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Confucius says: Wise man uses Mileage Plus!

Beijing, China 1999

Thanks to United Airlines Frequent Flyer Miles, Angie and I were able to fly Business Class to Beijing in October, for free!

That's a pretty good deal.

Once we arrived, we also had 5 free nights at the Sheraton Great Wall Hotel, courtesy of Westin Premier Member Points.

I had been to Beijing once before, on a business trip, but this would be Angie's first visit. There's a lot to see in Beijing, but we had scheduled seven days there, so we had plenty of time.

We visited all the major sightseeing spots:
Tiananmen Square, The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, Beihai Park and the Back Lakes, The Summer Palace, Tiantan Park, Lama Temple, Confucius Temple, Soong Qinling's House, and Prince Gong's Mansion.  

We spent some time at the main shopping areas of Liulichang and Wangfujing. 
I bought some CDs and an Erhu (a traditional Chinese string instrument that, when played correctly, has a hauntingly beautiful tone. When I play it, it's just haunting - similar to trying to make musical tones out of fingernails on a blackboard. But it looks cool.).

We also spent an evening watching Chinese Opera. There are many interesting elements to the Opera and it's great to look at, but it needs to better reflect modern tastes.

Bamboo Shadows on Red Wall

Tiantan - The Temple of Heaven 

Stories are really basic, and jokes are milked waaaay too long for modern audiences.
I've never understood the argument that traditional arts are 'spoiled' or 'Westernized' when they evolve.
Music and film evolve with audiences, why can't Opera or Dance?

The food in Beijing was delicious. Our first night, we had an incredible sweet and sour fish at The Sichuan Restaurant.

Our amazing guide and friend Qu Hong, introduced us to North Eastern Chinese cuisine at a small local restaurant. One dish, a spicy salad with glass noodles, was especially good.

In Beihai Park, we had a meal of imperial cuisine at the famous Fangshan Restaurant. 
After being led down the lakeside corridor, by traditionally garbed beauty with a red silk lantern, we were seated in the main hall. This room had a warm, glowing yellow/gold color scheme that was royal without being tacky.
The dinner consisted of a plate of sweets (the Empress loved sweets), turtle soup, a cold platter (with chicken, spicy beef, pork, celery, and cucumbers), abalone in gravy, deer tendon, shrimp, deep fried fish, buns with pork (Chinese hamburgers, they call it), a vegetable plate, pork pastries, beef spring rolls, more sweets, some fruits, and , finally, candied hawthorn berries.
Did I mention the empress liked sweets?

Anyway, it was a most excellent meal.

Qu Hong at Lama Temple

The Study of Serenity

We also spent quite a bit of time, as usual, doing the little things.

We took a canal cruise from the Summer Palace to Yuyuantan Park in the late afternoon.
We wandered through hutongs, the old style neighborhoods, getting a feel for the local rhythm of life.
Angie stopped and got a lakeside massage by one of the traveling barber/masseuses.
We listened to a short musical performance in Confucius Temple.
We lingered in Tiananmen square and watched the kite flyers, the children, and the police looking for Falun Gong members.

I was surprised by all the improvements in Beijing in the past 18 months. More parks, more trees (46 million new ginko saplings, I read), new buildings, new subways, and a newly opened river taxi service on the canals.

This is a city to watch out for!