I have never been to China, let alone Beijing. My mental baggage almost as heavy as my suitcase. I have more preconceptions of a concrete jungle, smoggy pollution and city personality blander than Maggi Noodles without a sachet. I have my first date with Mr B (Beijing) - can he win me over in 24hrs?
Arriving at night it’s difficult to pick out the city because it’s effectively bigger than Bosnia! 176km from East to West, the size and sprawl is a bit hard to fathom.Meet Kerry – 2am
Whooshed from the airport in a Lexus (thank – yaw!) We arrive at Shangri-la’s newest brand in hotels. If the Shangri-la went on a nightclubbing bender and took a ‘kool’ pill the result would be the birth of Kerry Hotels - it’s a funky little number. The Kerry girls are out front to greet us looking hot, sexy and gorgeous in their silver Star Trek outfits - the contrast between air travel dishevelment has never felt greater. Is it an art gallery, sporting complex (covers 3 floors) or jazz nightclub? It’s got the entire package and a jolly nice place to hang your hat. I wave my signature onto an iPad and room check-in is complete.
Meet Toto – 7am
Behind the curtains is a sunny day (isn’t it supposed to look like pea soup out there?). I’ve made a new friend called Toto. He is warm, intelligent and does lots of tricks. I am developing a fondness for my multi buttoned high tech toilet with motion sensors which do a lid lift salute! This place has more gadgets than ‘Q’.Get organised – 8:30am
After a breakfast buffet bonanza we head into the city. The underground is extensive, fast and safe and the taxi’s are metered. DO NOT attempt to go anywhere in a taxi during rush hour.
Pah to Putin, Tiananmen Square & Forbidden City – 10am
Indelibly etched into our memories is the lone student protesting for freedom against the line of tanks in 1989. It can hold one million people. Vladamir Putin’s state visit has closed all roads; we get a glimpse of the immense square and can’t access the Forbidden City (home of the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties) Moral is; don’t coincide your city adventure with a Russian president. He wins.
On the grapevine – midday
We love Kerry Hotel who via their ‘contacts’ have arranged lunch inside a Chinese family’s house. They cook, you eat. Visions of sitting cross legged on a lino floor saying “no I couldn’t possibly eat of those chicken feet, that fried snake filled me right up” flashes across my mind.Meet the Rickshaw boys – 12.45pm
Our bored rickshaw drivers are waiting. We pick up surprising speed as we enter a network of perfectly concreted alleyways. We whizz past doorways and get flashes of people living their lives; the old grandma curled over tending her herb pots, a men playing kerching (looks like white dominos). It’s quiet and peaceful. No rubbish, no mangy moggies. I can’t help but wonder if this is a government PR stunt so people live thinking ‘oh the slums of Beijing were just so lovely’.
Lunch with a Hutong Family – 1pm
Mrs Wang Xiao Meng greets us at the front or their tiny one bedroom concrete home. Nominated by her community for her cooking skills the government has selected her and a few other families across the districts to represent their communities. Mrs M had an unfair advantage having worked in a restaurant so it wasn’t really a neighbourly cook off!
Within five minutes the little table is heaving with crispy pastry rolls, mysterious chicken meatballs, Kung Pao chicken, sweet n sour cauliflower, fried rice, stir fried garlic shoots a gozeleme-like spinach pastry. Chairman Meow (I named their cats) circles our feet.798 Art District – 4pm
Who would have thought a bit of New York Soho could pop up in Beijing? The main street is dotted with galleries, laneways and a mind boggling array of the weird and wonderful. The Chinese seem to show a weird fascination with babies faces, whilst huge sculptures of whimsical naked sumo wrestlers and a sky-high stack of red Jurassic dinosaurs make for a fun afternoon of arty muse-ment.
Ching Dynasty Wall – 7pm
With a city as old as five thousand years, history makes an appearance. Driving back to the hotel there are many parks and groomed gardens dotted along the road ides, canals. The city wall is breathtaking. Surrounded by a moat, and protected with nine gates from marauding Mongol barbarians. Sections remain and they are impressive reminders of an ancient past which sits alongside Beijing’s sky scrapers. It’s not an easy juxtaposition but I am glad to be witness.Back to Base – 8pm
Following the legendary Pekin Duck extravaganza at the Horizon Restaurant we start to resemble our not so feathered (but delicious friend) given a new found waddle out the door. We head to Centro, one of the Beijing’s best jazz spots. Lucky for us, it’s inside the Kerry Hotel. We are served Verve by beautiful people as the band gets the place rocking.The Verdict
On my 3rd glass of Verve I muse that I really have got Beijing wrong. It’s cool, hip n funky, sophisticated even but its retained culture and history which puts it in a class above the homogenous norm. I would love a second date with Mr B, even two or three...
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