China - Beijing

I have to admit, my first impression of Beijing was less than positive. Well, let's say that when the taxi dropped us at the hotel, I told my wife to call him back as we are heading straight back to the airport and out of here. Fortunately enough, my wife never listens to me. In my defense, we were coming from wonderful noisy shinny shanghai and landed in the only city in the world where they actually paint new buildings in cement grey. Viva the communism.

Now, I am not a political person, but c'mon. grey is so last millennium. Get with the program.

and it was a grey cloudy day. it all fit together into some mental image I had of what Beijing might be like. The old communicst cement ridden rape victim of a city. 

My opinion changed less than half an hour later. That’s all it took, that is when I discovered Beijing . just around the corner from our grey hotel in the grey street, It was waiting for us.

You see, for me, that is the real charm of Beijing . The element of surprise.

It always sneaks up on you. Dreary streets, an old car. A mall. Cement grey. A gate. Some more grey walls, wait…lets go back a second, what was that gate? Ahm… what is that? an imperial garden and ponds. You don’t say…  and this is exactly Beijing for me. A beautiful city who's beauty has been hidden under layers of cement and stupidity.



With the help of some local friends we managed to find the interesting places and interesting people in relative ease, and to my delight the center of Beijing is a great place to travel on foot, my preferred method to discover a city, and the only small problem was that there is nothing small in Beijing, and a short stroll round the block can take an hour…  but I do have to say, that thanks to the long stretches of restaurants and bars, evening walks in Beijing are extremely enjoyable, like in any European capital.

It is true, It took me a couple of days to live with the grey, reminding myself I am just a visitor and don’t have to live there, and to those long creepy taxi rides passing high rise catacombs and anthills going on forever and ever. I live in a city of twelve million people, but they are a bit more spread out, and this was, well, if you remember Brazil by Terry Gilliam you will know what I mean.

I got lost in a couple of these complexes, looking for some real people to capture, and the enormity was overwhelming. I would hate to come home drunk and look for my floor and right door in that place. The amazing thing is that these are the opposite of slums. Very well kept, high finish, nice huge honeycombs for the example workers. It is just the size that freaked me out.


The same thing happened when we were walking through 789 the famous gallery area. It was big. Too big to handle, to big to digest. They do like making things grandiose, on an imperial scale. Take the forbidden city for example. It is not big, it is huge.

I am normally a very enthusiastic hiker and love to walk, but walking ten minutes just to get to the other side of an empty room to pass a twenty minute walk courtyard to the next empty room? Give us a break. Or at least roller blades. It's huge. We got it.

But then, after a morning when you wished the forbidden city would still be forbidden, you suddenly stumble upon one of those small hidden gardens. You know, the ones  with a koi pond and a lot of strange stone formations creating a scenic backdrop of rock and green over the blue and gold of the pond.

They knew their harmony those old Chinese guys. I am always reluctant to leave these gardens and my camera sighs when we step out into the modern street once again.

Small beautiful islands of serenity in the middle of the traffic and busy bees, a place of recluse that is in tune with nature as an idea, as an entity.

If ever I would become an emperor it would be only so I can have one of those gardens. Like a small garden of eden, but with a friendlier landlord.

And Beijing is trying so hard to be modern. Luckily it doesn’t seem to work. I am not saying that Beijing is behind any other major city of its gigantuan proportions, they just don’t make a fuss about it. It is a working city which can't really be bothered too much, yes yes, progress is great, but none of that glitzy stuff please, this is not Shanghai here you know…


Beijing and shanghai are indeed very different in their core, and people in Beijing look down on shanghai people as frivolous and lightheaded. I can understand that approach and I even respect it, but in the end of the day? give me lively shanghai over Beijing anytime.

As expected food was one of the highlights and the delights of the visit to Beijing, and it is was a  great opportunity  to experience food from all over china, with every region celebrating different tastes, different spices, different produce. This is where Beijing shows it is truly a capital of an empire. Unfortunately, because of that culinary empire we were on a strict diet for two months when we came back, but it was worth it, believe me.

I knew I had something else to say about Beijing, I think it was about a market or something, and it might even have been something witty, but I got distracted thinking of some of the great strange dishes we had there.  what were we talking about? Oh yes, great food and beautiful gardens where you can sit for a full day and watch the clouds pass by as you contemplate the mysteries of the universe.  Worth a visit.

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