The Beijing of 2008 was obsessed with the Olympics and building things. The Beijing of 2011 is obsessed with security, and building things.
If you’re unaware that Beijing is the capital of China before you arrive, you can’t be forgiven for thinking that after just a short wander around the place. The army and security guards are everywhere, with your bags are scanned at any given opportunity although you yourself aren’t scanned at all. They save the most security for visiting Mao himself. Hordes of Chinese would diligently purchase flowers from outside the mausoleum, walk perhaps one hundred metres and place them in front of a statue of the man, still an entirely separate room from where Mao lays. I am convinced that the room is cleaned out regularly and the flowers are recycled for the next groups of eager pilgrims.
We became pilgrims of another sort – those searching for a shopping Mecca. And we found it, firstly in the form of Qianmen, a restored hutong shopping street, and then Silk Street Market, China’s ground zero when it comes to knock-offs and cheap souvenirs. We became so caught up in finding the perfect ‘Eddie McGuire jacket’ (Dad), cardigan (Amy) and moisturiser (Mum) that we had to reschedule our visit to the Forbidden City to days later. We were so exhausted from all the retail therapy that we had to recouperate with cocktails each night in the hotel.
The traffic in Beijing is different to that of Xian. It’s still at the gridlock status, though standards seem to be slightly higher to obtain a licence. We took a taxi ride across town one night and it took forty-five minutes to simply do a u-turn; yet our driver was as cool as a cucumber. It must have something to do with sharing a country with 1.3 billion people and a city with 20 million – you get used to standing in line. Even though you do try your best to cut in with a totally innocent look on your face.
We did get our acts together and paid a visit to the Great Wall, this time at Mutianyu, which was so much more impressive than Badaling. We all put on our serious faces for a few hours and trekked a decent section – even Amy with her cankle, Dad with his fear of heights, Mum with her knee, and me with my attitutde towards even slight inclines. Even the weather decided to behave itself for the day – it may have still been in the minuses but the sun was out and my sunnies were on. We ended the day in a different world – the world of Tiffany and Co. The three O’Dowd girls were treated to jewellery from Dad – now, that’s a momento for the trip!
I mentioned the Olympics in the first line of this blog and yes, I did pay another visit to the Bird’s Nest. Last time, we had to cross a freeway and climb upon a half-constructed pedestrian walkway to even view the place – basically similar to that of visiting Athens’ 2004 site. I am pleased to report that Beijing is taking care of their venue however, unlike Athens. The site was full of people, the stadium was full of momentos of the Opening Ceremony and you were free to walk around the entire place, even take a ride to the top level in a lift interestingy called the ‘Love Elevator’. But what was best was that the place is still being used – the track is currently playing host to a winter wonderland, with the children of Beijing skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and building snowmen. I was instantly captivated. It’s pretty hard to beat that, so move over Seoul and Munich, Beijing’s taken your place as the best preserved Olympic site!