Autumn in the Capital City

October 2007 - an incredible time in Beijing


Knock-Offs and the Art Scene in Beijing

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by blueskygirl on December 17, 2008

Shopping: We went to the Silk Street Market twice. The first time, it was just way too crowded for me. No thank you! The second time, honestly I tried to find something I wanted to buy but I just couldn’t. I hate fake bags and I’m just not into pearls. I did buy a cashmere sweater (well, who knows if it is real cashmere but it did feel very nice) for 200 RMB (starting price was 600RMB).

Shopping here was an interesting experience with various styles of sales pitches. They went from guilt ("please miss, I haven't made a sale today. You are my first customer. Please buy"), to shameless flattery ("You are so beautiful. Please come inside and look at my shoes. Real leather"), to threats ("You said you would buy if I give you good price. Now you must buy" combined with physically blocking the entry way with their bodies to stop customers from exiting).

Silk Street Market is extremely crowded so come prepared to fight the crowds and ruthlessly bargain. We quickly got tired of girls grabbing our arms and endless arguments with sales people. There are a couple of coffee shops outside the market and a Macdonalds across the street just to regroup and take a break. The B1 floor has shoes, bags and other accessories. We saw knock-off Samsonite, SWISS and Tumi suitcases on this level which might be a good thing to remember if you ened up buying a lot on your trip. Level 1 has outdoor mens and womens wear. Level 2 has womens wear. Level 3 I think was a combination of men's and women's clothes, including knock-off designer jeans such as Seven for Mankind and Diesel. Level 4 was where you could find silk filled duvets, linens, rugs and a fabric section where you could make suits and Mandarin-style dresses made.

Actually, yes I did see something I loved (since I don't like fake bags or pearls)… on the 4F there was a store in the corner selling beautiful Tibetan and Hunan carpets. Made of silk not wool, they were thin, soft and oh-so-gorgeous. They also had combination of silk/wool which were also nice because they had less of a 'sheen' to them. But even the small ones started at about 4000RMB. Apparently they are hand-made and a rug can take up to two years to make.

Art: Had read a NY Times article, I believe, on the art scene in Beijing. There is a new area called Factory 798. Essentially, old factories converted into art studios and galleries. Galleries are intermingled with coffee shops. There were some great exhibits going on with up-and-coming Chinese artists. We spent a nice Saturday afternoon there. I especially enjoyed seeing some amazing photographs of rural China now and black-and-whites of China in the 70's. The photos were fascinating. I recently heard it being described as "Soho and Greenwich Village with Chinese characteristics", whether that is a stretch or not, we still thought it was a nice way to spend half a day.

It's not intimidating at all to just walk into one of their galleries. We didn't encounter any high-pressure sales pitch anywhere. Just as an example of how down-to-earth it is here, while wandering, we were invited to an opening of a new gallery showcasing a Dutch artist who has been living in Beijing for four years. Of course we were curious, so we went and enjoyed having local beer and potato chips while introducing ourselves to the artist and her friends.

Eating our Way Through Beijing

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by blueskygirl on December 16, 2008

Eating: We had some good meals. On my last day, I found the Luxe guide Beijing which I wish I had gotten sooner (there is a foreign bookstore called Chaterhouse Books on the B1 level of THE PLACE mall… they had the LUXE guide for Beijing, Shanghai and some other Asian cities).

THE PLACE – 9 Guanghua Road (cross street - Dong Da Qiao Road), Chaoyang District, Beijing.
My favorite meal was probably at Crystal Jade in THE PLACE (4th floor – the same side as "Zara"). About a 10 min walk north of the Silk street (where they sell all the knock offs). We went there for a dim sum lunch. It was awesome!!! The service was impeccable and the décor was a minimalist-Asian theme which I loved. We had 6 or 7 different plates of dim-sum, including steamed shrimp dumplings, BBQ pork buns, pork shu-mai and then for dessert we shared amango pudding. Total cost was about 150RMB for the two of us.

Crystal Jade
404, 4F Building A, 9 Guanghua Road (cross street - Dong Da Qiao Road), Chaoyang District, Beijing
Tel: 6587-1228
Open 10am-10pm
We were there on Sunday, around 11am and it did not look like you needed reservations.

One night we had dinner with an old classmate of mine who is now living in Beijing with her husband. She chose the place and this is where we went:

Huajia Yiyuan Restaurant
No. 235 Dongzhimen Street within Avenue Dong Cheng District
Tel: 6405 1908
There’s the main restaurant area and then a little courtyard area across an old alley. We sat in the courtyard area which is outdoors but has heat lamps. The food here is northern Chinese – we ate dumplings, a fried eggplant dish (with a soy sauce/ garlic sauce on top), chicken with chillis, a white fish (do not know what kind) in broth with green onions and red chillis, a lamb dish with cumin. Excellent food. The atmosphere was charming. We went on a Friday evening around 7pm and the place was packed. The clientele was mostly local people with a few expat-looking foreigners.

I also totally recommend Dadong for trying Peking roast duck (a MUST when visiting Beijing).

Dadong Kaoyan
Bldg 3, Tuanjiehu Beikou, Dongsanhuan Lu, SE corner of Changhong Qiao, Chaoyang District
6582 2892/4003
The first night we called for a reservation, they told us we could not get a table until two nights later.
Their menu is super user-friendly, complete with English translations and photos. We ordered their whole roasted duck and fried rice. The duck was beautifully carved in front of us and served with a dark (hoisin?) sauce, scallions, a thin crepe to roll the duck into and some other condiments including sugar (!!!). A wonderful meal. Around 200 RMB for the two of us (we didn't order drinks).

Oriental Plaza (right next to the Grand Hyatt) – wanted to check out a mall but was underwhelmed, quite a boring place. The only good thing was, in the basement level we found a great little place selling cream puffs (6 RMB each). Could have eaten about 10 of these but I do believe they are full of calories. Worth it though!

Beard Papa (cream puffs)
Oriental Plaza
B1 / 1 Dongchang An Jie

One day after touring the Forbidden City, we thought we would walk to Houhai lake. It looked so close on the map! Big mistake. What looks like a 15 min walk on the map, will take 2 hours. We walked for almost an hour and did not make it anywhere near Houhai Lake.

Originally, we were going to have lunch at Houhai Lake, but gave up after an hour of walking and getting what looked like, nowhere. Hungry and exhausted, we went into a restaurant that looked ok. The food was extremely oily and salty. Sorry did not get the name of the restaurant. The English menu was pathetic, it only had about 10 items. The Chinese menu had about 100 items. We ordered dumplings, as well as something similar to a mabo-dofu (spicy tofu dish with pork) and another pork dish which comes with small steamed buns which you stuff with the pork. Unfortunately the pork dish was all pork fat so we couldn’t really eat it. But the steamed buns were lovely.

Overall: we had some wonderful meals in Beijing as long as we planned well but we seemed to strike out when just wandering into a random restaurant without much planning. Perhaps we are just not as adventureous as we would like to be. But all of the recommended restaurants we tried were usually a home run!


If You Love Shopping and Even If You Don't, GO!

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by blueskygirl on December 8, 2008

We woke at the first glimpse of dawn with the goal of getting to Panjiayuan (aka Dirt Market) before the crowds descended upon it. This market is a must-see. After previously seeing some Tibetan silk rugs elsewhere, I was hoping to see something similar but was disappointed not to find any here.

Regardless, the market was bursting with rows and rows of beautiful ceramic works, bronze pieces, redwood and mahogany statues and carvings, delicate vases, hand dyed fabrics, oil paintings, water paintings, black and white photographs, furniture, Buddhist statues, pearls, corals and many many more things. By about 10am, it was starting to get very crowded. So best to get there early. We were there around 7am and it seemed perfect. Although some vendors were just starting to set up when we got there, by that time about 95% of the market was already in buying-selling mode.

Interestingly, we also saw some foreigners with helpers pulling carts full of interesting pieces and furniture. A brief conversation with one revealed that she and her companion own a home furnishing/design shop and they regularly come to Beijing and in particular, this market for their pieces.

Our own purchases were much more conversative. I bought two round teak bowls with lids that look very nice in our living room now. And I also love looking at them everyday and being reminded of our fabulous trip. I also came away with some indigo dyed fabrics, something I had seen on previous trips to Japan but of course they were much spendier there. The bowls I purchased for around 70 RMB (around $10 US) each after much back and forth between me and the vendor. The fabric pieces were square 200 cm x 200 cm, finished beautifully on the edges. These I purchased for around 80 RMB (around $12 US) each.

The market is only open on weekends from sunrise to early afternoon. It is almost worth planning your Beijing trip around this market.

Address: Huaweiqiaoxinan Jie, Dongsanhuan, Chaoyang District (about a 25 minute taxi ride from our hotel in central Beijing)

Just one Word: Lovely!

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by blueskygirl on December 8, 2008

Run by the Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts group, we had an amazing stay at this hotel. The lobby was heavy on the marble and gold but the rooms were modern and comfortable.

The location is excellent, being on Jianguomenwai Dajie... although not walking distance Silk Street market is nearby as is, Tiannenmen Square and the Forbidden City.

The metro is also right by the hotel which makes it super convenient and easy to get around. There is an import grocery store in the basement of China World Trade Centre (which is attached to the hotel) for stocking up on bottle water and little snacky foods. One night we wanted something different so walked next door to Taj Pavilion, the Indian restaurant. The food and service there was excellent.

Breakfast was included in our room rate (1200 RMB/night) and it was one of the nicest buffet breakfasts we have ever seen. All kinds of breads (French, sourdough, multi-grain, etc), dim sum, smoked salmon, various kinds of cheeses (blue cheese, brie, cream cheese, Swiss, etc.), lovely assortment of fruits (watermelon, oranges, grapes, lychees, etc.). The servers were very much on top of things and thankfully kept our coffee mugs filled at all times.

I had brought my runners and workout clothes and was able to use their Fitness room every morning which was usually empty at 7:00 am. Their equipment was new and well-maintained, with personal TVs at most of the cardio machines.

House keeping did a great job. Our rooms were immaculately cleaned by the time we came in every afternoon.

Highly recommended!
China World Hotel
1 JIAN GUO MEN WAI AVENUE
Beijing, China
86-10-6505 2266

Some Useful Tips we Learned from our Beijing Trip

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by blueskygirl on December 8, 2008

1. Have a calculator with you at all times. Invaluable when shopping and bargaining. Never accept the first price.

2. Learn the subway system, we learned that it’s way faster than navigating through Beijing’s rather dense traffic. Plus, it’s so cheap. Only 2RMB (or 0.30 US) to ride the subway virtually anywhere in the city. At first we were worried that we would not know where to get off, etc. We had no problems, all stops are marked in English and easy to figure out.

3. KFC and Macdonalds are the best places to use the washrooms. The public washrooms often do not have toilet paper, the toilets are squat style and they also make you pay to use them.

4. Which brings me to my next point, always and I mean ALWAYS have toilet paper in your purse. Never assume that the bathrooms will have them.

5. You absolutely do not need to hire a guide for the Forbidden City or Great Wall or anywhere else for that matter. My friends who went to Beijing 2 months before us, thought they should have a guide to take them to the Great Wall and paid the equivalent of $200 US/couple (there was another American couple who had paid the same amount travelling in the van with them) to be driven to the Wall and back. The guide did not share any information that they could not have read in a guidebook themselves. They also had to pay for the guide’s lunch, admission and lift tickets. We managed to do our roundtrip to Great Wall with the freedom of having a driver waiting for us when we were ready to take the bus back to Beijing for less than $20 US for the two of us! (see my Great Wall Mutianyu report for details on how we arranged that). We are not Chinese and do not speak Chinese, we were absolutely fine without a guide.


Moments of Solitude in the Forbidden City

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by blueskygirl on December 8, 2008

60 RMB for admission + extra for audio guide (the audio guide ended up being more of a hassle than anything, as we had to deal with a finicky machine and much to our disappointment the original voice recording with Roger Moore has been replaced with a flat, monotone female voice. Very disappointing!)

We entered through the Gate of Heavenly Peace, coming from Tiannenman Square. Just follow the masses... they're heading there too.

We really enjoyed the Hall of Clocks and Watches with their collection of early mechanical pieces from China, Japan, Switzerland and other countries. Some clocks defy imagination with their over-the-top designs and style. You will have to buy and extra ticket for 10 RMB to enter this area.

The former living quarters of the Empress was also fascinating, containing a library, theatre for Beijing opera (the Empress was apparently an avid opera fan), gardens and more.

We watched Bertolucci’s, "The Last Emperor" just prior to visiting to understand a bit more of the history and scope of this "city". After we returned home, we watched it again and recognized some scenes, including shots of the Gate of Heavenly Purity (where the ministers would gather around waiting to report to the emperor) as well as the courtyard area outside the Hall of Mental Cultivation where the emperor as a boy rode his bicycle in the film.

The Forbidden City opens at 8:30 am and I strongly recommend getting there early in the day. By late morning, it was completely mobbed. We enjoyed our moments of solitude and tried to imagine what life must have been like during the 500 years that this palace was off limits to the common person.
Forbidden City
North Of Tiananmen Square Dong Cheng District
Beijing, China, 100009
+86 (0)10 6512 2255

Lovely Northern Chinese Meal in a Courtyard Setting

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by blueskygirl on December 4, 2008

There’s the main restaurant area and then a little courtyard area across an old alley. We sat in the courtyard area which is outdoors but has heat lamps. The food here is northern Chinese – we ate dumplings, a fried eggplant dish (with a soy sauce/ garlic sauce on top), chicken with chillis, a white fish (possibly a Mandarin fish) in broth with green onions and red chillis, a lamb dish with cumin. Excellent food. The atmosphere was charming. We went on a Friday evening around 7pm and the place was packed. The clientele was mostly local people with a few expat-looking foreigners. Total cost for the 5 of us was about 350RMB with beer. They also had Beijing duck on the menu but we did not try that.
Huajia Yiyuan Restaurant
No. 235 Dongzhimen Street within Avenue Dong Cheng District
Beijing
6405 1908

An Absolute Highlight of a Lifetime!

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by blueskygirl on December 4, 2008

We decided to go to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall having heard good things about this particular section (albeit restored). We were not disappointed. We were fortunate to have an amazing weather… bright blue sky with not a cloud in the sky. The temperature was just perfect, about 20C. We also went in the afternoon and we pretty much had the Wall to ourselves.

There is a lift (think a chairlift on a ski hill) that we took to get to the Wall from the parking lot area. Then we took the fun toboggan back down. My Chinese friend said that you can also hike up to the Wall and not have to pay the lift fee but you will still have to pay the entrance fee. The hike takes around one hour, I believe.

One thing I recommend if you are planning to spend even a couple of hours at the Wall, take snacks. There are people selling cans of coke or bottled water at the top (at exorbiant prices of course) and there were a couple of stalls selling strange dried meats and nuts where the parking lot is but nothing really tempting food-wise. We wish we had taken a couple of energy bars or a couple of pieces of fruit with us.

Taking public transport there was a cinch. We took a taxi to Donzhimen long distance bus station and hopped on the #980 bus to Huairou (the closest town to the Mutianyu section of the Wall), which if I remember correctly cost 8 RMB. Then from Huairou we could have taken a shuttle bus but we ended up getting a bit confused. In the end we hired a taxi to take us there and back. He waited for us in the car while we went up the Wall.

The taxi driver initially asked 200 RMB for the ride there and back (it's about a 20 minute ride) but we were finally able to talk him down to 100 RMB, which we still thought was well worth it, considering it gave us the freedom to leave when we wanted instead of having to wait for the next bus.

The bus ride back to Beijing was uneventful although this time it did take well over two hours as the traffic going into the city was terrible.

Definitely one of the best days of our trip!
Great Wall at Mu Tian Yu
San Du He Village
Beijing, China, 101400
+86 (0)10 6162 6873

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