Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wangfujing Street : Exotic Food Trip

              Wangfujing is a popular shopping area in Beijing like Qianmen Street but the reason I went there was not just to shop for souvenirs but also to check out what many Beijing tourists are raving about. There is something else that Wangfujing is famous for especially among westerners. I'm talking about the long line of food stalls that come to life in the evening on the side street that offer unusual delicacies. You might think that  they're the same as those you've tried in Thailand, but no, those fried crickets and bugs in Bangkok will sound like regular potato chips.In Wangfujing you'd encounter skewered animals that you never thought were edible like starfish, seahorse ,salamander (that ugly creature I saw in Hong Kong) and scorpions, GIANT ! scorpions.

I never thought that scorpions could grow this big
Snake and Snake Skin Anyone?

                        Aside from the exotic food I also had fun reading the signs on some stalls
ICE- CREN sounds like ICE- CREAM
         If you get to visit Beijing you should include this in your itinerary. I guarantee you this is an adventure you will never experience anywhere else. I did not dare to eat those stuff  though but I enjoyed watching people's reactions and taking pictures. Aside from the exotic foods there's a bunch of affordable and yummy common Beijing food being sold like my favorite meat kebabs.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

It's A Great Wall Indeed ! : How I Managed To Get to the Great Wall Alone

          I first heard about the Great Wall when I was a kid. I've seen photos of it and watched shows on tv featuring it. At first it did not interest me that much. For me it's nothing more than a wall built on the mountains, but later the stories I've read about it fueled my interest.                
          I had made two previous attempts to go to Beijing to see the wall but it was on my third try that I finally got to book a round-trip ticket and apply for a visa. When I finally got the chance to visit the Great Wall I planned everything down to the smallest details.I couldn't afford to miss it this time.
          I decided to go to the wall on my first day in Beijing so that if anything happens ( like if I get lost or there's a bad weather ) and it stops me from going to the wall at least  I will still have another chance to do it during the rest of my time in Beijing. My flight was at  7:45 PM from Manila and we landed at the Beijing Capital International Airport Terminal 2 at 12 midnight ( there's no time difference between Manila and Beijing). I had one problem though , I hadn't booked a place to stay during my first night because I'd planned on starting the tour first thing in the morning. It only meant one thing , I would have to carry my backpack all the way to the Great Wall. Interesting !
          I tried to get some sleep at the airport but it was just too cold that I ended up wondering if the airport's heating system was broken. The pilot announced when we landed that the temperature was 7C  , crazy for someone who has lived in the Philippines all his life.  I decided to step outside to check if it was any different from the temperature inside the airport (I thought the heating system of one of the busiest airports in the world couldn't be left broken).The moment the door opened it's like somebody splashed a pail of ice cold water at me. It was a lot colder outside, the temperature had actually dropped to zero when I checked.

              At 6 AM I was already lining up at the Airport Express Station located at the basement of the airport. I was heading to Dongzhimen where I'd be taking a bus from going to the Mutianyu Great Wall. I paid 25 RMB for the train ride. The sight of dead trees welcomed me as the train was moving towards central Beijing. I was in awe of what I saw. It was all new to me since it's my first time to experience spring. I'm used to lush, green surroundings back home all year round. As I alighted the train I pulled out the directions that I'd printed out from the internet. I was looking for a bus terminal where I could take bus 936 from. When I got to the place I was told that bus 936 has ceased taking tourists to Mutianyu section of the wall. Mutianyu section is preferred by a lot of visitors because it's less touristy and more authentic compared to the more popular Badaling section. The downside though is it's farther. Mutianyu is a two-hour drive from Beijing whereas Badaling is only an hour away.The other option to get to Mutianyu was to take bus 916 to Huairo then from Huairo take a mini van to Mutianyu. Buses 916 are stationed at another terminal, the one that you'll see the moment you come out from the Dongzhimen subway station. If you're facing east it's on the left side of the road. The bus fare to Huairo was 11 RMB. I met a Chinese college student and a middle-aged man. I sat next to them on the bus so they could tell me where to get off. From the bus stop in Huairo I just crossed the street and hopped into a mini van waiting on the other side of the road. I paid 40 RMB for the ride.

Dried fruits sold at the foot of the mountain

                The sun was up but I found it weird that it was still very cold. It was worse whenever the wind blew. I didn't have gloves so I had to put my hands in my pocket because they'd get numb if exposed to the cold for so long. The entrance fee to the wall was 45 RMB and I shelled out another 45 RMB for a one-way ride on the cable car. I chose to take the cable car on the way up because the walls are built way on top of the mountains so trekking could take so much time. Since I was in a hurry to get to Mutianyu early I forgot to eat breakfast. The food at the eateries at the base of the mountain was expensive, an instant cup of noodles costs 25RMB. As I looked at the walls on top of the mountain I grabbed a bar of snickers from my bag. That power bar carried me through the climb. 
          The moment I stepped on the wall I kept thanking the Lord for taking me to one of the wonders of the world. I felt so blessed at that moment. I started taking pictures while walking, I would walk a few meters then stop, take pictures again (so I'd have lots of photos for my collection of Beijing pictures) and marvel at the view around the wall. It's great seeing the wall snaking along the rugged terrain. One of the questions that a visitor to the great wall would often ask is "How long is the Great Wall?'', as it streches as far as the eye can see.I tried to research its length but I found different answers.The length of the wall and the rugged terrain  made the climb really hard. I had underestimated it and I ended up panting like a dog the whole time.
          I just couldn't believe I was on the wall. I took my time and enjoyed the entire experience because I had waited for almost three decades to see it. 

               After consuming all your energy on climbing the wall the next thing you may worry about is how to descend from the mountain. There are two easy ways to do that, one is to ride the cable car again or if you're up to more fun and adventure you can try the tobogan ride for 50 RMB.

A fun way to descend from the wall is via the Tobogan ride
Tip:  If you want to take pictures or videos on your way down via the tobogan make sure that the staff aren't looking because they'll reprimand you. There are staff stationed along the track.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tourist Visa Application for China

                 Beijing has been an integral part of China’s history for  centuries. It is renowned for its historical palaces, temples, parks and its walls. I'm sure a lot of people who love to travel have Beijing on their list of must-visits but a lot of them keep on putting their plans off whenever they learn about the visa requirement. It's quite a hassle when you have to gather all those documents.Some of them have to be requested first  . One of the documents that I had to request was the bank certificate.It wasn't clear though how much they require to be in the applicant's account but I had read somewhere that one just needs to prove that he has enough money to fund his trip. Aside from the bank certificate I had to do something about my SSS ID. My first name is misspelled on my ID.I have a very long name,unfortunately SSS’ system could only accommodate 15 characters in the first line intended for the first name and another 15 characters in the second line for the last name so the last letter of my first name was dropped. That's according to SSS because I went there to complain.It’s just one of the things I had to take care of.
             For applicants I suggest that you check the requirements for the citizens of your country and submit them ahead of time so you'll have a chance to fix things just in case.
             On the day of the application I was already lining up outside of  the Consular Office of the Peoples Republic of China in the Philippines at 6:30 AM. It is located at 2nd & 3rd Floor, The World Center, 330 Sen. Gil J. Puyat Avenue, Makati City ( across Mapua Institute Of Technology). Some of those who also lined up early were representatives from travel agencies and some were sent by their bosses. The Consular office doesn't require personal appearance to apply for a visa and to claim a visa .At 8 AM we were told to go up to the 2nd floor. Upon entering the hall we were asked if we're applying for visa or claiming a visa then we were given our numbers and form for those who were applicants. I was number 25. Transactions didn't start until 9 AM so I filled out the form and waited. When it was my turn I just handed out all the requirements to the officer ( or whatever you call them). I was assigned to the lady at window 3 ( I had heard some stories about a certain lady at a certain window but I'm not sure which window. A lot of applicants try to avoid her as much as they could). The person who assisted me didn't ask me a single question. I noticed that she just went through my papers hastily except when it came to my passport, NBI clearance and bank certificate.She compared all the information on my NBI clearance with the ones on my passport. I'd heard that if you're given a pink form it's a good sign and that it's most likely to get approved. I noticed though that the lady was writing something on a small white piece of paper. Oh NO! I panicked. It turned out that the white paper was their copy of the claim stub and underneath it was the coveted "pink form". Yehey! I just opted for the 3-working-day-processing. I was done at 9:40 AM.

How to get to Consular Office of the Peoples Republic of China :
If you are coming from EDSA you can either take the MRT and alight at the Buendia station and take the jeep ( You can find the jeepneys in front of the SM hypermarket ) or you can take the bus.

Requirements for Tourist Visa Application ( for Philippine Passport Holders) :
1. Applicant's passport with blank pages and at least 6 months validity left before expiration.
2. A truly and completely filled Visa Application Form (Form V2011A) affixed with one passport-size or 2x2 colored photo, with white background, full-face front view, and no hat. Photo must be glued on the application form. Stapled pictures will not be accepted. Scanned photos will also not be accepted. U.S. passport holders must submit two application forms with two photos.
3. A copy of the round-trip plane ticket
4. Hotel reservation / invitation letter with a copy of the inviter's valid Chinese residence visa and passport information page of inviter's or Chinese national identity card.
5. Previously used China visa in old or new passport (Only visa stickers will be accepted. Those with stamped visas must submit additional documents for first time China visa applicants. Please refer to the list below.)
6. For first time applicants to China (Philippine passport holders, 18 years old and above), they are required to provide the following:
a) original NBI clearance valid for travel abroad
b) original bank certificate with receipt or original passbook, updated within the month that you are applying or....
- If a company will sponsor the trip, provide the company's bank certificate, sponsorship letter from the company and the company's business registration.
- If an individual will sponsor the trip, provide his bank certificate, sponsorship and invitation letter, copy of sponsor's valid residence visa and passport information page or Chinese national ID.
c) for employed persons, also provide an employment certificate, company ID, SSS ID and contributions, TIN ID and latest ITR
d) for students, provide school ID
e) for businessmen, provide business registration of company, TIN ID and latest ITR
f) Personal appearance is required for those who are 16-21 years old.
7. The emergency contact information page in the applicant's passport should be filled out and photocopied.
8. Other documents required by the visa officers if necessary.

I suggest though that you check again the requirements from the Consular Office of the Peoples Republic of China in the Philippines around the time that you are applying for a visa because they might update it from time to time.