The Golden-Marx Family Go To Beijing & Shanghai!!

Hi Everyone,

Welcome back to my Astronomer in Beijing blog! I hope you’re all doing well and enjoying either the start to summer, the end of the school year, or some combination of the two. For all of the fathers reading this, including my own Dad, I hope you’re having a Happy Father’s Day! Here in Beijing, we just had Dragon Boat Festival, so I was able to check out some races, even as I pack up and get ready to move to Italy this coming Saturday. As the title of this post goes, this will be a bit of a different blog post since it will focus on my family’s visit (and definitely a long one – we did a lot of sightseeing). However, I will talk about what I was up to in my last month in China in next month’s post (in case any of you are wondering, this will be the last post I write in Beijing, but I do plan to have at least two more posts about my time in China). I’ll start by saying that it was an amazing trip and so wonderful to see my family. Jesse and my parents arrived on Wednesday, May 22 and were here until Monday, June 3. We saw so many sights in Beijing & Shanghai and I can’t wait to tell you about it (also, for structural purposes, I’ll include food photos on each day since we went out to eat for most meals since my apartment isn’t really big enough for all of us to eat in)! Also, a big thank you for the photos from Jesse, my Mom, and my Dad. While most of these photos are mine, not all of them are, so thank you!

May 22 – My Family Arrives and We Visit the Lama Temple!

On Wednesday around noon, my parents and Jesse finally made it to my hutong apartment (because Jesse was with them and I live over an hour from the Airport, it was easier to have them meet me at my apartment)! Although their cab driver got a bit lost in the maze of my hutong, it was so wonderful to be surrounded by family! Goldie was also very excited to meet new people! While she spent most of the first afternoon burrowed under the covers, my Mom was able to snuggle with her and Goldie seemed to really like her! They also got to meet some of my local hutong cats & dogs, too! After getting everyone popsicles to cool off (Beijing has been in a heat wave, so it’s been really warm), I wanted to make sure that we did something fun during the day, but also make sure that everyone didn’t just pass out from jet lag since we had a very packed schedule in Beijing! So we ventured out into the hutongs on the way to lunch and then the Lama Temple!

Since everyone was really hungry, we went to have a delicious lunch at Yebozai, a vegetarian restaurant near the Lama Temple (aka Yonghegong). Since the restaurant is only approximately 30 minutes from my apartment, my parents got to see a bit of Beijing’s famous hutong apartments and get a taste of Beijing! Because we had a late lunch, the menu was limited at Yebozai, but that didn’t prevent the meal from being amazing! We got kaofu (traditional spongy seitan – one of the dishes my Mom really wanted to try), an assortment of Chinese mushrooms (which reminded my Mom of mushrooms on toast), crispy tofu skin rolls, vegetable baozi (another dish my Mom really wanted to try), and traditional sour plum soup (a juice drink). It was all quite tasty and certainly set the stage for some amazing meals in Beijing!

After lunch, we made our way to the Lama Temple (Yonghegong). I’ve visited the Lama Temple twice before (once with Richard and Tom and once with Jesse), so I won’t go into too much detail now, but for those of you who don’t remember, the Lama Temple is one of the few active Tibetan Buddhist temples in Beijing. The grounds date back to the late 1600s when they were built as an imperial residence, before becoming the home of the Yongzhen Emperor (before he was the Emperor). As such, the buildings are built in the imperial style similar to the Forbidden City. However, one of the cool things about this visit is that we saw a number of monks and even could hear and peak in on their prayer activities! Usually when I’ve visited temples, I’ve seen many people praying and lighting incense, but it was also really cool to hear the monks do their chanting! Of all of the places we visited in Beijing, the Lama Temple is one of the smaller ones, but it’s also full of some amazing architecture and beautiful Buddha statues (note, because people are actively praying, I don’t take photos of the Buddha statues). The highlight is the amazing 18m tall wooden Buddha, which was apparently carved from a single piece of Sandalwood and brought from Tibet to Beijing in the 1700s!

After seeing the Lama Temple, we did some window shopping in Wudaying Hutong (including going into the super cute cat store) and then I was finally able to take my parents to their lovely hutong hotel (though it was a bit of a maze to find it)! I’m really glad they could stay in a hutong to get a bit more of an authentic Beijing experience! While modern hotels are nice, they’ll likely only be in Beijing once, so it was great to have them see a traditional courtyard (and even get to meet some hutong cats)!

After a short rest, we made our way to Ori Sake, a Sichuan-style vegetarian restaurant for another great meal! Ori is a bit more modern (it definitely has a bit of a hipster vibe) and the food is delicious! We got Yuzu soda, yuba (tofu skins) with Sichuan pickles, fried tofu with chili oil, tofu skewers, spring mushrooms, fried mantou (a Chinese bread), spicy peanut noodles (a big hit, their noodles are amazing), grilled zucchini, crispy veggie balls, and Sichuan jiaozi (dumplings, another dish my Mom really wanted to try)! It was definitely a great meal!

To cap off the evening, we went to Shichahai to see the dragon lit up at night! And we got the delicious sugar covered strawberries (which were on the top of my Mom’s list)! The dragon is still breathtaking when it’s lit up and it’s so fun to walk around the lakes and enjoy a sugary strawberry! My Mom even got to join in some dancing! It capped off a long, but totally fun day with my family and a great start to our time in Beijing!

In lieu of my traditional “Animals of Beijing section (that’ll be abbreviated), we did see a number of street cats and dogs around Beijing, so I’ll highlight what we saw each day!

May 23 – A Visit The Forbidden City and Jingshan Park!

After a quick breakfast at my apartment (and more snuggles with Goldie – she definitely got used to my parents pretty quickly and immediately wanted to be the center of attention), we headed off to the Forbidden City! Unlike all of the other destinations, where I bought tickets in advance, but could have bought them day of, the Forbidden City is one of the few places were you NEED to buy them ahead of time and really, you have to buy them when they go on sale at 8pm one week before. Thankfully I had no issues getting tickets! Although we didn’t want to deal with the lines at Tian’anmen Square, I did make sure to point it out to my parents, too. I think we were all pretty excited to see the Forbidden City!

Although this is the third time I’ve visited the Forbidden City, it is also the first time I’ve gone during the summer, so you can see the river that runs through the city was actually running! (it’s iced over in the winter). Every time I go, I’m blown away by the sheer scale of the city! The Palace was completed in 1421 (almost all of the imperial sites – The Forbidden City, The Temple of Heaven, and a few others are dated to 1421 when the capital was officially moved to Beijing) and stands as a triumph of man over nature. The doors are massive! The stairways are ornate! And everything is full of decoration! Although I usually follow the standard route of perusing through the Forbidden City from South-to-North, we did visit one of the side gardens in the front of the palace, which was quite nice! Outside of the ornate, you can also see some aspects of Ancient Imperial Chinese Life, including sun dials & water collecting jars.

One of the coolest exhibits that my Mom (rightfully so) insisted we visit was the Gallery of Timepieces. While much of what we see of the Forbidden City is ancient, it did house the Emperor until the early 1900s. As such, many imperial jewels, relics, and gifts are housed in the Forbidden City. This was a unique exhibit as it represented clocks given as gifts to the Chinese Emperor from the French, British, Americans, and other European Countries. They also had some Chinese clocks, too. Everything was insanely ornate and definitely looked like something I’d expect to see in Versailles instead of at the Forbidden City! My favorite is the orrery/Astronomy clock!

After that, we continued on throughout the Forbidden City and got to see a number of different Imperial Thrones, as well as getting to see into one of the Empress’s quarters. While most of the rooms are closed, it is cool to see inside and get a feel of what the layout must have been. I will say that while the front of the Forbidden City has large, open expanses for all of the tourists, it was really apparent just how crowded it was in the Northern half of the Forbidden City! While that didn’t impact our enjoyment there were just SO MANY PEOPLE!

However, one of the major highlights is the rock gardens at the end of the Forbidden City! While it was a bit weird to see the trees in those gardens alive and sporting leaves (everything is a bit more desolate in the winter months), the beauty of the rock faces is amazing! All of the stone work is a true contrast to the perfection and opulence of the palaces at the Forbidden City!

After the Forbidden City, we crossed the street and entered Jingshan Park. Originally part of the Forbidden City complex, Jingshan Park is part of the former Imperial Gardens and now home to its own park. As it was quite hot (90+ degrees), we used this as a chance to get some cold water & ice cream. After a rest, we explored the park and were really impressed! While the Forbidden City is amazing, Jingshan Park is home to multiple 17th/18th Century Palaces (built after the Forbidden City) and there were NO crowds. Everything is built in the Imperial style, so it was really cool to see after seeing the Forbidden City.

Additionally Jingshan Park is home to the highest point in Beijing (a manmade hill/mountain – Jingshan – meaning prospect hill), which was constructed with the leftover land from creating the Shichahai lakes and the Forbidden City moat! The hill is home to some beautiful temples/buildings (as well as lots of pretty flowers), and even a few cats (we saw a lot of cats in Beijing and Shanghai – we started carrying cat treats around to feed all of the cats)! From Jingshan Park, you can see all the way to the Drum Tower where I live! While the highlight of the Day was definitely the Forbidden City, I’m so glad we got to see this, too!

We capped off the day with a lovely meal at Fuhui Ciyuan, my favorite Buddhist Vegetarian restaurant here in Beijing, and my friend Richard joined us! It was so nice to introduce him to Jesse in person (he’d been out of town when Jesse had visited previously) and my parents. We got to hear a bit about Richard’s then-upcoming wedding (more on that below) and share a delicious meal! We got lotus tea, a fruit platter, orange juice, eggplant & green beans, spinach & toon “pie”, stir fried bamboo, fried eggplant, stir fried tofu skins, fried mushrooms (one of my favorite bites in Beijing), mustard mushrooms, & tofu with a spicy relish! It was a delicious meal!

We capped off the night by walking around Wangfujing, one of the fancier and VERY modern/Western areas of the city and seeing all of the large neon lights and fun signs! It was a bit of a precursor to what we saw in Shanghai the next week!

May 24 – A Visit to Tsinghua, Jesse Gives a Lunch Talk, 798, and Shabbat!

After an amazing day at the Forbidden City and Jingshan Park, the plan was that Friday would be a bit more of a relaxing day (we still ended up walking a ton). We had a bit of an earlier start as I wanted to be able to show my parents around Tsinghua before Jesse’s lunch talk (though my Mom did enjoy playing with Goldie in the morning – she really liked her new cat toy!) And we saw some other street cats!

It was really nice to show my parents Tsinghua’s campus! Although almost all of my time has been spent in the Weiqing Building and MongManWai Building, I have really enjoyed walking through the campus and being at Tsinghua! They were both really taken by the campus, especially the traditional parts with the lakes! However, a highlight was that there were hundreds of high schoolers visiting campus who seemed to get a real kick out of saying “Hi” to us. While it can be a bit tiresome at times, it’s always nice to see people being friendly with foreigners. We even had a few people ask to take pictures with us! For those of you wondering, we also had a few people ask to take photos with us at the Forbidden City and at other sites in Beijing and Shanghai (I think we got up to 13 or 14 people).

After showing my parents the campus, Jesse went to meet with his former grad school classmate Hui Li (Hui is a professor at Tsinghua) and I took my parents to the Tsinghua Art Museum. You may remember that I went to an excellent exhibit on the Arts & Crafts Movement on my Birthday and my Mom was very excited to see it! After making sure they could get in, I met up with Jesse and Hui before Jesse’s lunch talk. Jesse did a great job highlighting his recent work with the Euclid Space Observatory, a European Space Agency led survey telescope that will be instrumental for studying early universe galaxy clusters. Jesse had a great attendance (~ 15-20 people) and got tons of questions! I’m glad that his talk was a success!

After Jesse’s talk, we made our way off campus to 798, the Beijing art district! I’ve been to 798 a lot of times (the giant mecha panda near the Wangjing South subway station is always a highlight), but it was cool to show my parents around. I think they were taken aback a bit at how different it is from basically everything else they’d seen at this point. It really is quite a unique venue in Beijing! We wandered through 798 seeing tons of street art and did a lot of shopping, too! We also had a nice small lunch (I made PB&J sandwiches) and my Dad got to try his first Chinese iced lemon tea (I think he was a fan)! We also saw a very cute cat with kittens!

The highlight for me was going to the HIVE art gallery and seeing the two new exhibits! As I mentioned before, my friend Sarah from Kehillat Beijing works there, so checking out their exhibits has been on my radar. They had two really distinct shows. One, an almost impressionistic display of modern Chinese art inspired by traditional Chinese lacquerware. It was really cool how the farther you got from the pieces, the more the image appeared! The second exhibit featured very different art and included some western and religious motifs, as well as a bit of science! I’m really glad my parents got to see such a cool exhibit!

We concluded the evening with a wonderful Kehillat Beijing Shabbat at Roberta & Ted’s home! It was so wonderful to finally introduce my parents to Roberta & Ted (they had a long conversation with them at dinner and really enjoyed meeting them) and have them meet some of my friends here including Mich, Kevin, and Sam. I co-led the service with Sam & Kevin and everyone had a great time. And, because Ted has a guitar, my Dad was able to accompany us and join in on a few different songs! In honor of Bob Dylan, it was Robert Zimmerman Shabbat, so Ted went all out with the food puns (my Dad really enjoyed that, the food was equally delicious, too!). And my Mom loved Roberta’s Challah and was also super excited to eat bread! As always, Roberta & Ted do so much to foster and strengthen this community and I’m so happy that my parents (and Jesse, but he’ been there before) could take part in another amazing Kehillat Beijing Shabbat and better understand the community that has been my home for nearly 3 years!

May 25 – A Rainy Day at the Temple of Heaven and a Visit to the Drum and Bell Towers!

Heading into Saturday, we knew that we were going to be going to the Temple of Heaven, but we also knew that there was a very high chance of rain. Unfortunately, the rain did win out, so we had a rainy day Saturday. However, this didn’t prevent us from enjoying, albeit a bit wet, the Temple of Heaven! In case you’re wondering, this is not a Buddhist temple, but rather an ancient Chinese Temple where the Emperor would pray for a good harvest. We started our trip to the Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) visiting a few of the different smaller side buildings and gardens (the weather wasn’t terrible when we arrived). I’d seen some of these when I went with Richard two years ago, but definitely hadn’t seen them all. Some of the highlights were that one housed some of the original wood pillars (many of the buildings – like most Chinese historical sites – have been restored). As the rain came down, we walked under a nice covered walkway and stopped by two museum exhibits filled with different antiques from Ancient China. This included tons of small, ornate statues, vases, and potentially musical instruments! It was amazing just how ornate everything was!

After that, we made our way to the Hall for the Prayer of Good Harvests, the main (and largest) temple at the Temple of Heaven. Although (as you can see from the photos), the rain was coming down, it doesn’t make the magnitude and scale of the Temple any less breathtaking. One of the cool things is that you can get really close to the interior of the temple. While the light didn’t make it easy to see in, with the right camera setting, you can see the inside! You can see that the circular temple is constructed using square crossbeams. This was done for symbolism as Heaven is represented by a circle and the Earth a square, highlighting the connection between the two. We then waited for the rain to lighten up a bit before venturing out to the remaining two temples at the Temple of Heaven.

One of the cool things about the Temple of Heaven is that all three main temples are elevated above the grounds, so you can imagine the Emperor looking down on the gardens as he walked from temple to temple. The next temple we visited is the Imperial Vault of Heaven. While the rain prevented us from experiencing the iconic echoing, we all were again impressed with the architecture. Lastly, we wrapped up our rainy day tour with the Circular Mound Altar, which is where the Emperor would actually pray for a good harvest (you can see my Mom spinning around here). Although it is difficult to capture, but the number 9 appears throughout the altar, as a representation of the 9 layers of Heaven, as well as Chinese dragons and the Emperor.

Following our tour of the Temple of Heaven, we went to a delicious meal at Gongdelin, a vegetarian restaurant that is actually part of the same restaurant chain as Godly, one of Jesse’s favorite restaurants in Shanghai. We got a poached pear juice (really more of a dessert), kaofu, sauteed mushrooms (everyone really liked this, but we had to make sure to remind my Mom & Dad that the peppers here are generally not bell peppers, but chilis), vegetable baozi, sauted eggplant, Sichuan green chili vegetarian mock fish, and Beijing style crispy vegetarian duck (this was a big hit as my Mom loved getting to make little pancakes – akin to Peking duck, and we all loved the crispy tofu skins)! It was another great meal and also a great way to dry off!

After lunch, we changed our plans a bit. Originally, we were going to go to Behai Park, but since it was still raining, we decided to visit the Drum Tower (Gulou) and Bell Tower (Zhonglou) as they are covered and we wouldn’t get too soaked! But first, we stopped by my apartment to say hi to Goldie! She definitely really liked being the center of attention and seeing all of us and my Mom really bonded with her!

Visiting the Drum Tower was definitely the right call as it did not disappoint! Since Jesse had been here before, he wasn’t surprised, but my parents were shocked by how steep the steps to the top of the tower are and that they just go straight up! However, once we made it to the top, we were treated to an excellent drumming performance as well as amazing views of the city! From an Astronomy perspective, the Drum Tower is also super cool as it features a number of different traditional Chinese time pieces, as well as a cool mini museum on the history of the Drum Tower. Additionally, I finally got to see their interior light show! While it was all in Mandarin, it did look really cool!

We then made our way across the square to the Bell Tower! Although the Bell Tower isn’t active and to my knowledge they don’t ring the bell, it does have a grandeur to it! It definitely doesn’t disappoint and is such a cool historical artifact, especially as Beijing’s Bell Tower is home to the largest cast iron bell in China!

After a brief respite, we made our way to Bestease (also called Bai Yishushi Lanzhou Su Stretched Noodles), a delicious vegetarian restaurant and noodle house. Of course, we had to get some noodles (we got a traditional noodle soup with seitan and some greens) ! But we also got mushroom & seitan skewers, stir fried potato shreds, fried cumin mushrooms (another amazing bite), sizzling tofu (this was also when my Mom realized that almost all of the tofu in China is softer tofu. Generally people don’t press/use extra firm tofu here), apricot tea, and pear soup (again, like it’s plum cousin, this is juice). It was another delicious meal!

Also, here are some cool pictures of my parent’s hotel, some of my neighborhood hutong cats, and other fun things! My favorite is that there is a “pop-up” Pop Mart store in the square between the Drum Tower and Bell Tower and that it is located exactly where I used to get COVID tests. COVID test stations get to grow up to be Pop Marts!

May 26 – A Visit to the Summer Palace and Beihai Park!

While it may have been rainy on Saturday, Sunday was a perfect day (ok, maybe it was a bit too hot). After stopping over for some breakfast and to spend time with Goldie, we headed off to the Summer Palace (Yiheyuan). The Summer Palace is where the Emperors, starting in the Qing dynasty, would summer as it was closer to water and mountains, allowing them to escape some of the brutal heat of Beijing in the summer. One of my favorite things about the Summer Palace is the entrance! You cross a river (so you get a bit of a water town vibe) and get to see the amazing palace right from the start as you climb the steps to the top of the hill! This allowed us to walk right up to some of the cool statues/carvings on the roofing of the buildings and we were able to peer into the insides of some of the temples and see some Buddhas (note, these are not active temple sights).

While the Palace is the first thing you see, much of the grounds are dominated by Kunming Lake, a giant manmade reservoir constructed by Guo Shuojing (noted Chinese Astronomer and waterway expert) as a way to maintain a stable water supply for the palace. But while the Lake is ever present, the gardens are also intricately designed with more beautiful architecture, as well as a number of large rock statues (much like in the gardens of the Forbidden City). Also, as it is still an Imperial site, there are tons of dragon motifs all throughout the Palace!

One of the coolest parts of Kunming Lake are the small manmade islands and the intricate stone bridges built to connect them to land. As these bridges needed to allow boats to pass under them, some are quite arching, to get high very quickly! The longest bridge was full of small stone lions and allowed us to walk and explore the island. It’s really easy to imagine how serene a palace this must have been, especially as the grounds were not open to the public. While we weren’t able to see the entirety of the grounds (it was getting late, we were hungry, and still wanted to go to Beihai Park), what we saw of the Summer Palace was fantastic and we all really enjoyed it!

After going to the Summer Palace, we made our way to Wutai Yun, a neighborhood Buddhist vegetarian restaurant and hotpot (it was too hot for hotpot) for a delicious meal. We got Kung Pao “chik’n”, Sichuan style sword beans (the first of many, and one of my Mother’s favorite dishes – she was super excited to try these), sauteed potato shreds, crispy fried mushrooms (there were so many amazing mushroom dishes), a sauteed cauliflower! We also had a delicious (though not pictured) barley tea. Everyone at the restaurant was super warm and welcoming (it’s a bit removed from the more touristy areas, so I don’t think they get as many foreigners as some of the others) and they also have a great little vegan shop (we got some delicious rice snacks and I got some chili oil and sesame paste to take with me to Italy).

After lunch, we made our way to Beihai Park! Like Jingshan Park, Beihai Park was part of the Imperial Gardens and is thus styled in the same manner as the Forbidden City. It actually created a really nice parallel as both Beihai Park and the Summer Palace are dominated by large lakes! We started our time off with some ice cream before visiting the White Pagoda! As you can see from a lot of the photos of the lake, the Pagoda dominates the skyline in Beihai Park! We trekked up to the top, before making our way down through the temple portion, letting us see even more Buddhist temples and statues! It’s really amazing how all of this is right in the center of the city!

After the Pagoda, we enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the rest of the park. We got to see some more imperial style palaces and lots of pretty gardens. As we were all getting a bit tired, I wanted to make sure we all saw one of my favorite parts of the park, the Nine dragon scroll! Although they call it a scroll, it’s really a giant wall of a statue and one of the most amazing things I’ve seen here! Everyone was really amazed by the detail in the dragons and how they are carved into the stone in 3D, so it is not a painting! It was definitely a highlight!

After a rest and some sugar covered strawberries, we all got together for dinner. As I had a hunch my Mom was missing western food a bit, we went to Toast by the Orchid, an Israeli restaurant right by the Drum Tower. We had a delicious meal and my Mom was super excited to eat bread! We got passion fruit soda, quinoa tabouleh, roasted eggplant hummus, muhammara, pita bread, falafel, roasted cauliflower, and another roasted eggplant dish! It was a delicious meal and a really nice change of pace. Although I love Chinese food, sometimes it is nice to try something different! And afterward, my parents got to pop into a Chinese grocery store to see all of the different fruits and vegetables.

During our downtime, we also got to spend some time hanging out with Goldie!!

We also walked by the Shichahai dragon again, saw some more hutong cats, and saw some other fun things!

May 27 – Exploring the Mutianyu Great Wall and Walking around Shichahai!

Going into Monday, I think we were all collectively the most excited! We were heading to the Great Wall of China! Specifically, the Mutianyu Great Wall! This is the nearest restored section of the Great Wall to central Beijing in the Beijing district of Huairou. To get to the Great Wall, I reserved a taxi for us so that we would leave at 8:30am and arrive around 10am (and then leave for Central Beijing at 3pm). This gave us ample time at the Wall, but also plenty of time to explore Shichahai later. While the drive out to the Wall was pretty dry, it was so exciting once we got to the Wall Site. Unlike previous times I’ve been to wild portions of the Wall, we had to take a bus from the tourist center to the Wall site (which, given how much walking we did on the wall, was greatly appreciated). Once we got to the Wall, it all becomes pretty amazing. While I had thought I booked us tickets for the ski lift (which has a slide down, shucks!), I actually booked us tickets for the gondola – My Dad was definitely relieved as heights are not his favorite.

After scanning our passports multiple times (all our tickets were linked to passports), we made our way to the Wall! And it was amazing! While it was far more crowded than when I previously went, since we got there early in the day, we got to hike from tower 14 to tower 21 of Mutianyu (and back!). In case you’re wondering, the portion of the Wall we were on has steps, so when you see the crazy steep slope, don’t think we were somehow walking sideways! I’m so impressed that we all could do it! While it was definitely a bit exhausting, it was really amazing to climb through different towers and peak out and see the landscape. And when we got to the top of Tower 21, wow, just wow! It was incredible! As you can see from the photos, the Wall hugs the mountains, so we were really at the whims of nature.