This is Beijing?


But it’s beautiful


I had no idea


Of course most of the city looks nothing like this, but a day at the Summer Palace and you can forget you are in the bustling and exploding metropolis that is Beijing. Not a bad place on the edge of town for an Emperor to get away from it all


It took the whole afternoon to walk around Kunming Lake, something like 10km, but I don’t think you could find a nicer place to go for a walk. By the time I made it around, the sun was falling on a beautiful, clear day in Beijing


The Forbidden City is in the geographical center of Beijing. The name comes from the fact that commoners were forbidden entry without special permission up until the 1920s


Every corner you turn inside reveals something new and unique


And this place is massive


You cross one enormous courtyard like this, and another one reveals itself. As with the rest of Beijing, everything is getting a facelift in anticipation of the 2008 Summer Olympics


You can’t go too far in Beijing without seeing good old Mao. Money rules here is China, so it only makes sense that The Chairman is on every denomination of cash


Tiananmen Square, directly south of the Forbidden City is also enormous


Two random Chinese guys came up to me and made the universal gesture that I took to mean can you take our picture. However as I reached for their camera, instead what I got was one guy posing with me and the other guy taking our picture


This guy wanted a photo of me, apparently I am quite the oddity here in China. And since staring is apparently not rude in China, everybody has a good long look at the strange looking big man with yellow hair and blue eyes. It is laughable how much they stare, I’ve tried the stare down with some of them but I am no match for their staring ability. Some will turn around and walk backwards as they pass me just to continue staring. Little kids will scream and point at me, attracting the attention of everybody around. It really is incredible, there are definitely days where I feel like a freak show on display in China.

Apparently it is also not rude in China to loudly generate a huge wad of spit and spew it wherever you want, whether it be on the street, on a train, or even in a restaurant. Everybody from old men to young women, just spitting wherever they feel like it. Still haven’t gotten used to that, and apparently the government is trying to get rid of this unsightly Chinese habit. Good luck, there are loads of spitters still out there.

Another glorious day in Beijing coming to an end at Quianmen, just south of Tiananmen. Picked up a China Mobile SIM card down here to plug in to my phone. After an outrageous international roaming bill from T-Mobile back in August, it is the only way to go now.


Many years ago, Beijing apparently consisted entirely of Hutong style housing, little homes tucked away behind walls lining mazes of small alleys


Almost all of the Hutong have been destroyed with the explosive growth in Beijing, and the few that remain are all being given a facelift for the Olympics. An army of rickshaws ride through these alleys every now and then showing the Hutong to tourists. I didn’t quite see the great lure of the rickshaw, and instead gave it a try on foot. Pretty soon I had stumbled into a little place in one of these alleys, where a nice Chinese woman served me up a cold Tsingtao and a plate that had something like 50 dumplings on it


On the edge of the Hutong district is Houhai, with rows and rows of bars vying for your business. And all of the touts out front trying to lure you in are multifaceted business men, claiming to be able to arrange much more than just a drink – “Sir! You like DVD, massage, ladybird?” The rooftop deck at the Buddha Bar is a good place to watch the world go by


Here’s what Beijing looks like today


A massive skyline of towers with new ones going up every day. This shot is from the 22nd floor of the Pacific Century Plaza where the State Department puts up the Ross family in a luxurious three bedroom apartment. What is amazing is that on a day in Beijing when the pollution is bad, you can’t see beyond those trees. None of those towers would be visible. According to Adam, in the summer it can be like that for weeks on end. Pretty amazing. Fortunately, I only caught one day of it, the rest were gloriously clear.

Adam and Abby’s apartment comes complete with an extra room for guests, and I must say it was very nice to lay my bag down there for eight days and to see old friends. Abby threw a surprise birthday party for Adam on my last night there which was a lot of fun


and Abby just emailed me this Halloween photo of their beautiful daughters, Maeve the lion and Teagan the fairy


Beijing was great, and talking with Adam and Abby kind of peaked my interest in China. So I decided to take a detour from my intended next stop – Shanghai, and head inland to the ancient Chinese capital of Xi’an. Should be interesting, the freak show cometh to Xi’an.

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