After 2 months and 3 weeks backpacking in the Americas I was on my way to a new continent, for me, the stop in China was also special, I was going to meet my class from Norway who are on 17 day-fieldtrip. Unfortunately my class had some academic on the days, so I wasn't able to spend too much time with them on the sights, sights I visited alone. But in the evenings we had a great time exploring ups and downs in Beijing.
Personally on of the down things for me is Chinese food, maybe I'm spoiled or maybe I'm just used to other cultures, but China is the first country on the trip where I don't enjoy the food. It's oil (usually a lot), it's noodles, it's strange-tasting meat and there s no bread culture. I'm a bit awkward to tell this, but thank God for McDonalds! (Apologies to those who read this and who are proud of their Chinese food)
But what Beijing doesn't have in food culture, they have in their Cultural heritage! The Forbidden City is enormous and awe-inspiring! I was lucky enough to join the tour-group of my class (Of course I paid my own admission ticket) so I got some info as well. But on the other sites my companion was the Lonely Planet.
Yonghegong Lama Temple is one of the most magnificent Tibetan Buddhist Temples outside Tibet. And what made it more special is that it's actually a temple, and not just a tourist sight, so around every corner there was incense being burned and people worshipping. Strangely enough I felt rather accepted walking around; none seemed to take notice of a few tourists. Of respect I didn't get photos inside the temples. But who is not amazed by a 18m tall shining Maitreya Buddha?
Just an incense stick's toss away was the Confucius Temple and the Imperial College. The Confucianism is a complex system of moral, social, political, philosophical and quasi-religious thoughts that have had tremendous influence on the cultures and history of the East Asian countries. The ideas date back to Confucius, a thinker who lived in China around 500 years BC.
While speaking of temples, my favorite was the Summer Palace and the Longevity Hills. The Summer Palace has long been a “getaway” for the Chinese Nobles, But It was destroyed be Anglo-French troops during the Opium Wars (1860). However, it was re-build during a massive overhaul in 1949. Today, it serves as a “getaway”for the ordinary Beijinger, and I can understand why, it truly was a tranquil spot in a hectic megapolis.
I did my share of shopping as well. The Silk Marked was exhausting, high pitch sounding Chinese girls trying to get you in to the store and loads of cheap clothes (haggling essential) makes it fun the first 20 minutes, then you sort of get enough. Far better was the Aliens Street Marked. A lot calmer and when you got addressed by the vendors it was usually in Russian (Because this marked was aimed towards Russian tourist) making my “spasibas” from Ekaterinburg (Feb’09) useful. But In fact I couldn't really buy too much, I have to carry everything with me, but what I DID buy was a tailor made outfit! 180USD for the whole package - nice price and nice fitting!
No trip to Beijing is complete without a walk on “The Great Wall”. Somewhere in Central American I got a tips from a couple that I should head to the “Emperor Guesthouse” and ask for “The Secret Wall”. I did, and I booked a trip, not really knowing what to expect, just that it was supposed to be authentic. After a three hour trip north of Beijing we reached a small village and we met our guide (a 80 year old man). We then climbed 50 minutes up the hills, and then reach the wall, a wall you will not find in any glossy magazines. But still beautiful in its natural shape! The nature (or man?) had been on this wall, bricks were missing and towers had fallen down. We (it was only the 7 of our group as long as our eyes could see) walked 3km on the wall, the icy wind just made it more real! This was the Wall, the real Wall, not the touristy made in Badaling. Just imagine the man-power used to make 8851km rock put in system, meandering the highest peaks North of Beijing (actually, north of China). Imagine how many warriors that guarded the Wall or centuries, they experienced icy wind and loneliness. I was stunned, even from a Civil-engineering point of view, the Wall is a masterpiece (Bet you knew that already)! I think the name of the segment we visited was “mi mi chang cheng” but I'm not sure.
Apart from going to cultural sights, I rode the subway quite a lot and spent time with my friends. We went to bars, cinemas, cafés, teahouses, restaurants (and McDonalds)
If you go to Beijing, prepare yourself for a culture shock, the language is difficult, people don't speak English, people hark and spit on the street, and the normal toilet is a hole-in-the-ground. But apart from that (and the food) Beijing is an interesting spot and everything is extremely cheap. I spent 6 days in the city, and wasn't bored once; I could easily spend more days. If so, I don't need to get rich and intellectual as Chicago, I just need Antibac, some Chinese knowledge and a pair of good walking shoes.