Oh, Beijing. The tune of “One World, One Dream” is still ringing in my ears. My shoulders are a little red from the long hours of sunshine (yeah, sunshine! It burned through the rancid levels of air pollution and revealed a gloriously blue sky. Who knew that was there?) And this afternoon, I felt relieved to step back onto the Tianjin subway, knowing that I didn’t have to risk life and limb to find a tiny space to stand.
Let me just say: my impressions of Beijing this time around (as opposed to my trip there in June earlier this year) are much more positive. I managed to stay away from Tiananmen Square completely, so the amount of irritating “Hello! Hello!” yelling was kept to a minimum. Still, I saw more foreigners in an hour in Beijing than I did in this whole last month in Tianjin.
What led to this side trip to Beijing? Mostly boredom, in this long holiday week. Also, a desire to tell my students something exciting on Monday. I couldn’t let them have all the good stories! Of course, we’ll see if they did their usual crazy activities (reading, eating, and sleeping), just in different locations over the holiday.
First off, here are some Evidence Photos. I was there, guys! At 雍和宫, the Lama Temple!
And at the Bird’s Nest!
And next to some running girls!
So anyway, the Lama Temple was super busy with Chinese people burning incense all over the place. Actually, getting enough oxygen was a bit of a problem. Does smoke-free incense exist? It should.
The Olympic stadium area was fantastically free! I guess they make up for the lack of entrance fee with overpriced water and snacks? In any case, I experienced a China-first: someone asked to take pictures with me! Weeeeird. I really don’t understand the fascination, or how they explain to their child years later why there’s a random foreigner in their Beijing travel photos. But it made her happy, so whatever.
Also, how would you feel about donating some blood today? I usually feel the urge to bleed into a bag for the good of mankind when I’m wandering around Olympic venues. Totally shady.
North of the stadiums was a sprawling park, complete with trees, lake with paddle boats, and… camping?!
I guess when that itch to experience the great outdoors hits Beijingers, they pack up the tent and head to the neighborhood park. Ahhh, the scent of pine! Nothing says tranquility like the sound of thousands of people walking right past your tent. And then it hit me… this really is the most “wilderness” that most Chinese city-dwellers see. Sure, they have a lot of parks, but they’re all so full of people, and usually so well-maintained, that they look nothing like real nature. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to find a peaceful patch of forest without driving a thousand miles west. That’s one reason that, as much as I like 黑椒鸡肉饭 (chicken in a tasty pepper sauce over rice), I don’t see myself staying in the Middle Kingdom.
The highlight of the trip was meeting an old man in a park. In the Temple of Heaven park, I unintentionally bought a ticket that didn’t include seeing the big pagodas and such, so I wandered around enjoying the sunshine and perfect weather. I passed up the guys practicing nunchuks, the synchronized dancers, and guys pretending to be really hardcore while working out in the playground. I also managed to walk for almost half a minute without seeing another person!
Eventually, I heard a strange thing…. accordion music?! And a rich baritone voice singing along. It was an 80 year old man hanging out with his accordion-playing friend, making beautiful music on a lazy Thursday afternoon. I just couldn’t believe how fantastic his voice was… If he joined an opera company, I would gladly pay the big bucks to hear him perform. But since he’s just an old man singing in a park, I got to hear him for free 🙂
In other news, the hostel I stayed at, Ming Courtyard, was pretty much perfect. Five minutes from the subway on “Ghost Street,” which has a bunch of tasty restaurants. A big courtyard in the middle, with lots of chairs and tables for chillaxing and meeting new people. And a bar with cheap beer so you can start your night on a budget. I gathered up my courage and fledgling social skills to talk to random people both nights I was there. Luckily, when you’re a westerner in China, you always have something to talk about.
The first night, I hung out with an Italian guy and a Chinese guy from Wuhan who worked at the hostel’s restaurant. We hit up a bar called Modernista, tucked away in one of Beijing’s many hutongs. Evidently they have a 1920s vintage thing going on: they have absinthe specials from 12am-2am, old-school burlesque shows every month, and regular jazz performances. The night we went, a DJ was providing an original soundtrack to the silent movie “Salome.” The movie was trippy (most silent movies are), and the DJ was a little unimaginative, but the incomprehensible story line made it fun.
The second night, I invited myself to dinner with three Germans and an English guy, followed by a “Modern Jazz” show at 愚公移山. OK, don’t get too excited, guys, but the venue also has METAL shows. METAAAAAAAAL! Can I get a HELLZ YES!!! They’re having Cannibal Corpse later this month, which is a little too scary for me, but maybe they will have a band I actually like later? A girl can dream!
Anyway, the jazz show. When they say jazz, what they really mean is random noises produced by instruments that contains neither harmony nor rhythm. In other words, my ears were bleeding.
I kept thinking (hoping?) they were still doing their sound check. But then there’s that awful moment, when you realize that they weren’t doing sound checks. This is their show. Daaaaaamn.
Gratefully, one of the German guys hated it as much as I did. So we headed to 三里屯 Sanlitun, which I discovered is Beijing’s Bourbon Street. Bars, clubs, and more bars. We hung out at a super chill rooftop bar until the other Germans got their fill of “music.”
Next, we found a club called Latte, which, get ready for it, is a STEAMPUNK CLUB. Like, all of their decor is copper and mechanical and stuff. There were clocks and gadgets and things I had no idea what they were, but they moved on their own and it was awesome. So between that, and the wonderfully obnoxious dance beats, I was in heaven. The Germans were not, however, so we moved on 😦 Next time, Latte. Next time.
Insert a lame club with five people dancing, a failed attempt at getting late night munchies, and a little bit of haggling with the taxi cab driver to make the fare home not completely ridiculous, and the night was over. In conclusion, Beijing nightlife is slightly (infinitely) more interesting than Tianjin’s.
So while my trip to Beijing was borne of boredom and desperation, it was pretty successful. And considering the whole travel process of subways, trains, and walking takes about 3 hours, I will certainly be heading to Beijing more often.