Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Xmas from Beijing and Happy Holidays!

(Courtesy of Four Seasons Courtyard Hotel, near Drum Tower)

It's not actually snowing here, cold and crisp but with lovely blue sunny skies. The ski slopes are open, the carol singers are singing and there are many chances to have Xmas lunches and dinners and drinks. There is some Xmas spirit ( and lots of love) in the air, but mainly in hotels and shopping centres.

Even the rickshaw driver has got the right festive colour for his rickshaw.

It seems Santa changes to riding a horse when he gets to China!

Interesting mix of Chinese and Western styles (Shanghai shikumen)

Smiling waitresses at a restaurant where Santa was serving "Angry Milk Tea"

Chinese knots with the 'fortune' character go well with Xmas tree decorations!

It seems that Tibetan Lama monks also go Xmas shopping.

Santa flying into a restaurant by parachute

Perhaps the Santa saleswoman is feeling a little cold selling ice cream!

On the other hand, this Santa must be feeling so hot cooking barbecue meat!

I guess you can read the Chinese here, offering super value lunches/dinner on Xmas Day  for just over USD2.

Santa was not a Prince with a royal crown.......

Nor did he have a castle............
.........Actually it was all for the Prince Charming - a foreign royal of course - and his Chinese "princesses".

 Lots of goodies are on sale for the kids.......chocolates, Xmas logs, puddings.....

If you want to spoil your only child why not buy him/her a big black Santa for a lucky 588 yuan or just over USD93 ( or about the price of 40 Xmas lunches at Macdonalds!). Expensive? Yes, but it is Xmas after all!

 Chrismas trees and lights were put up on the main shopping street of Qian Men
It's just a stone's throw from Chairman Mao's Mausoleum....I just wonder what he thinks about all this consumerism.

May I take this chance to wish you all a Merry Xmas and all the best for 2012. We will celebrate it quietly here, because of course the real New Year is not till Jan 23rd!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Marvels of Beijing Arts and Crafts

If you go on a group tour in China, you will no doubt be taken to a souvenir shop - sorry arts and crafts museum. They are of variable quality, the best pieces of course being in the Forbidden City and National Museum. I went to a place mentioned recently in Time Out near the Temple of Heaven, and grandly named as the Hundred Crafts Workshop and Museum.

The 4-storey building houses over 30 studios and over 100 craftsmen and their apprentices, dedicated to protecting hundreds of years of traditional handicrafts. They are there to explain their craft, work on pieces of art in front of your eyes, and of course to sell. I read on the internet an overseas tourism official who called it the Louvre of China. Well, when I got there, I was of course disappointed. There were indeed many, many different kinds of handicrafts on display, some of high quality. There were also hardly any visitors, which is a relief in Beijing, but also not much going on in the various workshops, and few artisans keen to explain what they were doing. Perhaps it was because it is low season now. 
Anyway I took some photos to show you some of the pieces on display. Some belong to one of the "Eight Marvels" of Beijing arts and crafts - jade carving, cloisonne, ivory carving, carved lacquerware, palace carpets, Beijing-style embroidery, inlaid filigree gold lacquerware and inlaid gold lacquer. Others are just fun items.

This is an example of cloisonne, which was brought to China in the 13th century from the West (Islamic culture), and became popular during the Ming Emperor Jingtai's time, especially using blue colours, so the name of this type of art in Chinese is "Jintai Blue". It then became popular in the 18th century in Europe.

A more modern piece commemorates the Beijing Olympics of 2008, with some traditional motifs around the border.
This studio caught my eye. I'm sure you haven't seen such figures before. They are carrying a bride to her wedding in a traditional sedan chair. Strings of firecrackers are carried at the head of the procession. Double happiness signs are everywhere, all in lucky red colour of course! But what are the delicate figures made of?
I had a close look and saw what they call "hairy monkeys" - complete bodies of cicadas which are cleaned up and given hairy bodies. It's supposed to be decorative but I'm not sure I'd want this on my mantelpiece in the sitting room at home!

The craftsman has created a birthday party with musicians.

Same musicians playing in a jazz band!

Something more traditional is papercutting, you need skill and patience to do this!

A popular character to hang up, especially at Chinese New Year time - fu, meaning fortune.

Unusual black and white one.

Beijing Opera face.

There are many differnt kinds of studio, and I nearly got a fright when I passed by these dogs - luckily they were just stuffed animals standing guard outside a studio!

Jade carving is one of the Eight Marvels, and a couple of pictures here are of some delicate jade pieces

This guy caught my eye, and I went in and saw many other funny figures

Nice gifts for newly weds

Not sure what these naughty boys are up to, but will leave it to your imagination!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Getting around in Beijing - car, bus, metro, bike.

I've been away travelling in Xinjiang and South China visiting HIV/AIDS hospitals and volunteer groups, and so have not had a chance to write for some time. What I noticed was that the traffic is getting worse in all the 6 cities we visited, and it's also getting worse in Beijing.
 I look out of my window and can see traffic jams such as these everyday during peak hours.

If I look out another window to the 2nd Ring Road, it's not any better. By the way, the fogginess in the picture is not due to my camera!

The problem is that there are 20 million people in Beijing and 5 million cars. In 2010, 2,000 new cars were sold every day. Now the Beijing government has controlled this to 1000 new car licence plates issued every working day. On top of that, each car is not allowed on the roads one day per week, based on the car licence plate number.  

And there are not just taxis, cars, buses, motor bikes, bikes and rickshaws on the roads, there are also tradesmen on every busy corner where they can do some business, such as this mini street market.

The bus system is very good and cheap (less than 20 US cents), but also crowded. However, you need to speak Chinese to know where to get on and off.

There are even double decker buses, but they are just as crowded. Beware of thieves!
There is a big new transport hub built near my flat in Dongzhimen.
There are  many buses that run from here, as well as the airport express close by and metro station.

The metro only costs 2 RMB (around 30 US cents) for any distance. It is heavily subsidised by the local government to encourage people off the roads. Even though more and more lines are being built, they are insufficient, and getting a train needs a lot of patient queuing and/or pushing to get on! A record 7.6 million passengers - equivalent to the whole population of London - were carried in just one day in September this year! There are already around 350 km of lines in operation, about the same as in New York, and mostly built in the last 10 yrs.

Just outside the shiny new buildings, there are also rickshaws available. Remember to bargain with them or you will be ripped off. They are especially welcome during rush hour when taxis are very hard to find. Taxis are cheap compared to the West, around 2 RMB per km.

There is also a long distance bus station next to the transport hub, and you can take a bus trip to Jinshanling which is one of the most spectacular parts of the Great Wall, or to Panshan, a mountain area a few hours drive away.

Motor bikes are restricted, but you can still see many of them in this parking area.

I prefer to cycle around when I can. You feel so free and happy when you can go faster than all the cars stuck in the traffic. There are many small roads with trees on both sides which are cool in summer. Cycling down the hutongs to see the local life is also interesting. There are bicycle parks to keep your bike safe. However, theft is not so much of a problem  now. I think the thieves focus on mobile phones, iPads and laptops these days.

If you get a puncture or need some repair work done, then it's quite easy to find a bike repair man. 

And I think it's so romantic to take your girl (or boy) friend on the back of your bike, something you don't see much of these days.

Note how the cars are going down the wrong way on a one way street.
You can do it even in broad daylight and get away with it!