Lost in Beijing

Air, China, City Travel, Dispatches from the Road, Food & Wine, Lost Girls, Spa & Beauty, Spiritual Travel, Sports & Games, Tours & Attractions — By on May 19, 2009 at 8:06 am

forbidden city garden

Beijing attracted worldwide attention as the home to the 2008 Olympics. Now that all the hype has died down, it’s the perfect time

to visit. The city is a mix of modern (in part due to the government’s onslaught of construction to prepare for the influx of tourists during the global games) and ancient (the Forbidden City, a palace with something like 9,999 rooms that housed emperors, concubines, and eunuchs for centuries, resides in the center of it all). I found a direct flight from Newark on Continental for under $900, which is less than it would cost me to get to Rome this summer.

And Beijing is a traveler’s treasure hunt: You’ll stumble across families steaming dumplings in a hutong (ancient alleyway), uncover spas where blind men pull your muscles like silly putty with tuina (traditional Chinese bodywork), and catch retired city dwellers practicing tai chi at dawn outside the Temple of Heaven.

Beijing Forbidden CityThough I only had five days to spend in the area before heading southwest to Yunnan province, I fell in love with the city. I loved the dozens of Chinese students who approached us not wanting to sell stuff, but to practice their English. I loved when street vendors let me sample their skewers, such as grilled bean curd brushed with spicy chili sauce, and then used their cell phones to translate into English what they’d served me. I loved how old Chinese men and women would sit in the park for hours-veiled in sun hats, sipping from thermoses and playing cards.

Sure, some days the pollution stung my eyes and burned my lungs, but it wasn’t half as bad as I’d anticipated (the government has apparently spent billions trying to clean the air over the last decade and ramped it up for the Olympics). If you’re planning a trip to China’s capital-or only dreaming about it-stay tuned this Friday for a sample itinerary of the top things to see and do.

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    1 Comment

  • Mark says:

    Next time you head to Asia, bring an iphone with the iTranz Language app. It translates both Cantonese and Mandarin to English (with audio).