Friday, September 28, 2007

Culture Shock: Beijing

Beijing seemed so huge to us, after Singapore: the buildings are just as tall, but with a larger footprint; a vast mountain range lurks on the horizon; the massive construction projects (most for the Olympics) add their copious dust to the ever-present city smog. But Beijing is a fascinating city for those patient enough to seek out the hidden treasures: the mazes of alleyways in the local hutongs, the tiny streets lined with calligraphers’ shops, the hole-in-the-wall restaurants with perfect home-cooked noodles.

How people with no knowledge of Chinese manage to navigate this labyrinth, I’ll never know. (On second thought, I probably saw most of them at the more touristy sites, being herded around in giant packs by fast-talking guides with megaphones.)

But, despite my worries beforehand, now I can proudly say that I managed to get around by myself, and mostly in Mandarin: I conversed with the taxi drivers and didn’t get cheated, bantered with the hawkers and avoided buying a hideous Mao wristwatch or taking a rickshaw ride, haggled from 10 times the price a Beijinger would pay down to only 5 times the price. Exhausting, but worth it.

I covered the major historical sites - Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace - alongside crowds of tourists. But, as usual, my favorites were the quieter, less-traveled places: Ditan Park, where we saw the Mid-Autumn lanterns with a cross-section of locals. A tiny restaurant where friends took us to eat the fabulous Central Asian food (lamb kebabs, rice pilaf, yogurt) of the Uighyr people who live in the deserts of western China. And Mutianyu, where we had the awe-inspiring Great Stairs Wall of China almost to ourselves as it snaked through the mountains beneath a swirling mist.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jenn,
We are so proud of you and glad that you had a good time in Beijing!

jima said...

Jenn -
So glad you got to try the Uighyr food! Venitha and I got to have some in Shanghai and loved it!