GUEST POST – Elizabeth Dawson
After a few weeks trooping along the Silk Road, taking in small towns and villages and enjoying the great outdoors, it was high time us champagne-swilling, urban PR-types headed to our true spiritual home – the big smoke – and when it comes to big smokes these days they don’t come much bigger than Beijing.
(Beijing is in fact quite literally a big smoke – according to our pre-Olympics Lonely Planet guide, health experts say that breathing in the air of Beijing is the equivalent of smoking 70 cigarettes a day).
Staying in great hostel in the buzzy Nan Luo Gu Xiang hutong area we were right in the thick of all the fantastic bars, restaurants and shops that we were slightly craving. No street snack or other taste sensation was safe with a rolling feast of bubbling chilli chicken hot pots, Peking Duck pancakes, oodles of noodles, delicious dumplings and lashings of ice cold Tsingtao just some of the treats for the taking.
Our first day of sightseeing Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City was fairly laid back compared to the epic bicycle tour escorted by the wonderful US ex-pat Christine who we met back in Kyrgyzstan. A Chinese resident for the past four or so years, Christine whisked us through the hutongs, around the lakes, right up to the Olympic site, across the city to the fabby 798 Art District before dropping back down to cruise past the retail and expat/embassy enclaves of Sanlitun. The persistent rain saw us don jaunty red ponchos for much of this journey which served us well in highlighting the inexperienced western cyclist in the midst of the Beijing traffic (those nifty bike lanes even on the ring road were also a boon it has to be said).
By night we joined the fun and the masses milling around Hou Hai. As we wandered around the lakes, it seemed there was a bar, restaurant, shop or other diversion there for everyday of the year. Everyone of every age and inclination seemed to be out and about enjoying the scene. From the young locals sipping beers and enjoying the (sometimes rather cheesy live music) in the bars, teenagers flirting and playing shuttle cock, families cooking dinner outside their homes to the senior citizens gossiping and stretching it out with some evening calisthenics.
One of the highlights was our first encounter with the Chinese penchant for engaging in lively outdoor mass participation dancing. Obviously standing on the sidelines is not an option and we were dragged into a bit of the old ‘right, left, turn around and go, go, go’ action soon enough! Check out a video of Matthew go, go going here.
With just three full days in Beijing city we felt we had just started to scratch the surface and were very sad to leave. It was made all the more fun hanging out with Christine– our translator, navigator, restaurant expert and all round guardian angel. We will be back.
Some more pics from Beijing: