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[Fri 18 Oct, 01:10]
PST (Gumly Gumly -17)
Beijing - (5 replies)

I'm living in Beijing at the moment, and spent the October Week showing a friend around. Notes that might be of interest to visitors.

Tiananmen and the Forbidden City were surprisingly easy on Oct 1. Tiananmen was really busy, of course, but the police were running a good one way system through the pedestrian underpasses so everyone was moving freely - no crushes. My friend said she didn't mind the crowds as being taller than average made it easier. Only queued for 10 minutes to get Forbidden City tickets (60Y). It's definitely worth heading off the central axis of the FC to explore the side buildings - there are a few interesting little exhibitions, all in Chinese. The FC is now afflicted with 'art students' asking you if you 'are interested in Chinese art', which turn out, of course, to be on sale in souvenir shops. I adopted the 'no, actually, I only like Western art' approach. They don't pester you too much. There's a starbucks inside the FC now. Went to a fast slop shop inside the FC and was charged 70Y for two tin trays of rubbish food - my friend paid and I didn't find out how much it cost till later, so I don't know if she was cheated or if it actually was that extortionately expensive.

There's an interesting new way to get to the Summer Palace. Inside Yuyuantan Park (just to the north of the Military Museum) boats leave every hour, ten minutes past the hour, from 8.10am onwards. The trip takes about 40 minutes and costs 40Y one way. Commentary is given in Chinese. The views aren't that great, apart from one pagoda you mostly see the side of the canal. However, its probably a lot more pleasant (and expensive) than a bus. The boat drops you at the South Gate to the Summer Palace, which is nice as you are away from the buildings and therefore the tourists. You can get return trips, or take a different route to the zoo from the SP.
I'd strongly recommend going to one of the more remote areas of the Wall. We took a minibus from the Far East Hostel (great place to stay, in the LP, 6 bed dorms 40Y a night). 60Y to Simatai, 80Y to Jinshanling with pick-up at Simatai 4 or 5 hours later. If you are doing the Jinshanling to Simatai walk, they will ask you to change minibus at Simatai. It's strictly a transport service - no food, no guide for the walk, no entrance fees, and very very little english spoken. Entrance fees will cost you 30Y at each location - therefore 60Y if you walk from one to the other. Plenty of water/postcard sellers on the wall, but I'd check the seal on bottled water. They can be a little persistent, but were never overly pushy. They will follow you for quite sometime on the off-chance that you suddenly change your mind though. The wall between the two reconstructed sections is spectacular, but also a little hard going, particularly for anyone unsure of their footing.

Madame Song Qing Ling (sp) Residence is a lovely spot in a lovely part of Beijing, with some fascinating stuff inside - including a photo of Chairman Mao standing next to the Dalai Lama. Worth a visit, especially if you are interested in Chinese history, or in the Bell Tower / Houhai area anyway.

Beijing Zoo was uninspiring, as expected. We only went to see the pandas, which seemed a little annoyed with all the banging on glass. However, the best reason to go to the Zoo is that it makes it much easier to find WuTaSi (five pagoda temple). Take the exit at the north west end of the zoo, cross the canal bridge and pay the 10Y to get in and also get the 5Y tower ticket. WuTaSi features five incredible carved stone pagodas, Indian style (I think) rather than Chinese, in a pretty good state of repair. It also houses a Stone Carving Museum, which has some tombstones belonging to Jesuit Missionaries - bring your latin phrasebook if you want to decipher them. The attendants there were very helpful, but spoke very little English (though I can communicate in Chinese, which might have put them off). They went to great trouble to explain that you can only take photos if you include a person in them - to stop them being used as postcards / art shots, I guess. Wutasi is definitely worth a visit. Also, if you need to stock up on decent bread and so on, Carrefour has a branch just west of the zoo, and there's a pizza place just next door (to Carrefour, not the zoo) if you need it.

Panjiayuan is a great place to visit weekend mornings, and I'm sure you could make some great purchases if you really know your antiques. Even if you don't, its a great place to wander about. If you can read some Chinese, you can try to decipher all the propaganda memorabilia - 'The Chinese People will Resist American Imperialism and the Invasion of our Brother Nation Vietnam', etc.

To the west of Tiananmen Gate there's a park, Zhongshan park. Inside this, there's a concert hall, with a ticket office at the back. I haven't been in, but it's apparently spectacular. It might be worth asking what's on.

That's all I can remember of what we did. Hope it comes in handy to someone.


[Fri 18 Oct, 04:07]
PST (Gumly Gumly -17)
1. Thanx

helpful info, I'll be there next week..


[Fri 18 Oct, 05:46]
PST (Gumly Gumly -17)
2. ...

great stuff Roddy, I almost wish someone would make a Beijing (or China) FAQ on this message board one of these days.


[Fri 18 Oct, 06:08]
PST (Gumly Gumly -17)
3. Zhongshan Park

is the first 'people's (i.e., public) park built after 1949 when PRC founded. It has traditional 'imperial' style architecture, plus some very ancient pieces (steles, etc) relocated from now long-gone private residents/ancient classical gardens etc. The concert hall is an open-air one, well, was, in a fan shape (between fan and semi-circle) have not been there for long.

FOr those of you living there, if you get there in the morning, you would see many Chinese locals doing their morning exercise there (all types!), some Peking opera fans or amatures would 'practice' there as well. If my memory did not fail me, one can also boat on the moat along the Forbidden City sometimes - very nice in the late afternoon or sunset time.

On its mirror side (Zhongshang park is on the west side of the Tian An Men gate, the east side 'labore workers culture hall' lao3 dong4 ren2 min2 wen2 hua4 gong1, is another public park, seasonal exhibitions in various themes are on.

Have a good time.


[Sat 19 Oct, 00:09]
PST (Gumly Gumly -17)
4. Good one, roddy

I also visited the Forbidden City on October 1 and can report that it is not a good idea to try and exit onto Tiananmen square just before the flag lowering ceremony around 17:30. They actually stop the crowds from exiting until the soldiers have marched across the street and the wait was nearly 40 minutes. Once we were allowed to go through the main door we were then instructed to make the long detour east instead of going over the bridge directly in front of the gate. I made it to the square in time to get the half mast photo I wanted but had to walk briskly through the masses.
Beijing Zoo is a prison camp for pandas. It is on top of my "must avoid" list right up there with Ming Tombs. If you want to see pandas in China then the breeding center near Chengdu is your #1 option. Guangzhou has a decent zoo if you can't get to Sichuan and there's always Ocean Park's panda exhibit as a last resort in Hong Kong.
My favorite propaganda poster seen at the antique market in Panjiayuan: "Liberate Taiwan Immediately" The tout wanted 200 RMB for it after I laughed and showed it to my entourage; maybe I should have pretended that I didn't know what the Chinese characters meant. Now I'm having second thoughts and intend to go back there one of these days and buy it anyway. It's really a classic and I had to dig around to find it. I now realize I likely won't find that same original poster anywhere else in China in such excellent condition . 200 RMB is cheap now that I think of it. Let that be a lesson to us all.
Best wishes,

More Confucian commentary can now be found at

[Sat 19 Oct, 15:34]
PST (Gumly Gumly -17)
5. Superb

Thanks Roddy on this info, I've just booked to go in March for a week so will keep these notes on hand.

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