Taking 3 months out from South Korea toward the tropics of Southeast Asia, I decided to get a taste of China by passing through Beijing for the 72 hour visa-free pass. I got a full two days to roam around once i’d thrown off the backpack, the first stop being the Great Wall. Avoiding the mass of tourists, I headed to the lesser-frequented ‘Jinshanling to Simatai’ route, where, just like nearby Korea, the blossoms were out in force.
I expected Beijing to be a chaotic, bustling mass of human and vehicular traffic, so I was surprised to stroll around a calm and peaceful inner city. Coming from the overpopulated environ of Seoul, Beijing was unexpectedly unhurried, especially for the capital of a rising economic giant.
The suicide-netted Apple factories must lay elsewhere.
Towards the the end of the first day, my stroll had turned into a jog, which in turn developed into a full on sprint through the dark alleys, repeatedly stopping to ask for directions to the kung fu class i wanted to drop in on.
The route had been diverted due to nearby construction so I arrived sweating profusely, missing my warm up. Still, the thrill of being taught the slightest bit of Wu Shu by a Shaolin monk was worth lung busting effort to get there.
Afterwards, I walked slowly through the backlit alleys. Territorial dogs remained silent, their eyes recognizing the ancient fire in mine; brimming with the ferocity of a dragon warrior. I was Bruce Lee. I was Jet Li. I was, of course, greatly over-romanticizing the fact that i merely had a one hour sparring session with other foreigners.
The Chinese are well-known for incorporating anything with a pulse into their daily diet. Almost any large insect can be found skewered and ready to munch near the tourist areas in Beijing, where you can chow on anything from live scorpions to seahorses.
There are large scorpions…
..even bigger spiders…or…
…sheep penis….anybody for sheep penis? No? Just me?
Donkey meat. It sounds wrong, but tastes like roast beef.
I accidentally ordered two meals so had to take a donkey bag home.
My second of two full days started with a visit to see Mao‘s embalmed corpse. He’s been dead since 1976, so as you can imagine, he’s looking a little waxy. Mao presided over China and was attributed to one of the worst genocides in recorded history. Despite that, his lifeless corpse is treated like a god. It was interesting to see hordes of young people bringing flowers to his tomb – it shows his strong spiritual presence is still felt in China today.
Next, the Tibetan Lama temple.
I eschewed the Forbidden City in favor of this more engaging cultural landmark . It’s absolutely stunning, and is filled with incense wielding worshippers.
After i burned an incense hole in my jacket (taking a photo) and got hit in the face with flowers by a monk (for taking a photo of him), i realized it was time to put the camera away and leave with the little karma i had intact.
If you saw a man looking at a tunnel ceiling, moon walking on his own in New York or London, you’d label him insane. Anywhere in East Asia though, and it’s obviously a Tai Chi-related exercise. One would hope.
En route to see the Olympic Stadium, I passed by the Beijing International Film Festival. I went to ask about tickets but was having trouble with the security guards. At that moment, Gigo Lee, a Hong Kong cinematographer, tells me that it’s (a) the day before the festival starts and (b) you can’t show up to a film festival without an invite or pre-booked ticket.
Worth a shot though.
It was possible, however, to watch the film stars outside the cinema. The girl above was being snapped by five or six professionals, and then one amateur.
Although at night, the stadium at night looks surreal in the photos i’ve seen, being the architectural marvel that it is (as is the Aquatics center, above), it was no less a feast for the eyes in daylight – especially when you have some interesting locals to add to the mix.
I’m sure that it gets much busier and smoggier on certain days, but in my short visit, I never saw the pollution entrenched hell hole that the news media constantly portrays.
Anti-dystopic headlines seemingly don’t churn much of a profit when it comes to coverage of China.
Man goes to Beijing. Has a good time. Who would ever read that?