Out of China – Back to Beijing & the Trans-Mongolian

To conclude our trip to China, we took a bullet train from Shanghai back to Beijing. The trip by bullet train is about 5 hours and it was very comfortable. I don’t know how we continue to be so lucky, but we had sat in a 1st class cabin that had a capacity for five people. We shared the cabin with a couple from Vancouver and this man in the picture.

Ming Tombs & the Sacred Way

Our first day back in Beijing we took a half-day tour to the Ming Tombs and The Sacred Way. We enjoyed the drive out, particularly noticing that the trees were starting to show their fall colors. As we got close to the Ming Tombs, we also noticed the persimmon groves in the area and Holly became nostalgic and remembered that her dear late mother, Eloise, particularly enjoyed eating persimmons.

The Ming Tombs are located on the south slopes of the Jundu Mountain (good feng shui) in the north suburbs of Beijing about an hour and half from the center of Beijing. The tombs of 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty are scattered over an area of 40 square kilometers. The construction of the tombs began in 1409 during the reign of Emperor Yongle and lasted for more than 200 years as successive Ming Dynasty Emperors also took advantage of the superior feng shui of the area.

Immediately to the south of the Ming Tombs is The Sacred Way, the original road leading up to the temple, which is bordered on each side by pairs of stone statues of animals and human officials to guard the temple and the tombs.

Here I am next to one of the statues to give you an idea of the size. This animal is a mythological animal and one of the smaller statues. They also have statues of real animals like, elephants, lions, camels, etc.

Here’s a picture of the Sacred Way. You can see the statues lined up on both side of the road, which is now a pedestrian walk.

Our last two days in Beijing we didn’t have any tours planned, we were on our own. On Monday, we decided to spend most of the time preparing ourselves for the next portion of our journey. That included getting haircuts and getting our clothes cleaned and our suitcases organized. It also included arranging to mail home the gifts purchased and anything else we didn’t want to continue to lug along on the rest of our trip.

We had been in China for just shy of a month and out last haircuts were on the Princess Cruise ship we had sailed across the Pacific on and we were looking pretty shaggy. A couple of blocks from our hotel is the “Glory Mall” (actual name) a modern western style mall with many western stores and even some western restaurants. We ate lunch at Sizzler, because we were longing for a real steak and baked potato meal. The Sizzler here is the real deal, with salad bar and cheese toast. Although it was one of the more expensive meals we ate in China, I admit I really enjoyed eating at a Sizzler. We also went to “Beard Papa” twice in two days for their great cream puffs. We’ve had Beard Papa Cream Puffs in San Mateo before and we glad to have them in Beijing – delicious.

We went to a hair salon in the mall called “SG Hair and Make”. We had been by the salon the day before, on Sunday, and it was really crowded. When we came back on a Monday afternoon, it was quiet and at first we were the only patrons in the salon. We had a thoroughly enjoyable time, they really gave us terrific service. I think they were a little tickled to have these two middle-aged Americans show up and they appeared to have as much fun as we did. I had the impression that they don’t get many foreign tourists.

Here’s a picture of me with the staff that worked on me – no small challenge – note the ear protector, I’ve never seen one before:

Beijing Opera:

That evening we went to see a performance of the Beijing Opera. This was a modified performance for tourists with a duration of only about an hour and 15 minutes, with English subtitles to make it easier to follow the story line. It was perfect for us, not too long, very colorful and interesting.

We had been advised to get to the theatre to catch the “pre-show”. One of the actors comes on stage and applies his makeup and then is dressed in his costume by a dresser. That was fun to watch.

The show itself was fun, the costumes and makeup were terrific, and the music, singing, dancing and swordplay was great. Here’s a couple of pictures to give you a taste:

Our last day in Beijing, I wanted to see Mao Zedong’s body lying in state. There are restrictions on bringing bags and cameras into Mao’s mausoleum and we didn’t want to hassle with the lockers they have available, so we decided not to bring anything other than our wallets with us for the day. No camera’s, no purses, no iPhones, nothing. So unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures from our last day In Beijing.

Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum: Although somewhat discouraged by Ping, our original Beijing Tour Guide, I for some reason really wanted to enter Chairman Mao Zedong’s mausoleum to see the mummified corpse of the former Chinese communist leader. (I also intend to make a point of seeing Lenin’s body when we get to Moscow. I joked to Holly that we are on the Communist Dictator Tour; if nothing else to make sure that they are still dead. Unfortunately this trip does not take us to Vietnam where we are told Ho Chi Mihn’s body is also on display. This will have to be a future trip.)

Chairman Mao’s mausoleum is a nothing less than a secular temple. Many of the visitors bought bouquets of white chrysanthemums while in line to enter and bowed deeply three times before a statue of Mao in the anteroom of the mausoleum before depositing their bouquet on a very large pile of other identical bouquets left by visitors before them. We then entered the main chamber where Mao lies in state in a crystal coffin with honor guard standing at attention. Mao looks amazingly lifelike, as if he’s just sleeping. There are guards and people in uniform that keep the crowd moving, so the whole experience once we were inside the mausoleum was less than 10 minutes.

It was a busy day in Tiannamen square (even though just the day before there had been an incident in the square with a car driving into a crowd, killing 5 and injuring others before killing themselves with some sort of explosive device in their car). Once we got through the security check point to enter Tiannamen Square (I describe the crowds pushing to get to the checkpoint as a “scrum” – a rugby term, or like a Who concert with festival seating – younger readers may need to Google the Who reference), there was fairly good line of people to enter Mao’s mausoleum, but it moved right along. We were the only westerners we saw in line. Some of the visitors looked like they were from various provinces of China and had on colorful local dress.

Notice to Readers: The following section has been censored by Holly to protect against advanced knowledge of Christmas gifts by family members. No store names or descriptions have been allowed by Holly to protect the innocence (and belief in Santa Claus) of the potential gift recipients.

I had hoped that we would have a chance to visit the Temple of Heaven before we left Beijing. We hopped in a taxi to take us from Tiannamen Square to the Temple of Heaven and when we arrived, Holly first wanted to do some shopping at (shopping center name censored) which is near the east gate of the Temple of Heaven. We went to a store at this shopping center that had been recommended by our Linda our travel agent. Holly had a glorious time. We spent so much time here in successful shopping, that we ran out of time to see the Temple of Heaven. That’s probably just as well, because our “temple fatigue” was still quite high.

After lunch and a bit of “back alley” shopping (described in my Shanghai post), we flagged down another taxi and drove to another part of Beijing to go to a store Holly had read about and had been highly recommended by a fellow passenger on the bullet train from Shanghai.

We had a bit of trouble finding (store name and description censored). Our cab driver was apparently disgusted with traffic and got us on the right street and pointed up the street (which turned out to be correct). We alighted on foot and started asking locals for direction by pointing to the name and address of the store written in Chinese. The locals sent us on a bit of a wild goose chase, though we discovered as we wandered that we were in the Russian Section of Beijing. Signs that we had been accustomed to seeing in Chinese and English, now appeared in Chinese and Russian. Most of the people we met, who spoke something other than Chinese, spoke Russian. And people tried to speak to us in Russian – apparently we look like Russians, or at least not Chinese. We also noticed as we left, that this was also the diplomatic section of Beijing as we drove by a number of foreign embassies and saw embassy kids leaving their school.

On to Ulaanbaatar via The Trans-Mongolian railroad:

The next morning we awoke early to catch the Trans-Mongolian train (K3) to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. We had booked a two-person sleeper and the train was pretty comfortable. The K3 originates in Beijing and travels all the way to Moscow. To travel the first leg from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar takes about 29 hours in total. Our train left at 8:05 in the morning and arrived in Ulaanbaatar about 1:30 p.m. the next day.

The train itself was pretty empty, there were not many passengers. In our car, only one other cabin had a passenger, and they didn’t go all the way to Ulaanbaatar. We met a very nice couple from Australia, Clem and Margaret who we enjoyed sharing meals with in the dining car. We also met a British couple that was doing the true backpack/guide book style of travel and a German couple.

One of the most interesting parts of this trip, was the crossing from China into Mongolia. We arrived at the border crossing about 10 p.m. and there they change the “bogies” (the wheels on the carriages) because the gauge of the track (the distance between the rails) is different in China and Mongolia. To accomplish this, they take the train carriages into nearby sheds, hoist the carriages up with lifts, roll away the Chinese bogie and roll in the Mongolian bogie. Then they lower the carriage down, put the train back together and continue on. The whole process took about 3 hours and we didn’t leave the Mongolian border until after 1:00 a.m. Here’s a picture of the carriage lifted up:

Also, at the border the Chinese dining car was replaced by a Mongolian dining car. We read in the guide books that these dining car concessions are run by families. Here’s a picture of the Chinese dining car followed by the Mongolian dining car, notice the elaborate wood carvings in the Mongolian dining car:

That’s Clem and Margaret from Australia with Holly enjoying breakfast.

Next blog posting will be our adventures in Mongolia. Stay tuned, we had a really great time in Mongolia and I can’t wait to show the pictures and share the stories. For now I’ll leave you with a picture of the K3 – Trans-Mongolian with a little Mongolian scenery.

1 reply

  1. I really enjoy your blog. You two are a great inspiration to Lesley and myself. You two know how to travel. Looking forward to your next blog. Take care, be safe. John Ripper

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