From the diary – The Beijing experience…

I am in between London, Paris and Zurich and struggling to juggle with time. I am sorry to be cutting and pasting from the diary from my Beijing trip and will be back soon.

Beijing is an old city that is culturally magical and enchanting. Being an old capital city of the Ming and Quing dynasties, the infrastructure has always been developed very sensibly. We were enchanted with the healthy mix of tradition and modernity that this city offers. We landed in Beijing on a pleasant morning at the new international airport’s terminal three that was recently completed to coincide with the 2008 olympics. It has been built to take the form of a dragon’s body and it is gigantic to say the least. We were greeted by a pleasant private tour guide Annie ( Woo Lu ) who could speak good english ( primary requisite here ), a friendly driver and a sleek GM Buick all terrain four wheel drive which we used during our stay. During our drive to the hotel I was mentally trying to compare this city to Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, the comparison stopped within a few minutes of coming out of the airport, I just let that heavy feeling sink in. We checked into the Hilton which is located at the heart of Beijing’s shopping district of Wangfujing. Most names sound like ricochet , Ling , Ping , Sing, Wing , Jing and so on.

After a quick bite to eat, we headed to the Temple of heaven. An architectural marvel built in the early 1400’s by Emperor Yongle , the third emperor of the Ming dynasty. A popular chap who was also responsible for the construction of the hallowed Forbidden city or now known as the Imperial palace. Thereon a visit to the pearl market that houses exquisite pearls of all kinds and shapes. Dinner that night was at a popular chinese restaurant which is famous for it Peking duck. It also provides live entertainment of slender and sleek chinese artists who could sing, dance, perform acrobatics of the highest standard, perform magic, puppetry, you name it. These acrobatic artists are so agile, some of them were spinning around tables/ girls etc on their legs while lying upside down. No wonder this country bags the highest number of gold for gymnastics at the olympics. 

The next day we started our walking at the Tiananmen square, which begins at the first gate of the imposing Forbidden city / Imperial palace. Chairman Mao’s eyes peer at you all the time, his picture is as imposing as the ideologies of what the square and the state at large represents. From the square we walked into the sprawling Forbidden city which houses the palace of the Emperors of China of the various dynasties. Several gates and halls lead us to the palace, a visual treat, dragons and phoenixes perfectly painted on the imposing roofs in hues of gold, blue and green. The roofs of the palaces are yellow, a sign of imperialism that can be used only by the Emperor, the common man’s roof can house only black and grey. After a lot of walking, we were famished. We had lunch at a delightful Chinese place which used to be the watering hole for Prince and Princesses of the foregone eras. We had a private dining area, and the friendly staff attired in traditional clothing at our beck and call. We never “becked” or “called” and it was a game of dumb charade with our zero knowledge of Chinese. This is where our guide Annie comes to our rescue.We then proceeded to the Summer palace of the Emperor’ a few kms from the heart of Beijing. It houses a pavilion 800 meters long, alongside a lake and with more than 8000 chinese paintings. We did a tour of the lake on a pretty dragon boat. We then visited a local porcelain factory and shopped for the famous blue and white porcelain of the Jingdezhen province. Dinner that night was at a local Indian restaurant. The taste buds had to be rejuvenated.

The following day started at the Ming tombs , ” Chang Lin “. The sacred way to the tombs are seven kilometers long , the way to the heavens. The emperors were buried at this scenic spot which was ideally located on the principles of feng shui. A great place to be buried, surrounded by sweeping hills and orchards. From there we drove to the Mutianyu section of the great wall, a good two hours drive from Beijing. The drive along the mountainous roads was splendid, the views breathtaking. My heart skipped a beat when we spotted a section of the great wall from the road below. A wonder of the world that stretches in excess of 8000 kms and built by several dynasties. This section is normally not very crowded with tourists and we enjoyed the sights and sounds immensely. The sound of the screeching kites, the rustle of the leaves, the wind blowing on our faces, sweeping views of the far mountain ranges of northern terrains of China, a wonder of the world and a moment to cherish but interrupted with the thought of the fly over that has taken five years to be built and not yet completed near my house in Bangalore. I heard that the Karnataka CM was in Beijing at the same time as we were and I would have pushed him over the great wall if I saw him there as a tourist. We would have had two south CMs dying in one week, Andhra one being the last on file.

The last day we shopped at the local flea and antique markets. We then had a lovely lunch at a Budhist restaurant. We then visited a “hutong”, which is the local area of old Beijing, where the alleys are narrow and one has to travel in a rickshaw to get around. Beijing is a visual delight and culturally rich. The city is modern and the olympic sports complexes and olympic villages are extravagant. They can house the next ten olympics easily. English is hardly spoken by the locals and getting around in taxis may be difficult. Request for a boiled egg sandwich can invoke questions from the waiter in good english like ” how many minutes does the egg need to boil?” and ” does the egg need to be in between the bread or at the side “. Nevertheless, their economy is booming and there is construction happening everywhere, an indication that China is indeed driving the world economy.


11 Responses to “From the diary – The Beijing experience…”

  1. Nice travelogue.

    Did you have an interaction with the locals?

    What do they believe in?

    How do they express themselves?

    What makes a chinese happy?

    How do they socialise?

    Is there anything called a chinese elite?

    Can private citizens own land?

    Do chinese men and women have families?

    Does religion play any role in marriages and civil laws?

    Someday, I planning to visit Shanghai. Hope to get some answers from the locals.


    • Thanks Sudhir – Very little interaction. They believe they live in a near perfect world, they continue to read the doctrines of Chairman Mao ( those red pocket sized ones). The chinese elite are the bigwigs of the party. The party remains supreme. Land ownership is possible on term leases which goes back to the state. Religion is not publicized.

      • Sharmila,

        Thank you.

        I am likely to visit Shanghai this year. I am curious to know what has happened since Confuscious and Taoism. I believe a nation’s history resides in the beliefs of its citizens.

        As the French say, “Books are false friends”. I would love to live with them in their own world.

        Sometimes I feel a bit envious. I wish I could travel like you!


  2. Thank you Sharmila for taking us on a wonderful trip to Beijing. BTW is that you walking on the Great Wall?

  3. Veekay - Hong Kong Says:

    Dear Sharmila,

    Its been sometime since I posted a comment, though I have reading and enjoying your blog often.

    Your Beijing travelogue is so well written that I could relate most of it to my visit there last year to settle my daughter at the Beijing Language University for a Summer Course in Mandarin. Thought I should share with you & others, what most toursits do not see – there were around 1000 students walking to their classes in the morning and 90% appeared to be from the West ! A good indcation of the importance that teenagers from foreign lands give to learn Mandarin, and hence of their belief in China driving the world economy!

  4. Veekay – Thank you very much! Mandarin is indeed getting popular. Also, the Chinese are getting better with English too.

  5. Salman Shahid Alvi Says:

    “………I would have pushed him over the great wall if I saw him there as a tourist”

    Are you serious??????:)

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