Beijing – The imperial city

Last modified 19.03.2022 | Published 19.03.19851980's, China, North, Central and East Asia, Travelogue

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Beijing: The imperial city complete with ducks, opera, acrobats and the Forbidden City. We first days ever in China’s capital were full of impressions.

This article is part of a diary based travelogue from a six month journey in 1985 to several countries in East and South East Asia: Japan, Taiwan, China, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand


Friday 15.3.1985, Beijing

Upon arrival on the train from Xian I took bus # 9 to the Guang Hua hotel alone. The Danes would try and find a friend. At the hotel they at first tried to lodge me in some expensive rooms. In the end it was revealed that they had a dormitory (of which I knew of). But it was a TV-room in the day and open to us travellers from 2300 to 0700. 6Y per night.

I left and went on to the

  • QIAO YUAN HOTEL, the end stop of bus 20 or tram 106; along the river to the left 200 metres. It had two large dormitories for 8Y. I went for it and slept a couple of hours.

Finally I was in Beijing. Fantastic.

I had agreed to meet the Danish ladies Neel and Kirsten at the Beijing Hotel, and old and new complex of the classical sort. We relaxed in the bar (one of them) with a beer and then left for the Beijing Duck restaurant right south of Tiananmen Gate.

We had a delicious duck, rolled in pancakes with sauce and raw onions on. We shared a large table with several Chinese and had a lot of beer and liquor – and we were all drunk.


Saturday 16.3.1985, Beijing – Badaling

The Wall was beckoning. I had bought a tour ticket the day before on the advice of my guidebook. We went up to some imperial graves from the Ming period. Not so interesting.

But that was the Great Wall. Fantastic. I walked up and down both sides of the Badaling valley and had a really good time.

I was too late for my dinner with Neel and Kirsten and dined alone at the Beijing Hotel. I then took a lovely shower at the hotel and handed in my clothes for laundry.


Sunday 17.3.1985, Beijing

Today I slept well into the morning and did not get up before ten. I left for the GPO near the Qiamen Hotel and picked up two letters from home. Then I went to the railway station and bought a hard sleeper to Shanghai for the upcoming Wednesday.

I was lucky and saved 30Y on my Taiwan student card here as well. One would believe that the people here in Beijing, and in particular the people in the ticket counter for foreigners, were used to them.

I continued over to the Tiananmen Square, paid 5Y for a visit to the Great Hall of the People, and found it impressive and like I had seen it on TV.

I then walked around in the museum of the history of the Communist Party. It is on the square directly opposite to the hall. I don’t know Chinese so all the information there was almost wasted. I did however have a good look at all the vivid paintings depicting revolutionary honour and glowing faces known from propaganda posters.

In the evening I had a long conversation with a man from Bergen, Norway (!).


Monday 18.3.1985, Beijing

I had breakfast at my hotel for a little over a “kwai” (Yuan): Toast, egg, jam, milk. Good!

Took tram 206, bus 9 and 113 to the Norwegian embassy. I read some old editions of Aftenposten (Norwegian newspaper), mostly from February in addition to news-telexes up-to-date from the Foreign Ministry.

I then continued on bus 113 to the end stop and walked down the city’s main shopping street. At the Beijing Hotel I took a bus to Friendship Store where I had agreed to meet the man from Bergen.

From there we went to the opera. It is situated a little into the first street to the right on the shopping street straight east from the Beijing Hotel.

The show had some terrible music played on ancient primitive instruments from thousands of years back. The singing was very special, to put it diplomatically. It was nevertheless interesting to experience the part of the performance with bothered to sit (1.5 hours). The price was only 50 fen anyway.

We finished the evening with coffee, biscuits and cookies in the dormitory.


Tuesday 19.3.1985, Beijing

After an equally good breakfast the Forbidden City was on my schedule. That is, I first dropped by the Mao mausoleum and had a look at the glazed, marzipan-like corpse lying there.

Even with my merit list of walking through temples and other old elaborate buildings, the Forbidden City was exceptional. I did however only take the north-south main route without caring about any side steps.

I entered through the Tiananmen Gate in the south under the large portrait (3×5 metres) of the “the last emperor” (Mao). And it really was a gigantic complex. They really knew how to make it good for themselves, the Ming and Qing emperors. But then they hardly ever ventured beyond the high walls.

Straight north of the “city” they had constructed a tall mountain, right from the bottom. It was to serve as protection from the north – for all evil came from that direction. In this case the northerly winds were probably a practical reason for the order.

From this hill I walked down to Bahai Park, where the boats had been taken out on the large lake after the ice had melted. The Chinese were rowing as hard as they could, but their abilities were of varying quality.

I then took the bus down to Beijing Hotel which is very popular, central, convenient and good place to relax in and meet people. I wrote a long letter home and met the Bergen-man as agreed.

We left to eat Beijing Duck – very good this time as well, but the service was slow. Because of this we were a bit late for the Acrobatic Show close by (60 fen). The hour and a half we saw were incredibly good.


Read more

The introduction to this journey to East and South East Asia.

Previous chapter: Xian: Terracotta soldiers and a long way to go in hospitality

Next chapter: The story from Beijing continues with a letter home, and the Summer Palace

My letter home telling the story from my stay is posted under the second blog entry from Beijing