Beijing - The City

Returning from the Summer Palace, we stopped at Beijing Zoo to see the giant Pandas. They really are quite wonderful, and Beijing Zoo is very modern. My lasting image is of a Panda roaming round its open air enclosure while a keeper sits in the cage peering out through the bars!
Our evening in Beijing is memorable for its awfulness. After the worst meal I have ever had we went off to see the "Chinese Acrobats". This consisted of a very amateur performance in a theatre that looks as though it had closed down and was being used unofficially by the acrobats. Not a great evening. As my Japanese friend would put it, less than mediocre. Still, tomorrow we are on our own in Beijing so we might get to see the real city.
Up in the morning, and we take a taxi to Tiananmen square. After advice from our tour rep. we check that the taxi has a meter and that it's running. On arrival it shows 18 Yuan. The driver promptly pushes a few buttons and presto! the meter shows 120 Yuan! At around 8 Yuan to the US Dollar, this is nearer to London prices than Beijing fares. We argue for a time, and finally give the driver 30 Yuan and walk off. Seems like in every country there are some taxi drivers who try to rip off tourists.
The two of us (my wife and myself) set off to walk around the interesting bits of Beijing, armed with a couple of maps and a guide book. A few things become quickly obvious. First, Beijing is huge and what looks a short distance on the map is a long walk. Second, there may be lots of tourists here, but they are all Chinese except us! We do feel conspicuous and out of place but safe. Generally, the people seem pleasant and friendly and I am not worried to be openly carrying an expensive camera and camcorder. We pass a sort of street carnival, people dancing in strange costumes to Chinese sounding music, and lots of bicycles. The streets are very wide and free from litter, and the traffic isn't too bad. The architecture is a bit 1950s flat concrete style in places, but generally I would say Beijing is visually quite pleasant. We tried the underground (subway) with total success. 1 Yuan for two people for any length of journey is good value. All the signs are in Chinese, but my map has the same Chinese names so it's just a matter of careful comparison. Much easier than you would think.
The Friendship Store is a huge shopping emporium, and we bought lots of gifts at very cheap prices, and then went next door for lunch at...Pizza Hut! Rather bland taste, but quite good.
Friendship Store
Further down the road was Silk Alley, a narrow alleyway full of stalls selling silk. I bought a few silk shirts at around 50 Yuan each and some pyjamas for my daughters. By this time we needed a rest so we took a ride in a pedal cab, a sort of rickshaw tricycle. The price asked was 15 Yuan, which by UK standards seemed very cheap, so I paid it happily. In retrospect it was probably far too much, and the driver did seem extremely happy. Happy customer and happy driver.
Back to Tiananmen square and off to the Antiques Quarter. This is full of antique shops selling the usual mixture of the genuine and the fake. We bought several very pretty plates and dishes in eggshell china at very low prices. The traders were very pleasant and packed everything very safely to go in our suitcases for the trip home. They packed well, nothing broke! The whole area looks very traditionally Chinese, and I wished we had more time to explore.
The taxi back to the hotel showed 10 Yuan on the meter, and the driver this time was honest and friendly. Seems like people are much the same in every country really. Maybe the Net will make it easier for us all to realise this rather obvious fact, and allow people everywhere to get to know each other better. It could make the world a much better place.
And now ... you need a Guide Book! and also a Cheap Flight

Great Wall of ChinaTrip Contents

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