Beijing’s Worst Tourist Traps

One of my favorite travel writing websites is called the Matador Network.  Last week one of their writers put up a post on what he considered the world's worst tourist traps.Beijing's Forbidden City made his list.  That got me thinking about what I would include in a list of Beijing's worst tourist traps — my least favorite places in town.

Here it is (in no particular order):

1.  The Silk Market.  This place is so bad that I have a personal rule that I will never go here.  It's just guaranteed to make me crabby.  The worst character traits of Chinese and the worst character traits of foreigners come out in spades inside this place.  The vendors have such serious 'issues' with rudeness that there's a giant sign in the entryway listing all of the abusive phrases they're not allowed to use.  Check out Yaxiu near Sanlitun.  The vendors are much mellower.

2.  Quan Ju De Peking Duck Restaurant.  Yes, I know that this is Beijing's oldest and most famous duck restaurant, but that doesn't make it the best.  It's a giant state-run operation where you can still experience the bad old days of 'surly socialism.' And it's way over-priced.  For better and cheaper Beijing Duck, try Tian Wai Tian or Da Ya Li.

3.  The Ming Tombs.  They may have been grand in their day, when the emperors were actually entombed inside, but today they are just giant empty underground vaults.  The interesting tombs to see are the Eastern Qing Tombs, about 3 hours east of the city.  You can see the tombs of Emperor Qianlong and the Empress Dowager Cixi.  Without the crowds.

4.  Badaling Great Wall.  Avoid this place unless you love to hike with throngs of people.  It's the favorite Wall destination of the Chinese masses (because The Chairman went there and made a statement) and tour companies.  I will make a caveat, though.  The new express train that runs up there from the North Station at Xizhimen is a great ride. I like to take it up to hang out at the Starbucks for an afternoon. 

A Tribute to My Father

Eight years ago today, my father died.  Below are the words that I spoke in farewell and
tribute to my dad at his memorial service on January 25, 2001, in
Roseville, Minnesota.  Speaking them before 600 people was one of the
hardest things I’ve ever done.  The first part of this tribute was
written at 30,000 feet above the North Pacific Ocean.

The call you dread and fear and never expect comes.  It’s mom. 
“Joann, your father died this morning.  Please come home as soon as you
can.  I need you.”  Like an arrow out of no-where, somewhere, it hits
first the head, then the heart, and slowly the pain sinks into your
bones.  One day you’re relaxing on the beach, washing off the stress of
a difficult term, and 24 hours later you’re wandering in a daze around
international airports—Phuket, Bangkok, Narita—all jammed with people,
and yet feeling so incredibly alone.  The words keep shouting in your
soul.  “Joann, your father has died,” slamming against your bones and
your organs and your skin like a bullet ricocheting around a steel
cavern.  You try to drive them away with polite conversation, with
reading, with hymn-singing, hoping against hope that driving the words
away will drive the reality away as well. 

But then the words and reality force their way back and the pain
starts again.  “Joann, your precious father stepped into glory this
morning.”  “Joann, your wonderful father went home to be with his
Savior.”  With every fiber of my being I believe these words, but don’t
want to believe them at the same time.  He was a precious father, but
now he is lost in wonder, love and grace in the presence of Jesus. 

Yet here at 30,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, I feel just plain
lost.  Lost in sadness.  Lost in pain.  I know he’s with his Savior,
but I want him here with us.  How will I get through the next ten hours
on this plane? How will I bear to see my mom and sister and her family
at the end of this long journey?  One hour at a time, one grace at a
time.  “He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater; He giveth
more strength as the labors increase.  To added affliction, He addeth
more more mercy; to multiplied sorrows, He multiplies peace.”  Then it
hits me.  Despite the pain, I too am lost in love and grace. 
Sustaining grace.  “Not grace to bar what is not bliss, nor flight from
all distress, but this—the grace that orders our trouble and pain, and
then in the darkness is there to sustain.”(John Piper)  Will the
sadness and the tears and the pain ever go away?  Probably not.  But
then again, neither will the grace.

So, my beloved dad is gone.  What to say?  The words that scream
loudest from my soul are simply, “please com back.”  There are too many
words and no words.  But following are a few—just a few of the
special things I remember about my dad.

He had a sense of humor.  He loved to laugh and make others laugh, and he was never in danger of taking himself too seriously.

He was a servant.  He would do anything for anybody anytime
anyplace, from bringing coffee to my waking mom every morning to fixing
church roofs to shoveling neighbor’s driveways.

He was humble.  In a stuffy academic world, he was just himself. He
was generous.  If there was a financial need, he gave. His giving to us
seemed limitless and it gave him great joy.

He was compassionate.  His heart was tender and easily broken by the
pain and suffering in the world.  Last month in Beijing, we visited a
clothing market that the government was ready to close down.  The
peddlers were selling their goods at rock-bottom prices.  In a crowd
frenzied over the best bargain, he kept asking, “what will happen to
these poor people?”

He loved Jesus.  Quietly and simply, he ordered his life grounded in that love.

He was a wonderful father and I miss him so very much. 

Perhaps the greatest tribute I can give will be when I come to the
end of my days and people say of me, simply, “she was just like her

Goodbye Dad.  I love you and miss you more than words can express.      


Beijing or Peking?

Many who visit the Middle Kingdom for the first time
(particularly those who remember the ‘old days’ when the city was known in the
West as Peking) want to know when the name of the city changed from Peking to
Beijing.  The easy answer is that it
changed in the 1970’s by order of the Chinese government.

The more complicated (and accurate) response is that in
Chinese it didn't really change.  Before the
1970’s the name of the city in characters was 北京, and
those characters are still the name of the city today.  What changed in the 1970’s was the
official pronunciation of those two characters.

The character means ‘north’ or ‘northern.’  The character means
capital, so the two characters together mean ‘northern capital.’ The problem
lies in the pronunciation of those two characters.  In the dialect of northern China (around
Beijing) they are pronounced bei and jing. 
In Cantonese (the dialect of Guangdong Province and Hong Kong) they are
pronounced pe and king.  Since written
Chinese is ideographic, two people who speak different dialects can look at one
character and both will know what means, even though they would pronounce them differently.  This is the case with

The name of the city first came into western languages via
contact with Chinese in the south, who pronounced the characters as pe
;   therefore we got Peking. In the 1970’s
the government said that henceforth they wanted the city to be known in English by the
northern pronunciation of the characters. 
That’s what gave us Beijing.

Government edict notwithstanding, the name Peking can
still be found in use.  On its English
documents Beijing University still uses “Peking University.”  When you fly to Beijing, your luggage tag will have the letters PEK,
which is still the airline code for the city. 
Then there’s the question of the city’s beloved roast duck. Is it Peking Duck or Beijing Duck?  There are strong opinions on this matter, and I won't wade into that controversy.

The city has not always been named Beijing (northern
capital), but in fact has held multiple names over multiple dynasties.  During the Republican Era (1911-1949) the
name of the city was Beiping (北平), which means ‘northern peace.’
The reason for this was that after the revolution which overthrew the Qing Dynasty, the Nationalists moved
the nation’s capital to Nanjing (南京). 
That name means ‘southern capital.’ With Beijing no longer serving as
the capital they took out the and replaced it with 平. 
During the Yuan Dynasty (presided over by the Mongols in the late 1200's), the city’s name
was Dadu (大都) which means ‘great city’ or ‘great metropolis’ or
‘great capital.’

And that's a fun connection to my past.  When I was born in Pakistan, lo these many many years ago, my parents were living in a city called….Dadu! 

So I guess it's fitting that Beijing is my adopted home town.

An Encouraging Perspective

Tonight I was chatting with some friends I hadn't seen yet since I've been in MN, and they were asking how my knee rehab is coming along.  While at  times I find myself wishing the progress were faster and more pronounced, tonight as I was talking to them, I realized that it was only three weeks ago today that I was still using two crutches and was being pushed through three airports in a wheelchair.

That was an encouraging perspective.

Beijing’s Winter Wonderland

Last weekend Beijing decided it that it wanted to pretend to be Minnesota for awhile.  Six to twelve inches of snow fell (the most in 50 years) and the temps plummeted to 0 (f), which may have been an all-time record low. In the 12 years that I've lived in Beijing I don't think 12 inches total have fallen, and I never remember the temps going  below about 10.

I must admit to being glad that I'm not in Beijing for all the frigid weather.  I'm not suggesting that it's warmer here in Minnesota (we'll have minus 30 windchill tonight), but I do know that cold and snow is easier to handle here.

I'm guessing that the folks that decided to turn the Bird's Nest into a winter wonderland this year are smiling.  I wrote about this earlier, and now want to direct you to some great photos on the BBC News website.