We’re back for round 2! After a more chilled day, hiding from the National Day madness, I threw myself back in. On Wednesday I headed over to Tianjin (天津) for the day, a city about 80 miles east of Beijing. I was going to Tianjin because in a serendipitous series of events one of my friends from high school has also ended up in China this year, for her second year in a row. And as my mum pointed out to me Andy Murray was also in Beijing at that time so that makes as least three Dunblane folk in China! There’s no stopping us…
Kayleigh was acting as my tour guide for the day so I had left the itinerary to her. Our first stop was Ancient Culture Street (古文化街), a wonderful assault on the senses. It was packed full of lots of people, delicious smells and even more people! While we were there I tried jianbing guozi (煎饼果子), a Tianjin specialty. It’s a wrap with egg cooked into the outside and filled with what is essentially a thick poppadom (or at least that’s the only way I can think to describe it) and various sauces.
Next up we headed over to see where Kayleigh studies, at Tianjin Normal University (天津师范大学) to see where she lives. We also got mala tang (麻辣烫), a kind of build your own soup to have for dinner. Our final stop was Minyuan Stadium (民园广场) which was originally built by the Scottish athlete Eric Liddell who was actually born in Tianjin and returned there after his sporting career. The original stadium was torn down in 2012 and redone so that it is more of a public square but the running track remains.
It was a fantastic day and so nice to catch up with Kayleigh – it had been a while!
Due to some unforeseen issues with my phone over the next few days my exploring was more limited but I did manage to get over to see the Drum Tower (鼓楼) and Bell Tower (钟楼) in the centre of Beijing. The Drum Tower was originally built for musical purposes and then became a way of marking time for the residents of the city. They stand at opposites ends of a courtyard and on a clear day give you an excellent panoramic view of the city (or so I’ve heard, my day wasn’t particularly clear as you can see from the photos I got).
The Drum and Bell Towers are situated in an area of Beijing that is still dominated by hutongs (胡同), narrow alleyways that used to make up the majority of Beijing. They are characterised by their one storey buildings that form courtyard residences. Many hutongs were demolished starting from the middle of the 20th century to make way for the development and modernisation of the city. Many of the remaining hutongs now have protected status to preserve this chance to look in on the city’s past. I took the chance while I was in the area to have a stroll around.
And then all of a sudden it was my last day! I had been trying to get out to the Temple of Heaven (天坛) before I started having phone problems because so many people had told me that it’s their favourite place to go in Beijing. I finally got there on my last day and it just so happened to be blue skies and sunshine too! The Temple of Heaven is located in the south of Beijing and is actually a large park that was used by the emperor for various kinds of ceremonies and rites in imperial times. It has been open to the public since 1918 and is one of Beijing’s 8 UNESCO Heritage Sights.
The main event is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (祈年殿), the largest building in the park. This is the first time I can say I really noticed the immense number of tourists that were in Beijing this week. It was packed around all of the main buildings with queues to even get in to some buildings! However the park covers over 2.5 square kilometres so it’s easy enough to find a quiet spot around the edges or in the forest areas. That was actually my favourite part, just wandering around the gardens enjoying the nice weather. It was a really nice way to spend my last day in Beijing.
It was interesting to be back in Beijing for a bit longer than I was last time. It gave me a chance to get more of a feel for the city as well as be shown around by some people who know it better than me. I got the chance to think back on my first impressions and see if any had changed.
The public transport system is definitely easy to use – I used the subway a lot to get around which was super easy to navigate, I attempted the bus while accompanied by responsible adults (aka Beijing students who knew what they were doing) and I also learnt about the public bike system which, while I couldn’t use it because I didn’t have the app, is a cheap and super convenient way to get around Beijing as it’s as flat as a pancake.
The food is definitely great just like I thought. I already mentioned the mouth numbingly spicy and delicious Sichuan food but a special mention also has to go to the cheese tea I tried (definitely not as disgusting it sounds), biangbiang noodles, which use the most complicated character I’ve ever seen to the point that it’s not even used in menus and my computer’s Chinese character keyboard doesn’t have it, as well as the delicious food I tried in Tianjin.
I knew two days wasn’t enough, especially jetlagged, but even a week wasn’t long enough! You’ll probably have noticed that I didn’t get out to the Great Wall – I had planned to go but the weather turned and it was windy, cold and raining that day. There’s lots more I still want to do, I haven’t been to the Forbidden City at Tiananmen or seen Beihai Park so I guess I’ll just have to go back!