Temple of Heaven

“The Temple of Heaven is a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design which simply and graphically illustrates a cosmogony of great importance for the evolution of one of the world’s great civilization.” – UNESCO World Heritage.

Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998, the Temple of Heaven is an extraordinary example of Chinese religious architecture.

Built in 1420, covering an area of 273 hectares, this temple traditionally was only for imperial use and commoners were not allowed to enter even the enormous park.

Today, it is one of the most popular parks among local people (mostly retired).

Many enjoy the park carrying out various activities from dancing to playing cards all day long.

The park has more than 100,000 trees of various kind – some spotted were

ancient cypresses and

evergreen pines to name a few.

 

Beijing Good Eats

I love Chinese food.  I think I blogged about it once before but I will say it again… I love Chinese food.  What excited me no end about visiting China was the opportunity to have real authentic Chinese food.  And interesting Chinese food, we definitely had.   Most of our meals were marvelous but I failed to ask our guide what and where they were so I leave you with 2 (of the best I’ve had on this trip) well-known restaurants that had left a lasting impression.

Ya Wang Roast Duck Restaurant

Peking Duck.  Absolutely my family’s favorite since I can remember.  And since we’re in Beijing, how could we not partake of what they consider their national dish?  And so to Ya Wang (Duck King) we went.  Whilst Quanjude and Dadong are favorites among tourists, we opted to go to a less famous but better (in my family’s opinion) tasting roast duck.

Ya Wang’s version did away with the fat and oiliness but kept the main feature of soft and crispy skin that melts in your mouth.  They say that they make sure that the ducks they serve are not too fat by growing their own ducks.  Also, the skin when carved into thin slivers has some meat on it, unlike the other establishments where they separate the skin from the meat. But it’s to each his own and I like it with some meat.

Crispy duck skin, duck meat, cucumber, scallions then topped with hoisin sauce…

Regardless, Peking Duck is a definite must try when in Beijing and Ya Wang is perhaps one of the best places to remember it by.

Xiao Nan Guo

…is a famous chain from Shanghai that found its way to Beijing and Hong Kong.  A renowned restaurant serving Shanghai dishes.  Yes that’s right!  Nothing wrong with that, right?  This wonderful restaurant is modern and elegant featuring a blend of Eastern and Western details.  The food, traditional, served in a way that is more contemporary.  The owner along with her sister started a six-table restaurant in Shanghai 23 years ago beside a restaurant called Da Nan Guo (Big Southern Country) so they named theirs Small Southern Country –Xiao Nan Guo.  Today, this small southern country restaurant is not so small anymore with 7 branches in Shanghai alone, with several in Hong Kong and Beijing.  Some of my favorites:

A lotus root appetizer

Hong Shao Rou (Red braised pork)

Szechuan styled fried chicken with chilies

Beijing, I found out could be a (Chinese) food lover’s happiness.  And if you feel that you have had too much…

Head over to Ten Fu tea.  They have a wide selection of different kinds of quality tea. Definitely a haven for tea lovers.

Useful Information:

Ya Wang
77 Jiangning Lu,
near Fengyang Lu
Phone: +86 10 6271 1717
Xiao Nan Guo
2/F Jinbao Tower
89 Jinbao Jie, Dongcheng Center
Phone:  +86 10 8622-1717
Ten Fu’s Tea
150 Wangfujing Street,
Dongcheng, Beijing
Phone: +86 10 6527 1888

 

Xiao Long Bao: Dumpling of all Dumplings

Credits:  Quickpage by Joanne aka 2girlsand poodle from the You Are Awesome Kit.  Alpha by Scrapmatters.com Life Little Surprises kit.

If you haven’t heard of Xiao Long Bao, it’s about time that you do.  You absolutely must try this at least once in your life. This delectable steamed soup dumpling is named after the small bamboo basket it is steamed in.  Inside the dumpling are pockets of minced meat and gelatinized broth made of chicken, pork or cured ham.  When steamed, the gelatin melts inside the dumpling and the soup bursts into deliciousness in your mouth.

Best with vinegar and ginger slivers

The graceful way I eat this is to bite a small hole into the dumpling and sip out the juice before taking the whole dumpling.  A word of caution… wait a few minutes to cool the dumpling before devouring though – the last thing you want is to ruin the whole experience by burning yourself.

My first encounter with this Shanghainese specialty was in 1991, in Taiwan – the very first branch of Din Tai Fung, I recently learned.   And for a very long time, I could only dream of it.  It took me 10 long years to feast on these babies again, this time in Shanghai.  It took perhaps another 5 years for Xiao Long Bao to make its way to the Philippines.  Eat Well is a favorite and very recently, Crystal Jade opened its doors in Greenhills supposedly offering excellent xiao long baos.  The long line turned me off so I have yet to judge for myself.

Din Tai Fung. Singapore. Packed!

Recently however, I came full circle when a few months ago in Beijing and more recently in Singapore, I saw myself in Din Tai Fung for a treat of my favorite dumpling (and more).  Din Tai Fung has become known for their delectable dumplings for decades and opened up franchises in many Asian countries but sadly not in the Philippines (yet).  I saw that they’ve expanded their dumplings to more than just their signature Xiao Long Bao.  They now have chicken, fish and even a vegetarian dumpling.

Though I was a bit disappointed with the vegetarian dumplings, their signature dish remains to be my favorite and

Clockwise:  Cucumber appetizer, Fried Pork Chops on fried rice, Almond Jelly on crushed ice, xiao long bao with vinegar and ginger slivers.

I so totally enjoyed their pork chops and almond jelly dessert.  So really even if XLB made them what they are today, it isn’t just all about dumplings at Din Tai Fung. If you find yourself in a neighborhood with  Din Tai Fung near you, don’t hesitate at all.  Click here to see where they are around the globe.

Where to get XLB in the Philippines:

Eat Well Delicious Kitchen (sounds tacky but they really serve up delicious meals)

At The Fort
Unit C, Ground Floor, Net Quad Building,
30th-31st St., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
For Reservation and Pickup only: +632 856-9408
At Greenhills
Missouri St. cor. Connecticut St., Greenhills, San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines
Phone Number: +632 722-8518

 

Crystal Jade
Unit 117-121 (near Haagen Dazs and Goodwill Bookstore)
V-Mall, Greenhills Shopping Center
Greenhills, San Juan City, Metro Manila

Phone Number: +632 570-6910, 570-6912

 

Bird’s Nest

I was glued to the set on August 8, 2008 as I watched in awe of the spectacle that Beijing presented to the thousands of spectators that streamed through the gates of the National Stadium and to millions of others that watched (like me) on television.  Amazed at how they could even begin to prepare for this night — the thousands of dancers, drummers, percussionists, martial art performers, musicians and various artists in full regalia, all performing to the hilt.  Put aside the performers, I was equally awed at the stunning latticework structure that lit beautifully and was made more arresting when the fireworks exploded in its midst.  I knew that one of these days; I will be looking at it up-close and personal.

Two years later, we were entering a structure that is a feast to the eyes not only from afar, on TV but up-close as well.  This elliptical latticework has become an architectural landmark and an Olympic legacy.

The latticework echoing even to the garden lights.

An aesthetic and engineering marvel.  We see as we enter that the grid-like framework serves as both façade and structure merging the walls and roof into one integrated system.

The Bird’s Nest, as it is has been fondly referred to, is the Beijing National Stadium.  Designed by Swiss architects Herzog and De Meuron, this futuristic stadium hosted (as the world knows) the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Today, aside from it being a tourist spot, it continues to host sport events and has become a large scale sports and entertainment facility for the Beijing residents.

Tired local tourists

There seemed to be a lot of activities going on that day.  Aside from the visitors that flock in on a daily basis, there were athletes and other performers either rehearsing or practicing.

There even was a tightrope walker sans a net for entertainment, I think.  As it turned out, the guy hailed from Xinjiang, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (Xin for short) located in Northwest China.

Alongside the Bird’s Nest, an aquatic center was built for the swimming and other water sports competition.  Also known as the Water Cube, the unique and inspired design was based on the way soap bubbles come together.  Before it closed for renovations after the Olympics, it became a ballet theater to host Swan Lake.  Last August, it opened its doors once again to the public, this time transforming into a water park.  At the time of my visit, it was still closed for renovations.

 

Beijing Acrobats

Credits:  LivE S4S Stitched Page Overlay, TW Lesson 2 paper, Laurie’s Ornament, KPertiet Storyboard Negatives.

China’s acrobatics are world-renowned and deservedly popular among Beijing’s visitors.  Young students that demonstrate extreme flexibility, dexterity and balance that boggle the mind perform today’s acrobatic shows.  If you have enough time, might as well witness a show.  Expect to “ooh” and “ahh” during the entire show as the young performers show off stunts such as: plate spinning, unicycling, juggling, Chinese yo-yo, etc.

Snippets from the show:

Where to watch:

Chao Yang Theater

Wansheng Theater

Tiandi Theater

 

A Glimpse of Beijing’s Ancient Neighborhoods

A hutong is an architecture and structure unique to Beijing and visiting one of this (either by walking or a rickshaw) is one of Beijing’s attractions especially to people wanting to know more about its history.  Going around a hutong will let one experience the remnants of Beijing’s ancient culture.

In old China, there were clear definitions of what streets and lanes are.  A 36-meter-wide road was called a big street while an 18-meter-wide road was called a small street.  And a 9-meter-wide lane was called a hutong.

According to history records, these hutongs came to existence during the Yuan Dynasty when the Mongols – led by Genghis Khan, occupied Beijing.  The city had to be rebuilt after it was demolished during the take over, thereby creating hutongs.  The word “hutong” is Mongolian in origin, which means, “water well”.  People tend to gather where there is water so with the digging of new wells; new communities are not far behind.  Hutongs are alleys formed by lines of “Siheyuans” (traditional courtyard residences).

Hutongs were established surrounding the Imperial palaces throughout the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties.

Since the mid- 20th century however, new roads and buildings have replaced many of the hutongs.  Some hutongs though still survive today, thanks to their local government’s protection policy.  Most in existence today date from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.

Walking through the hutongs, it is common to see groups of elderly citizens playing cards, mahjong or Chinese chess together.

Also important to hutong life is the traditional foods sold in carts or small stalls.  These ancient neighborhoods today provide a glimpse of the life in old Beijing.  To live in a hutong would mean no baths and toilets in their homes.  Public baths and toilets are provided and imagine having to trudge your way to the toilet in the middle of the night at below zero degree.

And yet there are still many living in these ancient neighborhoods, perhaps it is the way of life these folks are accustomed to, real life as it has been for generations.

 

A Taste of Ancient China

Credits:

Although the Tian An Men (Men meaning gate) Gate was built in 1417 during the Ming Dynasty to compliment the Forbidden City, what first came to mind as I was walking through the humungous complex was the 1989 protest known to the world as the Tiananmen Square Massacre.  This was where the heroic flight of thousands of young men and women played a crucial role in the events that ultimately led to the collapse of communism.

The largest city space in the world at 40,000 square meters the square was packed with people wandering about.  It held the monument of the National Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.  It also is the gate connecting to the Forbidden City, which sits on its north.

The large white marble column seen all around the square was constructed in 1420 as part of the Forbidden City ‘s grand design, which took 14 years to complete.

This Chinese inspired palace is located in the middle of Beijing and now houses the Palace Museum.  For almost 500 years (from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty), it served as the home of emperors and their households.  It likewise was the economic and political center of the Chinese government.  The construction began under the Ming Emperor Yongle in 1406 and is the largest and the most well preserved imperial residence in China today.

Walking through the city gives an idea of the grandiose lifestyle of the former emperors.  During these times, common Chinese were not allowed to enter the city at all, a big contrast to today’s millions of people entering daily.

The entrance of the Palace is through Tiananmen gate and once you reach the Wumen (Meridien Gate),

you enter the heart of the complex where you fall in line or wait for your guide to purchase your ticket.

It was chaotic and it continues to be so until you leave the complex.   The rooms are now off-limits and one can only take a peak from the outside, unlike a decade ago when one could actually enter and have a feel of the old splendor.  The price of commercialization, I guess.

Despite the chaos, a visit to the Forbidden City is a must especially if it is your first time.

Because of the size, allow at least 3 hours to walk the complex, wear comfy walking shoes and best to get those audio guides for a thorough walk through.

Forbidden City
North of Tiananmen Square
Dong Cheng District
Opens from 8:30am – 4pm daily
Price:  ¥ 40-60 / ticket