Beijing Archives - Eva Varga

October 16, 20135

discovering china欢迎 (Huānyíng) !  I’m delighted you are following along with us as we tour China, city by city.  We recently returned from a three-week family holiday in China. This is the third of ten posts whereby I introduce you to the culture of China through our eyes.  Today, I bring you to Tian’anmen Square and The Forbidden City – where the modern era collides with the ancient past.

forbidden cityTian’anmen Square

Tiananmen Square is a vast area, truly in the heart of Beijing. Here the modern era of China literally collides with the ancient past – the square was constructed in between the Imperial Palace to the north and Temple of Heaven to the south. This is the location where Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China from the balcony of the Rostrum on October 1, 1949.

Qianmen Gate & Jianlou (Archery Tower) – At the southern end of the square stand two large tower buildings, the Qianmen Gate and Jianlou. Both the gate and archery tower are part of the old city wall that once guarded Beijing, and part of the original entrance to the Imperial Palace. Qianmen Gate (Zhengyang Gate), built in 1420 and beautifully preserved, was one of the tallest buildings at the time.

tiananmen squareTian’anmen Gate – Tian’anmen Gate, also called the “Gate of Heavenly Peace” is the southern entrance to the Forbidden City (Imperial Palace). The gate has five rounded arch doorways, and seven Golden Water Bridges – the central bridge was used by the Ming and Qing emperors only, the other bridges were for royalty and court officials. From the wide tower, emperors read out proclamations, and this is spot where Mao stood in 1949 and declared a new China. Step through the Tiananmen Gate (just like the emperors), and you’ll enter the Forbidden City.

forbidden cityThe Forbidden City

For centuries, the Forbidden City was the palace for the Ming and Qing emperors. The Imperial Palace, begun during the reign of the third Ming emperor in 1406, was a complex of palaces and halls, nearly 10,000 rooms, including workshops where exquisite artworks were produced. For nearly 500 years this mysterious and secret city was a world unto itself for the emperors and their families. Today, as you walk through the gates of the Imperial Palace, just remember that a century ago, for outsiders to get close to even the Imperial Walls was forbidden.

imperial palaceHome to 24 emperors; the entire complex consists of 8,706 rooms in which an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people lived—including 3,000 eunuchs, as well as maids and concubines—all within 170 acres surrounded by a moat.  Inside, the Imperial Palace (also called the Palace Museum) is a huge walled complex, surrounded by a moat. There’s two major areas – the outer courtyards with three great halls of state, and inner courtyards with imperial residences for the emperor and his entourage, plus the gardens. The halls have been restored to show what life what like under the emperors and their living quarters. Galleries display exquisite artwork of bronze, ceramic, jade, clocks, armor and weaponry, and precious treasures and paintings.

Beijing Night Market

One of the most memorable experiences we had in China were the night markets – Beijing being the first and largest.   Here you can find a row of unusual food stalls. An array of delicacies are on display with people bustling around to experience some new tastes. Items such as sheep’s particular parts, offal soup, deep fried crickets, centipedes, silk worms, scorpions, and lizards are available to eat on a stick. [ Want a closer look? See Bugging Out: 5 Weird Eats at Beijing’s Night Market ] There are also the more widely recognized spring rolls, jiaozi (dumplings), and candy fruit. The food is displayed raw – the scorpions in fact are still moving – and can be deep fried in a large Wok upon request.  We braved what we were told was squirrel and we all agreed it was foul tasting.

Beijing Night Market

We did enjoy the candied fruit, however.   Bingtanghulu, is a traditional Chinese snack commonly available in many Chinese cities. It consists of candied fruits on bamboo skewers and typically has a hardened sugar coating that comes from dipping the skewer in sugar syrup and occasionally rolled in sesame seeds. Traditionally, the fruit used has been Chinese Hawthorn  (山楂 shānzhā) which resemble small apples, but in recent times vendors have also used various other fruits.  I am delighted to have found a recipe so that you may try this at home.

  1. Prepare some fresh fruit – grapes, apple slices, strawberries, pineapple slices, etc.  Arrange the fruit on bamboo skewer sticks making sure the fruit pieces are snug next to each other.
  2. Prepare a few cups of brown sugar and caramelize the sugar by boiling it in water in a large pot over medium-high heat; make sure to stir the pot thoroughly to create a consistent texture without overcooking the brown sugar. Insert a candy thermometer, and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Continue to cook until the temperature reaches 300 degrees on a candy thermometer. During this process, which can take from 10-20 minutes, wash down the sides of the saucepan occasionally with a wet pastry brush to prevent crystallization.
  3. Once the candy has reached 250-300 degrees, remove the pan from the heat immediately, and immerse the bottom in a prepared ice bath to stop it from cooking any further.
  4. Once the candy has stopped cooking (look for the bubbles to stop rising from the bottom of the pan), you can begin to dip your fruits. When the fruit is coated in a thin layer of candy, place it on a prepared, oiled baking sheet to cool and harden.
  5. Enjoy!

We’re off to Xi’an tomorrow where we will explore the archaeological site of the Terracotta Warriors and ride bicycles on the ancient wall around the city.

Autumn-Hopscotch-2013This post is part of the iHomeschool Network’s Autumn Hopscotch, a 10 day series of posts by over 40 different homeschool bloggers. You can visit the hopscotch home page at iHN for ideas and inspiration in topics like Geek Projects: Narnia, Middle Earth, Doctor Who, Star Trek, and Beyond.

All 10 days of Discovering China will be linked to one landing page.  Bookmark it for reference!

October 15, 20139

discovering china

你好 (Nihao) !  I’m delighted you are following along with us as we tour China, city by city.  We recently returned from a three-week family holiday in China. This is the second of ten posts whereby I introduce you to the culture of China through our eyes.  Today, I bring you to The Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven – two of Beijing’s most popular tourist attractions.

The Summer PalaceThe Summer Palace

The Summer Palace (Yiheyuan) is a “biggie.” Once an imperial pleasure garden, it has temples, residences, pavilions, marble bridges and an enormous lake for boating. In the 19th century, the Summer Palace was a favorite spot of the extravagant Dowager Empress Cixi, who restored many buildings and added new ones. For centuries, the emperors with their entourages relocated to escape the heat in summer, and today the Summer Palace is a great place to go with kids. A whole day excursion in itself (bring a picnic), the Summer Palace can be crowded on weekends, so try to go on a weekday.

East Palace Gate – Arriving through the monumental East Palace Gate, this is the heart of the palace complex, with administrative, residential, and pleasure buildings, such as a three story theater. Don’t miss the Happiness Longevity Hall (Leshoutang) where Dowager Empress Cixi made her home from May to November. Outside the hall are exquisite bronze statues of cranes and deer, inside is the empress’ throne room.

Long Corridor – This shady walkway goes on for almost half a mile, gloriously painted on the underside of the roof. Supported by brightly painted emerald green and bright red columns, each beam has a different painting of flowers and historical figures. The Long Corridor ends at the lake, where you can check out the amazing Marble Boat, a solid marble palace built in the shape of a two-story paddle steamer!

Longevity Hill – If the kids need to expend some excess energy, climb up to the top of Longevity Hill. You’ll pass by the majestic Precious Clouds Pavilion and the Buddhist Temple of Sea of Wisdom.  When we visited it was a beautiful day and we could see clear views of Beijing in the distance, but usually it’s a bit hazy (so don’t do this expecting a view). When you walk down the north side of the hill, there’s a shady pine grove.

Kunming Lake – Rent a boat and join Chinese families on the lake. Most fun is an electric boat, where you can really explore the lake which is quite large. If you want to go under your own steam, rent a pedal boat. Boats are available for rent near the dock at the Marble Boat, and at the South Lake Island.

peking duckPeking Duck

After spending the morning at the Summer Palace, we made our way to … Restaurant meeting our foreign exchange student and her family for a traditional meal.  We were surprised to discover we had our own private dining room … what a treat!  We exchanged gifts and enjoyed one another’s company as we learned to make our own “duck taco” using the pancakes and lean meat.

If you get the chance to try Peking Duck, see if you can talk the restaurant into showing your kids the wood-fire ovens where the ducks are roasted and then ask the staff to show you how to eat it. Most restaurants assume you know what to do with each course, but many first-time visitors have no idea. Kids might really enjoy dipping the crispy skin in the sugar.


After our meal, we took the bus to a traditional Chinese neighborhood, called a Hutong; houses built around courtyards, like a village in the city. Kids will enjoy a fascinating glimpse into Chinese family life.  We walked around leisurely – did a little shopping and marveled at the architecture.

Temple of HeavenTemple of Heaven

A few days later, we met up with a childhood friend who happened to also be in Beijing for business.  We were delighted that he had a day free to do a little sightseeing with us – and he was delighted to have company.  We spent the morning at the Temple of Heaven and opted to forgo a tour guide – in fact, I don’t even recall anyone offering their services here which now that I think about it was rather unusual.  Anyway … we purchased a map of the garden area and Buddy was confidant he could lead us through … and he did so very well.

Each year at the winter solstice, the emperor visited the Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest and sacrificed at the Altar of Heaven to ensure a bountiful harvest.  Circles and squares never looked more beautiful than they do at the Temple of Heaven complex. Shapes and numbers have cosmological meanings – circles symbolize heaven, squares symbolize earth, four columns represent the four seasons, twelve columns represent the months of the year, the number nine is divine (heaven has nine levels).

Visitors can stand on the round stone in the middle of the Altar of Heaven (Circular Mound Altar). Look down at the concentric circles around the stone, 9×9. Each circle is the number nine multiplied, out to nine circles. The round Altar of Heaven sits on a square base, which has four different entrances (and each with has nine steps). In the Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest, count the columns. There are 28 columns, 4 big ones +12+12 = four seasons, plus twelve months, plus twelve Shichen hours (the day was divided into 12 hours).

The Temple of Heaven complex is bigger than the Forbidden City, so take time to explore the park. There are many other exquisite pavilions to discover, grassy areas and flowering tree, bring kites to fly, and you might hear people playing flutes and the erhu (traditional Chinese stringed instrument).  We joined in a game of Tai Chi Ball with two young men only to discover they were playing it as a means to captivate unsuspecting tourists.  We fell for it but were only too happy to bring a set home for ourselves.  It was fun!

You won’t want to miss my post tomorrow, Beijing Part 3, when I will take you to Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City.

Autumn-Hopscotch-2013This post is part of the iHomeschool Network’s Autumn Hopscotch, a 10 day series of posts by over 40 different homeschool bloggers. You can visit the hopscotch home page at iHN for ideas and inspiration in topics like Encouragement for Parents of Kids with Special Needs.

All 10 days of Discovering China will be linked to one landing page.  Bookmark it for reference!

October 14, 20133

discovering china

Beijing, capital of China, was founded by Kublai Khan in 13th century. The Ming Emperors built the lavish Imperial Palace (Forbidden City) and Temple of Heaven, and Beijing (sometimes romanized as Peking) remained the capital through the Qing dynasty, until the early 20th century. In 1949, Mao Zedong declared a new era in Chinese history, establishing the People’s Republic of China, a one-party socialist state controlled by the Communist Party.

Today, contrary to what you might expect, Beijing has amazing green parks and lakes, where emperors and empresses once composed poetry amidst nature. Not far from the bustling metropolis, adventurers can explore the Great Wall of China, Ming Dynasty Tombs, The Temple of Heaven, and many more incredible national historical and cultural sites. It is a great city from which to begin our discovery of China.

慕田峪 The Great Wall 

The Great Wall, the longest man-made structure in the world, is one of the new seven wonders of the world, and nothing can prepare you for the sensation of actually looking at the Great Wall as it winds through miles of steep hills and rugged countryside.  Up over mountains, into rivers, across deserts, spanning thousands of miles and different time periods.  Standing on the ramparts, we could easily imagine we were defending China against the Mongol hordes.

great wall windowEmperor Qin Shi Huang (Qin Shi Huangdi) constructed the first Great Wall to keep out the nomadic invaders to the north. The wall, a huge earthworks rampart, took 11 years to build, from 221 – 210 BC, and stretched 3,000 miles. During the Han dynasty, the wall was lengthened and more watchtowers were built to add protection for merchants traveling the Silk Road.

mutianyu watchtowerOver the next 1,000 years, the Great Wall crumbled, but the Ming emperor rebuilt the Great Wall bigger and better than ever. Working on the wall from 1368 to 1644, the new and improved Ming wall was thicker, covered in glazed bricks and stone blocks, and lengthened to 4,000 miles, from Jiayuguan in the west, to the sea at Shanhaiguan in eastern China.

The Great Wall is a series of towers, connected by a whopping big double wall, with gates at key locations. Soldiers guarding the wall lived in the watchtowers or forts. Beacon towers were used for communications when invaders were spotted, signal fires were lit (or rockets were launched) all along the wall.  When you visit the Great Wall, you can walk on the wall for miles in any direction, encountering towers as you go – some towers are elaborate multi-story forts, others are just a simple beacon tower.

great wall defenderThe most popular place to visit the Great Wall is Badaling, but Mutianyu is your best bet with kids. Mutianyu is less crowded, and it has a cable car that takes you to and from the wall.

Olympic Park

There is definitely something special about visiting an Olympic site when you clearly remember the Games and the excitement you had when watching them. There is obviously the amazing Bird Nest Stadium, the Water Cube, the place where the flame was lit, the tower. The list goes on. We visited on a weekend when no events were taking place and whilst there were others there, it was by no means busy.  It was very enjoyable to wonder around and soak up that special atmosphere.

olympic parkOlympic Park is easy to visit (it’s on the subway) and it is free to walk around and see the outside of the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube (you do need to go through security and have your bags scanned).  We bought a kite with the Beijing Olympic mascots and enjoyed taking turns flying it while Patrick took photographs of the stadium.

olympic parkWe had the whole day and planned a surprise for the kiddos – they didn’t realize that there was a water park inside the cube – they were delighted to make this discovery. As swimmers, we enjoyed seeing the competition pool aspect of the Water Cube but the whole building seemed to be crumbling and badly maintained on the inside. It appeared as though it was finished hurriedly and they haven’t maintained it well. As such, I would suggest going at night for the lighting (though we did not).  The water park aspect was expensive and I can’t say I wasn’t a little disappointed, but we had a great time nonetheless.

Join me tomorrow for Beijing Part 2 when we visit the Summer Palace, The Temple of Heaven, and try Peking Duck with the family of our exchange student.

Autumn-Hopscotch-2013This post is part of the iHomeschool Network’s Autumn Hopscotch, a 10 day series of posts by over 40 different homeschool bloggers. You can visit the hopscotch home page at iHN for ideas and inspiration in topics like Family Geography Using Geography Quest, Composer Studies for Young Scholars, and The How To’s of Book Clubs.

All 10 days of Discovering China will be linked to one landing page.  Bookmark it for reference!