Beijing was never on my to-go list, not that I have anything against the city, but as a perennial beach bum, cities never really did appeal.
So when a work trip to the capital city came up, I thought, sure, why not? I love Shanghai, so how different can Beijing be?
Well, albeit it was a whirlwind work trip, I actually liked it more than I expected myself to.
So here are some of the things that swayed my “beachy” heart and left me wanting more:
Ps: The explorer in me apologises for not having time to check out museums, cafes and kitschy art galleries due to severe time constraint.
It’s modern, it’s ancient, it’s a fusion of both. Everywhere you turn, you see distinct touches of Chinese architecture.
From the tollbooth to the lamp posts at the side of the road, each and every intricate carving seem to transport you back to the archaic times of the Qing/Ming dynasty (pardon my history) almost as if it would be perfectly normal to see the Emperor and his concubines strolling past you. I love how the smallest touches remind you that, you're, in fact, in China.
Then there’s the modern majestic wonder that is the Beijing National Stadium (nicknamed the Bird’s Nest) and the one-of-a-kind CCTV building (it’s super futuristic and cool) which have been built in recent times, both of which break boundaries, scaffold by scaffold, tile by tile, blowing minds in the process.
Seriously, everything there is huge, it makes me feel lilliputian. It adds to the grandeur of the place and almost like any other city, except all the landmarks here are being McDonalds-fied, upsized for your enjoyment. From the malls (great for shoppers!) to random commercial buildings, to the stadiums, to the roads (they seem to go on forever). This luxury of space also allows them to build buildings super far apart, which may not be that cool for the lazy tourist.
History, history, history
I wish I had more time to explore the Forbidden City. I had the morning to myself and decided to head to Tiananmen Square.
I was blown away by the sheer number of people who were there, from tourists all over the world, to old folks from various parts of China, making a trek to their version of mecca.
I was pretty much in awe by every brick and mortar, every wall and gate. It didn’t help that it reminded me of the gazillion chinese period dramas/movies I’ve watched, and kept imagining that a swashbuckling assassin will appear and “swoop” in to abduct some important person in the crowd.
By the end of my short half day traipse there, I found myself wishing I was a concubine, so that my palace guards would appear with a carriage to cart me back to my swanky hotel. That was how much I walked.
It’s a chowdown
You know how people always tell you that Chinese food is way too oily? Well, it’s kinda true. But what they failed to mention was, the food is also super delicious! I had THE BEST peking duck in my life at the famed Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant , the hallmark of Chinese cuisine here.
It was mind-blowingly good. The skin is crisp and literally melts in your mouth. Dip it into sugar, and you get an explosion of flavours in your mouth. My peers also tried the famous sea cucumber (see pic below) at Da Dong - which is a great examples of never judging a book by its cover - it was chewy, succulent and a million times more delicious than you could ever imagine it to be.
My favourite 24-hour steamboat joint in China (they have branches in Shanghai too), Hai Di Lao also lived up to expectation with excellent service – you get to sit on a massage chair, get a free mani/pedi, enjoy snacks and games while waiting in line – and food that is to-die-for.
The variety of steamboat food is astoundingly good, with the meat sliced to perfection and the endless condiment bar.
We also visited Qiao Jiang Nan aka South Beauty Restaurant, famously owned by Taiwanese actress Barbie Hsu’s mother-in-law.
Thanks to the good folks at Elizabeth Arden, I came face to face, with the largest lobster I’ve ever laid eyes on. Sorry dude, you’re definitely more delicious dead than alive.
The swanky pad
The Ritz-Carlton Beijing has got to be one of the nicest hotels in the city.
I was thankful enough to have a super-luxe room, with an awesome tub and the most comfortable beds were so feathery soft, I definitely did not want to step out of the rooms at all.
With that said, there’s still so much of Beijing I’ve yet to explore – from the famous San Li Tun, to the interesting bars and cafes to the night markets – so, I’m pretty sure another trip is definitely in order!