The last time we visited Beijing was in May of this year with my parents. The very places that felt unpolished were given more than a cosmetic brush-up over the past few months. As my friend recently said, “it looks like someone wiped the city with a sponge.” We took some before/after pictures to compare the areas that were under construction to the pristine state in which they are today. The Paraolympics were still in full swing on the weekend of our trip, so Beijing residents were still under the strict rules that have made their city cleaner and even resulted in some blue skies – meaning polluting factories around the city were closed down and cars were limited to driving every other day (license plates ending in odd numbers on one day and those ending in even numbers on the other day). Hence the traffic was more bearable than during our May visit. We saw blue skies. There was much less honking and noise pollution than in Shanghai. The weather was less humid. It was really the perfect weekend (this surreal Beijing probably ended on Sept 20th when the city goes ‘back to normal’).
Petra and Daniela, our friends visiting from Germany (Patrick’s colleagues), Patrick and I started our 3-day tour with the Forbidden City (what else?!). We got there early enough to beat the crowds. Patrick concluded our second trip of the Palace by stating, ‘I think I would be a good emperor.’ Later we continued to the Temple of Heaven, Hutong Tour on rickshaws, and dinner at one of the dingiest but most awarded restaurants for Peking Duck (see photo album). The next day, Sunday, was dedicated to a majestic tour of the Great Wall. We hired a car – whose driver was clever enough to remove the license plate until we were out of the city, so as not to attract attention to his odd numbered license plate! We tried desperately to understand the logic of how actually removing the license plate would be less noticeable than have the incorrect number on the plate but failed miserably. This man who could not stop talking either to us or to various people on his mobile was curiously silent when Patrick asked him what he thought of the Olympics. His only curt answer was that Beijing residents don’t like the Olympics. We gathered this was due to their daily life having been inconvenienced with rules, tourists, and behaviour manuals being passed out on the street.
Our tour of the wall was arduous but rewarding. This has to have been one of the highlights to my travels in China. The views were breathtaking as were the steep, uneven steps and sometimes no-longer-existent pathways. Please see the photo album which only captures half of the glory of this day. The glorious finale was a high wire over the river canyon. What a feeling!
On Monday morning, we tried to get last minute tickets to the Paraolympics, but they were all sold out. We had some great views of the Bird’s Nest- and I have to say there was something magical about seeing the torch burning with my own eyes. Then we went to the Lama Temple and to the Nanluogu Xiang Hutong – an area which has been renovated to house cafés, bars, and many small boutique stops. We returned to Shanghai only to find out it was rainy and muggy all weekend.