Review – Zhoukoudian.

As a result of my amazingly lax work timetable (sixteen hours a week spread across three days, thanks China) I have been attempting to thoroughly explore Beijing, and its greater areas, in my spare time. TimeOut Beijing recently posted a special publication advertising various museums that were available in and around the capital. One that caught my attention was to be found in Zhoukoudian. It is the site where the now famous ‘Peking Man’ was first excavated in 1923.

 

Peking Man, or ‘Beijing Yuanren’, is regarded as one of the best archaelogical finds of the species ‘home erectus’, a 700,000-500,000 year old descendant of modern Eurasian and American people.  In 1929 the Swedish geologist Johan Gunnar Andersson found quartz rock not native to the excavation area, and is said to have proudly proclaimed ‘Here is primitive man; now all we have to do is find him!’

 

And find him they did.

 

 

 

My travel route from the DaXing area (southern countryside of Beijing) went as follows –

 

  1. Take Line 4 Subway to Taoranting.
  2. Use exit A.
  3. Walk North to Nanheng E Street, crossing the road as I did so using a pedestrian bridge.
  4. Turn onto Nanheng E Street to face East.
  5. Walk until Nanheng Street became Beiwei Road.
  6. Continue until I found the bus stop for 836/917, near number 32 Beiwei Road. This is the Tianqiao stop and the start/end of the line.

 

Now, most china travel guides currently online have said the 917 bus will take you to your correct destination. As of the time I am writing this that information is incorrect and you will instead want the 836 bus. The stops you will be looking to make your exit are Zhoukoudian Cun Lukou OR Zhoukoudian Lukou. It takes about an hour, but this estimate is traffic dependant. I exited at the second Zhoukoudian bus stop (because I missed the village stop), which turned into a favourable event, as I could finish my travels in a tuktuk type metallic cage of a vehicle for ten kuai with one of the most talkative drivers I have ever met. He delivered straight to the foot of Dragon Bone Hill aka the Peking Man site. Total cost going there, around 20 kuai.

 

Tickets are 30rmb, a number that won’t break your bank balance. I visited on a Wednesday morning, which was great because there were very few people to disrupt the sound of nature/get in my way of walking. Your ticket will then need to be stubbed by a grounds warden dressed in an auspicious red coat, and after that you are free to roam. I inadvertently went the ‘wrong’ way around and started my journey close to a large topographical map. From there I walked up the hill to start my exploring inside their museum.

 

A small building from the outside, the museum entrance had a rather humble sculpture of two homo erectus specimens, artistic facials lost to the thoughts of the objects they were holding. The sitting specimen held a peculiar philosophical gaze as if to ask ‘but why is this rock a tool?’ Then you will walk into a very well set-up immersive screen display showing the topographical nature of Dragon Bone Hill, and a wall text with well translated English giving a detailed history of the place. After that you will be left slightly disappointed at the invariably Chinese execution of museum displays, think poor lighting and mismatched placement of objects with no logical connection to each other. Points will be awarded for two parts inside the museum

 

  1. The baby riding a dinosaur wall graphic, of which I still have no idea what it actually conveyed, but made me wish dinosaurs were still around if only for that opportunity to become reality.
  2. A tv+camera display with various Q coded headbands was set up in one corner of a display room. After selecting a headband and turning to face the camera, your face will transform into either an animal that used to roam the hill you are exploring, or the face of homo erectus. The selfie opportunities are hilarious.

 

After the museum I walked around to the scenic destination spots elevated at three different platforms. These would have been great, if the museum had a landscaper hired to take care of the overgrown trees hindering the view. The juxtaposition of Old and New China will have to be found at another location. On my way to the top of the final platform I came across a foreign couple that, of all places, were from Wellington, New Zealand! The smallness of planet Earth continues to astound me. We chatted and toured Locality 3 together before I departed, my hunt for Locality 4 and the Peking Man Cave being my priority.

 

Locality 4 was the main reason I wanted to visit Zhoukoudian. It’s where one of the best discoveries of controlled fire use was excavated, and from this discovery the theory of evolution continued to strengthen. Stepping into the mouth of the cave, an indescribably sense of awe passed through me. I was standing inside what amounted to a hole in the ground, where ~500,000 years ago a relative of the current homo sapiens species (myself) was controlling this energy source we take for granted. I can’t explain what I was thinking, but I wish I could say to them some words of achievement. Although to be honest the words would probably be grunts and huffs, and I’d most likely end up insulting somebody’s mother. But to stand at a place and actually be the physical evidence of how far evolution has come, was surreal.

 

 

The actual excavation point of Peking Man was less mesmerizing. A lot of construction work was being completed to make the site more accessible. A small sign affixed to the side of the cave proudly held the message declaring the exact point of the amazing Peking Man discovery. I imagine when the work is done the site will be worthy of its achievement in history.

 

So if you are looking for an unusually satisfying experience, and have a spare day in Beijing, I’d recommend making the effort to go to Zhoukoudian. To sit in caves where evolution was activated, is quite an awakening experience.

 

 

 

 

E.

 

 

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The Killers.

I failed seeing The Killers twice back home, and thought I’d missed the opportunity forever. About a week ago, as Lisa and I were hunting out Indian food in the maze that is Beijing City, Lisa spied a small advertisement saying The Killers were playing on National Day (October 1st).

 

Third times the charm, right?

 

Instantly we planned out how we were going to travel during what happens to be China’s busiest week of the year (whoever decided The Killers were to play on the most important day, you fool). More travel plans were added and taken away, and at one stage it looked like we might have missed our ticket purchasing chances, but with three days to go we secured some middle-class tickets and were in with a grin and off to see those magical boys. The night of the 1st we navigated the Metro and headed towards Wukesong, and the Beijing Mastercard Stadium. The Metro is always a hit-and-miss insofar as judging how busy it’s going to be. We made it out of our final destination with ten minutes to spare, and after copious ticket and bag checks we entered the stadium to the unfortunate closing bars of Mr. Brightside. China is the only country I know who start their concerts on time (this we should have realised, as everything in China is countable down to the last minute).

 

The Killers are absolutely, undeniably, beautiful. Brandon Flowers spoke some cute, yet recognisable, greetings in Mandarin to which the crowd exploded. He also mentioned their eclectic dress sense was due to a market they visited (still fabulous in your cut off freedom star shirt there Mr. Flowers). They played a full 90-minute set filled with most of their successful back catalogue top hits, and left the crowd (including myself) filled with that rare happiness you feel when you experience a band who sound exactly as they do on album.

 

Because I witnessed The Killers in China (their first China appearance no less) I feel there were some outwardly Chinese aspects to it that are worth mentioning –

 

The tickets were all seat allocated. In China it seems you sit for any and all events. This would be okay if the seats were built in a layered formation, not flat on the stadium floor, as ours happened to be. We sped past our central located seats to stand in the side aisle next to the VIP section, and promptly piss off the Chinese security to no end as more and more people had the same idea as us.

 

Crowd interaction was a little lacklustre. Brandon tried to get the crowd to sing with specific pauses thrown into many of the songs, but I think the inherent language barriers were too strong to overcome, even with a large expat presence.

 

 

Overall I still regard The Killers as one of the best bands I have seen live. Read my mind was played to perfection, and the finale song of When you were young (which I called before the concert started) was an absolute killer song to end with (nothing is ever complete without a pun).

 

 

 

 

E.

Review – Now You See Me.

Four magicians come together to perform, what appears to be, one of the world’s biggest ever heists. But the closer you focus on what you see, the faster you edge to the front of your seat, and the further away you get from the truth.

 

Magic and cinema go together like red wine and dark chocolate. The combination is simply magnificent. I think everyone can recall a moment when they were exposed to magic, be it from a children’s birthday party entertainer, a side street busker, or a dazzling hour-long theatric performance on a globally renowned stage. From whatever source, the effect remains the same. It leaves an imprint, somewhere inside you, reminding you that sometimes the art of trickery is not to deceive or disappoint, but to enact wonder and delight.

 

‘Now You See Me’ gathers a quick pace from the start and keeps its highly charged momentum going until the very end. Jesse Eisenberg delivers a decent performance as one of the magicians, and ultimately becomes the unofficial ‘leader’ of the group known as ‘The Four Horsemen’, which for me means more looking at Eisenberg (shameless swooning plug). Woodey Harrelson was a great choice for the role of the pseudo-science mentalist, and leaves verbal quips injecting the humouristic side of trickery at well-timed intervals.

 

Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, two big hitting Hollywood actors, were rather underutilized however, which was a darn shame. I think this is because the director, Louis Leterrier, had two directions to choose from when trying to make a film about magic. The film could either focus one, on character development, or two, on plot development. Because it is about magic, I think his decision to focus on the plot (at the expense of lowering the impact of said Hollywood names) was ultimately for the best. The effects produced in the film, be they from the reality of illusions or the illusions of reality, made for a visually stunning story to unfold on the screen, and made me forgive Leterrier almost instantly.

 

I left the cinema with a warm satisfaction in my heart, my thoughts repeating ‘how did they do that?’ and the fire of magic rekindled. Which I think was the intended effect all along.

 

Well played film, I didn’t see that one coming.

 

 

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1670345/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

 

 

E.

Review – Coffee and food|establishment.

11:30am on a rainy Friday I met with a very dear friend at coffee and food establishment aka c.a.f.e (smart name, eh?) After scoring a free parking spot around the corner, I made my way into the cafe where my friend had already secured a two person table near the door.

It’s aesthetically clean, with a whitewash outdoor/indoor colour scheme. The highlights of colour are found in some large modern canvas pieces, which have fluro orange and green designs (they are supplied by artists and are for sale, some are new to me as I haven’t been to c.a.f.e in about one year). I especially enjoyed the charcoal grey/fluro orange collage inspired piece. On two low benches, near the front, are an array of newspapers and magazines available to read, so if you are an early bird to a meeting/catch-up, you can enjoy some articles and forgo the awkward solitary sitting.

The seating is a mix of booths and stand alone chairs, with a reasonable amount of space to walk between either (frequently I have seen mums and prams make their way in with little hassle). At the back is the kitchen and cashier, with a small display cabinet of your general muffins, paninis and mixed salads (though some of the muffins sounded quite exotic and were made to a reasonable size, noted for next time).

I ordered a long black, my friend ordered a cappuccino (you can choose cinnamon, chocolate, or both as your topping for that drink). Hers came in a relatively wide cup, mine came in a decidedly short one. One small plus was the little pitcher of hot water I received to top up my drink, so I gained an extra half cup on the side. The coffee bean used was alright, a rich earthen taste to it. After one sugar (raw, not white) it became quite easy to drink.

For food I ordered a half portion of ‘La Tuti Tuti’, a mix of potato, baby spinach, kranksy, chorizo, oil, and a poached egg on top. My friend ordered curly fries with tomato sauce and aioli as sauces. The half portion was rather small, but meat made the largest percentage of it, which I guess levels the cost. Slightly oilier than I anticipated, but the taste of each item of food was allowed to compliment the entirety of the dish. As to my friends dish, curly fries are always going to be more delicious than standard cut fries (the curl enhances the flavour, I swear). The curls trapped the flavoured salt in between its delicious potato outline, and the aioli provided was one of the best I have tried in Hamilton, not too runny and full of taste.

The service was absolutely charming, and provided an at exceptionally quick pace. I received my coffee in under three minutes and my meal in under ten. Genuine smiles and small banter were provided for free.

If you’re looking for a relaxed part run-of-the-mill cafe, part quirky vibrant establishment, to compliment a dull grey Hamilton day, I’d recommend perking yourself up at c.a.f.e for an hour or so.

E.

Review – Wonder Horse.

First time writing a review, feedback is always appreciated =)

Hamilton is a very unusual city. It’s rather small, so if you have intimacy issues you probably shouldn’t move here. Because it is small everything gets smooshed together, which is very convenient when navigating the city centre, as you really don’t have to walk far for food. Side by side the main street is lined with little café’s, eateries, restaurants, bistros and so on. You name it, and chances are it’s next door. This can make dining out and socialising somewhat frustrating though, as it becomes hard to distinguish the good from the bad from the what the actual o_0

Tonight however, I was lead by my friend Jenna down a mysterious alley way and through a narrow doorway into what can only be summed up as a paradise land.

Its official name: Wonder Horse.

From past memory the site used to be an old Mexican joint which was notoriously hidden behind the first layer of restaurants (think alley-ception, to find gems in Hamilton you must always go deeper). Now it has been converted into a bar. But the word ‘bar’ tarnishes the true value this establishment has built for itself.

From walking in you are met with a dimly-lit, yet warm opening area. The large bar top nestling against your left side bends around to guide you across the width of the room.  Deeper in you notice leatheresque couches, each with a small table or two in bright colours of aqua and red. There is also an upstairs area, though it sounded rather full and convinced us to stay downstairs (near the bar, naturally). Overall first impressions are ‘this is a place many call home’ because the construction holds such dignity worthy of that title. Gazing to the front you then see the vast array of alcoholic ingredients filling the shelves, everything from absinthe to zambuca (well, it feels like it, though I will happily report there is a very liberal supply of whiskey). I say ingredients, because what the gentlemen behind the bar accomplished is less drink making and more Heston Blumenthal inspired magic (if you don’t know HB then please direct your attention to this Wiki article – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heston_Blumenthal ).

Jenna ordered a Mojito, and convinced me to order an Old Fashioned. Now I know of many people with their own interpretations of what constitutes an Old Fashioned, but to be honest if the drink respects the whiskey involved, then it’s okay in my books. We settled onto some squared bar stools and watched our gentleman/bartender twirl his enchantingly long spoon, beginning the initiation process.

Nothing was flawed.

The glasses were brilliantly balanced, the alcohol generously measured, the sugar lovingly heaped, the mint clapped gently (no hurting the poor leaves now). Even the ice received special treatment inside a hand-cranked crusher that churned out delightfully small, rounded ice pieces. The prices are very generous considering the showmanship that goes into every artwork. It genuinely feels like the drink you receive underwent a transformation, from mere mortal alcohol to liquid infinite passion. The emotions infused send you into a euphoric state impervious to social blunders.

These drinks don’t just start small talk, they infuse conversations.

Universe, if I were so lucky to acquire a date in the next five weeks, I promise to treat them to this magnificent establishment. It is the perfect place for getting together, getting cozy, getting intimate.

Wonder Horse, you win the title of ‘Hamilton’s best bar’ by a full length, from now on I place my bets on you.

E.

A little bit of NY in my life.

My first highlight, unsurprisingly, revolves around caffeine. That sweet, sweet, nectar that has giveth my degree and taketh away my sleep many a time. A good friend from England, Ollie, introduced me to this place, and I can safely say that when I learn the words ‘shut up and take my money’ in Mandarin this will be the first place I use it.

Hidden away in the relatively new SW developmental area known as Wanda Plaza (Wanda Guang Chang), is a dark brown, unremarkable wall, with the words COFFEEWE adorned in bold white. Underneath the signage is a glass entrance. So far, nothing special. Step inside though, and you are greeted with an interior that could only have been inspired from a New York Loft magazine. Industrial grey painted pipes and air ducts against metallic furnishings (some natural silver, some bright red), brick walls and wooden cork finishings. Comical porcelain characters are shown in cake displays, and the eco-fresh vibe that every coffee house needs is supported through a mountainous wall of vividly coloured keep cups. Towards the back there is a large techno-lit aquarium with the entire cast from ‘Finding Nemo’ contained within, who I hope are planning a just as elaborate escape as shown in the film.

Behind the glass cabinet by the bar is quite possibly the only real cheesecake you could find in China. I have no shame, or regret, in saying I have tried every flavour. The pumpkin and chocolate flavoured one is by far one of the best things I have, and possibly ever will, put into my mouth. The coffee is absolutely magnificent, and some varieties, like the ‘Four Eyes’, will probably keep most tame tea happy drinkers up for a good 48 hours, easily.

The staff here are a wonderful (possibly newly wed) couple. My banter has been mostly with the guy ‘Toto’. No, we do not talk about the rains in Africa. I reckon he’s been taking some sly English lessons though, because every time I come here, which is every day, he manages to convey more and more information about Coffeewe and life in general. Because many of us foreigners are quite (tragically) addicted to coffee, we recruit any and all we know when we find a good shrine. I can quietly boast I have brought many a foreigner here, which has secured me an ‘under the table’ discount for REAL FOREIGN BEER! Oh, the generous ways of hospitality are universally understood and respected. This commodity is worth more than gold, silk, or oil. Great success for me.

Photos to be posted soon.

E.