The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Monday, December 10, 2007


Below is an excerpt from a travel article in the New York Times, on Beijing. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article. Do yourself a favor and take a look, the pictures that accompany the article are great.

December 9, 2007

36 Hours in Beijing

BEIJING can feel chaotic and sprawling, especially as it races to finish Olympic construction before the Games begin on Aug. 8. But there's an ancient order to the place, a cosmology, and you can follow it. The palaces and temples line up like stars on the city's south-north axis. The government chose to build the Olympic Stadium on the axis, too. All over town there are digital billboards with a countdown to the Games. Down to the second. But wait. Besides the cranes and compact cars and floating particulate matter, everything essential about the city — its tall vermilion walls, its septuagenarians flying kites on bridges, its pigeons — has been there all along.


3:30 p.m.

Once the private garden of Ming and Qing emperors, Beihai, set beside the Forbidden City, may be the most beautiful public park in China. There are Buddhist temples by the lake, the footpaths lined with willow trees, and the provincial tour groups wearing identical baseball hats. The northern entrance to a private garden called Jingxinzhai (24 Dianmen Xidajie; 86-10-6406-2279; closes at 4 p.m. in winter and an hour later in summer, so first visit this private world of pavilions, fish ponds and rock gardens. Sometimes an orchestra gathers by the big lake, and the locals sing songs, drink tea from thermoses and read about the stock market and price of eggs in the Beijing Evening News. There is an inward tendency in the Chinese character, and these walled gardens were designed to shut away the outside world.

5:30 p.m.

After your respite, see the heart of the city on foot. After taking in the scale of the Forbidden City from outside the north moat, follow the narrow street, Beichang Jie, under the dark leaning scholar trees. You'll pass by What? (72 Beichang Jie; 86-133-4112-2757), a tiny rock bar that affords sidewalk wicker chairs and a glimpse of street life: migrant workers, high school students, young soldiers and black Audis with tinted windows keeping watch over the sealed leadership compound of Zhongnanhai. At the southern end of the street, turn left onto the Avenue of Eternal Peace, and walk east along the boulevard, past past the soldiers clearing Tiananmen Square, and the lovers in the shadows of the big trees . You are in the center of the city, which, in the Chinese mind, is at the center of the world. And it feels that way.

8 p.m.

The headless ducks hang from black hooks, ready for the brick ovens. Eleven Chinese cooks in dark pinstriped pants handle them with long poles, with a grouping of little porcelain ducklings looking on. The dining room of the Dadong Roast Duck Restaurant (22 Dongsishitiao; 86-10-5169-0328) is rowdy, as Chinese restaurants are supposed to be, and the braised eggplant is sweet and good. The skin of the lean bird is crisp, and its meat — wrapped in a thin pancake with spring onions and a sweet dark sauce — washes down nicely with red wine or beer.

10 p.m.

Beijing's best known bar strip, the Sanlitun neighborhood, is a playground for hookers, expatriates and Nigerian drug dealers. Instead, take a cab to the Drum and Bell Towers, and slip into the hutongs, or historic alleys, heading north, toward Bed Bar (17 Zhangwang Hutong; 86-10-8400-1554). Look for a red lantern down a long, quiet lane. A converted machine-parts factory decorated with antique furniture and paintings of the old city, Bed is a pleasant place to drink sangria, talk with friends, and drink more sangria. If you're with a group, reserve a private room overlooking the courtyard.


9:30 a.m.

Built by the Ming emperor Yongle in 1420, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is a masterpiece of Chinese religious architecture. The hall was one of many altars inside the kingdom's largest complex for ritual sacrifice, the Temple of Heaven, or Tiantan (86-10-6702-8866; Twenty-two emperors came here to make sacrifices to heaven, affirming their divine role as ruler and shaman. Nowadays, in the Long Corridor through which ritual offerings once passed, crowds of retirees play poker, Hacky Sack and the two-stringed erhu.


The government understands that the sacred axis of the imperial city will also be the axis for tourists this summer and is preparing accordingly. Go north from the west gate of the Temple of Heaven and you will be impressed by the tidiness, the fresh paint, the grassy lawns. But wander down any of the hutongs of the Qianmen area, south of Tiananmen Square, and you may have a different — and more textured — impression. A battlefield between developers and conservationists, this famous neighborhood of provincial guilds, opera houses, bordellos and hot pot restaurants is in epic flux. Some hutongs have been razed, and some still bustle with cheap restaurants, backpackers, butcher shops and crowded courtyard homes. The nearby Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall (20 Qianmen Dongdajie; 86-10-6702-4559; puts the conflict in context.

1 comment:

Zen said...

I tagged you for a meme on my blog. I hope you can find the time to play.