A few days ago I returned from spending a glorious week in Beijing. What can I say, I loved it! The people were friendly, the prices absurdly cheap, the food killer and the sights superb. I left on Sunday morning, the 18th of November 2007, and landed on Monday night, the 19th, owing to the 16+ hour difference.
On landing, we realized our folly in not printing out directions to our hostel in Mandarin. The cabbie spoke nary a word of English, and after extensive hand signaling and stopping to ask strangers, we finally made it. The rooms were a bit smaller than anticipated and so the next day, after a good breakfast buffet, we checked out into another hostel with more spacious quarters.
Since finding the new hostel took up half the day, we decided to spend the rest of the day exploring the city and trying to find a good place for lunch. Our days followed a simple pattern, the mornings were spent sightseeing, often until the late afternoon, and the evenings were spent indoors in heated shopping malls trying to find gifts for ourselves and our friends and so on.
We saw Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and The Great Wall on three successive days. Tiananmen Square is vast, open and filled with tourists. Nothing you wouldn’t expect, even the obligatory Red Guard marches happened right on schedule. For inexpensive yet good clothes, we checked out the Sanlitun Yashow clothing market. Be sure to go there and be prepared to bargain outrageously. When they try to sell you something for 700 Yuan, be prepared to counter with a derisive snort and say, “Whaat! 100 Yuan, that’s it”. Then they’ll counter with 600 and you can go to 150 and so on until you both meet at 180 or 200 or whatever you feel its worth. The culture of bargaining is very strong. The upside is that sometimes you pay far lesser than even the locals. Though of course, this is rare.
The Forbidden City is vast, cyclopean with all its stone and very humbling all at once. As you walk through arch after arch, over stone pathways that are now hallowed with the steps of countless tourists, you realize the grandeur of the Imperial Court. We spent 7 hours in the Forbidden City and saw less than half of it. We had to leave for lunch, roast duck awaited. By this point I needed a new memory card, since mine was full, being the compulsive shutterbug that I am.
The following day, we went to Mutianyu, one of the closest sites to tour the Great Wall. Around 2.5 hours from Beijing, we got there around 9.30 and hiked on it until 1.30. I took tons of pictures, all visible in the Pictures link below. It stretches as far as the eye can see, broken in some parts, but rearing its massive crenellations in short order after a break in the usual order of things. Wide enough to drive a jeep on, the Great Wall is very steep in some parts, as we found out soon enough. We got to the highest point we could reach and then returned for a hearty lunch. Back at the hostel by 5 P.M., we then went shopping for some electronics, a cheap laptop or digital camera would have been great.
The next day was a bit of a breather, we didn’t leave the hostel until 11 A.M., venturing to the Russian Quarter, where the storefront signs and some street signs are in Cyrillic and so on. Russian women in furs preening and arguing in Russian over the prices of consumer items such as handbags, purses, shoes etc….The Chinese shopkeepers were met were very multilingual, knowing a smattering of words in almost every language we could think of. Doubtless, this helped them secure sales. For lunch, we had some Yak steak at a Tibetan restaurant. Delicious.
People were also very taken with my sideburns. I had people of both genders come up to me and touch them and say, ‘VERY COOL’ quite forcefully. That’s it, I’m never shaving them off now.
We left on Sunday, the 25th, from Beijing at 5 P.M. and arrived home in Vancouver at 12 P.M. Flying into the sun gave us the day back that we had lost initially. A bit of jetlag ensued after distributing the loot to all my friends and here I am now, left with memories of the one crazy week in China.