall of China!
One of the 22 towers which can be explored at the wall.
Seeing one of the wonders of the world from one of the towers...
Winter or Summer? Trees while hiking down the Great Wall.
We have been stucked into a road traffic going back to Beijing but we still barely made it to Olympic Park by six in the evening. By this time, strong chilly winds really froze us in the park that prompt us to buy spicy hot noodles to keep us warm in a nearby food stall. I didn’t mind sipping one spicy soup after the another as all I want was just to feel warm from strong chill bought by the winter wind! But despite of this cruel weather, me and my travelmates did not stop from exploring this modern park. Olympic Park is the site of the facilities used in the 29th Summer Olympics 2008 where Beijing was the host city of the biggest sporting event. Olympic Park boasts modern facilities of sporting events used in the games designed with wonderful and magnificent architecture. These admirable structures were the National Stadium or fondly called “Bird’s Nest” because of its shape like a nest of a bird primarily covered with twig-like sticks intertwine together and the National Aquatics Center or popularly known as “Water Cube” because of its bubble-like covering structure. The 2008 Olympic landmark with its emblem was also an admirable structure inside the park. All of these structures were stunningly lit at night so it is just perfect for evening time visit like we had. Kite flying is also a popular activity inside the Olympic Park. As we departed, I noticed local visitors and tourists crowding the park didn’t seem to mind to cold weather too as time goes by flocks and flocks of visitors keep arriving in the park. This just proves the huge amount of attention and legacy that Beijing and China got from hosting the Olympic games four years ago.

It's glowing! The Bird's Nest or the National Stadium at Olympic Park.
My very first proudly made Peking duck wrapped in a pancake!
Via subway, we returned to Wangfujing pass eight in the evening to take our dinner of Peking Duck and other Chinese cuisines at Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant. Eating Peking Duck is one of must-try when in Beijing as it is one of the most authentic Chinese cuisine I have tasted. The roast duck will be bought to the dining table and will be slice front of you by a chef, then it will serve to your table by parts. First, you’ll be serve with the duck’s crispy and sweet skin which is perfectly served and eaten with sugar or garlic sauce dipping. Then, the roast meat comes next. The perfect way to enjoy the succulent meat is to  take pieces of the meat to a pancake then add some slices of spring onions, cucumber and spread with sweet plum sauce. Roll the pancake and take a bite. It was heavenly delicious!  The remaining fat, meat and bones was made into a broth, served like a soup. I am glad that the waiter taught me the right way of eating Peking Duck with the pancake because I thought the meat is just eaten as it is with a rice! I tasted the bare Peking Duck meat afterwards and it was sweet, succulent and delectable but quite oily.

I also did try other Chinese cuisines like Chinese shrimp dumplings and pork balls with crackers and sweet plum sauce. And I enjoy sampling the various Chinese cuisines via Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant.  The sumptuous dinner of Chinese cuisines was a perfect way to cap our last night in Beijing. Other recommended restaurants that offers delicious Chinese cuisines are Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant and Bianyifang Restaurant.

Suzhou Market Street at Summer Palace.
The following day was filled with a sunny sky but with freezing wind blows at times.  It was a perfect day to do sightseeing but unfortunately it was our last day stay in Beijing as in a few hours we will depart for our flight back home. Since we still almost have a half day stay in the city, I decided to see Summer Palace – a  famed imperial garden in Beijing. Together with my travelmates, we took a subway to Beigongmen Station to see this must-see imperial garden. Summer Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated in Haidian District which is quite far from central Beijing. It is famous for its artistically designed pavilions, towers and bridges that all of which are ideal for sightseeing. But the most imposing scenery of Summer Palace is Kumning Lake with the Tower of Buddhist Incense in the background. It is here where I also saw winter scenery of frozen rivers filled with cracked ice sheets at riverside market attraction of Suzhou Market Street. Although filled lots of tress, flowering plants were not in bloom yet in Summer Palace.  So, I imagine how much beautiful it is when it is in spring or summer time where all the flowers are in full bloom and plants are fully green and grown. This imperial park must have been more stunning at those seasons! Since it was morning, some group of middle-age Chinese women were doing a group morning exercise routine in the park. Summer Palace is a huge place which I think almost half day is needed to fully explore its grandiose.

Grandiose structures fills Summer Palace.
Endless bargains at Silk Street!
We left immediately after a short stay but because of its far distance to the airport, we missed our flight back home.  Though a mishap happened, I took it as a blessing in disguise for us to extend our stay and savor our winter trip to China for the last time. Good thing there is a next early morning flight back, so we had another half day stay in Beijing. We took this opportunity to visit Silk Street, a premier bargain shopping and market center in the city. This shopping center is a four floor building that offers affordable bargains from jewelries, clothes, souvenirs up to local treats. It is popular among international tourists for its wide selection of counterfeit designer brand apparels. Silk Street is easily reached via subway at Yong’anli Station that has an exit directly inside the market.

Indulging in Bingtanghulu for the last time in Wangfujing!
My last few hours stay in Beijing is spend probably in the best winter place at night – in Wangfujing where we return again for the last time. And course, I munch on a stick of Bingtanghulu again for the last time! It was really addicting! This time, I explored Wangfujing Night Market with my travelmates where we were tempted to buy numerous China souvenirs because of its affordable bargain prices. I was fascinated with Giant Panda stuff toy souvenirs there which prompt me to buy one as a memento of my China experience. The last walk through experience in the lively and colorful streets of Wangfujing is one of the best memories of my winter trip to China. So, when the time has come to left Beijing and return to airport for our flight back, I felt that winter trips are definitely worthy. Doing a trip on Winter season is enjoyable at all especially with Beijing as an ideal city to explore in this season.

No cold wind or freezing weather has stopped me from discovering the best of Beijing and China! And when we board the plane, where a very cold winter air slipped through inside the aerobridge and jolt my spine to a sudden chill, it let me suddenly realize that I enjoyed my “Winter Sonata in China” journey so much but I am leaving Beijing with a heavy heart.

Winter Sonata in China is part of my Beguiling Beijing.Captivating China series where I share my birthday trip adventures, travel stories and first-time experiences in Beijing, China last March 20-24, 2012. You might also like the other parts of the series:  
+Beijing - A Beguiling City
+Winter Sonata in China
+Roaming through Beijing
+One Spring Day in Beijing
+Forbidden City: Forbidden No More
+A Dragon Hike to the Great Wall of China
+Beijing's Architectural Wonders
+Peking Duck: An Authentic Chinese Cuisine
+Wangfujing's Lively Street Life
+The Imperial Gardens of Beijing


  1. I definitely left Beijing with a heavy heart... so I'm planning to return there again in the future. That time will be in a different season - "Autumn in my Heart"

  2. ang romantic ng ambiance... woohoo!!! mahirap nga iwan yan... :)

  3. Hello! I love ur blog site! it served as my inspiration in creating my own travel blog. I hope you could visit my blogsite too or even add me on your bloglist. thank u so much and good luck on ur future trips!! - Jan Ashlee,

  4. @Pinoy Adventurista: I agree... lalo na yung winter night sky na kahit sobrang brrr! Lamig!

    @Jan: I'm flattered... Thank you! I've visited your blog and your trips seems exciting to read. I just need enough time to read more about it. I'll inform you once I added you in my bloglist. Thanks again.

  5. angg swerte! i wish maka experience din ako ng snow someday :)

  6. @Christian: may that wish happened. It's an opportunity of a lifetime.

    @Cisco: Thanks for reading!

  7. ian nag snow ba pagpunta nyo dun o yung nasa ground na lang nakita nyo?was it end na ba of winter o spring na talaga?deceiving nga yung araw akala mo mainit yun pala ang lamig.ako din nagulat.pero sana kasagsagan ako ng winter pumunta kasi kaya ko naman pala ang lamig sana nakaexperience ako ng snow kasi pagpunta ko yung mga tira tira na lang sa ground nakita ko.

  8. @Melvin: Hindi na nag-snow puro melting snow on the ground na ang naabutan namin kasi transition period na Winter to Spring season na yung week pagpunta namin. Pero sobrang lamig pa din lalo na sa early morning at gabi. May times na umiinit pero hindi kaano pero pag me hangin na humampas ayun para kang nasa freezer!

  9. wat month po ba kau nagpunta? at wat month po may snow. 1st week ng feb kya may snow?

  10. @Anonymous: March 3rd week kami pumunta. Although, its still winter season wala ng snowfall at that time. Puro melting on the ground na kasi March is transition period to spring season ng Beijing.

    Ang kasasagan ng snowfall ay January to February kaya yes, sa whole month ng February may snow.


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