Oh those summer nights

It’s late Friday night and our power is out. Billy  opens our electricity closet to check our electricity card. In China, electricity is administered through cards and we have to re-charge them every once in a while at our bank. So, back to the card. Billy checked our card and then we put in another card just to be safe. Still no power. Cristina is sweating and we have work tomorrow.

12:00 AM. We call our agents a few times. No answer. We call some other people. No answer. We decide to throw in the towel for the evening and decide to tackle it the next day.

9:00 AM Saturday.- Billy goes to the bank to re-charge our card. The bank tells him that our card is broken. Well $%@t

2:00 P.M. At work my colleagus say I will have to have my agent help me. Agent isn’t answering her phone.

4:00 P.M.- The idea of a staying in a hotel for the night is sounding ever so  appealing…

8:00 P.M.- Our agent finally sends us a text, NOT  a return call, and gives us an address  in Chinese that tells us wear we can get a new electricity card.

9:30 P.M.- Billy gets in a cab and tells the driver wear to go. Billy goes to the boonies and gets a new electricity card.

10:00 P.M.- Crisitna is packing an overnight pack in case we have to stay in a hotel. Because that would be so bad and all…

10:30 P.M.- Billy comes back with the electricity card and puts it into our slot. Still no electricity. A few more $%# are thrown around.

11:00 P.M.- Billy miraculously finds an electrician somewhere. He didn’t quite tell me how he found him but I’m grateful nonetheless.

11:15 P.M.- The electrician has a very thick northern Chinese accent so it’s difficult for me to understand some of his words. He fiddles with our box for a while, presses some buttons and then, voila! WE HAVE AIR. In Beijing, I’m much more concerned with air conditioning than with light.

11:30 P.M.- The electrician laughs and tells us what was wrong and we smile and laugh with him having absolutely no idea what he is telling us. We thank him, walk inside ,and are in fits of laughter and thankful for Chinese electricians.

 

 

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Chuandixia Village

Although I visited this village back in November, it’s 100% worth writing about right now because it’s only a couple of hours away from the city and it is a must see for anyone visiting or living in Beijing for an extended period of time.

This is a Ming Dynasty village constructed of courtyard homes with a true historic feel. What’s even more wonderful,is that these houses are tucked away against the mountain so when you crane your head upwards you can see layers of homes. While this village make for a great day trip, I highly recommend staying the night in a local person’s home so you can wake up early and enjoy the village in its stillness. If you dare, enjoy some Baiju in the evening with some of the local men.

My biggest advice is to truly explore every nook and cranny of this village because much of the architecture is still very much preserved and there are some excellent opportunities for photos.

Note: If you have time, there are a couple much smaller and villages with fewer people only 30 minutes away on foot. Ask anyone in the village and they will point you in the right direction.

Getting there and away: Bus 892 leaves from a stop right outside of Pingguoyuan subway station.  Take exit D. Get out at Zhaitang (two hours) and then take a taxi for the last few kilometers. The entrance fee to the village is around 30 RMB.

 

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Baoyuan Jiaozi Wu (宝源饺子屋)

I often find myself really looking forward to the next culinary adventure I will have in Beijing. 

 When I look for a new restaurant these key words often pop in my search bar “best (fill in the name of food) in Beijing” “most a Beijing restaurant you can’t miss out on”. This past weekend I typed in “best dumplings in Beijing.”I’ve eaten my fair share of dumplings but I wanted to seek out the best of the best. However I decided on this place merely because I saw pictures of orange and purple dumplings. Who doesn’t want their dumplings to look like the spectrum of the rainbow?

 Located near the Sheraton hotel in Beijing, this restaurant is very charming with traditional red lanterns hanging outside and Chinese lacquer tables throughout the interior. While the restaurant looks rather small, there are several small stone steps that lead to other private dining rooms. This restaurant would be a wonderful place to rent out for a private party!

 While some restaurants you go to in Beijing will serve both fried and steamed dumplings, this restaurant specializes in steamed dumplings. As you will see on the menu, there are many combinations of dumplings. I settled on the colorful dumplings because let’s be real, I came for the rainbow dumplings.

The all-natural dyes are made from carrots, tomatoes, purple cabbage and spinach so I was delighted to hear that it wasn’t artificial flavoring!

 There were six dumplings to an order and we ended up with 24 dumplings between three people! It was definitely enough for us!

 What is your favorite dumpling place in Beijing?

 Baoyuan Jiaozi Wu (宝源饺子屋)

 Open: 11am-10pm

Telephone: 6586 4967

English address: 6 Maizidian Jie, Chaoyang district

Chinese address: 朝阳区麦子店街6号楼北侧

 

American weddings vs. Chinese weddings

Having just come back from an American wedding, I thought it appropriate to talk about the differences and similarities in Chinese & American weddings. Just as the Western world has influenced many other facets of Chinese culture, it has also influenced some facets of Chinese wedding culture.  All of the information presented below is from a few of my Chinese colleagues reflections on their own weddings.

Let’s start with the Wedding Dress

 Nowadays, many brides in large tier cities like Beijing wear white dresses due to the influence of Western culture. In Chinese history, the  bride’s dress is a deep Chinese red throughout the ceremony and reception. Now the bride will slip into a red dress after the ceremony. These dresses are just as elaborate, if not more, than western dresses. Traditionally, Chinese brides will have something red accompany their outfit, just as some American brides wear “something blue” to accompany their dress. The bride will change into a couple of dresses throughout the evening of celebration.

 Venue

A traditional Chinese wedding is held in a very large banquet hall within a restaurant that is rented out before hand. Nowadays, some couples are choosing to have their events in outdoor locations or other picturesque places. However this is much less common in smaller cities.

The Ceremony & Reception

Unlike American weddings, the Chinese groom & bride are able to see each other throughout the day and between everything leading up the ceremony. The atmosphere is much more relaxed and the bride and groom can be seen talking with each other and guests before everyone is seated for dinner. 

 For the American bride and groom, the wedding ceremony, complete with the exchanging of vows of love, is the most significant part of the day which is done with ceremonial silence. However, for a Chinese couple the most important part of the day is the wedding reception replete with a feast and wishes for prosperity and there is no ceremonial silence.  Unlike American weddings, the ceremony and reception are wrapped up in one event which takes place in one event space.

Both Chinese and American banquets have formalized seating arrangements with the most important tables set together at the party’s front or on a stage.However,  a Chinese menu is very much more expansive than the American wedding feast. In some cases, there is a 10-course meal with starters, shark’s fin soup, Peking duck and lobster, crab claws, fish, sweet red bean soup and sweet buns; each dish holds symbolic meaning. Guests often take a bag or box of leftovers home with them as a sign of appreciation for the good food.

Entertainment

Entertainment at Chinese weddings revolves around playful games and efforts to embarrass the newlyweds.  However, after talking to my two Chinese colleagues who recently got married, these games are becoming less and less popular in mainstream Chinese wedding culture. Western entertainment has put a lot of emphasis on doing different forms of entertainment like dancing or having photo booths at weddings.

 Gifts

There is no such thing as a wedding registry for Chinese couples. The gifts are all about lucky money given in small red envelopes. As my Chinese friends put it, ” China is all about the money.” And there are no checks or gift cards, just cold, hard, cash.  A couple can quite literally rack up an entire big box filled with paper notes. I’ve been told that some Chinese couples will spend their time after the reception counting how much money they have received from their family and friends.

 After the Reception

 There is no formal send off of the modern Chinese couple. No one lines up to make sure they get in the car that will help send them off to their honeymoon. In fact, the bride and the groom are usually the last people to leave the party. While honeymoons are becoming more popular among Chinese couples who live in big cities like Beijing, it’s not common in smaller cities and towns. Often the couple will head back to the house of their parents will they will relax with their family and friends.

One of  my colleagues decided to take her wedding party to sing karaoke after her reception! A chinese party is not complete without karaoke.

Have you been to a Chinese wedding? What was it like?

 

Back to America I go!

After eight months in China, I’m heading back home for a short bit. As I sit on my couch and drink  my Chinese tea and look at my Chinese plants,my head is swirling as to what America will feel like after being away for so long.

While I’m only returning for a short time, I think that is going to make it all the more strange. Here are some of my expectations of what America will be like.

1. The air will taste clean

I’m pretty sure I’ve adapted to a new normal here. I think one of Beijing’s most beautiful days looks something like an average day in the states at best. Having perfectly sunny days with no pollution, are few and far between so I have a feeling that everyday on the coast of North Carolina is going to seem like a brand new oxygen tank . I have this image in my head that I’m going to look like a person in a yoga class inhaling and exhaling deeply when I first arrive.

2. I will see far less elderly people

One of the reasons I love Beijing and China so much is the influence elderly people have in their children and their grand children’s lives. I see more grandparents in my apartment lobby than I do parents. It’s a wonderful sight to see grand parents toting their grandchildren around everywhere and teaching them about the ways of the world.

3. The world will seem MUCH quieter

As I’m writing this I can hear children and mothers shouting outside, men talking on their phones and motorcycles going by my apartment. Beijing is constantly noisy and there is constantly something going on one of the many charms of the city.

4. Southern Tide, Sperrys & Bowtie overload

I grew up in Texas and went to school in North Carolina so while I was in the states I was pretty accustomed to the “preppy” southern look. However, in China the style is nothing of the sort and I can’t quite put my finger on what the style is another post on that soon. It’s going to be strange and awesome  seeing men wear sear sucker suits with gin & tonics in their hands. Women will be wearing brightly colored printed dresses with cute clutches. I have a feeling my whole time in America will feel like I’m flipping the pages through a preppy catalogue.

5. There will be far fewer people using their phones

Even after living in China for eight months, i am still shocked at how much cell phone usage there is. It’s like American usage on steroids. I’m going to go ahead and say that Beijingers,I’m not saying Chinese people because Beijing is a wealthy city,between the ages of 15- 35 are never without their phones. My Chinese colleagues take pictures of absolutely everything that happens at all times. There are selfies galore and if you are out with young Chinese friends you might have to stop every few minutes to take a posed picture in front of a building.

6. I will have a sense of personal space when in public

I have gone ahead and thrown my personal space out the window while traveling on the bus and subway. I was expecting to do that prior to coming here. However, i think it’s going to be wild and thrilling to be sitting in the back seat of a nice car where i can roll down the window, stretch my legs  and feel that CLEAN air brush across my face.

7. Hugging won’t be awkward

I’m a hugger. I often hug people upon meeting them. I don’t see a lot of same-sex hugging in China. I”m really close with a couple of my Chinese colleagues and I continue to force hugs on them even when they don’t hug me back and they kind of feel like a limp noodle.

7. American sarcasm how I’ve missed you so

This one is hard to explain. The way Chinese people socialize amongst themselves in public is something very different from Western people. Many Chinese people rely on small talk in public and don’t bring up big pressing world issues, or topics where one would have a definitive opinion.Now I’m talking about the public sphere here, not when a Chinese person is in their own home.  It’s something I completely respect about Chinese culture and understand, but to be honest I’m really looking forward to being in a room where there is more than just three Americans. I”m looking forward to people telling jokes and hearing real American sarcasm although I do applaud my students for trying to understand sarcasm. I’m looking forward to people willingly express their worldly opinions in public.  Most of all, i’m looking forward to the good’ole belly aching American laughs.

These are my expectations, time will tell if I was right!

 

 

Tiananmen reflections

I recently asked a Chinese man what the biggest change he has seen in Beijing over the past twenty years in Beijing. This was a kind and gentle man who is soft-spoken, one of those people who has kind eyes. To be honest, before he answered I was expecting him to say one of the following things because I think it’s what I would say if I had lived here for long.

The destruction of the hutongs

The destruction of modern values

more foreigners

more KFC

more traffic

more people

less family time

more international products

more movie theatres

But he replied with, “people smile more.”

This man arrived Beijing in 1988 to attend university. Beijing was the biggest city he had been to and at that time he said it really felt like China’s version of a “college town.” At the time, every student wanted to come to Beijing for university and students were everywhere around the city.

While it was an exciting time for him, he also said it was a tumultuous one as well. He told me that many of his fellow classmates were angry with the government and Beijing was becoming a hotbed for political unrest. Students felt cheated by communism  and were starting to questions communism and its merits.

He said, “I remember being near Tiananmen Square and hearing big tanks rolling into the square. They were everywhere and I was so scared. I wasn’t one of the brave ones that stayed that day, I left and went back to my dorm.”

He was referring to the day that is known around the world as the, Tiananmen Massacre. I honestly am getting chills just writing about it right now because I’m living in the very city where this happened right before I was born a city that looks so different from it did that day. He reflected on the fact that he easily could have been one of those unarmed protestors who were killed but he decided to return to his dorm once he heard the tanks rolling in.

I was truly shocked that he opened up to me about this topic, I would expect some of my younger Chinese friends to be OK discussing this event, but not someone who was in the midst of it all.

He described it as a time when “nobody knew what was true and what wasn’t.” We will never really know how many people died that day.”

He sat there for a minute, half smiling and we were both silent for a split second, but then his face changed into a large grin and he said “but now, it’s amazing! Everyone is smiling.”

Humans are awesome.

China is in a constant state of preservation vs. destruction.The Tiannamen massacre happened because people were wanting change in their government, they wanted a democratic movement. The government fought to preserve its communist values. Now, we see a China that is still communist, but with so many democratic and free-world undertones.  Five star hotels sit next to 500 hundred year old alley ways. Women who are fiercely convinced that hot water is the only temperature of water to drink, talk about their new iPhones. Men and women who experienced the ups and downs of Chairman Mao’s rule, now buy organic food online. I hope you see what I’m getting at.

Now, I know all the above information isn’t unique to China. We see this phenomenon in every corner of the world. However, what makes China so unique is that for thousands of years, this country was fiercely private and valued itself on tradition. It isn’t uncommon to be walking around some hutongs and have elderly men or women tell you that wearing open toed shoes is unhealthy for your body’s “chi”.

It was only in the last one hundred years that common people, and not royalty,  were allowed to eat Peking duck.

The man went on to say, “although so much has changed in Beijing, people are happier than they were before. I’m happier than I was before and I’m happy about that.”

China has experienced the most rapid economic growth than any other country in the history of the world. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with so many changes but I think that getting back to the core of the little things like smiling, is what is really important. While there will continue to be a battle between preservation and destruction in China, at least people are smiling more than ever before.

 

Great Leap Brewery in Beijing

Great Leap was the very first micro-brewery joint that opened in Beijing back in 2010. If you know anything about Chinese history, you will understand the play on words with “The Great Leap Forward” in recent Chinese history. I’m not going to bore you with a history lesson, so look it up if you so desire.  Just a casual fifteen minutes stroll from Nanluoguxiang, lies truly one of the coolest places to sit back with a beer in Beijing. Tucked away in an oh so quiet hutong, is The Great Leap Brewery’s original location where they pour a range of delicious IPA’s and other darker choices as well.

If your like me, in big city’s you seek the quiet places where you can truly feel like you possess a sense of solitude. This is one of those places. The inside of the brewery is quite small with only two long wooden tables for seating and a bar counter with stools. The wood is a mixture of dark brown and light yellow which just seems to perfectly match any beer you might choose.

However, what is so awesome about this place is that there is a quaint outdoor seating area, composed of a combination of round tables and long ones. What’s more ,is that there are walls surrounding the whole place so you really get the feel that you are in your own secluded area.

If you’re in the mood for more than beer, no problem. There are a variety of snacks on the menu and several AMAZING restaurants in the area that will deliver to the restaurant. When I was there a few days ago, my group ordered from Mr.Shi’s Dumplings, which has some of the best dumplings I’ve had to date in Beijing.

I didn’t include any pictures of the location because you can check them out on The Great Leap website.There are two Great Leap locations in Beijing, and if you only have time for one, definitely go to the one in Doujiao Hutong.  I highly recommend going to this one because of its character and you can spend some time before or after exploring the other hutongs in the area.

This brewery is also in a great location with many other hutongs, Ghost street and Houhai to explore.

Where: Great Leap Brewing in Doujiao hutong – about 15 minutes walk from Nanluoguxiang subway / 大跃啤酒豆角胡同, 靠近南罗鼓巷地铁站It’s notoriously difficult to find, so printing off the map or using GPS on your phone is a good idea! Mostly outdoor seating.

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Hiking from Jiankou to Mutianyu section of The Great Wall

This past weekend, we hiked an incredible part of The Great Wall. This hike entailed a trail that leads from an older more unrestored section of the wall called Jiankou, to a much more developed area called Mutianyu.  Hiking from Jiankou to Mutianyu allows you to experience a contrast between old and new and provides  insight to the two different sides of the Great Wall of China that are world’s apart.

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unrestored Zhengbeilou tower on Jiankou section

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restored section of Mutianyu

Our journey began by taking bus 916 from Dongzhimen’s long distance bus station.We then got off in Huirou county and got a ride from one of the many people offering to take us to sections of the wall. Negotiating a price is a must for the trip from Huirou to any section of the wall you wish to access.

We started our journey at the Zhongbeilou tower of the Jiankou section and walked east towards Mutianyu. This is one of several sections of where to start hiking along Jiankou, however, it is said that starting from this point because the views are incredibly stunning and said to be some of the best on any portion of the wall.

There are four basic ways to reach Zhengbeilou: via the Great Wall from the east (Mutianyu), via the Great Wall from the west (Jiankou), via trail from the south (Shun Tong trout farm at Zhenzhuquan near Wofo shan zhuang), and via trail from the north (Xizhazi).

We accessed the trail from the south at the base of the trout farm and it was a tough two-hour hike before we even reached the wall. However, the trout farm was really cool because there is a local restaurant where you can catch a trout and they will cook it up for you for lunch.  So if you like a challenge, definitly go this way to reach Zhongbeilou. However, many sites recommend accessing Zhengbeilou form the north(Xizhazi) because it’s much easier.

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more unrestored sections of Jiankou

Also, it is highly recommended to hike from Jiankou to Mutianyu and not the other way around because it is much more strenuous and dangerous.

From Zhengbeilou to Mutianyu it took us around three hours with breaks for water and snacks. All in all, our trip from the trout farm to Mutainyu took us five hours. Once you reach Mutainyu there are several ways to descend. There is a cable car, a slide and a walking path down to the base of the mountain. There will be noticable signs around for those options. Due note that the  cable car and slide close at 5pm.

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once you reach this guy selling some goods at one of the towers, you will know you are almost to the restored section of the wall

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view of some of the towers on restored section of Mutianyu

We stayed the night in a local person’s home and it was a great experience. There are a good number of options where you can stay in the Mutainyu village. The beds are modest but cheap and the owners will cook you up a great meal after a long day of hiking. This affords you the opportunity of waking up early in the morning to see the wall in a different light.

If you are traveling with some visitors or really want to splurge on an awesome location, stay at The School House at Mutianyu. This is a series of courtyard homes that have been turned into a pretty cool boutique hotel. It’s also environmentally friendly and they offer a range of activities for children and adults and they even have a spa. Oh, and each room has a view of the wall.

If you want to head back to Beijing reach the bus stop before 4pm and you can catch the 876 bus all the way back to Beijing. After 4pm you can catch the 916 bus to Hauirou than another bus back to Beijing.

Overall, this experience was one of the best I’ve had in China. You truly see some amazing scenery and the contrast between the different sections of the wall is something that you just can’t see anywhere else in the world.

Chinese put into practice

Straight after my Chinese class with Meng Loashi (Teacher Mang), I headed to the gym just around the corner from my school. Today was a swimming laps kind of day so I suited up and walked up stairs to the lap pool. All four lanes were taken by people and there was a group of middle-aged Chinese women gathered in one corner of the pool taking a break from their laps and talking with each other. I knelt down next to the women and said, “Dui Buqi, Keyi jinlai ma?” Which means: “Excuse me, can I please come in?” I was hoping my meaning would come across as ” Do you mind if i share the swimming lane with you?”The five middle-aged women looked at me in shock and said ,“ Jenda! Ni de Chongwen hen hao!” Which means: “ Wow! Your Chinese is good.” I thanked them profusely and then started to get into the pool. However, all the women began to playfully tell me that i needed a swim cap to get into the pool. I could see in their faces that they thought it  was preposterous that I would get into the pool without a swim cap.

So I asked the pool attendant if I could borrow one and they giggled with each other as I was getting my swim cap. Then upon entering the pool, all of the women surrounded me and began to ask me many questions.

Ni shi na guo ren?”- Which country are you from?”

Ni de gongzuo shi shen me”– What do you do?”

Ni ji sui?”- How old are you?

Ni de jia zai nar?”- Where is your home?”

And the list goes on. I answered all of these questions and they increasingly felt more comfortable with me and they kept telling me how good my Chinese was. So there we all were, five middle-aged Chinese women  in white swim caps plus once waigguoren(foreign person).We were laughing and smiling and I felt as if I had known these women for a long time. After fifteen minutes or so we said our goodbyes because we all had to get back to that exercise thing.

I swear for the next thirty minutes of swimming, I had a huge smile on my face. It was so incredibly gratifying to take everything I have learned in the classroom and put it into practice. It’s always been a joy for me to connect and understand the people I’m around, wherever i am in the world. However, the true understanding is experienced after learning another language because learning a language is learning a culture. So maybe the ladies thought I was crazy for not wearing a swim cap. They might not even like America or Americans. The elderly women in my apartment  may look at me like i’m crazy for wearing a short sleeve t-shirt when it’s 70 degrees outside. Some people may not like that foreigners are living in their apartment building. But there is no denying that once a foreigner opens their mouth and starts speaking in their native language, the mood shifts to one of appreciation from the native speaker.

I constantly read articles and books discussing Chinese culture and to be honest, four or five months ago ,I felt that i had a very broad understanding of Chinese culture. However, seriously studying the  language has helped me better understand why Chinese culture is the way it is on a whole’nother level and it  has given me more insight into how Chinese people express themselves.

The more I study, the more I want to learn! and I’m grateful for the insatiable craving to learn.

 

Peking duck in a Peking hutong

Everyone who is planning on traveling or has traveled to Beijing knows that Peking duck is a staple of the northern capital. It’s fair to say that there are more than plenty of places in Beijing to eat some delicious duck, but if you want to go to a place that is a bit off the beaten path and in a truly local area, head on over to Li Qun Roast Duck.

Li Qun is tucked away in a hutong about ten minutes away from Chongwenmen Xi Dajie near the newly revitalized Qianmen pedestrian street. It can also be accessed from the Wangfujing subway area. Don’t be afraid to ask people in the area if you get lost. You might have to use some body language but everyone in the area should know Li Qun.

If there isn’t anyone around, follow the ducks! All around the hutongs are ducks painted on the walls to prevent people from wandering astray.

 

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As soon as you arrive inside the restaurant you will be overwhelmed with the sweet scent of the roasting ducks. Upon walking in, you will actually see the ducks being roasted over an open fire.  The atmosphere is quite cramped but that’s what makes it so charming! Be sure to make a reservation before arriving there because this is a popular place for both locals and the international crowd. We were exploring the hutongs the previous day and were able to make a reservation using Chinese. While some of the staff spoke decent English, you may want to have a Chinese friend/person help you.

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Do be forwarned, the place is a bit pricey. For three people the price is about $50 U.S. dollars or 300 RMB. This is expensive by Chinese food standards.  You can  find cheaper ducks in Beijing, but they  might not be as good and the atmosphere will certainly not feel as charming and local.  You just can’t beat this duck restaurant being in a traditional hutong. After you have finished your duck, spend an hour or two walking that duck off by exploring all of the other hutongs in the area. I am a hutong fanatic and these are some of the best hutongs I’ve seen in Beijing!

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Fun fact: This place was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations

Address:Qianmen and Dashilan’r 前门大栅栏
11 Beixiangfeng, Zhengyi Lu (northeast of Qianmen)
Dongcheng District
东城区
前门东大街正义路南口北翔凤胡同11号

Phone: 010/6705–5578

Subway access: Chongwen & Wangfujing( a bit of a walk from Wangfujing)