Friday, July 29, 2005

4th anniversary - Upon the Sea

So, what do you do when you've just moved country to your new job, and you simply can't ask for days off to celebrate your 4th anniversary with your beau? Well, you use a weekend, and make the most out of it! And that's what we did. We grabbed a flight to the "nearby" (1000km away) city of Shanghai (上海)! Ah, yes, by the way, Shanghai literally means "upon the sea", hence this post's title.

Now, I lived in Shanghai for about six months in 2000. And I had visited once in 1997 (or was it 1998?) too. My beau had never been anywhere in Asia. So this cosmopolitan, vibrant, historic city seemed like a great option to celebrate four years together.

Some highlights? Well, obviously, the cityscape! The speed at which this city develops renders any photos outdated the second you take them, for sure. But it's always a peculiar sight, especially with the Jinmao Tower (金茂大厦, tallest building on the right, first photo) and the Oriental Pearl Tower (东方明珠塔, the tower on the left). The water, unfortunately, is always that charming muddy colour. But still, going to the waterfront for views of the city, or taking a boat tour (we didn't) is a must.

Then, there's the Bund (外滩). Right by the waterfront. Chock-full with European buildings and a nice, broad promenade. Were it not for the Chinese flags and the throngs of Chinese, you could for a second forget you were in China. We headed to for a plunge in some contemporary Chinese consumerism - Nanjing Road (南京路), one of the biggest shopping streets in the world. I might have been to these places very many times before. But I simply can't get tired of seeing this city! 

Then, besides the skyscrapers, and the European architecture, and the rampant capitalism with Chinese characteristics, there's tradition - Yuyuan Garden (豫园). This 16th century garden is next to the City God Temple (上海城隍庙), and both gave us the chance to explore shops, ponds, rockeries, dragon walls, bridges... My favourites are always the rockeries and the koi ponds, of course! It's a pretty big place, so we'll have to come back someday, right?

And last, but not least - the Grand Hyatt Shanghai (上海金茂君悦大酒店), where we spent our nights. The hotel is in fact part of the Jinmao Tower (金茂大厦). When I used to live here, I would often come here to party at one of its nightclubs, where I had the most fun I had in the city. One night I saw an amazing jazz singer at one of its bars, too. And the hotel starts on the 53rd floor, goes up to the 87th, and it has a barrel-vault atrium that starts at the lobby (53rd floor) and rises to the 88th (the skywalk). The views, either of the atrium from within or of the city from your room, are amazing. 

So, obviously, this was the one place I felt I could properly celebrate the beau had spent four years of his life walking the world along with me. And I even managed to get a corner room with views of the city (not an easy feat, beginning with the fact that, more often than not, fog will block said views!). 

A fourth, romantic, happy anniversary, and our first one in Asia! Yay! 

Friday, July 15, 2005

Beijing - our new home!

Well, we're here, and a new life starts! Mind you, this is not the first time I'll be calling Beijing (北京) home. This city opened my eyes to a whole new world and culture back in 1997, when I came to do two years at Peking University. But then again, 1999 China and 2005 China is not the same! 

We had been wanting to move here for quite a while. Ever since I met my beau and told him I had lived here, and with his interest in Taichi and stage arts, we talked about one day making the Middle Kingdom our temporary home. It took four years after those first talks. But we made it! Finally. To a city that changes so much I had a hard time recognizing even main avenues and areas!

Obviously, after so many years away, I was only too excited about beginning to re-explore this city! So at the first opportunity I took my beau to show him around traditional Beijing (with help from some old friends from back in the day!), and we ended up in the area of Liulichang (琉璃厂). It just felt so good to be surrounded by all these familiar sights once more!

Like the streets filled with the typical grey brick buildings... with wood painted red, gold, blue...  the ubiquitous bicycles... and numerous Chinese characters I couldn't recognize... (this last part never changes, huh?)

This part is not too far from the Forbidden City and numerous historic landmarks. Well, I mean, this is a huge city. In absolute terms nothing is ever close, but still! So in our wanderings we caught glimpses of Zhengyangmen (正阳门), which most everybody calls it Qianmen (前门), a gate that traditionally used to guard the southern side of the Forbidden City. I can't believe we have all these things to explore now! The gates, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven... so much! This is a gorgeous reminder of the countless treasures for us to (re)discover here. Hurray!

But you don't go to Liulichang to sneak peeks at ancient palaces and gates. You come here for the hutongs (胡同, or traditional Chinese alleys) and all they have to offer! We went around in a rickshaw, we came across old buildings and shops, we saw people playing Chinese chess (象棋)...

We found an old Chinese Opera theatre! so incredibly cool! And kids playing what I guess could be poker? and songbirds! 

And all these traditional homes and entry-ways... I would have loved to go inside. But well, you have to draw the line at some point and respect people's privacy, right? Oh, and we came across this traditional pastry place that made some dense, round, flat, flaky pastries (don't know what they're called, probably most people would find them weird). Loved them!

You may have changed a bit, Beijing, but you haven't changed either in very many ways. You hold a very special place in my heart. I feel like home here. I have a gazillion anecdotes from living here. And I'm ready to accumulate another gazillion of shared ones with my handsome life-companion. So get ready!