breath of the dragon – visiting east asia (part #4 – Hong Kong)

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The final stop of my adventure, Hong Kong was meant to be less of a ‘traditional’ adventure and more of an opportunity to meet friends and see the city as a young adult. But of course, this collection of islands and territories surprised me once again. this time with its history and evolution. Lan Kwai Fong will dominate as my best memory of the place, but behind all the raucous noise of the city, you can see a society accustomed to its place as a world market leader.

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My host, Jethro, and I were having a conversation. I said that unlike the regular tourist, the true traveler values engaging with sights and experiences first, and so we resist paying for needless frivolities like ‘taking photos at the top of a building’. He quickly retorted ‘Well, in Hong Kong, paying is engaging’. I guess that very well summarized the spirit of Hong Kong City. Malls span most places, and right at Causeway Bay where consumerism finds its home, you’ll be blown away by the pure diversity of products you could purchase. At Times Square (obviously named after New York) you’ll find tall and large digital billboards reminding you that the giants of Gucci and Prada still extend dominion even in Hong Kong. You’ll find many more examples of cultural appropriation here, such as at Hollywood Road and SoHo. It’s almost funny how we find issue with the West when they appropriate our cultures, but yet here we are appropriating theirs.

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Probably one of the things you could enjoy and yet escape paying for is the night skyline along Victoria Harbor. In my opinion, both sides of the Harbor are magnificent for the viewing, and one should take the time to admire not only the symphony of lights . Take time to reflect also on the development of a city that was given away ‘in perpetuity’ to the British and then taken back. It’s probably been liable to more political instability than most countries but yet it has stayed its course and arrived here. That’s really admirable in my opinion.

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The Star Ferry brings you across the harbor for a meager HKD 2.50, or USD 0.40 . Reaching Tsim Sha Tsui brings you to the supposed ‘better’ side of the harbor in terms of skyline viewing, and one can also witness colonial buildings that incite curiosity. They’re definitely worth spending the night exploring and admiring.

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Hong Kong’s markets are worth spending half a day exploring. From Bird Markets to Fish Markets to pure fake goods markets, there’s no shortage of products for you to expend a couple of dollars on. Go to Mong Kok or Prince Edward Station and simply walk south towards Jordan Station on the MTR and you’ll be wondering whether the value for money is too good to be true. It probably is, although if you don’t have expectations that are too high , you could enjoy a few good steals.

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Here’s where the trip gets slightly more interesting. Having been to Hong Kong twice before, I decided to take a risk and go into the New Territories. Although the ‘NT’ take up most of Hong Kong in landmass, most people only identify the City as the boundaries of their visit. I’d strongly recommend taking a quick MTR ride out and exploring the Territories, including this Walled Community located at Kam Tin. This is one of the last Walled Communities from the time of the Five Clans i.e. pre-British Hong Kong. Fun Fact : Everyone in the community is supposedly born with the last name ‘Tang’.

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Walk through the wall and you’ll find narrow alleys and people living in close unity. It reminded me of the ‘kampung’ settings in Singapore. What struck me the most was that it wasn’t just the elderly living here, as you’d intuitively expect. Whole families and even children populate this community and add some well appreciated life to this almost ancient and forgotten part of Hong Kong.

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Onto food! My favorite dishes from Hong Kong are Condensed Milk Toast and Milk Tea. It’s a sweet tea-time snack, and the crispy toast is well matched with the soggy texture of the condensed milk. Wash it down with the Milk Tea and you’ve tasted some of the best of Hong Kong. Tsui Wah, a popular chain selling regional dishes, is a great place to grab some of these.

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There’s a lot of dishes Hong Kong is famous for. Go to Mak’s Noodles for Wonton Noodles and Tai Hing for Roast Meat (especially their juicy Char Siew), but don’t leave Hong Kong without going to a Dai Bai Dong place, which is essentially a noodle place that adds ingredients as you ask for them. It’s an old penchant of Hong Kong street-fare and is not lost in the pursuit of great flavors. Chopsticks Kee on Wellington Street was the place I went to, and not only is the food absolutely lip-smacking good, the service staff are very friendly and homely, and the prices are very much value for money. It’s a quiet hole in the wall so you may have some difficulty finding it, although I’d recommend asking around. Most Hong Kong people have proven to be very kind in my adventure.

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And finally, how could we talk about Hong Kong without talking about Dim Sum. Traditionally a brunch meal, dim sum is famous for providing a huge diversity of small dishes that are savory, sweet and even herbal. Most are served in bamboo steamers, which allows the food to be freshly delivered as they’re cooked. We went to Lin Heung Tea House on Wellington Street. One of the strongest merits of this place is it’s traditional demeanor. Most Hong Kong Dim Sum places tend to be in fancy hotels and restaurants and therefore jacking up the prices. Here you’ll find regulars and families, people who value what this humble place has to offer. Don’t take it’s simple outlook as it is though; you will have to fight for your seat, and you will have to join the mad rush to get the dish you want. That’s part of the fun I suppose, and it made for some really fun photos. For a full look at this teahouse, check out ‘Hangry Nat’s’ blogpost here : https://hangrynat.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/forever-1926-lin-heung-tea-house/

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Although I don’t have pictures (for good reason), Lan Kwai Fong definitely ranks up as one of my most memorable watering holes. Accompanied with SoHo, the range of bars and clubs provide no end to your night. Although costly (even costlier than Singapore, who would imagine) , the experiences you will make at LKF probably will never leave you. Accompanied with the ups and downs of the slopes and the open drinking on the streets by expatriates and locals alike, you’ll always leave LKF a little more happier than when you came.

I’ve always compared Hong Kong as a more ‘Chinese’ Singapore, and in many ways its still true. East definitely meets West here as well, but where in Singapore we’ve integrated a lot more cultures, Hong Kong still remains predominantly a Chinese city. It faces the same struggles as Singapore – some search for meaning is going on in all the noise. But you’ll take away a sense of achievement here . People are proud to live in Hong Kong, they’re proud to have a stake in this city. That, to me, is magical.

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Here’s where I pen down my final epilogue on the whole ‘Breath of the Dragon’ adventure. I spent my summer trying very hard to heal the broken parts of myself. I gave myself that goal at the beginning of the year. I never identified as Indian, and always thought I was more Chinese than anything else. I was somewhere in between, almost stuck. These two major trips sought to reconcile these aspects of myself. I’m glad to admit I found the answer ; that while I find strong connections to both cultures, I am definitely neither one nor the other. It is perhaps in that respect, that I find myself indefinitely Singaporean and more so than before. By extension, I’m also an international citizen. The world is my domain and I’ve discovered the ability to empathise with a wide range of people.

Spending my last week home has let me corroborate my thoughts. Summer has been amazing, and I can’t wait to take on the rest of the year.

You’ll hear from me soon.

geronimo.

breath of the dragon – visiting east asia (part #3 – Taipei and Jiufen)

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You have been warned – this post has an unprecedented display of photos of food. Known as the only other place that can satisfy a Singaporean’s food cravings , Taiwan didn’t disappoint in any way. I spent a good 4 days in Taipei, and another day out in Jiufen , to get a more balanced exposure to what Taiwan has to offer and I’m glad to say that among all the cities I’ve visited, I’ve shortlisted Taipei (alongside Berlin) as my top cities to live in. There’s so much to see and do, and the proliferation of street food everywhere adds the cherry to the top. Let’s jump right in.

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I don’t really visit museums when traveling, unless it has an interesting exhibit I want to check out. The National Palace Museum in Taipei stands majestic with the hills in the background, and one wouldn’t guess it was a museum till they read the signs. The Museum is easily accessible by bus from Shilin , and once you enter it, you will be taken aback by the quality and diversity of Chinese art pieces. My favorite are the landscape paintings by Fan Kuan, that evoke so much subtlety while projecting magnificence. You’re not allowed to bring cameras into the museum and so in respect I didn’t take any photos – but take my word that the exhibits will make you want to spend your time’s worth there..  cks

You could probably knock out most of the tourist attractions in one day. Most of them are just sights that you can awe at – for example the Taipei 101 tower and the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall park in the title photo. Here you can see the courtyard for the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. While the hall itself is grand and holds a bronze statue of the eponymous man, the courtyard struck me for its calming sense of balance. The courtyard also holds the National Theatre and the National Concert Hall. Take the time to visit the Concert Hall, and you’ll notice groups of youth practicing their Hip-Hop, which is a sight in itself. Youth culture in Taipei is exciting and its presence is felt all through the city.

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I don’t really visit temples during my travels, although I like to awe at the architectural styles they possess. I’ve always felt that architecture emotes the feelings of the time and the hopes of the society. Taipei has a strong collection of interesting temples, but the one I remembered the most was the Confucian temple. This collection of buildings and gates translate Confucius’ edicts into physical interactions that you can easily take away a lot from. In this case, the pool represents knowledge, and the fence is in the shape of bamboo thorns to represent the struggle necessary to attain true knowledge. Deep, right?taipei sausage

Now onto my favorite part of the trip. Night Markets. There are almost 8 night markets in Taipei itself, and unfortunately (or fortunately if you think about it differently) , each market actually serves its unique range of snacks and dishes. That means you can actually eat something new at each night market, and the inner explorer in me couldn’t bear that I wasn’t visiting them all. Perhaps it was coincidence or a blessing, but I lived literally adjacent to Shihlin Night Market – the most popular one in Taipei. There’s so much to try, but my top choices are the Sausage in Glutinous Rice buns (in picture) , Oyster Omelette, Pepper Pork Buns, Gua Bao, Scallion Pancakes and the bubble tea (of course). There’s so much more you can try, and I’d recommend shortlisting both Shilin and Shida for visits. Having friends to share snacks with can also be a huge boon.

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Beef Noodles are known around the world, but having it in Taipei definitely lets you feel the difference. You could compare it to Pho in Vietnam, but the Taiwanese beef noodles are special because they braise (or stew) the beef, giving it an extra kick in the soup. In fact, Taiwanese love braising everything, which you’ll come to discover as you walk the streets. My friend , Jacky, brought me to this out of sight beef noodle place that definitely knocked the rest of my experiences out of the water. Located near Ximending, on Yanping South Road (張家清真黃牛肉麵館) , the broth for this leaves you wanting more as you devour the dish. The noodles are slightly al dente, as most good soup noodles should be, and the beef melts in your mouth. I actually got myself hungry writing this, wow.

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You’d think this is a simple dish, but this is a Taiwanese staple – Lu Ruo Fan, or braised pork rice. It’s so simple, but the flavors are balanced and make the dish easy to be eaten by itself. If possible, I like to get a bowl of this to accompany side dishes, and am always satisfied at the end of the meal. If I’m not wrong, they’re making it into the Taiwanese national dish, and I’d support that all the way.taipeibreakfast

I’ve always felt Asians do breakfast the best. It’s more complex than just eggs and pancakes, but they set you off on the right food each day. Make the trip to Yonghe Dou Jiang Da Wang, on Fuxing South Road to be treated to aromas of eggs and soy milk. There are so many options, but try the freshly fried You Tiaos (dough sticks), and the Da Bing (in picture) which are thin egg pancakes that you can top with soy sauce for one of the most mouth-gasmic experiences. Wash it all down with a cold soy milk and you’re good for the day. shavedice

Let’s not forget about desserts. Mango Shaved Ice take over the streets of Taipei as the best possible dessert around. Similar to Ice Cream, except that there’s more Ice than Cream, this dish is sweet and its texture gives you the sensation you’ve always been looking for in a dessert. Most important to this dish are the fresh Taiwanese mangoes diced for you. I’ve always been in love with fresh fruit, and if you come to Taiwan and don’t try the mangoes fresh I’d feel sorry for you.The sweetness could bring you to another level.jf2

Taiwan’s notoriety isn’t just in its food. The land is filled with mountains and lakes that take your breath away and incite imagination. You’ll come to appreciate the stunning efficiency of Taiwanese public transportation. Buy a refundable EasyPass and use that to get you anywhere around Taipei, including the outskirts. An hour away from the city by bus, you’ll come to Jiufen, the mountain town that reminds you of an Asian Santorini. Climb the mountains to get magnificent views and burn off all those calories you gained from eating at night markets.goldmine2

In a nearby town, Jinguashi, you’ll see the gold mines that were the main reason for occupation here. There’s a lot of history in the place , including the Japanese and Chinese exploitation of the mines, and you’ll feel transported to a different time in this nicely preserved part of Taiwan. Entrance is free which makes the visit all the more worth it. There’s even the ‘largest gold bar’ ever which people queue up for. I’d avoid it, unless the photo is absolutely necessary. Imagine the germs on that one bar. goldmine

Among the numerous hiking paths, one of the ones that I’d recommend is the path to the Japanese Shinto Shrine, built high over the town of Jinguashi. You’ll notice many people drop out from fatigue, but persist and you’ll not only be treated to a stunning view, but a bit of history as well. You’ll be quiet once you reach the place, partially out of solemnity and partially because you’re too tired to say anything anyway.

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Another trek worth taking is the one to the Golden Falls. Named after the assumption that this waterfall was pouring liquid gold, you’ll notice quickly it’s the copper in the rocks that are providing this unique color to the waterfall. It’s right next to the Pacific Ocean as well, which in all honesty , is pretty darn cool to look at.taroballs

Head back to Jiufen in the evening to walk around the night market on Old Street. Once again, there are many unique dishes for you to try, but the Taro Balls Dessert are famous and for good reason. Chewy and fresh, these balls provide a cool counterbalance to the heat in the area. They’re handmade right in front of you, so you can trust it was made with love.ximending

Taipei ranks as one of my favorite cities for many reasons. Above all, it’s the strong vibrant culture that’s present, without the stress of regular city life. Visiting Shanghai and Hong Kong infects you with the ambition of their societies, but it also passes on the stressful hurry that’s apparent in everyone. In Taipei, that sense of hurry isn’t that common, and that gives you a pace of life you can appreciate. Want to experience nature? Just take a quick bus ride out. Want to eat good food? Just go find a night market. Clubs such as Lava and Elektro give you a good look at the youth culture in the city as well (Lava is by far one of my favorite clubs in my adventures)

I honestly see myself coming to Taiwan a lot more times. With friends and with company, there’s still so much to discover.

Shoutout to Emma, Jacky, Nicole, Kevin, Angela for showing me the haunts of Taipei I wouldn’t have known to go to by myself.

The adventure ends in Hong Kong in my last post.

Till then,

geronimo.

breath of the dragon – visiting east asia (part #2 – Shanghai)

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Shanghai – most people’s true gateway to China.  Most people think of Hong Kong as the best window into understanding the mainland, but in Shanghai only can one truly appreciate Chinese policy and influence with the familiar allure of a mega-city.  Shanghai’s main draw for the traveler aren’t just the pompous parties and beautiful skylines – there’s a story to be shared behind the draws of a city that was once divided and distributed to various international powers. To truly witness the struggle of a population with its own modernity, Shanghai unveils itself for you.

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Some history is probably necessary to understand Shanghai. After the First Opium War, which the Chinese lost, Shanghai was conceded (together with other ports such as Hong Kong) to the British. This led to the eventual formation of the International Settlement and the French Concession, a separate agreement made by the French because they probably thought they were special. The Bund then, is one of the most prominent remnants of the International Settlement, with old colonial style buildings lined up for all to awe at. Some of the buildings have interesting stories to them, especially ‘Big Ching’, based off ‘Big Ben’ in London, that you can see in the picture.

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What the Bund is more famous for though, is this amazing view of Pudong. It’s a lot better at night, but Pudong is essentially the Communist Government’s attempt at building a modern financial capital on the mainland away from Hong Kong. It’s been developed in the past 15 years only, causing massive changes in the environment and a very strong boast of the extent of Chinese willpower. Some buildings stand out for their gawkiness and some just stand absolutely majestic, but all in all Pudong from the Bund is a view worth catching.

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The French Concession is worth visiting too, it’s picturesque and its roads remind you of the alleys in Paris, with trees forming a shelter over the walkways. It’s filled with boutique fashion shops mostly, but take a trip to Tianzifang nearby and be overwhelmed by the transformation of the alleys to accommodate budding artists and craftsmen. It’s a supposed ‘hipster hangout’, although I’d dare say anyone can find something of interest here.

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Along the same lines of conservation and transformation, visit Xintiandi which is just north-east of Tianzifang. Although the eateries in this place are a bit more up-market, stroll around the neighborhood to witness how the old ‘shikumen’ houses (colonial facades with localised Asian interiors) are preserved. Cited as an exemplar of modern preservation methods, this neighborhood feels different from the rest of Shanghai and leaves you to imagine a different time. The site of the first congress of the Communist Party of China is here as well,  and with free entry you can gain insight into the rationale behind the formation of the Communist Party and the epic saga that ensued. Propaganda or not, it leaves you enlightened into the mantra spread across the mainland : The Communist Party is a necessary force for China’s freedom.

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Take a trip into Old Shanghai, by visiting YuYuan gardens, a beautiful enclosed neighborhood of old style buildings and rock gardens. One can spend a half day here just walking around and admiring the architectural beauty of the place. The Huxinting Teahouse (in picture) has witnessed many annals of history , most prominently being used a base in the Opium War and seeing Bill Clinton drink tea in its premises. You can witness many old Chinese crafts and trades in the Tourist mart, although I’d advise bargaining to around 20% of the price. I managed to knock down a bundle of items from 400 Yuan to 80 Yuan, and all I had to do was to stand my ground. After you’re done with the premises, walk around the extended neighborhood , in around a 50m radius to see more of Shanghai’s old architectural styles and take a whiff of how this city used to look like before Pudong became the standard.

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Shanghai cuisine is defined by sweet flavors and dumplings. I never knew how much I loved dumplings till I came to this city. Yang’s dumplings by far command a dominant place in my list of ‘Food I wish I could try again’ . Located in the food street of Huanghe Road, these dumplings are pan fried and hold together a mix of wholesome meat and delicious soup. They don’t skimp on any thing – quality nor quantity , but the best part is that your wallet hardly feels a pinch. You would be foolish to visit Shanghai and not try these.

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What is more famously known though, are the Shanghai soup dumplings. Sometimes called the xiaolongbao (although many would dispute it based on the thickness of the skin) , these soup dumplings spill out such rich and savory flavors that you could go for 5-8 at a time. There are many that are famous and there’s even a XLB index out there to help guide your choices although the XLBs near the City of God Temple are a good start. I’ve tried XLBs in Singapore and Taiwan, and the Shanghai ones are definitely royalty .

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Many people say Shanghai is just a great city to party and make money. That’s true – I had one of my better parties in Shanghai. Mint, the club I was brought to, had a shark tank in it. I’m not kidding.

But to the true traveler, Shanghai invites a discussion on a shotgun transformation from old city to new. To serve this demand of modernity, people influx from all over the region and what you face is this interesting misplacement of cultures and values in a city that probably requires something else. Notice the taxi driver I caught, stopping his car in the middle of the road and going to take a piss in the probably recently pruned garden.

The young people definitely don’t show any signs of being out of place. They’re raucous, ambitious and above all else, optimistic about the future. Shanghai is their playground, and they will dominate it.

Special thanks to George Mao (for hosting me), Isabelle (aka Rat-Slinger), Karin, Jing, Cooper, Jimmy Zhao, Justin, Alan, Cheryl, Clare and Jing, for the amazing time in Shanghai and taking me off the beaten path.  Next post is on Taiwan.

Till then,

geronimo.

breath of the dragon – visiting east asia (part #1 – Beijing)

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Last month, I traveled around South India in hopes of getting in touch with my Indian background. This month, I took a trip to East Asia, in the pursuit of appreciation of my lesser obvious Asian side, the one that’s been developed purely because of my presence in Singapore. I called it the Breath of the Dragon trail – two weeks spread across four of the biggest cities known in Chinese modern history.

East Asia definitely opened my eyes to a whole world of knowledge and culture. The Chinese have been known for their unique approach to all topics – especially those of spirituality and society. As I traveled from Beijing to Shanghai to Taipei (and Jiufen) to Hong Kong, I was slowly discovering the evolution of this demographic and how despite the changes in infrastructure , the consistency of beliefs and traditions remained. It was an accident that my trip was planned in the way that it was,from a city that spoke the least English to a city that spoke the most English, but I’m definitely blessed to have witnessed and encountered the conversations and experiences that I did.

Beijing

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Beijing is definitely the capital of China. There is no doubt about it. From major palaces, to political structures, there is no shortage of motifs and symbols here to remind you of what greatness used to reside in this city. The layout of Beijing invites curiosity, as it is concentric, with multiple ring roads demarcating different zones in the city. The innermost ring road borders the most important structures then. Spending time in Beijing can include one of three possible activities : visiting all the grand sights, eating all the good food, shopping at all the local places for cheap products. Of course, the third option wasn’t even applicable for me – I don’t shop that much. But grand sights I definitely opened myself up to, almost entirely in this trip.

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We’ll start with the Temple of Heaven. I highly recommend this park as a window into life in Beijing.The Temple itself stands tall and majestic, but it doesn’t speak as much volume as the people who occupy the park on an almost daily basis.

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Populated by mainly the elderly and retired, you can see people dancing, doing taichi and exercising in the morning till early afternoon. My favorite view was this, where you can see crowds of people overseeing games of Dai-Di (Big Two, a Chinese card game) and Chinese Chess. It’s almost definitive of how people still remain active even in old age here, rather than lock themselves up in retirement houses or in front of the television screens, and that’s very impressive.

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Another interesting sight would have to be the Echo Wall. Just a short walk from the actual Temple of Heaven, and within the park, this wall surrounds the Imperial Vault of Heaven. Legend goes that if you shout at one end of the wall, your voice can be heard at the other end. What ensues then, is a bunch of tourists shouting and screaming at this stone wall, which in itself is a sight. I doubted its effectiveness, it didn’t really seem to be working , but this and a few other structures are interesting deviations from the regular temples and gabled structures.

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I’d also recommend travelers to visit the Forbidden City – it is filled with imperial structures that have motifs only an emperor could be privy to. Its size also challenges you to take in the full grandiose of the kingdom and imagine what it would have been like to rule over China. The Tian’anmen Square nearby was unfortunately closed because of a parade but I had heard good reviews of the place, especially juxtaposing the imperial haughtiness of the Forbidden City, with a similar arrogance in modern form at the Square.

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The Summer Palace could probably be prioritized on a lower peg after visiting the places above,  but one should visit it to take in the view of Kunming Lake, that the Palace oversees.

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Of course, if it’s your first time in Beijing, you’ll have to make time to go to the Great Wall. There are multiple portions that you can visit but the easiest to access is the Badaling portion. Therefore, do not visit that portion. It’s supposedly filled with tourists and the derived industry from it, and you’ll have to walk a significant portion on the wall to lose the infestation of people and focus on the views. Instead go to the Mutianyu portion, where I visited, and let yourself be blown away by the human feat that is the Great Wall. You can take public transportation there, and it’ll cost you only around 20USD one way, although you’ll have to take a couple of bus changes.

For those not informed of the reason for the wall, it was built during imperial times to protect the kingdom from invasion from the Mongolians. You can see multiple aspects of defense aside from the pure fact that it’s a large ass wall. Stairs were built that were almost impossible to climb without breaking a sweat, making it difficult for invaders to make it very far even if they scaled the wall. It’s definitely a workout climbing it.

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Guess the Mongolians eventually made it though. This wall and many other parts are unfortunately subject to graffiti, showing the cost of exposure to the world.

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If you go eastwards on Mutianyu enough, you’ll reach a portion of the wall that is known as Jinshaling. Although technically ‘prohibited’, I suspect it’s more of a measure to prevent kids from falling off this nearly ruined wall. It’s vastly different from Mutianyu – it is overgrown with shrubbery and the path is clearly narrower because the sides have crumbled in. This then presents the ‘authentic’ wall – not maintained and reeking of age and sincerity. The views are cleaner here, and the hike more adventurous. I would definitely encourage travelers to take a bit more to walk on this portion, but keep your bearings about you and don’t be afraid to duck and jump over obstacles.

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The last place I’d strongly encourage people to visit are the hutongs (or alleys). These are the remnants of Old Beijing – where the neighborhood classically identified by its grey roofs transport you to a simpler time.Interestingly enough , and this is a trend I’ve seen in almost all cities I’ve been to, most of these hutongs have been maintained by converting them into a ‘hipster’ district, with boutique fashion outlets and up and coming food stalls. Rooftop bars and cafes are worth a try to see the hutongs from up top. This is Nanluoguxiang – definitely a must visit.

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I personally was a fan of this Churros that they were selling, in a paper holder with soft serve ice-cream. Imagine holding that and walking down Old Beijing, it’s almost surreal how old and new come together so beautifully. duck

And finally must eats in Beijing. There’s a ton of good Chinese food that you can try , including my favorite Mongolian Hotpot Hai Di Lao. But the famous disk is the Peking Duck. I was taken to QuanJude , one of the top places to go for the dish, and honestly I’d recommend spending your value’s worth on this. The duck is almost completely spent on you, with even the carcass being used to flavor a delicious and rich soup at the end of the course. The skin is crispy and salty, and that complements the sweet hoisin sauce that you eat the meat with. Make it in a crepe or eat by itself, the duck is definitely worth the hype. There are a bunch of other brand name duck restaurants out there that I’d imagine are worth visiting so choose freely.

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Beijing stands out for many reasons. While a large number of people you’ll see are not even local Beijing residents, you notice a slice of China that’s burgeoning with optimism. They’re excited to see the world and almost figuratively are ready to consume it. It’s interesting how, because it’s like it got shocked into success by jumpstart cables, the government is forced to find a way to match its economic success with cultural education and propaganda like the signs above.

Don’t expect as many tall skyscrapers as Shanghai, or any English speaking assistance , but instead see probably what’s the closest to how China is like in the rest of the mainland out of all the big cities in this trail. There’s no shortage of nightlife though – Wuadaokou is where all the college bars (and cheap beers) are, while Sanlitun has the more upmarket bars and clubs. You can spend a lot less than you would in any of the other cities in these places.

Out of all the cities I visited, Beijing was definitely where I was the least comfortable. But I like that, I like being uncomfortable because you’re forced to learn and grow. I have a lot more stories from this one city, but ask me about them or check my Facebook Album for them – and you’ll be surprised at how much there is to this famous city. Look forward to my next travelogue post on Shanghai.

I’d also like to sincerely thank Patrick, Amy (and your relatives), Peter, Shuting, Gil  for making my trip so rich and meaningful. You definitely were great hosts.

Till then,

geronimo.