We had to wait for eight days to get our Kazakh visa but Beijing well and truly held our attention throughout this time. Beyond the highlights we’ve already reported (Great Wall, Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen, hutongs…) here’s a whistle-stop tour of our touring:
- The Forbidden City: historically entering would cost you your life. Now it’s just $12NZD. Just off Tiananmen this massive palace complex was once the seat of imperial power. It was impressive even when teeming with other tourists.
- The summer palace is what it says. Although it’s less palace and more palatial lake and gardens. We enjoyed escaping the heat of the city, though it was lacking what we’d have in a summer palace: water slides (Joe) calipo frost lemon of the ~1998 variety (Fiona).
- Beijing subway: Sardines have it easy. We’ve never been as squished as we were on rush hour services. That said, the metro did make all of Beijing easily accessible and the price, 40 cents a go, cannot be beaten.
- Panjiayuan antiques market: We arrived after most of the action was over. The vendors that remained were mostly selling what seemed to be a special kind of walnut. You wear them on a bracelet, rather than putting them in a carrot cake. It seems the bracelet is used a little like rosary beads, but why the individual walnuts demanded such close attention from their buyers we may never know. There was also a creepy guy carrying a small herd of taxidermied animals on his rickshaw.
- Lamb hot pot: a culinary experience not to be missed. You order a bunch of thinly sliced lamb, some mushrooms and other vegetables and you cook, piece by piece, in a bubbling cauldron in the middle of your table. The cooking novelty is probably the highlight, rather than the flavour, though it’s possible we might have gotten more out of this is chaperoned by a local.
- The Lama Temple: The most important Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet, it featured a massive carved Buddha that was made from a single piece of wood. To our mind more impressive than the reclining Buddha in Bangkok. Enthusiastic temple attendants handed out free bunches of incense that burned throughout the many shrines of the many temples and altars in the complex.
- Cultural Revolution museum and Great Leap Forward monument: We were really looking forward to these. Sadly, they don’t exist. Recounting of Chinese history stops conspicuously about 1940.