See also: Harbin Ice and Snow Festival
In recent days, the weather in Beijing has been wonderful. Pollution has also been at its lowest since my arrival, with blue skies and ability to see the sun in the sky. So I decided to venture out into central Beijing a little and explore.
At first, I went straight for the obvious – Tian’an Men Square and Forbidden City. Bad idea. To start with, this was my first trip using Beijing’s famous Subway. It is famous because it’s soon to surpass London Underground as the longest track length and to be honest at just 20p per ride, regardless of the length of the journey, I think it beats ‘tube’ for that alone! It is fairly new system and most of it has been built (or dug up) in the past decade and in the next 6 years they plan to extend it even more. Good news for all, as I hear rush hour here is unbearable to say the least. I did not have to experience that, since it was a Sunday. What I wasn’t expecting was airport-like security check points at every subway station. Before you can get through the ticket barriers, you need to go through metal detector and put your bags through x-ray scanners. At least you don’t need to take out the liquids.. although they check those at Tian’an Men Square. And that’s where it became even more frustrating. As as I got out of the station, to access the street, was another intense security check. Finally a little frustrated, mostly at locals’ inability to queue orderly, I found myself in front of Tian’an Men building.
I didn’t go into the building to explore the Forbidden City as it was slightly later in the afternoon and I decided to leave for another day. Instead, I cross to the other side of the street (of the motorway to be exact) to Tian’an Men Square, which claims to be the biggest square in the world. They also had stringent security check to access that with an even longer queue, so I decided to leave it and head back. To leave the area, I had to go through security check in a cattle herd like environment that I was pushed, shoved and heavily breathed on… 10 minutes and two more security checks later I escaped hoping that it’s not what all of the Beijing is like. Glimpse of Tian’an Men Square..
With a guidebook in hand I went exploring ‘real Beijing’ through Hutongs (traditional Chinese alleys) of Houhai area. You wouldn’t be disappointed, its different, it’s beautiful and it’s so Chinese. You see everything: souvenir shops, restaurants serving Peking Duck which I am yet to try, luxury cars and tuk-tuks, Emperor’s Palaces, homes of the poor and the well off. Such a contrast, it’s unbelievable. Then eventually you come out into Houhai (Back Lake) which is part of a three lake cluster full of tourists and locals alike, bars, food stalls and restaurants. A little like Southbank on London, but with more diverse character.
Here’s a little video I’ve made to capture the spirit of the area. If a picture speaks a thousand words, how many can a video spell out.. see for yourself!