Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Peking Duck and Beijing by Night

After sleeping fast in Hong Kong, we boarded our Dragon Air flight to Beijing with much excitement. Upon our arrival, we decided to be very traditional for our first night's dinner. Just a block from our hotel we found a great restaurant and set out to have a true feast.

The food arrived looking like works of art. We enjoyed a beef dish and asparagus and even tried sea urchin - a delicacy suggested by Elin as a must try. Our waitress was very sweet and very patient and spent a lot of time making suggestions and showing us the proper way to serve the various dishes. By the end of the week we had decided that a must have skill for visiting China is a working knowledge of chopsticks. Beginning with this meal, we did not see a fork again till our arrival back in Hong Kong.

Of course the highlight of the evening was our Peking Duck. For those of you who are fans of the movie "A Christmas Story," it arrives just the same way. There is absolutely no waste when it comes to duck. The skin is very crispy and it is removed, sliced and served with sugar for dipping. The meat is sliced and served, the remaining meat is prepared into a dish much like any chinese meal and the bones are then cooked into a soup. The food just kept on coming! Plates full of additions are brought to the table along with very thin pancakes and our waitress showed us various combinations to try different flavors.

Before starting our meal...

...and after.

Following dinner we decided to take a walk along WongFuJin. This is a very nice shopping area that ran between our hotel and the Steelcase Beijing office. Most of the area is newer stores and large upscale malls. However, mixed in with all of the new are some old and beautiful sights.

This gate marks the entrance to a Catholic Cathedral. I think that Beijing is one of the few areas where there are various churches and I do not know what the rules and restrictions are for them. 

Walking farther down WongFuJin there are bronze sculptures along the walkway including this rickshaw that you can climb into for a fun photo. I think I forgot to mention that most of this area is a pedestrian mall. That means no cars are allowed, but don't confuse that with no cars being there. Traffic in Beijing makes US big city traffic look light. The city is so huge and there are so many cars and motorbikes. No one pays attention to right-of-way or blending. Driving is an art which relies on the ability to fit a large van into a small space and push the other cars out of the way without hitting them. It is not for the faint of heart. Westerners are not permitted to drive in mainland China and I cannot imagine anyone actually wanting to. Crossing the street on foot is also an adventure. Traffic lights are merely a suggestion and if a bus is anywhere in sight, stay on the curb because they do not stop for anything. As soon as you think you are good to go, a bicycle or motorbike is likely to mow you down from behind. Scary but we managed to survive.

The area is lit up like Times Square with lots of ads and big screens. Yet tucked in between these large modern structures we found a small market that gave us all pause. You entered through a beautiful gate and the entire market was lit by lanterns and tiny lights. As in most markets in China, you can buy knock-offs of almost anything along with lots of local foods. But the one that gave us all the shivers was the stall that sold...

...bugs! The really creepy thing is that when you look closely you can see that the bugs are still alive and moving. Ugh! We think that once you pick your stick they are deep fried. But none of us was going to test that theory personally. I will tell you that I have yet to meet a Chinese person who eats these delicacies. I am sure there are many who do since there were several stalls like this, but most of the folks we met were as squeamish as we.

As the shops began to close down, we headed back to our hotel to get some rest. Ken and May Lene had training to do the next day. And Elin and I were going to find our own adventure!

Last Night in KL

Our final night in KL was a very special one. We were invited to the Steelcase Global Shared Services Annual Dinner. The theme for the evening was "Hollywood Glam" and that is exactly what we saw. Everyone was dressed in their very best and posing for the cameras.

As you can see, this is a very young workforce. The average age of the employees is 26. This evening is set aside each year to honor the work they have done and celebrate the "long time" workers who this year celebrated 10 years.

The event was held at a hotel which ladded to the glam theme for the evening. About 250 were in attendance including one young woman who was married that morning and left her new hubby for a few hours to celebrate with her fellow employees. By the evenings end she was named Ms. Steelcase and along with Mr. Steelcase celebrated her second new title of the day.

There was a full program of entertainment including singing, dancing and very charming emcees. What is truly impressive is the fact that all of the entertainers are Steelcase employees. The acts were varied with a surprise performance by the Leadership Team.

We were treated to a live rendition of "The History of Dance" performed with great gusto if not great talent. It was a fun performance and much appreciated by all.

Ken and I were definitely the "oldsters" at the event, but with all of the youth and vitality around us we didn't mind at all.

Here we are with my fashion consultant, May Lene. She worked tirelessly to take me to almost every dress shop in KL (or so it seemed) and decided that a tradition dress was just what I needed to glam it up.

And what Hollywood night would be complete without a walk on the red carpet and a pose with Oscar (and also our host/dancer extraordinaire Matt Buckholtz).

It seemed the glam was everywhere, even the hotel entrance was in the mood. It was a fun night and we were so happy to be a part of it.

Chinese Temple

Another stop on our tour of Kuala Lumpur was to a Buddhist temple quite near our hotel. The temple was at the top of the hill and also was a popular wedding site complete with a marriage license office in the lower level.

Upon entering the temple area it is surprisingly large and open. There are areas where you can sit and rest or meditate, have a picnic or just roam through some attached gardens.

Inside the temple proper there are several altars to various deities. The columns in the photo above are covered with small plaques which can be purchased and dedicated to ancestors. There is incense for burning outside the door. And unlike the other temples I have seen so far, at this temple guests remove their shoes before entering.

The carvings on the pillars was very detailed and executed perfectly. No matter where you looked, the temple was a work of art. The colors are vivid and perhaps the most arresting features of most Chinese buildings are the roof decorations.

The dragon and the phoenix are perhaps the most popular and meaningful of the motifs adorning Chinese buildings. This was but a little taste. Once we arrived in Beijing, the dragon and phoenix were constant companions.

The dragon...

...and the phoenix.

The courtyard is lined with lanterns and I would have like to seen it lit in the evening. 

The center of the staircase is filled with a decorative panel. This is, of course, a dragon. 

After our touring we went to the lower level of the temple where we had our lunch. I had won ton mee and I am still looking for it on menus because it was so tasty. In the gardens around the temple were sculptures of the Chinese zodiac and the horse (Kyle), the rabbit (Shayne) and the ox (both Ken & I) were resting peacefully in a line. It was nice to see the family all together.

Monday, May 30, 2011

World's Largest Birdpark

Inside the huge KL Park within the city is the world's largest walk-through aviary. I have no doubt that this is a true statement. I spent an hour and a half in the park and I was rushing for the last half hour and did not get to see and do everything. If you are a bird lover, then this is the place for you. The entire aviary is covered in a light netting to keep the guests inside. Within there are some areas with cages and houses, but most birds roam free and are quite comfortable around the guests. There are too many species to learn them all, but each is quite beautiful. Below I will show some of the inhabitants with a comment or two when needed.

This guy was ready for his close-up.

Lots and lots of peacocks.

And what Bird Park would be complete without a school outing.

Lots of waterfowl, but not the kind we find in Michigan.

I have been looking for someone to style my hair. Perhaps I should get his recommendation.

Feeding time.

Believe it or not, these are pigeons. They don't grow them like this in the cities back home!

Yes, each and every one of those is real (including the cute young men). The expression "light as a feather" is a misnomer. Those parrots are heavy.

Some friends I met along the way.

KL Memorial Park

In almost every city or town the world over, there is a park which memorializes the people, battles and fallen of the conflicts that built that place. Kuala Lumpur is no exception. On the second morning of my touring with Bala, we started at the war memorial in KL Park.

The area begins with a memorial to all who fought for Malaysia. It honors the veterans of WWI, WWII and the war for Malaysian Independence. The memorial sits on high ground and is surrounded by beautiful gardens. The peace and calmness surrounds each of the visitors and the memorial becomes an oasis in the midst of the city.

Behind the war memorial is another honoring the fallen heroes of each of these conflicts. A shaded walkway surrounds a beautiful pond with lily sculptures. This forms the backdrop for a very moving memorial. The sculpture is bronze on a marble pedestal and is truly a fitting piece. In reading about the monument, I discovered that the sculptor is an American artist who was commissioned to do this piece. He should be very proud of his work.

The thought that is most compelling when standing in front of this memorial, is how very much alike we all are. The borders are different and the languages, but we all honor our heroes and in that we are very much alike.

Thar Be Pirates

On a free evening we decided to see Pirates of the Caribbean. On the recommendation of May Lene, we went to a small theatre in the mall attached to our hotel. The tickets were a bit pricey, but she promised us a unique experience. She did not lead us wrong.

The theatre seats 50 guests and you definitely feel like a guest. Your admission includes a beverage and you place your order for that and any additional snacks you may want. Seats are sold by number so your place is reserved. When you enter the theatre, it is extremely cold. However, each luxury recliner comes complete with a down comforter to keep you cozy. Prior to the show, the staff delivers your snacks and it is just like watching in the comfort of your family room. If you choose, you may dine at a buffet in the lobby following the performance.

Just to make sure everyone would want to see Pirates, the Mega Mall built a near life-sized ship in center court and had a display of props and costumes from the movie. The music played and everyone gathered to watch the little children making pirate hats. It was quite fun and certainly "Pirate" was the word of the day.