Have you ever fought 1000 tourists for tickets to walk a garden? I have. Welcome to Chinese golden week, 7 days of holiday for 1.3 billion people who love to travel domestically. And us.
Flying into Beijing was something, the airport itself is the largest air conditioned space in the world, and the air pollution that day was breaking records too. Tiananmen Square, the centre of modern political China was being prepared for the country’s birthday. Tiananmen’s permanent fixtures, flags, patriotic military statues and security cameras stood in stark contrast to the gargantuan flower bowl sculpture created by the country’s leading sculptors.
After a day or two the smog in the city worsened, until the midday sun resembled an egg yolk. This caused alarm to both our lungs and the administration. Unusually the day before celebrations were due a cleansing rain fell increasing visibility from 200m to 5 km. Later we found this timing was not due to fortune but cloud seeding. Classic. However, our lungs briefly recovered and we were finally able to see the thousands of taxis well before they refused to pick us up in the ever increasing crowds.
Beijing is the home of Peking duck and to join in celebrating we hunted for the finest. We sought out what we were told is the oldest surviving duck restaurant in Beijing. Which surprisingly is located on the third floor of a mall next to Cartier. It was once situated in the old town (Hutongs) but now along with much of Beijings street food, has been transplanted into mall food courts in one of the thousands of shopping centres that permeate the city. Still, the duck was good and after we were able to pick up some Nikes at a late night sale.
One fine day we briefly made a break from the crowds, escaping to a far flung section of the Great Wall. The extent of the wall and its photogeneity led to us overstaying, risking missing our transport home. As a result we improvised a route down from the wall. But, while she’s nimble Yvonne is no Bear Grylls. Some loose gravel sent her horizontal. A normal human reaction while falling is to break the descent with ones arms, not Yvonne. Every instinct is overridden by an almost maternal desire to protect her camera. There was blood, there may have been a tear. Like the Mongolians before her the wall defeated Yvonne.
In retrospect Beijing during National week was a bit of an assault, on our senses, and at some times our senses of humor. But despite that, it provided a lot of gold too. It’s not masochistic, it’s good fun. What better time to experience a city that’s both ultra-modern and steeped in tradition than when everyone visits to celebrate.
And the ticket fight at the park? After getting in we left after two hours to get hotpot. For a walk in a garden 100,000 people is a lot to compete with. We missed a giant PVC duck and some ancient monuments but we made our choice.
In the end Beijing is an immense city with an enormous amount to offer. When you go visit the restaurant Huda at 233 Gui Jie. If you stay long enough drinking beers and eating overly spiced food you too may get invited to a shotgun Chinese wedding. Order the spicy baby crayfish and the dirty fish bowl, just don’t complain to us the next day.
Written by Mickey.
Photo below: Outside the Forbidden City in Beijing. More photos in the China Section.