It was a quiet day. While I was definitely missing my travel buddy, I appreciated the time to get lost in my thoughts and the sights. My flight leaves tomorrow around 5:30 p.m., but I want to have a relaxing, low-key day. Per my iPhone’s Health app, I logged 47 floors, 30,000+ steps, and 14.6 miles today. So … I got a lot in.
Today’s goals: Olympic Park, Beihai Park, shopping, and dumplings
1st stop: Olympic Park
I’ve been to Olympic Parks in Munich and Atlanta. The one in Beijing was definitely different. First, the Olympic Tower is a gorgeous, torch-like structure that sits by its lonesome in the middle of the large Olympic Green, making it really impressive. It didn’t take long to walk through, but it was by far the largest Olympic park I’ve ever seen. There’s no entrance fee to get into the park, unless you want to get into the actual buildings and take a tour.
There are two main buildings in the park: The Bird’s Nest and The Cube. What they lacked in creative naming, they made up for in their creative design. The main stadium is the Bird’s Nest. As expected, it looks like a big, silver, metal birds nest. It’s pretty amazing to look at. The 2008 opening ceremonies took place in the Bird’s Nest, along with track and field and a host of other events. The Cube is the aquatic center. As you can guess, it’s a big a cube, but it has these bubble-like panels all over it that look blue during the day and light up at night.
Beihai Park: The hidden gem of Beijing
Established in 1166, this imperial garden was used for sightseeing by the emperor and his family and the occasional guest. It’s only a few blocks northwest of the Forbidden City.
One thing I noticed about Beijing: There’s a lot of quaint beauty to this city, but most of it’s hidden behind various walls and gates. If you just aimlessly walked around, you’d never know some of these things are there. It almost becomes a game to find ways to get behind the walls. Luckily, for only 10¥ ($1.25), you get access to this absolutely gorgeous gem of a park.
Once inside the walls, it’s like the Red Sea parts. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, there’s this amazing lake surrounded by walking paths, small pagodas, and so much more. Kids were playing, elders were doing tai chi, lovers were strolling. It’s near impossible not to be enamored of this surprising, quiet place of respite in the otherwise noisy, bustling city.
The start (and end) of a very LONG walk
I wanted to do some shopping, in particular for tea. I read about two pedestrian shopping streets: Wangfujing and Qianmen. Instead of taking the subway, I thought I’d just walk instead. I’m glad I did! From Beihai Park, I headed south, walking on the outside of the western wall of the Forbidden City. Along the way, I walked past several more hutongs. By the more polished state of these hutongs (and military guards outside them), I suspect this is where the well-do-do in Beijing live. I also walked by Tiananmen Square, or at least tried to. Something official was happening today and no one could get close to the Square. So I kept going on my way and eventually made it to the pedestrian shopping streets. Pretty much anything you want, from a small trinket to a Maserati (seriously) can be found in these streets. I was pretty overwhelmed, but happy that I found the teas I was looking for.
An epic happy ending to my last full day in China
My stomach was in knots all day, so beyond a light breakfast, I didn’t eat much of anything. Dumplings always sound good to me, and I had a perfect excuse to eating more: I read that they’re different compared to the ones in Shanghai. Okay, twist my arm! Two places kept coming up as the best dumpling spots: Baoyuan Dumpling House and Mr. Shi’s Dumplings. I plan to go to both. Baoyuan is a little more out of the way than Mr. Shi’s. I figure I can more easily hit up Mr. Shi’s tomorrow and not be pressed for time. Plus, I read that Baoyuan’s is truly THE place to go.
Baoyuan’s claim to fame is that they color code the dumplings, taking the guesswork out if you order more than one type of filling. They come six to an order and offer 30+ filling combos, ones you’ve likely never thought of. It’s awesome for both vegans and meat lovers. I ordered three different types: Shrimp, egg, and carrot (white); bean sprouts, tofu, and hot pepper (purple); and mushroom, chestnuts, carrots, and eggplant (white and purple marbling).
I noticed two things when my made-to-order dumplings arrived: They were color coordinated with what I was wearing. Seriously. (It was the case for others, too.) I also noticed this dumpling’s dough is thicker and the dumpling itself is bigger compared to what I ate in Shanghai. To eat like a local (that’s all you’ll see here), you dunk the steamed and lightly fried dumpling in the soy sauce, black vinegar, and chili oil mixture you made before popping it in your mouth. My full belly was SO happy. Oh, and it was only 52¥, or about $7.50. Yes, please!
The end of my day was approaching and I wanted to keep the bliss going I had from the joyous dumpling encounter. If there’s anything to know about me it’s that I love foot massages. There’s a place just down the block from where I’ve been staying in the Wangfujing area, He Ping Foot Massage. It’s right next to the Waldorf Astoria, so when I saw it was $30 for 60 minutes, I couldn’t pass it up. It included really intense acupressure and some cupping. Interesting thing … he could tell things about me based on how the pressure felt on my feet. It hurt like hell near my heel, which is a telling sign I’m not sleeping well. The outer side of my foot pain was an insight that I’ve had an upset stomach, and the grit in the ball of my foot and big toe aligns with shoulder tightness. The intense pressure felt terrific on other parts of my feet, which were indicative that I exercise enough and have a healthy heart and liver. He pointed out that while my heart is healthy, it’s also closed, which elicited a wagging, disapproving finger and “No good.” Feeling relaxed around my ankle was a sign I’ll have a fun, exciting year. He did some cupping on my feet, but used fire to get the suction, which was a different approach than what I’m used to, but it was a really cool thing to watch. The entire dumpling/food treatment experience was the happiest of endings to my last full day in China.
I “finally” needed my mask today
Is the air quality different in China? Yes. I noticed it the second I got off the train when Eric picked me up in Shanghai. For me, it hits two senses: sight and taste. There’s almost always a soft haze in the air that you can see, but there’s also a metallic taste to it. The air quality wasn’t so good today. The usual haze was even more visible, even flowing down to the lowest parts of the subways. And the amplified taste came along with it. I was glad I had my mask to filter it out.
That foot massage seems to be doing the trick … I’m ready to fall asleep after a busy day. Tomorrow will be low key. I’ll share some observations on things I’ve noticed, from censorship, to bodily functions, to so much more.