Monday, April 13, 2009


On my second day in Beijing, I was generously bestowed a great piece of information. My taxi driver told me that in and around Beijing there are five places all visitors must see. Countable on one hand and deceptively simple to achieve and had I not already spent the better part of a day venturing to just one of those sights then I would have cheerily set off in the vain attempt of achieving the set.

With so much room to move it is understandable why the Chinese build on such a grand scale. Without limits placed upon land and man power they have assembled a remarkable collection of dominating, if not foot weary, landmarks.

For me it was the grounds, buildings and people of the Temple of Heaven that stood well above the rest. It is easily accessible, which was a huge plus, a subway station drops you off right at the eastern entrance. Before reaching the main attractions however, such as the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest and the Imperial Vault of Heaven, I found myself diverted by the scores of locals whittling away their time in the pursuit of happiness via all manner of activities.

What I initially took to be firecrackers turned out to be the cracks of chain whips and by the looks of it, should you have desired, lessons could obtained. Elsewhere there were a mass of line dancers, salsa dancers or more spectacle friendly traditional dancers. Intimate games of Chinese chess, cards or dominos were being played on the fringes of a long covered walkway and large groups of women were knitting elephants, in-soles or flask holders for the ever present flasks of tea that no respectable Chinese citizen would leave home without. Sitting and soaking up the life of Beijingers will become one of my most cherished memories.

Until the Number Four subway line opens in 2010, The Summer Palace proved to be a little more difficult to get to. It is on the western outskirts of Beijing and comes down to knowing which bus heads out there depending on where you are in the city. From the Beijing Zoo and its collection of camera shy Pandas, I took the 732 to the end of the line. For serene beauty the Summer Palace is by far the place to go. Built on the shores of a dredged though impeccably picturesque lake reside over 3,000 structures, the most dominating of which is the Tower of Buddhist Incense. It was the middle of the afternoon when I finally arrived and officially the grounds close at 5PM but it was well after six as the sun was setting when I was quietly ushered out.

Of the five places on the list provided by my friendly taxi driver, the only one I didn’t get to was the Great wall. How can you go to China and not see the wall? For me it was a matter of time. From Beijing there are three places from which to visit the wall, each of which chew through a day. From the splendor of the Forbidden City and the historical significance of Tiananmen Square, from the narrow alleys of the fading Hutongs to the liveliness of the night market, I saw a lot, did a lot and am thoroughly satisfied with my Beijing experience.

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