After 5 days in Beijing, we arrived into Tokyo yesterday for the last leg of our international adventure. Being in Beijing during this time of Olympic preparation was a very unique experience.
The National Stadium or “Bird’s Nest” and Aquatic Center – both are still under construction for this summer’s Olympics.
We really enjoyed our time in Beijing and saw a lot of things that surprised us. As foreigners, we were somewhat taken aback to see all of the capitalism…literally. From the airport, called “Capital Airport”, to a huge building called “CapitaLand” to a hotel called “Capital Hotel”, everything was about capital. We realize that Beijing is the capital of China and that was the reference point for the names, but the irony was still there. There were many brand name stores, massive indoor shopping malls, Starbucks on almost every corner, and even a Wal-Mart. Consumerism is everywhere in today’s China. Even the designer knock-off stalls that are usually relegated to back alleys of downtown streets in other major cities are enclosed in beautiful multi-floor retail centers. Our favorite of these Pearl Markets was only a block away from our hotel and happened to have the most famous Peking Duck restaurant inside on the 6th floor. The restaurant, called Quanjude, has been around since the 1860′s and has served everyone from heads of state to Henry Kissinger. We can definitely understand why they have been so successful for almost 150 years. The Peking Duck was so good that we ate there twice. Both times, we ordered a half duck along with a couple other dishes. In lightening fast speed, a chef brings the perfectly roasted duck tableside where he delicately carves it into thin, golden slices of crispy skin and juicy meat—-absolute heaven. ((Sorry to our vegetarian friends.))
Besides the shopping and the eating, no visit to Beijing would be complete without visiting their amazing historic cultural sites. We saw everything from the embalmed body of Chairman Mao (on display in a clear crystal coffin inside Tiananmen Square) to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall to the new Olympic stadiums.
The weather was really nice on the days we spent sight-seeing in Beijing, but we encountered a whole other type of weather on the day we went out to see the Great Wall. It was freezing. There was so much snow on the ground and the wall was so icy that we could barely walk up it. But, we had strength in numbers. We were lucky enough to tag along with a small group from the Nike corporate office in Oregon, thanks to our friend Kelcey who happened to be in China on a work trip and invited us to come along for their excursion. (Thanks, Kelcey! Great to see you!)
We got to see and do many things in Beijing, but we are definitely looking forward to returning and truly sinking our teeth into the city. We will also be curious to see how the city changes in the future—from the skyline (CCTV tower completion) to the infrastructure (subway extension). We also hope that the Olympics helps to make the city a little more English-friendly, or that we are able to pick up Chinese by the time we return. Of all of the cities we have visited, the language barrier was the greatest here. But, with the help of some friendly locals, a little patience and some creativity, it all worked out. We enjoyed everything about our trip to China and only wished we would have had more room in our luggage to bring back more treasures!