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Beijing for Dummies (That's Us)


THE SIGHTS

The Forbidden City
The quintessential symbol of Imperial China, whether you really want to or not it's a must see. When we visited, two of the main buildings were under construction, so no postcard pictures for us. On the plus side, the ticket price has been drastically reduced to take construction into account. Take a pass on the audio guides, they are supposed to turn on and off automatically as you arrive at the various sights. I got to hear about the Supreme Harmony Gate three times before officially giving up on it. My dad lasted a few hours more than Yann and I, what a trooper. But we had already been there once before. Tianan'men Square
When we first arrived in Beijing, the 17th CCP Congress was in session, prompting topiary statues, neon lights, fountains and even patches of grass to be installed on Tianan'men Square. Thankfully when we arrived back in Beijing, three weeks later, the hideousness was gone, returning the famous square to its concrete, barren massiveness. You still can't get too close to the phallic Monument to the People's Heroes, as in the past it has been the symbolic staging point for many un-harmonious protests. You can't approach the large portrait of Mao hanging at the entrance to the Forbidden City either, as someone actually managed to set it on fire this year, with a gagillion military and police forces and even more tourists around. Chairman Mao Memorial Hall
My dad and I stood with the hundreds of Chinese waiting in line to pay their respects to the great Mao. This is probably the first and last time you will ever see Chinese people queue up in an orderly fashion (somewhat). Once you enter the solemn building, you are quickly ushered past Mao's eerily preserved body to the exit at the back of the mausoleum, where you can get all the Mao Zedong paraphernalia you could possibly ask for. The Chairman would be so proud. The Great Hall of the People
A gargantuan concrete beast. It's where the CCP's congresses take place every once in a while. Otherwise it is used to host foreign dignitaries in its huge lavish rooms. You can tour around a selection of rooms (each named after a Chinese province) and join in the absolute chaos of photo-taking in the main auditorium (where the congresses are held). The Summer Palace
This is where the emperor and his entourage retreated in the hot season. Now on the outskirts of the Beijing City Centre, it's accesible by public bus. My dad and I spent an entire day walking around the grounds. Even the terrible haze obscuring views across Kunming Lake didn't detract too much from our enjoyment of the place. Yonghe Gong (Lama Temple)
Maybe we had overdosed on temples, but the Tibetan Lama Temple, didn't seem to inspire much. Less Tibetan Buddhism on hand than Chinese tourists purchasing copious amounts of incense so that Buddha might grant them good luck. We opted for a speedy tour so that we could catch the sunset at Jingshan Park.

Jingshan Park
Purportedly affords the best sunset views of the Forbidden City. So the three of us literally ran up to the viewing platform only to find a) not so great views of the Forbidden City b) the North Gate of the Forbidden City covered in scaffolding and green tarps c) hundreds of other tourists clambering for better viewing spots at a tiny pavilion. We discovered later that hands down better views could be had from the White Pagoda in Beihai Park, or from the ground, at the Forbidden City moat. Beihai Park
Great people-watching. Non-stop taichi, line dancing, water calligraphing, opera singing, action. Who can resist the adorable senior citizens of Beijing? Apparently neither Yann nor my dad. Lao She Teahouse
The Sunday matinée Beijing Opera show here proved to be a pretty good deal. For a few dollars you get a bottomless cup of tea and three act Beijing Opera sampler. We were pretty close to the stage (but not too close because we hadn't shelled out the big bucks) and we had a good view, but we had to contend with the unbelievably rude staff, who talked loudly to each other just a few feet away from us. At one point a woman from the t-shirt selling booth was holding up a t-shirt and yelling something to another vendor all the way across the room!?! The last straw was when a staff member began imitating one of the singers on stage. This got him a pathetic "Shhhhh" from me, followed by a pointing of the index finger and a "Shut UP" from my dad which proved to be a more successful way of getting him and the rest of the staff to shut up. We moved across the room to an empty table anyways and enjoyed the performance much more. SHOPPING

Wangfujing Street
McDonald's, Haagen Daaz, KFC, Versace, Gucci... not even knock-offs. We checked out the 'Official Olympics Flagship Store', welcome to the land of excessive merchandising. Crystal Olympic mascot sets, watches, pens, bags, everything you could possibly emblazon with the Olympic crest. You can ride down the car-free Wanfujing street in the Yahoo! shuttle train, or watch the congress of the Chinese Communist Party broadcast live on a giant screen surrounded by golden arches. Is this for real? Panjiayuan Market
Beijing's giant flea market. You might have resisted the Terracotta warriors, but can you resist Chinese name chops, minority handicrafts, Buddha sculptures, Cultural Revolution posters, fake jade, pashmina shawls, turquoise and coral strands, Tibetan singing bowls, wooden masks, Chinese porcelain? Impossible! There's a reason why they've installed an ATM machine right outside the main gate. The three of us had to split up for this shopping extravaganza. I really wanted the giant acupuncture dolls, but I didn't know how my dad would feel about carrying them in his suitcase, so I got a set of smaller wooden puppets. Yann got a name chop and my dad employing his haggling techniques learned in Xi'an won a particularly hard fought battle for a decent price on a small incense holder. Sanlitun Yashou Clothing Market
"Hey lady looka looka, you want Gucci, Prada, cheapa cheapa". Welcome to knock-off heaven. If you can handle the annoying salesgirls and have some idea of what you are supposed to pay for things than you can probably pick up a few good value items. We mainly came to the market to get a suit tailor made for my dad, which at 1000yuan seems to have been a successful purchase. He and Condoleeza Rice now own suits from the same shop.


PEKING DUCK

Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant
The longest running Peking duck restaurant in China. If you don't care too much for the duck, come for the lobby/waiting room excitement. Get your number and wait with the hundreds of tourists, Chinese and foreigner until you're called by the girl standing on a pedestal holding the megaphone. The Hepingmen branch where we ate is four floors of duck consumption madness. The corridors are lined with photos of various important people dining at the restaurant. The duck itself is carved in front of you, cooked with crispy skin and little fat. It is eaten wrapped (do-it-yourself) in thin wheat pancakes with scallions and fermented bean sauce. Delicious but extremely rich. Expect a Peking duck hangover the next morning. Dadong Roast Duck Restaurant
We could we rate the Quanjude duck without something to compare it to. We picked the Dadong restaurant, picked as the city's best Peking Duck by the annual reader's poll of an expat magazine. First major plus, free drinks in the waiting room. The three of us hung out by the wine boxes, giddy like underage drinkers whose fake id's just worked. Sharing the prized information with other guests: "the wine is free you know!". Three glasses each later, we were seated. We ordered a plate of duck hearts, which were scrumptious and the full duck. Along with the traditional wheat pancakes, scallions and sauce, we had six other condiments to try. We thought the Quanjude duck had little fat but it was no comparison to the dry, crispy Dadong duck. It felt so much lighter and easier to eat. With complimentary fruit plates and dessert, Dadong was a clear winner in the food and price category. Quanjude remained victorious on atmosphere however, boring expats can't compete with stampeding crowds of hungry Chinese.

1 comment:

Jean said...

Bravo Em. J'ai vraiment joui de ce sommaire très drôle.Et tous les autres d'ailleurs. J'avais jamais vu la photo de Jean dansant. :-)