Original Post: August 7, 2007
Our excursion to the Great Wall took most of the morning and early afternoon, but back in Beijing we had some time to kill before dinner so we decided to take a rickshaw tour (super touristy!) of the Hutong area. The Hutong is the old area outside of the Forbidden City and it is really run down in parts, but nicely fixed up in others – a bit of an imbalance. There’s a big lake that is surrounded with bars and at night they get all lit up with neon (surprise, surprise) and you can rent little boats and cruise around on the lake. That was super fun, so unlike anything else I’ve done while drinking… Following the lead of some local teenagers, we loaded up on the cheapest cans of beer known to mankind at a stand just down the road from the boat rentals. You can get a can for between 15 and 40 cents depending on the brand, and I assume we got the Schlitz of Chinese beer because we went for 15 cent variety. We rented our boat and set off, along with dozens of other people. There were random vendors around the edges of the lake and you could buy fireworks and sparklers from them. We got 10 boxes of sparklers for $1. We spent about 1 1/2 hours cruising around and watching the madness, and then headed back to shore to check out some of the land-nightlife. There may have been karaoke, strobe lights, and John dancing on a pole…but I can’t be completely certain.
Of course, Beijing has all the traditional sights as well – The Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Tiannamen Square, Behai Park etc. We saw all of them, but our favorites were the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven. They were both set in huge parks so you could get away from the heat if you went into the trees. Did I mention it was A MILLION DEGREES? Really, you think I’m kidding, but I’m not. The buildings have mostly been redone and look very sparkling new – it’s amazing how much detail some of the places have. Tiannamen Sq. looks exactly like it does in the movies. We tried to go to Mao’s Mausoleum, but it’s closed at the moment, super bummer. We did however see some sort of military marching drill that was at once fascinating and a little scary.
You can’t take me to a city without taking me to the shopping, and Beijing was no exception. We spent a whole afternoon at the largest outdoor market I’ve ever seen. On the evening of our last day we went to go see a Kung Fu show. It was probably one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen – totally made for Western tourists, but super funny all the same. There were some good Kung Fu actions, but the story (about a young monk named Kong Kong who works hard to become a Kung Fu master) was absurd and the acting/dancing/costumes/effect were terrible. I am glad we went as we have some amusing photos, but overall a bit of a waste of $$ despite how much the guidebooks hype it up.
We spent 5 full days inBeijing plus a day at the Great Wall and that seemed like a good amount of time. We encountered a few local English speakers, but for the most part we got by with our minimal phrases, a lot of charades, and loads of smiling.