The Blue Zoo (BJ Bucket List #3)

In Beijing, we live opposite a soccer stadium. But it’s not only a soccer stadium. It’s a nightclub hotspot. It’s a popular family walking spot. It’s a place to show off your new sports car. It’s a place to watch big pop concerts. It’s a place to open an over-priced jewellery shop.

Oh, and there’s the “longest acrylic tunnel” in Asia, measuring in at  120m! Only in China would you find an giant aquarium under a soccer stadium and nowhere near the ocean.

I’m always a little apprehensive about zoos in China – they don’t have the best reputation. But aside from one section where some turtles and sharks were in a pretty small tank, it was actually pretty impressive! We also went half an hour before closing, so there was no one there! Fabulous!!

IMG_3055a

IMG_3057

IMG_3060

IMG_3063

IMG_3065

IMG_3069

IMG_3074

IMG_3079

IMG_3082

IMG_3083

Advertisements

Baby on the Great Wall (BJ Bucket List #2)

We had a great recommendation from a friend to stay at Great Wall Fresh. We were picked up by Mr. Chen’s lovely son in a very comfy car from line 13 subway and we cruised past the touristy Badaling, and soon found ourselves in a lovely Chinese village called Chenjiapu.

The accommodation was great, and all of the food was fresh from the garden, cooked by Mrs. Chen. Adella enjoyed Chinese mantou for the first time.

We unfortunately stayed on a very foggy day, but we were so glad to have clean fog rather than smog. So, it ended up being quite a mysterious hike along the wall. Because of the fog and having the little one with us, we did their “easy” hike, but it was still a solid three hours, and we kept up quite a pace! The Wall was highly variable, with weather-eroded turrets, and some pieces of complete wall, whilst other bits had completely disappeared.

DSC_1257a

DSC_1263a

DSC_1293a

DSC_1363a

DSC_1368a

DSC_1369a

DSC_1377a

DSC_1380a

We’ve been to a number of parts of the wall in our six years (Sancha, Jiankou, Simatai, Jinshanling, Badaling{bleh}), and I would highly recommend Great Wall Fresh to anyone looking for a Chinese homestay-style Great Wall getaway. If you have any questions, please drop them in the comments below.

Abandoned Amusement Park is no longer

The abandoned Wonderland Amusement Park is no longer… demolished to add another useless shopping mall to this city. Possibly will have had a bigger tourism industry from photography than it will ever have as a mall along a freeway in outer Beijing.

Lucky we got there in time!!

castlesmall

Click here to see our pictures.

And here for the news story on That’s Beijing.

Haw Par Villa

Ok, so we went to Singapore a few months back, but I’ve been holding onto these photos from Haw Par Villa, desperate to find some time to post them. And, I guess, maternity leave is a good time for that!

Haw Par Villa is a weird kind of park, created by the inventors of Tiger Balm. It shows scenes from Ancient Chinese legends and historical stories, as well as downright scary stuff. It’s well-worth a visit, and when we went, entry was free!

The highlight was the ‘Ten Courts of Hell’, depicting all sorts of crazy punishments for particular wrongdoings. On the day that we were there, the main demographic of visitors to the park were parents with young children, casually wandering through the courts of hell quite calmly. While grossed-out interjections popped out of my mouth, the young children didn’t seemed scared at all. Am I just sensitive? Would you take your children through here? I’ll let you decide…

I guess this should have been signs of things to come…

Conmen, robbers or inflictors of physical injury were thrown in the volcanic pit.

Prostitutes were thrown into a pool of blood and drowned.

If you escaped from prison, disrespected your elders or showed ungratefulness, your heart was cut out.

For cheating, cursing or abducting others… knife treatment!

If you misused books, possessed pornographic material, broke written rules and regulations or wasted food, you were sawn in two.

For a lack of filial obedience, causing trouble for parents of family members and cheating during exams, your intestines and organs were pulled out.

For neglecting the old and the young, you were crushed under a boulder.

I guess it might deter your kids from a life of crime, but what would they think of these:

Looking for more pics??? Check them out here at Asia Obscura!

A True Getaway

Happy New Year of the Dragon! Zac and I decided to spend some of our precious holiday time together in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. As usual, we didn’t plan in too much detail, but one place we did pre-book into was Mutiara Beach Guesthouse…. and man, was it worth it!

Sitting at the ferry terminal in Singapore, I have to admit that I was a little hesitant. We were surrounded by ads for resorts, golf courses and spas – not our idea of a quiet holiday. The other tourists on the boat were decked out in their Ralph Lauren polo shirts and designer shoes. Many of them were checking in golf sticks. The TV on the boat boasted packages for  families and spa treatments. It did not look good.

However, the smooth 50-minute ferry trip was followed by a 50-minute taxi ride on Bintan Island, where we were soon out of the ‘resort zone’ and dense greenery, local houses and flashes of crystal blue water whizzed past the window.

We were greeted with smiles and a welcome coconut drink! We were shown to our ‘Pondok Pavillion’, where we would spend the next six nights. The pavillion had a double mattress, covered with a mosquito net, and a simple table of supplies. The shared bathroom was behind the building. It also had an amazing balcony, where we spent most of our days.

 

The hospitality of the guesthouse was incredible. The staff did everything they could to make our stay comfortable. They follow the ‘slow food’ movement, so everything is totally fresh, and if they don’t have it today, you don’t get it. So, no old food or microwaves. Bliss.

The highlight for me was definitely the breakfasts… an amazing combination of crepe, banana, coconut, cinnamon, sugar and lime juice, topped off with a yummy cup of tea (maybe Rooibos tea? or something similar, at least). I will definitely be adding this to the weekend breakfast menu, as a pikelet alternative!

And even though you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, there’s a massage spa built next door along the river. We had a beautiful aromatherapy massage amongst the mangroves.

 

The guesthouse also had lots of activities on offer: sports, snorkelling, hiring of bikes, motorbikes, cars, etc. My pregnant belly, however, urged me to spend my days walking along the beach, taking photographs, swimming and just absorbing the clean air and sunshine. Phew! Life’s tough!

Everyone we met (and there really weren’t many people around – see above pic!) was so welcoming and friendly. Children on the beach waved, men building boats from coconut palms grinned as we wandered past and even the local dogs came and said hi.

I would not hesitate to return when I’m next in need of total relaxation.

Dining in the Dark

For Andy’s surprise birthday party, Michelle organised a surprise dinner. But, it was a surprise dinner with a twist… the dinner was a surprise for everyone! We had no idea what we’d be eating whilst dining in the dark!

Upon entering the foyer, we were met with a bright, strange conconction of drawings that made up a wall mural. There were octopi, flying animals, pirates, princesses, aliens, volcanoes… it made about as much sense as the name of the restaurant: Trojan Fairy.

After we placed all our belongings in a locker, we lined up, hands on each other’s shoulders and shuffled in after the waitress. The first part of restaurant has glow-in-the-dark stickers on the wall – to lead the waitresses I guess. Then, you step through another curtain into darkness. Real darkness. Let’s say blackness. I kept thinking my eyes would adjust. I kept thinking that vague shapes might come into view. But they never do.

We sat around exchanging jokes about taking our pants off and the like. It’s a really weird situation. Especially if you stop to think about what hand movements and facial expressions you use – even when in the dark! We slowly pieced together our surroundings, feeling for the edges of the table, and listening to our neighbours. It is true that your other senses are heightened when one is missing. I was a lot more aware of the chinese being spoken in the background. Other diners’ conversations were so much more prominent, and I found myself having to focus quite intently on the discussion around our table to prevent my mind from wandering around the room.

We’d organised to be there early, so our presence would be an extra surprise. The clever waitresses played Happy Birthday on the piano, so we’d know when he arrived. We tried to sit in silence whilst listening to the birthday boy being brought to the table. I giggled first – I just couldn’t hold it in any longer!

Our waiter came around and explained where our spoon and napkin were. We were brought our drinks – beers, juice and wine. Note to the restaurant: thin-stemmed wine glasses are not easy to find in the dark, and don’t show up on night-vision goggles. Sorry about the tablecloth. We complained a number of times that Cheryl’s juice hadn’t arrived, only to find out during the last course that it had been delivered but she hadn’t found it on the table yet!!!

Our first course was a ‘Russian salad‘. I was concerned that my biggest problem would be making a mess and getting food everywhere, but in fact, it was tricky getting it on the spoon! I served myself a number of spoonfuls of air.

Pumpkin soup was next. Slurping became the new noise around the table, in an attempt to make sure most of it got in our mouths and not down our fronts.

The main course was steak. An odd choice, yes, but they cut it up for us in advance. In theory, this would be hilarious, however, steak in China is generally not great. Without being able to see what we were eating, I occasionally ended up with a tough bit of gristle or fat. I would’ve much preferred a stirfry. Nic and Cheryl ordered the vegetarian mushrooms, which turned out to be just that – a plate of mushrooms!

As our main was taken away, so was our spoon. And we were instructed to eat our cheesecake by hand. In theory, fine, but when you’ve spent the last 3 courses using your hand to help get food on your spoon, it’s not perfect!

Overall, it was the experience that made the evening!! I would imagine it would be incredible if a chef like Heston Blumenthal was in charge of a place like this. He could play around with the textures and flavours so much! It would be crazy to have squishy gooey things that turn out to be delicious, and to play around with savoury and sweet.

Of course, there were costumes to dress up in after dinner!

My only wish is that we could see a video of how the night played out, or at least a photo of the mess we would have left behind on the tablecloth.