Sunday, April 2, 2017

Beijing Trip Day 4 - Beijing Underground, Lama Temple (outside), Hutongs, WangFuJing, Din Tai Fung

We have reached Day 4 of our wonderful trip to Beijing.  To recap, we are here for a short couple holiday (without the kids), and we had tremendously enjoyed Day 1 (SQ Flight and Hotel), Day 2 (Mutianyu Great Wall) and Day 3 (Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City).

Today, we will get around the city ourselves, using the Beijing Subway! Now, the Beijing Subway is quite a subway to be reckoned with.  According to Wiki, the massive network has 19 lines, 345 stations, and 574km (or 357 miles) of track. The subway is the world's largest in terms of ridership, with 3.66 billion trips delivered in 2016, averaging almost 10 million trips a day, this is more than double of London Underground's ridership of almost 5 million a day.


The Renaissance Beijing Capital Hotel is across the road from the Viva Plaza (富力広場), and the Shuang Jing (双井) Underground Station is connected to the Plaza.  Of course, you could enter the Shuang Jing (双井)  from the road.

Now, where were we going?  Here is an extract of the Beijing Subway map.  ShuangJing station sits on a Line 7 and Line 10 intersection, and we were headed to YongHeGong (Lama Temple).  In the image below, I circled both stations in black.

"You are here" - Exit A for the Viva Plaza.  That was the entrance we used.  Very cool.

Buying Tickets and Security Checks
Alright, we got to the station.  It was time to buy tickets.  In the video below, you will see us fiddling around with the self-service machine.  Click on the English option.  It was straightforward to use - locate the station that you wanted to go to, select the number of tickets you wanted, confirm and pay.  You'll get the tickets (which is a contactless card) plus change.  Pretty simple.  Now what gets very interesting is the security checks.  I soon realised that in every station, they X-rayed the bags of every passenger before they let you enter.  They also asked you to take a sip of your water.  Security is tight in Beijing, no doubt about that.


Somebody told me to be very careful with the X-ray machines, as sometimes, theft does occur.  The below video is an example.  The chap just behind the lady was planning to steal her bag all along.  He puts his hand into the X-ray machine, fishes her handbag out, and leaves. Scary.


We reached YongHeGong station and found our way to the Lama Temple.  The place was crowded! This was the line for tickets.

And the entrance to the temple after you have bought tickets.  The gate looked good in the bright sunlight.

Anyway, we decided not to enter.  This video shows you the ticketing area and the crowds.  Also something on Beijing Bicycle share.


HuTong Opposite Lama Temple
We realised that opposite the Lama temple, there was a Hu Tong.  What is a Hu Tong?  From wiki, these are narrow streets or alleys, commonly associated with Beijing. Hutongs are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan (or courtyard houses). In recent times, a large number of hutongs have been demolished, to make way for modern developments. Nowadays, the remaining hutongs are protected.

In this video, we take a walk around the Hutongs.  Check out the juxtaposition of old and new, especially the new cars!


See the Hutong conversion, to modern shops.  Just keep the shell of the place. Fascinating stuff.  Also plenty of locals walking around, enjoying the place.

A word of caution about Hutong toilets.  Not exactly first world.  No doors, mostly squatting, no sink to wash your hands.  My wife told me the female toilet was like this too.  Welcome to China! Check out the video below.


Heading to WangFuJing
Well, that's China.  Anyway, after the Hutong, it was time to go to WangFuJing.  Again, we took the Beijing underground. It was very easy.  To get to WangFuJing, we took the underground from YongHengGong to WangFuJing station. I circle the two stations below.  It was an easy ride, with one change at DongDan.

WangFuJing, Beijing, is one of the most famous shopping streets in China.  We weren't here to shop, but more to check the place out. Until the late 1990s, traffic could go through, but it is now largely pedestrianized, making it easy to walk. It was a bright and sunny early afternoon when we got there.

This video shows you our leisurely walk along WangFuJing, as we headed towards the APM Mall.


What we were looking for in the Mall? Lunch!  Our plan was to have lunch at this place called Din Tai Fung, which is a rather famous eatery, well known for her Xiao Long Baos (Pork Dumplings).

Xiao Long Bao Controversy
Time Out caused a controversy by likening Xiao Long Bao dumplings to popping zits.  I've watched the Time Out video, which isn't very flattering.  Basically making fun of the awesome Xiao Long Bao.  Anyway, here is how you should eat Xiao Long Bao. We had a share of delicious Xiao Long Bao at Din Tai Fung, at Beijing APM Mall.  The food was good, though I must say that I couldn't taste much of a difference between the normal Xiao Long Bao and the Crab Meat Xiao Long Bao, though the latter was twice the price of the former!

This was the entrance to the Din Tai Fung at Bejing APM Mall.  I recall it was on level 5.

WangFuJing Snack Street
After a good lunch, as we were heading back to the underground station, we passed by the snack street (almost by chance) and decided to head in to take a look.  Oh wow, this place was crowded, and sold all types of exotic food.  Grilled tiny lobsters caught my attention.  Check out the video - the tiny lobsters were still alive, but skewered on a stick, ready to be roasted.  Seeing is believing!


Alright, our last stop before heading back to the hotel was the Silk Street.  We took the Underground there, but really, this place is more like a tourist trap.  Many shops, but very few people.  Didn't want to haggle, so decided not to buy anything.  Saw posters like these, and felt that they were trying too hard.

So, after all that walking and taking of the underground, it was time to go back to the hotel to chill out. We were too early for dinner in the Club Lounge, but we parked ourselves at the lounge anyway, helping ourselves to some drinks and light snacks.  Made this video during tea time.


It was good fun watching the staff set up the place for dinner.  Many staff, all very busy.  Wonderful place to chill, and watch our dinner being laid out.


And soon, it was time for dinner!  Plenty to eat, as usual.  Plenty to drink as well!  Tonight, the speciality was Panini. Rest of the food was pretty good too.


Pandas Bei Bei & Jing Jing showing you the Studio Suite
And, the final video of this post?  A rather silly one done by my two toy pandas, Jing Jing and Bei Bei.  They will show you our studio suite again!  Take it away, Panda!


Thanks for watching!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Saint Joseph's Institution (SJI) Open House 2017

Attended the SJI Open House at Malcolm Road today.  Decided not to drive, as the school had warned that parking was very limited and there would be congestion. So we took the MRT, which was a good thing because now I know for certain how far the School is from the nearest MRT station, which was Stevens MRT station on the Downtown Line.  The walk from MRT station to school didn't take more than 5 minutes.  Very manageable.


SJI, founded in 1852, is the 3rd oldest school in Singapore.  The school had recently been renovated (and in some places rebuilt), and they moved back to the Malcolm Road campus earlier this year.  The sight that greeted us going into the school.


School field, and the new Indoor Multipurpose Hall (which incidentally is huge inside - 8 badminton courts)

Very nice field.

SJI Open House 2017

The whole process was very well organized.  When we arrived, we headed to the registration foyer, and the students found my son's name (we had pre-registered), and we quickly joined a tour of the school.  Well, the tour was a private one because we were the only tour participants!  The school got many of their Sec 3 Uniformed Group students to lead tours, and our tour guide was from the NCC Cadet Air.  He gave us a tour of the school, including the library, science labs, humanities room, indoor sports hall and many more areas.  It was a big school.

Glass paneling at the library.

Secondary 1 Talk
We were registered for the 12:30pm Sec 1 talk, and we got there early.  See the empty lecture theatre!  But not to worry, it filled up completely very soon.  There was large interest.

Father Adrian (SJI Principal) Speech
The talk started with a Sec 1 boy giving the opening prayer. Prayer is an integral part of school life. After that, the Principal, Father Adrian, gave a speech, which was very interesting because he quoted from two of his favourite poems.  He told us that he was an English major.  I managed to record the entire speech, and here it is.


The two poems cited were Days by Philip Larkin, and the Summer Day, by Mary Oliver.  Fascinating stuff.  Father Adrian cited the closing line from 'Summer Day' - "Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"  Worth pondering over.

The main segment of the Sec 1 Talk was conducted by the Secondary 1 Level head, who gave us very insightful information.  I will just highlight a few points here.  SJI offers both the O-level and the Integrated Programme Route.  In terms of numbers, about 220 boys for O-level, and 120 for the IP route accepted in previous years.

The Integrated Programme is different from most schools because SJI offers the IB, or International Baccalaureate.   Most IP schools offer the A levels.

Cut-Off Points
In terms of cut-off points (a very important question), the parents were shown this slide.  You can see that the Cut-Off Points were high.  For O0level route, non-affiliate schools was 246 in 2016 and for Integrated Programme (IP), it was a hefty 253 in 206.  Take note - no affiliation for IP programme.  Even the Cut-off for affiliated schools (for the O-level track) was rather high at 238.  In short, if you want to get into SJI, your PSLE score must be pretty good.

School Fees
There was also the issue of fees.  SJI is an independent school, and the fees are not insignificant. This was the chart shown below.  For O level track, it was $340 per month, for IP Track, it was $380 per month. MOE provides a means-tested Independent School Bursary (for Singapore students only). Finally, the Level head assured all parents that if any kid had financial difficulties, please talk to the school.  They would find ways to help the kid.

Distinguished Alumni - parents were also shown several slides on the distinguished alumni of SJI. This is one such slide. Bottom right is Dick Lee, who infamously caused a controversy  by saying that everyone 'did drugs' at SJI.  Oh well, maybe during this time!

Conclusion
I have no affiliation with SJI, but decided to visit SJI because I had read that SJI was achieving very good IB results.  My impression of the school was generally good.  I think the focus on values and character is important, yet there is also an increasing pursuit of academic excellence.

After all, SJI must the one of the few mission schools with such a high cut-off point for its affiliated schools.  Also, there is no affiliation for their IP programme, and hence the student quality (as measured by PSLE score) would be high.

Definitely gave us a lot of food for thought.

For those kids taking PSLE this year (2017), good luck and God Bless!

Thanks for reading.