There is a world out there very different from yours where life is lived differently and stories are woven differently… and Beijing was like walking through one of those mystical stories…
A world closes when you enter Beijing… You can no longer access your daily dose of Facebook, Gmail or google….and then another world opens up… one which is tailor made for the residents of Beijing… everything is controlled and yet everything seems very peaceful in its constraints.
If you hear “Beijing” and think of monuments in red and green, old men with long thin braided beards in even longer silk robes, tight lipped faces and hot Chinese soups… Well you are not too far from the truth… What is fascinating are the stories behind it…
My dear friend and business partner, Hema and I arrived in Beijing on a whim, tearing ourselves away from work in Guangzhou for a three day trip. One of the best decisions we have made, as otherwise, we would have left China with a completely different and unjustified image of it as an industrial country.
Walk out of Beijing airport and be greeted (so to speak) by a whole herd of shouting taxi drivers- this is the thing with China- they all seem like they are angry and shouting all the time when really they are just talking! Once you get used to it (it takes a little getting used to) and don’t take offence to it anymore… life can move onto other things 🙂
Beijing doesn’t have the best public transport system and not too many people speak English so pick your place of stay well. We stayed at Wangfujing which is walking distance from all the shopping and close to Tiananmen square. I would also highly recommend home stays in old Beijing town of Hutong to experience some traditional Chinese living.
Beijing comes alive at night and its not the usual clubbing and pubbing…. The streets of Beijing are filled with people dancing… Yes I was shocked too… You will find people in groups near the cathedral… in front of the mall… along the footpaths… doing the waltz, line dancing, jive, hip hop…even if you cant shake a leg… be sure to join in!
Street shopping and street food is a must in China… Even if you don’t fancy a plateful of worms, insects, duck…. the sights of stalls lined up with a range of flora and fauna to devour cannot be missed!… And if you have a rubber lining inside your tummy… You must dare to try some…. However, if you are looking for something to lift up your spirits, head to Dongcheng district.
Put your shopping shoes on and get set to bargain whether on the streets or in the whole-sale malls… You can strike up mean deals on Gucci, Armani, Kipling, Diesel or any other brand that you so fancy- replicas of course! If the world has it… China does too! A good place to find it all under one roof is at the Silk street. A word of caution: don’t get taken for a ride!
But the real beauty of Beijing lies in its monuments and their mystical stories spanning many dynasties….
The forbidden city on a weekend looks like the whole of China and their uncles and aunts have all decided to come to this one place! So if you have a choice pick a weekday. Once you swim through the sea of people without losing an eye to the many umbrellas and get your tickets to enter this magnificent complex, it then transports you into another world… Stepping into the forbidden city through massive red gates is an honour because if it were a few centuries ago, your head would have been cut off!
The story goes that the Emperor was to be the only real man in the forbidden city sent down by the Gods to multiply and procreate…add to his lineage … To make sure this was so, the men who were hired to guard the Emperor were operated on and converted to eunuchs… Their family jewels (read genitals) were preserved in a bottle till the day they died… At which point a family member could BUY this back to bury him as a man! FUN FACT!
This complex, with its even more complex stories, spans into hectares of land so be prepared for some good walking through the halls of harmony, the palace of heavenly peace, the palace of tranquillity, the Imperial gardens and much more….
The temple of heaven is approached through a beautiful garden and stands tall in a gorgeous blue and red colour depicting the skies and the heavens alike. This temple built in the Ming dynasty was one of the most important sites for prayers where emperors used to gather to pray for a good harvest. The correlation between the universe and the earth, the calculations of the same and how the structure is built to be a powerhouse based on these facts is quite fascinating and worth reading up about before heading there. If you are a morning bird, you could watch Tai Chi in the garden. We didn’t get our collective butts up in time but were privy to some singing and dancing in the gardens after our exploration of this magnificent structure!
One of the prettiest places in Beijing is the Summer palace. Its quite a lot of walking but we were completely engulfed in the stories our wonderful guide Craig (everyone has a fancy English name for convenience) had to tell us! The summer palace abuts a large serene lake with a hilltop Buddhist temple called the Longevity hill. The story goes that the emperor wanted to make the most beautiful imperial garden for his mother and so dug up the land to create this lake… the remains of that mound is what the temple sits on.
The summer palace was used also for the Emperor to sow his seeds (so to speak) to help increase the population of his country. The Emperor along with his guardian eunuchs would travel to the villages where families would display their girls for the Emperor. It was considered an honour for the family if the Emperor picked their daughter to help in his kingly duties to procreate! The girl was then wrapped in nothing but a silk cloth and brought to the palace. The Eunuchs stood outside and took notes of the conversation in the room lest the king gives away any secrets to the damsel! Another fun fact!
The summer palace was also used by the Empress Dowager Cixi who was better known as the dragon lady. She was considered to be the reason for the fall of the Qing dynasty. What I found fascinating was that she insisted that her every meal had 40 dishes! A large part of these dishes were only there to excite her senses of smell and vision- colourful, fragrant dishes… that were not for consumption! Funny fact!
No trip to Beijing is complete without braving the climb up the Great Wall of China. Now this could be called a climb or a near death experience depending on your fitness level. Imagine my surprise when I was breathless after what I thought was a good climb only to be told we have reached the foot of the climb up! This monstrous mammoth mind blowing creation is almost impossible to have been built by mere humans! Each step is of a different height so you cant keep a steady pace! When I reached half way up and felt my heart pumping outside my chest and my brain telling me “are you trying to kill yourself?”… I see this beautiful and calm little woman all of 75 years old walking down after her climb up! That was all the inspiration I needed! For most Chinese the climb up the great wall is a pilgrimage and you would know why when you get up there and see the stone that says “until you reach the great wall, you are no hero” – written by Chairman Mao. I don’t know about being a hero but the view is to die for!
Before you leave Beijing make sure you get your dose of good Peking duck, some Jade jewellery, an enlightening session on the art of tea drinking and an eyeful of the ancient art of Chinese calligraphy and music.
….and when in Beijing…. bring out your communist cap and make a communist buddy! You must!