China: Beijing

BeijingA couple of years ago I spent a few days in Hong Kong and Guangzhou. I always planned to go back to China and so here I am, two years later, having just returned from a 12-day tour around China with my wife and two sons. We had a great time visiting Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Plenty of surprises along the way. We were all completely knackered by the end of it!

I’m going to publish a series of posts for each of the locations that we visited, although I will only be able to go into so much detail for each place. Looking back I can’t believe we covered as much ground as we did. Let’s get started with Beijing!

Day 1

With nothing planned on our itinerary our guide ‘Michael’ took us for a quick spin around Beijing. We dropped into a night market with some rather interesting foodstuffs on sale including fried scorpion, spider and stinky tofu. Michael told us that he’d never eaten spider with a polite smile that seemed to say: “only tourists do that sort of thing”.

Spiders! Why did it have to be spiders? Scorpion on a stick?

We ate an evening meal in a tiny backstreet hutong house and I sampled the local Yanjing beer. Then we walked along to have a look at the “bird’s nest” stadium built for the 2008 Olympics and Paralympics.

 First of many Chinese beers... "Bird's nest" stadium

Day 2

Our morning view from the hotel reminded me of the scene in Blade Runner where Deckard and Rachel meet for the first time and they talk about the owl. The tower in the distance is the China World Trade Center.

"Do you like our owl?" / "It's artificial?"

We spent the early part of the morning in Tiananmen Square. It’s difficult to see the scale of the place in the photos below. The Monument to the People’s Heroes is on the left and the gate into the Forbidden City is on the right.

Monument to the People's Heroes Gate into the Forbidden City

The Mausoleum of Mao Zedong sits in the middle of Tiananmen Square flanked by sculptures on either side. I tried out my Mandarin Chinese on a lady selling cold drinks from a van and she actually understood what I was saying!

Sculpture next to the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

Then we moved into the Forbidden City itself. This is even more vast than Tiananmen Square but it’s divided into walled sections separated by dozens of gates so it’s again difficult to get an idea of the overall size. I’ve tried to grab a panoramic photo of one section so that you have an idea:

Forbidden City

I was obsessed with pedicabs so here’s an obligatory shot:

If you're going to pedicab in style...

The evening meal featured good old Tsing Tao!

Tsing Tao!

Day 3

We spent the morning walking along the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. Major highlight of the entire trip! Not many people there and it was lovely and sunny. The final section of our climb, the steep part in the photo below, was extremely hard work. My wife and youngest son turned back whilst I continued with my eldest son. Thirsty tourists are usually an easy target for the lady selling cold drinks at the top for an exorbitant price. I dropped a ‘tài guì le’ (太贵了) and we settled on half the asking price. Probably still expensive but I was gasping!

View along the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall Standing on the Great Wall

Day 4

We started the day by visiting a people’s park in Beijing. Incredible community spirit in this place. I’ve never seen so many stretchy people — must try harder in kung fu class!

Stretching in the people's park Chinese chess...serious business

Tai chi chuan sword form!

Later in the day we visited the Temple of Heaven and did the tourist thing in a hutong pedicab. The hawkers actually chased after us on their bikes!

Temple of Heaven Pedicab ride

Then we spent the afternoon visiting the Summer Palace before we headed for the airport for our onward flight to Xi’an.

View back across the lake to the Summer Palace View across the lake to a pagoda

Beijing is a fascinating place, a city where old China and new China seem to coexist in some degree of harmony, though I do wonder how long this will continue to be the case with the persistent encroachment of The West into the Chinese way of life. The people in Beijing seemed quite relaxed and were always very patient and helpful whenever I experimented on them with my bad Mandarin Chinese.

One last quick mention for our Beijing guide, ‘Michael’, who was without doubt the best guide we had throughout our entire stay in China. Thanks again Michael! Xiè xiè 谢谢!

Michael

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