First Full Day in Beijing, China

Beijing bicycles.

J. and I arrived safely in Beijing yesterday on Sunday afternoon. The airport was massive. Our plane taxied for many minutes, past the new city-sized terminals and to a smaller grey monster on the edge. With little difficulty, though lugging lots of bags, we boarded the airport express train and made two subway transfers to get close to our night’s lodgings. The subway was packed. We were the only backpackers (and foreigners) on the trains, and we took up a lot of valuable space. Nobody seemed annoyed, even when we’d turn to disembark and scrape our bags against an arc of people. Many of the youth seemed tall. The closest subway stop was on the south side of the Forbidden City. We walked the rest of the way, a little lost, and checked in around 3:30.

The Jade International Youth Hostel is wonderful. Yes, there are Euro trash in the lobby, but contrary to “hostel”, our room is private, sparkling, and cozy. It’s more hotel-grade. Our bathroom actually has hot water in the sink! I had forgotten about that luxury. There’s free internet and everyone is really friendly. Not a bad deal for around $20 a night.

Beijing is cold. In one day of travel, we lost about 40 degrees of heat. But walking around, while cold, is actually a lot easier than in the heat. The air is thickly polluted, but the cold makes this tolerable too.

In the evening, we walked to meet some of J.’s friends at their hotel. They were in town also. Their hotel was fancier than ours, but so were the prices. For dinner, we found a loud restaurant between our hotels. We ordered a few dishes: chicken and chestnuts in gravy, spicy and sour soup, dumplings, spicy pork and vegetables. To drink: hot green tea and two large beers. The meal cost a total of $13. Not bad for four people. The food was good, except for weird cuts of meat and MSG lip itch. I suppose I’ll have to get used to that.

We went to sleep early.

Today, we planned on waking up early and going on a morning walk to see old people practicing tai chi. Fail. We woke at 8:30. J.’s friends wanted to go walking too, so we waited for them to meet us. J. got some breakfast at the hostel while I went on a brief walk through the hutongs (smaller streets/alleys). I butchered Mandarin trying to order some stuffed bread from a hole in the wall. One bean stuffed patty cost 1RMB(14¢). It was delicious. I couldn’t find coffee, however.

Looking into a hutong doorway.

Old tile roof.

Pay phones and cargo bike.

Modified motorcycle converted to three wheels and covered. There are lots of variants of this driving around town.

Because of the cold weather, many bikes have gloves permanently attached to the handlebars. Safety first!

CLOCKWISE: Manhole cover, foliage, electric box, window dog.

On our walk, we headed through small streets to Jingshan Park. For being a Monday morning, there were a lot of people. Most of them were old and involved in smile-inducing activities: ribbon twirling, kicking a cross between a hacky-sack and a shuttlecock, dancing, stretching, singing, playing cards, chatting, and more. It seemed like such a wonderful way to grow old.

One of many old lady ribbon twirlers.


Looking up to the temple on the manmade hill of Jingshan Park. The hill is made from the dirt removed during construction of the Forbidden City moat.

There were numerous paths up. We took a steep set of rocky steps.

Looking north from the hill.

Looking south over the Forbidden City. As you can see, the pollution in Beijing is pretty thick.

Looking east towards the ghostly towers in the haze.

This man is obviously shocked by the air quality.

An old couple in the middle of a mellow conversation.

Looking west towards Beihai Lake.

People dancing near one of the gates. This was too enticing to not investigate further. We descended the hill in search of the dancers.

Stick of candied fresh hawthorne berries. Delicious.

Ladies discussing how to balance balls on rackets.

Old man stretching on a tree.

The card players.

An area of the park was fenced in and appeared designated for whatever these people were doing. A string between two sticks was used to manipulate a spinning top. The movements were reminiscent of thai chi.


Old man on bench.

Group of dancers. For over an hour they were led through various routines by a tall, short haired woman on the right. Some of the music verged on techno.

Meanwhile, just feet away, other couples were getting their ballroom dancing on.

This old father and son watched the dancing. It was a touching sight.

We left the park to find lunch. Along the way, I spotted this beautiful cat behind a fence. I also spotted numerous shops selling stuffed breads like I had for breakfast. I bought a large one stuffed with leaks and onion and two stuffed with spinach-like greens. So cheap and delicious. Everyone jokingly questioned if I would even need lunch. I was too busy snacking to laugh. Plus, it wasn’t funny. Why they be hating my breads?

The Beijing Spirit Cat.

For lunch, we got various steamed items and soup at a small place near the the Forbidden City. Very good. Total price: 25RMB($3.50)

Our next destination was a 12km cab ride northwest to the Summer Palace at Kunming Lake. Oh my was it gorgeous! The lake and palace grounds were vast and beautifully landscaped. It felt like the China you imagine from the history books. We spent the rest of the day wandering around. Due to poor planning, we didn’t get to walk around the entire perimeter. And due to miscommunication, we lost our friends just an hour in. Oh well.

Seventeen Arch Bridge to South lake Island.

Bridge in the afternoon haze.

Kite fliers.

A man and his kite. I like this photo.

The edge of South Lake Island.

The bridge.

View of the structures on Longevity Hill. We crossed to it from the island on a small ferry for $1.25 each.

It looked like this.

Temples up the hill.

Grey rooftops.

Painted ceiling.

J. and I climbed a footpath to the top of Longevity Hill and found Buddhist temples built on rocky outcroppings. They overlooked the northern edge of the city. It felt a little bit like Leh.

Octagon door.

Pink puff kid.

Trees along the lake.

J. at sunset.

Me at sunset.

A distant hilltop pagoda across the lake.

Sun sets over the lake.

It was time to head home.

The park was peaceful. The air was crisp. The leaves rustled and fell from the trees. Water lapped at the shore. Despite the haze, the surrounding scenery was vast and beautiful. Somehow the crowds of Chinese tourists weren’t annoying. Since we lost our friends, we wandered around for a bit to find them. The lake was big, and we had to backtrack great distances. We still couldn’t find them, so we decided to head home. The cab to the nearest subway stop overcharged us somehow, despite using a meter. The subway was easy to navigate back. It was evening rush hour, so it got crowded.

For dinner we got some greens, cashew chicken and a crazy looking dish of dried chilies and chicken. The table next to us drank two liters of orange juice with dinner. All of the wait-staff seemed tired.

Crazy spice chicken, complete with weird cuts of meat and bone.

Walking home after a great day.

One day in and I’m in love with China. I don’t know what to expect for the rest of the trip, but I’m excited. Just 4 weeks to go.

November 24th, 2008. Categories / China

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