Read about some early impressions from Beijing, and then about a visit to the Great Wall. I had flashbacks to the last time I was in Beijing, more than 25 years ago.
This is article no. 10/11 in a series from a journey in 2011 on the Trans-Siberian Railway through Russia, Mongolia and China. The text is a transcript of my diary at the time.
Beijing was our final destination and end of the third train journey from Moscow. Read about our three days of experiences in Beijing in three articles. This is the second first and covers the arrival, some sights in Beijing and a visit to the Great Wall.
Friday 3.6.2011, Beijing
At the station we left the train, went inside and said goodbye to the eight others in the group. They were going to another hotel and had a different schedule as they were having a day longer here. We followed our guide, a young woman named something with Feng. We went through the station and out to a waiting mini bus. It was a very comfortable mini bus with air conditioning. It would be ours, along with guide and driver, all four days.
- HOTEL JIANGUO is located on the street that runs past Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, the long, long street, which I read somewhere, was 48 km long and runs east-west in Beijing. A straight line, wide, some traffic and significantly more than the time I was there with all the bicycle riders in 1985. It was on this street that the single activist went ahead and stopped the tanks during the student demonstrations in 1989, an image that everyone can clearly see for themselves today. We checked into the hotel the guide said was better than the hotel the others went to because it is located more centrally in the city.
She also believed that it was appealing to Scandinavians because there is a quiet relaxed atmosphere with fountains. The room is excellent. It was a nice, relaxed high quality hotel full of staff. All bow when we come, and they are on their toes throughout. A luxury experience with a high degree of service-mindedness among the staff. It is something the Chinese have not always had. They have not known how they should behave. It is less the case now; I have not found anything to complain about, in half a day. The only thing was that they were a little slow in sending out a service-man to open the balcony door. It was security locked and I wanted to go out. The balcony is admittedly in a back yard, but that it how it often is. Otherwise the hotel was impeccable, but we’ll see at breakfast tomorrow.
We seated ourselves in our rooms a couple hours, and then walked out on the street behind the hotel to a restaurant our guide was telling us about. There in the street we found several restaurants and we chose another because the guide’s recommended restaurant looked kind of like a canteen. All these restaurants posted pictures of their dishes.
An evening meal
We had a sumptuous meal for almost nothing. It was all too much. We found out we did not need to order that way. We had each our huge bowl of food, like a hot-pot with a fire under the iron pan. There were huge amounts. And it was hot szechuan-like. In addition one of my friends even ordered a huge noodle soup as a starter and I ordered dumplings. Another friend was told they didn’t have his starter, so he cancelled, and he was very pleased about that afterwards. But it was good beer, Tsingtao and YinYang.
Then we walked the streets. The area is fortunately composed also as a residential area when we got behind the office building facades along the main streets. And what’s so exciting is the combination of residential and what was not when I was here 26 years ago, the huge skyscrapers. Great office buildings along the main and side streets posed an impressive display of stylish, contemporary architecture. And then we have the traditional streets with street stalls, outdoor fresh food market, shops and so on. It was very nice to see.
Plans for the next couple of days
We had very good food, looked around and had some classical muzak-musicians in the hotel lobby, and returned relatively early to our rooms. So I sit there and record this. Tomorrow we will see the Lama monastery in the city, on to the Great Wall and an acrobat show. This means I’m looking forward to exciting adventures tomorrow Saturday, and we also have Sunday when we are off to a residential area, a look at a kindergarten and meet a private family, or go to see senior citizens’ home.
We are going to the Summer Palace and the Olympic facility from a few years ago. We will have dinner at a Beijing Duck restaurant. On Monday we will, eventually, see the Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. We’re going to some streets, the Temple of Heaven, a silk shop and have the evening free. On Tuesday we will return home.
The main impression of China now, is that it was an incredible relief to reach “civilization”. It was great to look at the office buildings. I had almost my Hong Kong feeling of 1985. It was a calm that descended on us in the hotel, and we are all fine. And it was so nice to go in the back streets and see the life, the real China, which still takes place there, in between all this glass and metal and the fine facades of the new China that is emerging. I look forward to the continuation.
Saturday 4.6, Beijing
Morning in the Ritan park
Early morning visit to the central park of Ritan in Beijing with tai chi chuan practionerers.
Day two after we came from Mongolia we got up early. Before breakfast we went to a park in the neighbourhood, The Ritan Park. We tried to find it last night, but failed. Now we asked at the reception. It was a very nice square shaped park. And there stood old and not so old Chinese with their T’ai chi ch’uan. The park consisted of hills and kind of secluded places, ponds with fish in. People where everywhere, some moving, some stood and roared to clean their lungs.
So it was really exciting, and perhaps for H in particular who is practicing this at home. There was a large group who were gathered there with their exercises, but she did not feel quite capable of taking part in it.
We went back to an exceptionally good breakfast with a wide variety of dishes from all parts of the world. Afterwards we were met by the guide Feng and our mini bus driver. Feng is a young girl of 29 years, and we found out she was three years old when I first came to China. Very helpful and cheerful.
Yonghe Lama Temple
First we went to the Lama temple. We were in the Lama Temple in Ulaanbaatar, and it was very small compared to what was here. It was big and full of worshipers. What is special about these days, is that they have a Dragon Boat Festival in China, and the whole country takes a long weekend. They are always free on Saturday and Sunday, but now also on Monday. The Lama Temple was perhaps not so very different from other temples, but it was nicely decorated in the kind of woodwork Chinese buildings often have.
Video snaps from the Yonghe Lama Temple in central Beijing with its several temple buildings, incense urns and worshippers.
A cloisonné factory
Afterwards we drove out to Mutianyu to view the Great Wall. It took a couple of hours, and on the way we stopped at a place which produces cloisonné, which is an enamelled copper vase. We were first on a guided tour and got to see the production process in six steps. It showed us that it was a very fine work that lay behind what we later got a closer look at in the shop inside.
Guided tour of Cloisonné production plant and store outside Beijing.
The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall
We took a cable car up, because the wall is set on a steep side of a mountain. We had with us a lunchbag, with a sandwich and a water bottle. It was an experience to walk the wall. It wound wonderfully in the hilly terrain, with restored walls and watchtowers. Beautiful scenery, steep. On the way down we took a bobsleigh track. It was not fast enough for all of us, but it was going down anyway. It was a very hot day.
Video from the Great Wall at the Mutianyu section. This section has been restored and is featured on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
We went home and did not more that day, except that we ate dinner in the street behind the hotel. The expected acrobatics show was postponed until the next day.
All chapters in this series
- This introduction
- Some very interesting and pleasant days in Moscow. That city has certainly more to offer than we imagined.
- An excursion to a wonderful city in the Golden Ring and an evening in Moscow.
- A cruise on the Moskva River, the Gorky Park, the Kremlin and the departure for Siberia.
- The days on the train, four and a half days continuously on the move
- Mongolia: Well! Not bad to come to this country, some of the remotest imaginable of all inland countries. We first went into a national park.
- A day in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia
- The train journey continues from Ulaanbaatar to China
- The train into Beijing from the border to Mongolia
- First day in Beijing and a visit to the Great Wall
- NEXT: The last days in Beijing and the return journey