Saturday, June 15, 2013


我现在住在北京一个星期以前~ I've been in Beijing for about a week now!  One of my CIEE friends, Mary, is also here for the summer continuing her studies, so it's been comfortably hilarious to have a travel buddy.  After we braved a horrendous luggage transfers through the Shanghai metro stations (my suit case was so heavy that the extending handle broke, removing itself like a sharpened Excalibur..), it was a pleasant 5 hour ride on the bullet train.  We were tired and flustered enough to take an illegal taxi (no meter) to our hostel with a very kind, yet illiterate man that couldn't quite find our hutong (a traditional Beijing alley).  Not only that, but after adjusting to the Shanghai accent now we are faced with the reflexive 'r's in the Beijing accent, which undeniably sounds like pirates arguing.

That first Monday out, the sky revealed peaks of blue -- no such luck since.  Actually, the pollution is quite bad.  It's been irritating my throat and eyes, and perhaps the reason why we feel tired more quickly than we should when we set out to explore.  It's pretty darn hot here as well, with temperatures pushing the high eighties then nineties, though without the humidity I can manage.

My impressions are bound to change, but so far I find Beijing refreshing (other than the air pollution issue).  This city has a completely different feel from Shanghai; much older, not as flashy; more authoritarian yet at street level, more relaxed.  People actually obey the metro security and place their bags in the scanners!
We haven't been any rush to hop through all the monuments in a week, which are more historically sound and culturally significant than that in Shanghai.  I haven't explored too far beyond the hutongs of Dongcheng, but the sights from the imperial age are just unbelievable.  With all the people today and clashes with modern development, it's hard to imagine the royal capital several centuries ago.
Standing in the hutong of our hostel, Dragon King Hostel.  It's been a blast rooming in a dorm with other students who are interning in Beijing, backpackers, weekend visiters, and hearing all their stories.
 The Summer Palace in the northwestern side of the city, where the emperor used to take his retreats.

More views from the Summer Palace, and then a nighttime dance party in front of The St. Ignatius Cathedral on Wanfujing Road!
Crazy delectable foods at the Wanfujing Lu night market.  There were your average fried dumplings, to fried squid, then boiled starfish and roasted silkworm pupae.  The prices were inflated but the ambiance was enjoyable; the vendors are part salesmen, part entertainers.
I think because of the number of food safety scandals in China (just wrote a paper on the issue), the government is really set on implementing higher standards.  There's a noticeable lack of food vendors in Beijing, aside from those selling bottled drinks and yogurt in ceramic pots (still haven't tried that)-- which is good and bad.  It's a positive sign because perhaps licensing and health codes are obeyed; it's negative in my opinion, because every province has such a unique culinary snack-world to offer, and it's hard to find something good to eat after 11 PM.
Yong He Gong, or the Lama Temple, which is the largest Buddhist lamastery in Beijing (yes, that is a term).
Dancing with a crew from the hostel, and hot pot with Mary.  
No meat + minimal peppercorns = happy stomachs
Mary also has extended relatives in Beijing, whom on Wednesday were amazingly gracious to take us out to one of the most famous restaurants in the country for a Peking duck lunch!  Yes, it really was that delicious: the orangey, sweet but smoky, crunchy skin; slices of duck with pickled cabbage and hoisin sauce rolled into rice wraps; duck liver and dijon mustard; Shaanxi braised cactus; braised cabbage; cooked cucumbers; and glutinous rice desserts with rice bean that were cooked into bamboo leaves-- a traditional dessert called Zongzi, celebrated for the Dragon Boat Festival.
A first-class lunch with even better people left us very happy and food coma'ed.

That afternoon we wandered around the 798 Art District, which is comparable to an industrial park of contemporary art galleries.  We entered this one unsuspectingly, and it was an opening with complementary wine, champagne, fruit, and desserts.  We were surrounded by enormous portraits of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and other nearly-photographic paintings of former Communist leaders.
On my way to work -- less than 10 minutes of a walk from the hostel!
Lunch with my co-workers, then dinner with friends from the hostel.  I never go hungry here in China...

This photo quality is poor, but Mary and I spent two hours on Friday night repacking all of our suitcases.  She displayed a stunning amount of discipline and relinquished enough of her clothes for donation, that she's going to be able to ditch her hiking backpack!  Now she just has her school backpack and a suitcase.  Although I'm donating my CIEE backpack and a few shirts, I still have a giant suitcase, carry-on size, hiker's backpack and purse... 
Ah, the weekend.  Today, we walked around the Houhai and Behai Lake areas.  There's a lot of off-beat bars and cafes, so I'm looking forward to going back some night to have my fix of live reggae music.  The heat and smog were so tiring that we nearly passed out in Behai Park, but then found 1901 Cafe outside the gate.  It used to be a former cathedral, with three stories of post-and-beam structures, creaky floorboards, crooked stairs, book cases, lovely staff and lots of charm.  We hid out there for the rest of the afternoon and I certainly plan on going back.

So I can see how people could dislike Beijing after a few days of passing through; the weather and air quality really bring things down.  Ugh and I just remembered that the taxis during certain times of the day, are completely corrupt and you have to bargain the price of your trip as opposed to using the legitimate meter.  Nonetheless, I think that the places and things that take time to learn to love are more rewarding in the end.  I already miss Shanghai but I'm excited this summer to learn about this city.

I started my internship at The China Foundation Center on Thursday.  Let's just say an 8 hour workday at a desk will take some adjustment-- yet I've already been given significant assignments dealing with English translation and interpretation, statistical research, and organization content analysis.  Yes, those may be made up duties, but it's the easiest way I can explain :B  Ha!  I haven't met everyone in our small office of 20 or so employees, but I've been introduced to all the ladies who I've enlisted to help me maintain my Chinese this summer.  It's an all-Chinese office, but the best English speakers work with me.

Tomorrow we're departing from the hostel, Mary's going to Beijing (Peking) University to start her new semester, and I'm spending the next two weeks as a working gypsy!  I've made enough connections and friends in the city that I can couch surf every few nights until I can officially move into my apartment in July.  Might be stressful, but hey, I'm still young and can handle it.

1 comment:

Allison said...

I actually loved my time in Beijing. Granted, I didn't go to Shanghai, so there isn't really a comparison for me, but I was fascinated by it. I'm living through this post of yours because I'm convinced I've been to some of the same places in the city as you! Even your Instagram pictures looked familiar and I had that sense of "I KNOW that place!". The taxi system is bullshit though - that was probably the most frustrating part of Beijing, so we stuck to subways whenever possible.
I'm so jealous of your travels, especially since I'm stuck doing little trips this summer (not stuck.. but I mean, Belmar doesn't count as much excitement). I will be turning to you for a sense of adventure, my friend! xox