Tuesday, October 17, 2006

More Beijing

Beijing literally means 'northern capital' (jing stands for capital). While all signs around you point to a city on the move... huge buildings of glass, steel, and concrete coming up on the roads from the airport, to the Great Wall and as you move to the industrial parks in the suburbs, you also see signs all around you that this city has a past. Beijing existed as a city almost all the way back to the first millenium B.C! The city has been burnt down and re-built several times during this period, mostly by the invading Mongols from the north.

I tried to cram in as many sights and sounds of this exciting city during the four days I was here. Before I flew back, I was able to see the Llama Temple, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, and Tiananmen Square. I thought the Temple of Heaven was really the best of the lot; intricately decorated structures, very peaceful place, and a huge garden all around with lots of greenery. Another thing one notices in the old Chinese relegious artifacts (the original relegion, Daoism or Taoism pre-dates the other modern religions of China such as Buddhism by many years) is the similarities with some Indus Valley and Egyptian ones as far as their gods are concerned. They are mostly combinations of different animals in one, such as a dragon-faced horse; they also have artifacts of the Mother Goddess, common to all these religions.

I wasn't too impressed by the Forbidden City, from which almost ten emperors ruled China. It's like one of our palaces in India (of course, architecturally quite different); currently it houses museums from the dynasties that ruled here). This can easily consume 2-4 hours of your time depending on your interest level. BTW, Much of the Forbidden City is under renovation right now (probably in preparation for the 2008 Olympics).

Tiananmen Square is about 440,000 square meters, making it the largest public square in the world! It was windy and there was a chill in the air, so I didn't stay too long here. Temperatues in Beijing can go down to -16 C during winters; however, there hasn't been snow in recent times. The elaborate flag-hoisting ceremony at Tiananmen Square is sort of similar to our own version at the Indo-Pak border, but all of this is like a time-warp and doesn't fit into today's world...
Our most fun experience was the shopping and haggling to get to the right price... well, actually you never quite can figure out the right price. That leather Gucci handbag for US $8... too expensive? How about an Geogia Armani leather belt for US $5... hmm... And btw, these aren't cheap looking imitations. The quality and workmanship are good, and they look like the real things.

All the vendors seem to be school and college girls specializing in the art of marketing; they have mastered the basics of the English language: 'moment' (hold on, don't go, I will come up with a better price), 'how much?' (don't like my price, well, what price do you think this is worth?), and it goes on... Interestingly they all have handheld calculators on which they tap out the price, and then push it to you so you can do the same... the trick is to start at least 70% lower than their initial price: learnt that the hard way :(

Ate at a awesome place in the Grand Hyatt. The restaurant is called Made in China, and has been rated the best place to eat in all of North East China. Splendid ambience, food, and service.

The restaurant serves contemporary Chinese cooking... please note that their specialities, Peking Duck and Beggars' Chicken have to be ordered in advance when making reservations (at least a few hours in advance; they get sold out quick!). Multiple show kitchens, innovative presentation and a great wine selection complete the experience.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

U seem to capture the history of the place u visit pretty neatly. Its well described and sets "triggers of interest" in travel-freaks like me :-)