Our journey to Beijing took us on two trains; a twenty four hour overnight train to Xi’an and another eight hour D train to Beijing. Last time we were in Xi’an we saw the Terracotta Warriors.
Ever since then I was a bit upset with myself that I didn’t get a small set of cheap figurines. You can get these small replicas in any market in China but they are much cheaper in Xi’an. I wasn’t planning on getting any during our short stopover but as we walked to the subway to transfer train stations, I noticed a set for only 8 RMB so I got them. Later in Beijing at the market I asked a lady how much for a set and she started at over 100 RMB. When I laughed and told her I got them for 8 in Xi’an she laughed and you could tell she knew they weren’t worth what she wanted.
When we got to Beijing we found our hostel in the great Qianmen district just south of Tiananmen Square. The next day we went to the Beijing Film Academy so Aaron could check it out since he hopes to go there for graduate school. That afternoon we walked around the “new Forbidden City.” That’s the name I gave it based on the super intense security surrounding it. It is the big complex next to the real FC that we’re pretty sure is home to the CCP and many party officials’ estates. There is even one place on a bridge where you could take some pics, but they come and yell at you that it is forbidden.
Directly north of the real Forbidden City is a park, which I think is a highly underrated gem for visitors to Beijing. For only 2 RMB you can gain admittance to this once forbidden royal park where a prince hung himself and where there’s a man-made hill made from the dirt dug-out of the FC moat. Not only is the park a peaceful retreat with beautiful gardens, but from the top of the hill are great panoramas of the ancient palace and more. It was a smoggy day, like many in Beijing, so the view wasn’t pristine, but on a clear day or even a slightly smoggy one the views would be worth it.
For food we decided to go get some western food and found the Beijing location of the Tex-Mex place we found in Chengdu. It was delicious, however a bit hard to find. Located in the old embassy district with lots of other western chain restaurants like Friday’s and expensive hotels Peter’s Tex-Mex is tucked around a little corner. I’ll post the location on my Adventure Patches Google Map if you want to find it.
Other good eats on this trip included traditional Peking Duck at the most famous restaurant in the Qianmen District, which by the way, is an amazing area for shopping and dining. We also found a delicious little noodle shop down a nearby alley. This neighborhood has just about everything you could want and more. To get there go to the Qianmen Gate subway stop and go directly south of the old wall gate.
Temple of Heaven
Another must-see sight in Beijing is the Temple of Heaven. This isn’t a Buddhist or Tsaoist temple. It is an ancient Chinese temple. Well, the sight and ceremonies performed there are ancient, but the buildings of course were rebuilt during the Ming and Qing dynasties. This is a fascinating place with amazing history, especially for people who like learning about ancient beliefs and practices.
There is an admission fee for the park itself and for the sights within the park. You want to get the through ticket that includes the sights. You can get here by subway pretty easily and just outside the subway stop is a market with all the knock-offs, souvenirs, pearls, and other stuff you could want.
Mausoleum of Chairman Mao Zedong
We also paid another visit to Tiananmen Square and waited in the long, fast-moving line to see the well-preserved Great Helmsman. At first we tried to check our bags at the official bag check building across the street and were about to get scammed, officially, because we were foreigners with cameras. Nothing is allowed in the mausoleum, no cameras, bags or anything except your I.D. and a flower if you want to pay tribute. So, you have to check your bags, which as I said is a scam, or you get around it like we saw many tour groups doing by going in shifts or having one person staying out to guard your stuff.
I waited outside with the gear while Aaron and Melissa went through, then I went through as they waited. The first room has a large statue of Mao and beautiful tapestries. This is also where people leave the chrysanthemums they purchased while waiting in line. The next main room is where the Chairman is lying in state and has been since he passed. Due to the lighting and preservation of his body, he gives off a glow. This is one of the few places in China where you can listen to a pin drop. Everyone is so quiet and respectful, a complete oxymoron to their normal lives.
National Centre for the Performing Arts
My favorite part of this trip was our visit to the National Centre for the Performing Arts. Having performed in and worked shows in more than a hundred theatres and concert halls around the world, I always enjoy visiting performance venues. I wanted to visit the NCPA when I first went to Beijing, but didn’t have time, and I wanted to visit the whole time I was in China. It is a modern building in the heart of the city right across from the Forbidden City and behind the Hall of the People. Made of glass and metal with a reflecting pool around it, some hate it, but I love it.
The admission fee includes the exhibition halls under the reflection pool and access to any of the open performance halls. We saw the main theater and the opera house. The exhibitions had great overviews of the productions, costumes, staging and construction of the building. My favorite exhibition was the one about the latter on the upper floor surrounding the main theater. It is also kind of funny because some of the pictures of the finished spaces have plastic still on the chairs and surfaces or cleaning crews working in the house.
I was very satisfied with this visit and happy I finally made it. It is a beautiful building, and if someday I had a chance to see the amazing backstage areas I would jump at it.
I enjoyed Beijing part two. From there we decided to head straight back to Hefei to pack, clean and prepare for the journey home.
A week later, I was on a plane headed back to the States just in time for Independence Day, more about that soon.