Christmas in Beijing

For Christmas this year, Jun and I took advantage of his need to be in Beijing for work that week and we extended it for a long weekend. The last time I visited Beijing was in 2007. It was the first place I had explored in China and everything at that time was so new. I was curious to visit some different places and to experience Beijing with more experience of having lived in China for quite some time now. I flew up on Christmas Eve to meet up with Jun so we could celebrate the holiday there.

The trip to Beijing was uneventful. Jun met me at the airport, and we took a Didi to the Hilton Beijing Wangfujing. Everything went smoothly with my check-in, and I soon was getting ready to bed. One nice thing about the hotel was that it gave each guest a small Christmas stocking with Christmas cookies in them. That was a nice way to start the trip.

Day 1

Christmas! The first thing Jun and I did after we woke up was to open our Christmas presents. Then we got ready for the day and went down to have breakfast.

After eating breakfast, Jun and I took the metro to the Temple of Heaven Park. I don’t remember much about my first visit here. I came here on my first day and I only remember being very tired and disorientated from the long flight. For this trip, I wanted to explore the Temple of Heaven a bit more. And getting to do it with Jun made it even better.

The temple complex was built in the early fifteenth century for imperial use. Ming and Qing emperors visited the site annually to pray for good harvests. Today, the vast park is popular with locals and visitors.

When we went it was a cold day which meant there weren’t a lot of people there. One nice thing about traveling during the off-peak season was the opportunity to explore places more leisurely. Walking around the different buildings was a nice experience. The main temple was quite impressive. We enjoyed walking around the different complexes of the site as well. One thing we did notice was the number of gates around the complex. They seemed to be everywhere you walked.

We soon left from the southern gate and walked towards Yongdingmen Park. Before getting to the park, though, we happened across a restaurant—Duyichu Shaomai—that had been in operation for over 300 years. When I noticed it, I asked Jun what he knew of the place. After searching online, he discovered the history of the restaurant. I suggested we go try it and we soon found ourselves having a late lunch there. The food was amazing. I particularly liked the hot and sour soup. It was nice and warm after having been outside in the cold. Finding this restaurant was a wonderful surprise.

After lunch, we continued our journey to Yongdingmen Park. Yongdingmen used to be the front gate of the outer city of Beijing. With the wall no longer there, the gate is a reminder of the time when Beijing was protected by city walls. Getting into the park was a bit ridiculous as the park administration has closed off access to the park to a limited number of entrances. Finding an open entrance took some time. Eventually, we did find one. We walk a bit around the park before heading north toward Tiananmen Square.

To get to Tiananmen Square we took the metro to Zhushikou and walked up Qianmen Street. The street is one of the oldest shopping areas in Beijing and it has been restored to a more historic look reminiscent of the period from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. It was a pleasant walk up the street.

We then made our way into Tiananmen Square after going through a thorough security check. Being late in the afternoon and a large open space, the wind was quite strong there. Jun and I got a bit cold and decided to continue our walk.

From Tiananmen Square, we went through Zhongshan Park. The park is situated southwest of the Forbidden City. During imperial times the area was used as an altar, such as with the Altar of Land and Grain. Today it is a public park for people to enjoy.

By the time we had walked around the park, it was getting dark, and we decided it was time to go inside. Jun and I had wanted to do some shopping in Beijing for things we couldn’t find in Shenzhen. After getting a Didi we were on our way to Sanlitun. There we were able to buy what we wanted and had dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant: Saigon Mama.

Afterward, we went back to the hotel. When we got back to the room, we found that the hotel had provided a Christmas cake! It was cute to look at and delicious to eat. Eating the cake was a wonderful way to end the day.

Day 2

On our second day, we woke up early so we could get to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. The drive took a little over an hour to get there. When we arrived, we were the only two to go through the front entrance. When we got on the bus to take us to the Great Wall, we met only one other visitor.

To get up to the Great Wall, we had to go up a trail. When we got to the top the view was nice. And the wall itself was devoid of other visitors. We walked along the wall and explored the different towers for a few hours. This visit was Jun’s first time at the Great Wall. It was my second time. We both enjoyed it a great deal. And then as we were walking, we were greeted by cats who lived in different sections of the wall. They were fat cats, too! Sadly, for the cats, Jun and I didn’t have any food for them.

As morning turned into early afternoon, Jun and I decided to venture to our next destination: Yuanmingyuan Park. When we got there, we decided to have lunch at Hua’s Restaurant. The food was good there. They had an amazing shrimp dish. And they also had a nice flower tea that warmed us up.

When we were done, we then went into the park. This area used to be the Old Summer Palace. It was destroyed in the nineteenth century, and all that remains are ruins. The park is massive. The ruins were quite interesting to visit. In the main area, there was even a maze that Jun and I traversed to get to the central pavilion. After we had walked around the remains of the palace, we walked by one of the lakes to watch the sunset. It was quite spectacular!

From there we decided to go get dinner. First, though, we had to get a COVID test at one of the mobile testing clinics scattered throughout Beijing. That went quickly and soon we were off to Nanmen, a Beijing hotpot restaurant. The food there was nice. We each got our pot, and we had a variety of lamb, noodles, and vegetables for dinner.

After we had finished, we walked back to the hotel to call it a day.

Day 3

Our last day in Beijing had us have a late start. We decided to just venture around the area near the hotel. We first walked up towards Jingshan Park. To get there we passed through some historic streets with some nice buildings along the way. Jinshan Park is directly north of the Forbidden City. On a nice day, you can get a wonderful view of the palace. When we got there, though, we had to contend with some haze and the poor morning light. It was still nice to walk around the park though. And the northern view of the Drum Tower was nice.

From there we walked up toward the Drum and Bell Towers. We wandered around Shichahai and saw the Huode Zhenjun Temple, which is a Taoist temple. Then we went around the Drum and Bell Towers. Finally, we went down South Luogu Lane and explored the shops there. We even bought some candied fruit as a snack.

By the time we got to the entrance of the lane, we had to head back to the hotel to check out. When we got there, we got our things and left them at the hotel for a bit to go have lunch at Xiaodiao Pear Soup. As its name implies, the place is known for its pear soup. The food there was tasty. We were fortunate to have a lot of great food in Beijing.

When we were done, we went back to the hotel to get our things so we could get to the airport. Things at the airport went smoothly and we were soon back in Shenzhen, where we again had to take another COVID test. After that was done, Jun and I took a taxi home and left our things for the next day so we could shower and go to bed.

The trip to Beijing was great and it was fun to see the city again. Spending Christmas in Beijing was a great idea. Jun and I certainly enjoyed our time there together.

Christmas in Shenyang

December ended up being a low-key month for work. With school on winter break, Jun and I decided to spend Christmas up in the northeastern part of the country. We invited Jun’s cousin to come with us as well. Christmas is about family after all!

Our trip started with a sprint to the airport after work. When we got there, we went through all the airport formalities and had dinner. We were soon on our way to Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning province.

The flight was uneventful. We arrived early on Christmas Eve morning. We made our way to take a taxi to our hotel apartment. When we arrived at the Somerset Heping, we found ourselves helped with a sleepy trainee front desk attendant. We ended up confused by some of the policies that contradicted our reservation about the complimentary breakfast. Jun felt frustrated. I reminded him later that she was young and learning.

Once in our room, Jun called Agoda to sort out the matter. Evidently, there was a communication issue between Agoda and the hotel. The customer service representative assisted us and offered us to reimburse the breakfast if we paid it first. Once that was sorted and we had taken our baths, I was out for the night.

Day 1

We slept in and missed breakfast entirely. So the breakfast issue the first day became a moot point. But we were hungry. We decided to eat an early lunch and then explore Shenyang.

We took the metro to Zhongjie, the Middle Street pedestrian shopping arcade in Shenyang. Jun recommended we eat at a local restaurant, Lao Bian Dumplings. As the name suggests they are known for their dumplings. We ordered three different versions of dumplings. Also, we ordered sweet and sour pork, a delicacy here, and some vegetables. The food was delicious and inexpensive. We left happy and energized to go and discover more of the city.

We next ventured towards Mukden Palace, the Imperial Palace of Shenyang. The Qing Dynasty was founded in Shenyang, or Mukden in the Manchu language, in 1636. Emperor Nurhachi, a Jurchen chieftain, established the Qing Dynasty after defeating the leaders of the Ming Dynasty and came to rule China. He built the palace in 1625. It remains one of two imperial palace complexes that still exists in China. The other palace is the Forbidden City in Beijing, where the imperial capital was moved in 1644 after the Qing conquered the Ming capital and claimed the city as the capital of the Qing Dynasty.

When we arrived at the temple, we first had to figure out how to find the entrance. We ended up first visiting Zhongxin Temple before the attendant there informed us how to get to the main entrance.

After walking south to the main entrance, we bought our tickets and started to venture around the palace. The first thing that struck me was how much more intimate this palace is compared to the imperial palace in Beijing. Much smaller in scale, I found that at every turn each building and decoration was more unique and intriguing than at the one in Beijing. The sheer size of the Forbidden City in Beijing can be overwhelming. The Shenyang imperial palace allowed for a more detailed exploration of the complex.

Impressed with the palace, we next ventured to Marshal Zhang’s Mansion. Zhang Zuolin, a warlord who controlled Northeast China in the 1920s, built this structure south of the imperial palace after the fall of the Qing Dynasty. The complex is a mix of Chinese and Euro-American architectural styles. Walking around the area was interesting to see what life was like during this period and to see how elite people lived. The mix of architectural styles made the place feel like a little neighborhood. 

Our ticket to the mansion also included admission to the Shenyang Financial Museum. I expected the museum to be a small place, but it ended up being a detailed look at Chinese financial history. When we entered the museum, we saw a bunch of wax people posed to look like they were banking back in the early 1900s. From there the museum provided more information about finances and money in China and the world. I enjoyed the part about the paper money and coins from around the world.

When we had completed our tour of the museum, we walked towards the Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral. As we were walking, we passed a market street and saw a fruit vendor selling strawberries. We ended up buying some. They were sweet and juicy. We continued our walk and found the cathedral. A beautiful ecclesiastical structure, we admired it from afar since the grounds were closed to visitors.

The sun had set by then and we decided to go have dinner. We decided to go to Xita, the Koreatown neighborhood in Shenyang. Liaoning province borders the Korean peninsula. There, thus, is a large Korean population in Shenyang. We chose a Korean barbecue restaurant—Zaomalu Charcoal Fire Barbecue—for dinner. The food was amazing and wonderful. We left feeling full and content.

From there we walked around the neighborhood and saw the West Pagoda. Then we walked home to call it a day.

Our first day in Shenyang was a wonderful time exploring the historic side of the city. When we got back to the hotel, I edited the pictures from the day and we just relaxed before going to bed early.

Day 2

 After a wonderful night of slumber, we all woke up ready to start the day. First, we had breakfast and then put on many layers of clothes to trek out into the city.

The first place we visited was Zhaoling Tomb in Beiling Park. The complex was built for the second Qing emperor, Hong Taiji, and empress, Xiaoduanwen. Construction started in 1643 and was completed in 1651. Beiling Park itself was at one time used for imperial purposes, but in 1928 it was opened to the public.

The park itself is quite large and nice to venture through. We saw a large number of Chinese elders dancing in the park. And we also saw that the lakes and ponds in the park were frozen over. People were playing on the ice; we saw ice skaters and ice hockey players.

When we got to the tomb, I was surprised at how peaceful it was. Being the winter season there weren’t a lot of people there; it maintained a serene quality. We enjoyed going around and experiencing the place.

After we had visited the tomb complex, we decided to have some fun on the frozen lakes and ponds in the park. That was fun to venture onto the ice and play with the other people.

When we were done, we took a Didi car to Stupa Beach Park to visit the North Pagoda. In the 1640s, four pagodas associated with Tibetan Buddhist temples were built outside the city walls orientated along the cardinal directions. The North Pagoda and associated Falun Temple are the best preserved. We spent some time looking around the pagoda, temple, and surrounding park. From there, we decided to have lunch at a restaurant called Guandong Courtyard, a typical restaurant in the region. We first had to choose what we wanted to eat by looking at display models of the food. Lunch was great. The portions were huge and tasty! It was a good choice on Jun’s part.

After lunch, we went and visited Fuling Tomb in Dongling Park. This tomb complex was built for the first Qing Emperor Nurhachi and Empress Xiaocigao. During the entire Qing Dynasty, the site served as the main ritual site for the imperial family.

Unlike Beiling Park, which is located in the city, Dongling Park is located on the outskirts, so it had a more rustic ambiance. When we arrived at the park it was already mid-afternoon, and the sun was starting to set. It set an ethereal mood for our visit to the park. As we walked in, we were surrounded by pine trees. Many of them were planted when the complex was built. From there we had to climb up 108 steps to the main tomb area.

The sights from up there were gorgeous. The trees and the setting sun, the lack of people, and the general feel of the area made for a tranquil experience. As we walked around the many halls and structures, I was struck by how majestic it all was. We were lucky that we came during this time as it added to the ambiance of the place.

From the park, we crossed the street to explore around East Lake. We had fun playing around the frozen lake. As it started to get colder with the setting sun, we decided to go back to the hotel.

Once there we enjoyed being in the warmth of our hotel apartment. We decided to order some Chinese barbecue and stay in for the night. Jun and I went to get some Christmas drinks at a nearby Costa before the food arrived. As we walked back the delivery person called. So we were able to pick up the food and go back to our apartment. It ended up being a nice way to end the day.

Day 3

After a hearty breakfast, we took a Didi to the Qipanshan Scenic Area. The area is located northeast of the city center. Officials named the area Qipanshan after a megalith that resembles a chessboard on the top of Qipan mountain.

The car alighted us at the north gate to the area. From there we walked towards Xiu Lake and explored that area for a while. The entire lake had frozen over. As we walked along the lake, we met with park workers who were breaking the ice so it wouldn’t harm the floating bridge that runs along the shore. It was a beautiful day and it felt as if we were exploring a frozen wonderland.

As we continued our walk, we tried to visit Wangyun temple but discovered that it was closed because of COVID-19. Not daunted, we continued walking and went towards the area where they hold the Shenyang International Ice and Snow Festival. When we got there, we discovered that the skiing areas were open, but the snow and ice sculptures were in the process of being created. I was a bit disappointed. I find snow and ice sculptures fascinating. We at least got to see one snow sculpture of an ox for the upcoming Chinese New Year. Not deterred, we played for a bit in the snow.

Since we still had time on our hands, Jun suggested we go visit the Guandong Movie & Television Town. The filming location contains 177 buildings constructed to look as if they existed in the late Qing Dynasty, roughly the 1890s to 1910s. When we arrived there was hardly anyone there. Jun and his cousin enjoyed going around the different areas because many of the places reminded them of their grandparents’ home. I enjoyed it to see the different scenes available. There were buildings in traditional architectural styles, city street scenes, and even neighborhoods that looked like a battle had occurred there. All of us felt surprised that we had liked visiting Guandong as much as we did.

When done we decided to take a car back to Shenyang and have dinner in Xita again. This time we ate at a Korean restaurant called Wan Shou Shen Ji Tang. The food there was again amazing. Their egg omelet dish was my favorite.

Afterward, we walked back to the hotel. We started to pack a little and just enjoy a relaxing night.

Day 4

Our last day in Shenyang, and we were ready to go home. Waking up a bit late, Jun and I decided to skip breakfast. Jun’s cousin went ahead and had breakfast as we finished packing our things. Then we checked out and left our bags at the hotel.

We went back to Zhongjie to visit Chang’an Temple, which was first been built in the Tang Dynasty. It’s a nice Buddhist temple. The upkeep of the place was impressive.

From there we went and had lunch at Badawan, a typical Shenyang restaurant. Again they had food models for us to pick what we wanted to eat. The models were of huge portions, which ended up being an accurate representation. One of the steamed buns we had was about the size of Jun’s head! The food was delicious and a nice way to end our trip.

After lunch, we took the metro back to the hotel and then a Didi to the airport. We soon found our way to the boarding gate. We quickly took off the extra winter layers of clothing in the restroom. Then we found some ice cream to enjoy. Finally, we were in the air headed back to Shenzhen.

All of us enjoyed the trip to Shenyang. But we were also happy to be back home in the warmer weather.