First stop, the largest public square in the world, Tiananmen Square, full of milling crowds. At the south end sits the Front Gate however the walls are now gone and the gate is fenced off. Heading onwards Mao’s Mausoleum draws flocks of Chinese tourists as does the Gate of Heavenly Peace where a portrait of Chairman Mao resides below which tourists pose for photos. Around the park stony faced policemen and soldiers keep things in order, standing beside socialist statues. About the only thing allowed seems to be kites, some are large, others are strung together to create a line of twenty or so small kites.
Continuing North you get to Forbidden City, a million square metres and 999 rooms, although not all opened to the public. The Forbidden City is actual a museum, hosting all sorts of exhibits of how life was for the Emperors and friends. Seems like they basically stayed walled up in the centre of Beijing unless they really had to go out, in which case get the sedan chair. Maybe they spent their days drinking tea beside the rockeries in the garden.
I headed off to see the Chinese acrobatics at night. They were excellent! All sorts of displays from spinning plates to somersaults. People flicking five bowls through the air from one foot onto their heads, while riding a unicycle! There was one bendy gymnast doing impossible things. If you can do this you might want to join the Chinese acrobatics.
1) Lie on your back and do a full length wise 360 revolution, like a slow roly-poly.
Okay, now point all limbs up and repeat with a wineglass (or nine) on the palms of your hands, base of your feet and on your forehead. Yes, they always have to face the ceiling as you rotate. You would bet your mortgage it couldn’t be done, sounds impossible right? But somehow it was done!
Next day it was off for a stroll along a few of the old shops. Some guy was trying to sell me tiny shoes “Ming Dynasty!!”, yeah sure. A few old posters being sold with translations such as “You workers are going good.”. As well as the usual chop shops where you can get your named carved on a stamp, of course they convert your name into Chinese and then you come back later and pick it up. They probably give you a stamp that says “Duty Paid” or “Made In China” and claim it is your name!
After that it was down to The Temple of Heaven park, a pot pourri of all sorts of activities going on here. From people practising acrobatics to playing tennis, and everything inbetween such as hacksack, dominoes, bat & ball, selling rolexs, Chinese checkers, ballroom dancing or playing cards, it was all going on. I demonstated my acrobatic atheletism by catching hoops on my head! I had been watching these a handful of people practising with a soft aeroba/hollow frisbee throwing and then jumping up and catching round their necks. Then one guy motioned me to join them, actually pretty easy as the skill is more in the throwing than the catching, just duck your head a little at the right point.
Speaking of ducks, that night I headed to Quanjude Restaurant for the famous Beijing Duck or Peking Duck as it’s still better known. Yummy! It was delicious. Didn’t get a whole lot of meat off half a duck, but it was good quality, although I left the head/brains.
Just for comparative purposes I tried it somewhere else again whilst in Beijing, more meat but not quite as nice.
Next day I had a stroll through the commerical district where modern Beijing is found. Shopping malls line the pedestrianised area, as the tills ring out. In contrast to this the old alleyways (called hutongs) are a step back in time. People live, work and shop in these narrow lanes. At the entrance rickshaw drivers holler “Hutong! Hutong!” trying to entice lazy tourists to hop on for a tour, but these are perfect streets for walking.
For some food I headed off to Xuan Wang Home Cooking restaurant where I had some tasty sweet & sour cucumber, a dish for all those cucumber naysayers! Along with this deep fried spare ribs with pepper salt, another very tasty dish. Although a bit too much fat for my tastes. Then it was off to the Summer Palace a large park complex with the old buildings inside. This took quite a while to stroll around!
I went along to the Beijing Opera. This was a performance aimed at tourists, so they had subtitles broadcasted on a big screen throughout the show. Although sometimes the English was a bit wonky, it started with “I have left the nunnery in a hurry!”. A girl runs away to find her boyfriend, she is helped by an old boatman. It was quite clever the way the old boatman and the girl moved around as if in a boat. There was a couple of other stories and even some gymnastics thrown in as people somersaulted through the air.
“He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man” – Mao Zedong.
With that thought in mind it was up early(ish) the next morning to jump on the bus to Badaling where a portion of the Great Wall resides. It was actually fairly tough going, it was a lot steeper than I imagined it would be, but there was some handrails. Great view across the countryside where the wall snakes along the mountain ridges off into the distance. Whilst quite touristy it wasn’t as bad as the Lonely Planet suggests, although I didn’t go on the weekend. Plenty of space to move about, and I was expecting vendors selling stuff anyway. Some people cheat and take the cable car up, strangely enough there was a camel lurking on a section of the wall. I think he was just there for tourists to jump on and get there picture taken though. After knackering myself out, it was back to Beijing where I decided to stay for the Beijing Pop Festival.
The pop festival was held in Chaoyang park in the east of the city. A two day festival where a few Western bands were playing. It was certainly a bit different from the festivals in Britain. For a start there was no beer! A huge police presence kept things under control. The area in front of the stage was cordoned off for around 500 seats. The standing area was a 100m back from the stage. In the centre, from front to back, of the standing area police sat every 5m, no people were allowed to stand there. Every hour or two they would stand up and march off as new police came on duty. I did see one Westerner getting carted off with two policemen a limb, legs over head. He was taken off to a policevan with blacked out windows. The music was okay although the headliners on the first night gave the impression of wanting to be elsewhere. Not much crowd feedback, fairly quiet and subdued. The only time things got going really was with big haired 80’s spandex rocker Sebastian Bach (didn’t he die in the 18th century?) took the stage! The Chinese seemed to know his songs and sang along. After a bit of pushing at the front, extra police were quickly drafted in to sort out the barriers. Supergrass finished off the event and within 5 minutes, they annoucement that the festival has finished please disperse came over the tannoys and so I headed for Shanghai.