Dokodemo Door!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Journey to Beijing, Day 2

I should probably amend the previous entry. A journey to the Great Wall, as decent an endeavor as it is for a first-time foreign visitor to northern China, is nonetheless larded with a certain level of humbug and boosterism. One hoary old chestnut which is commonly repeated to foreign visitors is that the Great Wall is the only man-made object which is visible to the naked eye from space.

Balderdash. Has the mass-production of light bulbs not made electrified night-time cities visibly incandescent from space?

Anyway, based on appearances, I would have to say that Beijing looks as if it's become way more livable over the last 10 years. The general improvements to the city, many (but not all) of which were for the Olympics, seem to have ameliorated some of its harder edges.

Beijing Station, teeming with throngs of so-called "Chinese people."

The city isn't clean per se, but it's certainly a cleaner place than it used to be. (In the '90s, there was a joke. Q: What's the national bird of China? A: The plastic bag.) Today, the city isn't really colorful (the main hues are still primarily grey and brown) but it's less drab a place and there's certainly a lot more greenery and florescent lights in evidence than before. Furthermore, piece o' crap cars like old-model Dacias and Ladas have been banned from the roads while the cheapo miandi taxis have all been replaced by Hyundais and Volkswagens.

Perhaps the most radical change is that Beijing's ubiquitous bicycles have largely vanished. It used to be that the bicycle lanes were as crowded as the road traffic. Today? Those millions of bike riders have graduated-up to driving cars, with predictable results. Naturally, the subway is (still) the best and cheapest way to get from place to place, with the added bonus that it goes to way more places than it used to.

On the way to the Summer Palace, we stopped by the Beijing Zoo. I'm not really into zoos, but I spent enough time trying to get a decent shot of this fat bugger that it would be a waste to not show it...

Yep. That's pretty much all they do.

Yiheyuan, The Summer Palace, is considered one of the best examples of classical Chinese landscape architecture there is. (It is not to be confused with the ruins of the next-door Yuanmingyuan, the Old Summer Palace, which was looted & burned over three days by Anglo-French forces during what was arguably the least-honorable conflict of the European imperialist age.)

At this time of year, the grounds of the Palace is saturated with people to the point of claustrophobia.

Though, this bridge wasn't so bad

Getting decent pictures was rough, since there was always someone standing in the way of somebody else. The only way to get a clear, wide shot of the complex is to venture-out onto to the lake on a paddle-boat but we didn't really feel like doing that.

At the end of the day, per my insistence, we went to a Uyghur restaurant because I'm absolutely nuts when it comes to Xinjiang cuisine and the last time I ate any was a year ago in Bishkek. As it turns-out, some Beijing entrepreneur had the bright idea of combining Uyghur food with Central Asian music and dancing in a beer-hall. The result is a damn fun evening. (Provided that you overlook the not-so-authentic stuff, like the meter-long shish-kebabs and the yards of ale.)

I can't help but like these guys (the video skips about 90 seconds in, FYI):

Uyghur men can get-away with wearing sequins.

Next up: The Temple of Heaven and fun times with the police...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Journey to Beijing, Day 1

Arriving at the new terminal of Beijing Capital Airport was rather refreshing, compared to what they'd had before. You could tell they spent a gigantic amount of money to have something grand, airy and impressive. I remember the old terminal well: it had worn linoleum floors, wooden benches and was rather reminiscent of a provincial bus station.

Upon arrival, we were met by our driver and we set-out for Badaling, the most touristy of the Great Wall sites north of the city.

I suppose this made the most sense. Had we gone into the city, checked into the hotel and gone to Badaling, it probably would've added about 3 hours. Upon arrival at the Great Wall, we naturally opted to go on the easier slope...

It was an obligatory kind of visit, really. That evening, we had our Peking duck dinner and checked-in to the Beijing International Hotel, which is conveniently located on Jianguomen Avenue.

Coming-up: The Beijing Zoo, the Summer Palace and a spot o' Uighur cuisine.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Beijing, baby!

Mari, her dad and I are going to be heading to Beijing in about 2 weeks. It will be a short trip to the main sights and the plan assumes that we'll need to go at the pace of a septuagenarian. For better or for worse...

A most disconcerting sight if you've REALLY got to pee...

It upsets me to remember that the last time I was there was in 1999. That feels like a long time ago. One of the comments that you hear from regular visitors to China is that every time you go back, the place looks different. That makes me wonder whether Beijing will be completely unrecognizable to me today.

To give but one example, Beijing had two mass transit lines back in the '90s. Today? It's got fourteen. Furthermore, I hear the traffic is worse. Much, much, much worse. Times ten.

How's the trip going to go? Your guess is as good as mine. Let's hope for the best.