We all know that credit cards are infinitely useful when we travel but the folks at MasterCard go above and beyond their call of duty with their Priceless Cities programme, which was newly launched this year.
The curators of the campaign have painstakingly reached out to vendors providing interesting experiences in various cities to add more colour to your travel adventures. The icing on the cake is, of course, perks like discounts and freebies. For instance, the programme in Singapore offers discounted tickets to Universal Studios Singapore, a complimentary glass of bubbly with a heritage afternoon tea at The Clifford Pier, and even a custom bespoke experience at local womenswear label Ong Shunmugam.
However, we were first acquainted with MasterCard’s Priceless Cities in Beijing, which took us out on an opera-themed day out.
Our experience started with lunch at the Mei Mansion, an elegant two century old Beijing courtyard that belonged to a concubine during the Qing Dynasty. Taking its name from renown Peking opera actor Mei Lanfang, the restaurant serves Chinese dishes preferred by the opera luminary when he was alive. You’ll see graceful green bamboo and willow gracing the courtyard, while the interior is decked out with furniture and items that hark back to the 1920s as well as opera paraphernalia and Mei memorabilia.
Befitting the cultured setting, the dishes that arrived were executed with finesse and a sense of refinement reminiscent of imperial cuisine in China. My favourites of the eight-course menu include the deep-fried prawn balls with candied walnuts, the three-egg jelly (salted egg, century egg, and regular egg), and the steamed fish maw in superior broth. The menu is seasonal and prices range from RMB300 to 2000 per person. Booking through Priceless Cities will score you a complimentary drink.
We departed Mei Mansion completely stuffed and satisfied, and headed to Mei Lan Fang Grand Theater, where the second half of the experience awaited.
Those familiar with the Chinese operatic arts will know that there are different roles like the Sheng (main male role), the Dan (female role), the Chou (the male clown), and more. For those who are not familiar, you’re in for a real (educational) treat!
In the bowels of this grand, fan shaped building, members of resident Peking opera troupe will help you dress up and make up in the different roles for a photoshoot to capture the various expressions, as well as hand gestures, used in Peking opera by the various parts.
First, the application of thick make up, which gradually replaced masks hundreds of years ago so as to see facial expressions better. Make-up and costumes also help the audience to understand the personality and the social status of the character more easily. In order to get the straight brows and slanted cat eyes you see in the images, I had to tape up the corner of my eyes for the duration of the shoot, which took about an hour and the half with make up and wardrobe changes.
Mostly modeled after clothing of the Ming dynasty, the costumes and headdresses I put on were all intricately made and each one reflected a different sort of character. The white robe with embroidered flowers and bejeweled headdress below, for example, belongs to main character in the opera Legend of the White Snake. The production, which has also been told countless times in films and on television, tells the love story between a young man and a white snake.
At the end of the experience, you’ll get to choose two of your favourite photos that they’ll print onsite as a keepsake while the rest of the photos will be sent to you via a download link two weeks later, after they’ve been processed.
Whether or not you’re familiar with Peking opera, the Mei Lanfang experience is highly recommended, especially since Chinese opera appears to be a dying art in Singapore. You’ll come out of it with a lot of respect for the artists, who have to talk, sing, dance, and perform martial arts, on top of the heavy make-up and wardrobe they already have on.
Pssst, if you’re also looking for somewhere nice to stay in Beijing, MasterCard cardholders also get the fourth night for free with a stay of four consecutive nights at East Beijing! See our full review here.
The Mei Lanfang experience was courtesy of MasterCard Priceless Cities.