Prior to spring 2012, it never once crossed my mind that I would fall deeply in love with Beijing. I was told that the air was polluted, traffic was terrible and the locals try to rip tourists off. Not to mention their more than dirty human rights record. Without seeing Beijing with my own eyes, I decided NEVER to step foot in the city. If it wasn’t for the cheap Air China flight we booked from London to Singapore which offered a stopover in Beijing without additional costs, I probably won’t have thought of spending five days in the Chinese capital. On hindsight, I’m so glad we visited Beijing. It was my first time to China, and the city completely blew my mind.
I knew I didn’t want to book a western hotel in Beijing. I wanted us to experience what it was like to live in a historical residence such as a si he yuan (四合院). Such residences have courtyards surrounded by buildings and are really popular in Beijing. Dan learnt a little mandarin at university and picked up a strong Beijing accent, hence I reckoned it would be ideal if he immersed himself further in Chinese culture. He scored a few bonus points from my dad who was overjoyed that his foreign son-in-law is SO into Chinese culture (rolls my eye).
So, now that you know it’s possible to find good hotels in Beijing without breaking the bank (since we’re such misers when it comes to paying for a hotel!), let me share with you why Beijing is such a lovable city that you should visit!
1. Delicious, mouth-watering, plain white rice
Can you blame me for putting this as the first reason? I’m asian afterall. A retired British veteran of WW2 I met on holiday in Cornwall looked me in the eye and said “I never ate rice because your people starved for so little rice!” I had to control myself real hard to not burst out laughing in his wrinkled face. “Bless him”, I thought. In Singapore, we often see Chinese from China piling their plates with mountainous amount of rice. I never understood why till I was in Beijing. Rice is like a main dish to them.
As we walked around the neighbourhood at lunch time, we found a Chinese restaurant which was packed with customers. People queued to be sitted. That’s a sign of a good place to eat at. We ordered ourselves a Chicken with Chinese Sausages Claypot Rice and Black Pepper Sliced Beef.
The sizzling pot of rice was simply heavenly. The beef was tender and juicy. These mouth-watering dishes were such a pleasure to have after a long flight. Our first meal in Beijing was a success!
2. “Quack! Quack!” exclaimed Peking Duck
Who goes to Beijing and NOT have Peking Duck? Well, unless you’re vegetarian or have religious reasons. If you’re as carnivorous as me but skipped the duck, oh gosh, how badly have you sinned!!! Streets are lined with Peking duck restaurants. As a tourist, it can be rather daunting not knowing which to step into. You’re basically spoilt for choice. Yet at the same time, you want to try the BEST. Not to worry, here’s where I come into the picture and recommend Quanjude (全聚德) Peking Duck restaurant. Pick up a tourist map and you’ll find it listed on it. The restaurant has a long and rich culinary heritage since 1864. Like most restaurants, you’re going to find mixed reviews on tripadvisor.com or lonelyplanet.com. My take is this – why should people be comparing Peking Duck in Beijing to what they are used to back home in Canada, USA, Malaysia, Norway, Italy, Singapore etc?! Pizzas in Italy are different to pizzas in America, aren’t they?
3. Bei Hai Park (北海公园)
More than 69 hectres big, Bei Hai Park has a mesmerising lake that covers more than half of the entire park. If you’re looking for a place where locals hang out, this is the place to be. A lot of our funny encounters in Beijing took place here. Many thanks to my husband, Daniel, who looks significantly different with his white skin, tall and sharp nose and greyish blue eyes. Believe it or not, a middle aged woman who walked past us turned back quickly, stood right in front of Daniel as he drank from his bottle to have a closer look at his face. I stood next to Daniel, eyes wide opened, in shock. We burst out laughing our heads off after she left.
I never knew that Beijing could be this romantic. As we held each other’s hands, we strolled round the lake and admired the orange sunset before us. We witnessed the locals dance waltz to 70s and 80s Chinese pop music that was played aloud on a cassette radio. That was their way of keeping fit and being part of a community after retirement, I suppose.
4. See more than the attractions
We all know what we need to see when we’re in Beijing – The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven and the list goes on and on. And I’m not saying don’t see them because you should! For me, what I love about travelling free and easy is that it allows me to pretend to be like a local. I’ll hop on the public bus (RMB 1 Yuan) even when taxis are dirt (to the power of ten) cheap. Travelling for me isn’t packing as many sights in as possible. I prefer to soak in the ambience of the city, observe what the locals do, how they live (it would be even better if they invited me in for a drink!) and try and decipher a new culture. These are the sort of sights I enjoy when travelling.
I love watching Hong Kong, Japanese and Taiwanese dramas. It might be the influence of TV dramas since I was a child and hence my dramatic nature as an adult. Daniel knows why it’s such a pain to watch a drama with me. It’s because I would actually speak OUT LOUD to the characters as though I’m part of the show.
Beijing was the place to be to unleash my hidden “talent” in drama.
*drum roll….* The drama begins!
I’m the daughter of a government official who has been sent into the palace as one of the many concubines to serve the Emperor. Well versed in poetry, art and music, I was the favourite. Unfortunately, the Empress who’s blinded by jealousy never fails to plot my death! Ok, to cut the long story short, I died a miserable and unjustified death in the palace.
*audience sheds tears despite the fact that the story lacks originality*
Seriously, that’s the sort of thing that goes through my mind and out of my mouth 99% of the time.
I had lived in the UK for two years before visiting Beijing and it was definitely an eye opener. It made me wonder why I didn’t visit it sooner and I questioned why I avoided the city merely based on hearsay. The lesson I learnt from this valuable experience is to NEVER let someone else’s bad experience of a country put you off. Take it with a pinch salt but if you do step foot in the city, go with an open mind and experience it with your own eyes without being biased.
What type of traveller are you? Select up to 3 choices below to let me know! Or, drop me a comment to share with me the sort of holiday you’d like.
- My Incredible Trip to Beijing (katelynleng.wordpress.com)
- Quanjude Roast Duck @ Beijing, China (alwaystravelicious.com)
- All Aboard! Great Places to Go Boating in Beijing (hereisbeijing.com)