The two 'ninjas', Awwa (left) and Ann, all bundled up to ward off the cold. By the time we finished walking across the Imperial Palace two hours later, Awa's toes were frozen stiff and she could hardly walk, no thanks to those dainty summer shoes..
Snow covered benches in the grounds of Forbidden City; a welcome respite for many a weary traveller at other times of the year.
Kami 'mao' bergambar berlatarkan potret Mao Tze Tung... !
Stone carving of a dragon, symbol of imperial China (specifically Chinese emperors), captured here gracing one of the corridors leading to the Great Hall. The royal symbol for empresses, dowagers and queens is the phoenix.
Awaiting lunch after a three-hour walkabout.
Food glorious food! That's chicken hotplate on the right and mutton cooked with cashews and nuts on the left.
Worker shoveling snow in the grounds of Forbidden City.
The white expanse behind us is the moat, now frozen solid, encircling the Forbidden City.
Beijing's Nan Dou Ya Mosque, built during the Ming Dynasty some 300 years ago. We had our Zuhur prayers here.
The two girls doing their solat after lunch.
The mosque's beautiful ceiling, with its intricate goemetric designs.
Rooftops covered with snow at the foot of the Great Wall.
The First Tower is in the background. Everyone made it to the tower, except yours truly. I decided to sit in the snow instead. It was deliciously COLD.
Fir trees alongside the Wall.
A monument to something or someone, I am not sure. All I am sure about is that the second tier of the stone monument made good seat for my weary rear..
All we had asked for before leaving for Beijing on the morning of January first was for a bit of snow, given Beijing's below-freezing temperature and also just to make Nawwar's day, for she had not experienced snow before.
She had spent one summer in London many years ago. The temperature then, hovering in the 40s C, was even hotter than Kuala Lumpur. Where Malaysia is hot and humid, London summers tend to sear.
It was a tolerable -5C when we set foot on Beijing soil just past 3pm, after a six-hour flight. We were met at the airport by soft-spoken Lu Qiang, a strapping six-footer in his early 30s, who was to be our guide for the rest of our Beijing stay.
I was impressed by his good, measured English that I keypohly asked what he did for a living. Whaddaya know, he taught English at a language academy! Guiding was his part-time job, when he didn't have classes to conduct. Recently married, Lu's wife was also an English teacher at the same academy.
The 20-minute ride to the hotel was smooth, it being a public holiday. After a two-hour respite at the hotel, we were taken to an acrobatic show. China has always been big on gymnastics and acrobatics, so it was no surprise that the show was very entertaining, especially the death-defying finale.
I had seen similar stunts before, but never five superbikes with riders without protective helmets, criss-crossing the inside of a small steel cage. One misstep and they could all tumble into a horrifying heap. Their timing and precision was simply awesome.
Dinner, at a nearby Chinese Muslim restaurant, was wholesome and delicious. There were rice, chicken and beef dishes, sauteed vegetables, omelette, consomme soup and fresh fruits. Somehow, the piping hot Chinese tea in Beijing tasted better than the standard fare at home. Must be the cold!
We were up early the following morning since subuh was at 5.59am and our first visit of the day - to Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City - started at 8am. A thin layer of snow, probably four inches, covered the roads and the pavements. It had snowed while we snored! Our affable guide Mr Lu said it was Beijing's first snowfall this winter.
We realised how unprepared we were, and how much we had underestimated Beijing winter, when we took in Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City, after a hearty breakfast of bread, noodles and rice.
While our bodies were amply clad, our feet were poorly shod. "But these are summer shoes!" exclaimed Mr Lu, casting an incredulous look at my leather court shoes, Awwa's Crocs, Ann's sneakers and Pak Abu's moccasins. And we thought thick socks would help keep the cold away....
Snow had begun to fall steadily as we trampled the vast grounds of the Imperial Palace complex, taking a peep at the pampered isolation of the Chinese emperors and their myriad of concubines and royal children.
There was even a special bridal chamber, in the corner of which was a four-poster wooden bed (much like the Baba and Nyonya bridal bed) with intricate carvings and lavishly decorated with gorgeous silken spreads and drapes.
As I stood there gaping at the bed and its blazing red accoutrement, I couldn't help thinking of the thousands of young ladies who had sat nervously by the bedside as recent as a hundred years ago, waiting with a knot in their stomach for the arrival of their ultimate Master...
There were lots of stairways to tackle in Forbidden City. Our inadequate shoes made walking and climbing rather uncomfortable, especially as the ground had by now become slippery due to snow and ice.
We resolved to head for a shopping mall after the two-hour tour to get proper boots. The girls bought matching calf-length boots with woolen lining while Pak Abu and I settled for laced walking shoes with ribbed soles. It felt secure to be clad in such sturdy shoes.
After lunch at a Chinese Muslim restaurant not far from the shopping mall, we headed towards Nan Dou Ya Mosque for prayers. Built during the Ming Dynasty, Nan Dou Ya is one of a hundred or so mosques that can be found in and around Beijing.
Then it was off to a herbal centre to have our feet massaged and palms analysed for any health problems. We had our feet soaked in warm water in which were placed sachets of a mixture of 20 herbs gathered from the Tibetan highlands, and scented with sandalwood. It was heavenly!
A pearl centre came next. It was a government-run complex that turned freshwater pearls into intricate jewellery for sale. The arrays of pearl accessories (and their decent prices) boggled the mind. Out of the blue, Pak Abu offered to buy me a pearl ring.... say whaaa....? and who was I to refuse?
It got progressively colder towards the evening and snow started to fall again, albeit slightly. Our guide Mr Lu informed that heavy fall was expected the following day. How heavy? "Oh, much heavier than today according to reports," responded Mr Lu.