Beijing 2009


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The North Capital, Beijing is the political centre of today's economic powerhouse of China. Although rapidly developing, the city still hangs on to its cultural heritage through such attractions as the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and of course the incomparable Great Wall of China. The city has been on-and-off capital of China since the Ming Dynasty, most recently regaining its capital status when the communists took control in 1949.

After an absence of nearly twenty years, I returned to China in 2008 to work in TEDA, Tianjin, and my travels quickly took me back to Beijing itself. I arrived just after the 2008 Olypmics (which had in fact delayed my visa application) but found myself in or passing through the city many times over the course of my year in China, giving me fantastic opportunities to explore the city at leisure. Most of these pictures are from 2009.

Gate of Heavenly Peace

The Tiananmen after which the adjoining square is named, is literally the "Gate of Heavenly Peace" and forms the southern main entrance to the Forbidden City, with the portrait of Mao proudly hanging. This was the only time I ever saw the fountains running.

On the south side of Tiananmen Square you can still pay Mao a visit if you like, where he lies in a glass box in his specially built mausoleum, in the tradition of all great communist leaders. Seeing Mao is free, but you'd have to be really keen as the queue is almost as long as the Great Wall.

Mao's mausoleum

Stony faced

Detail of one of the scenes of the stone carved people flanking Mao's mausoleum. I remember this from visiting in 1989.

On the west side of Tiananmen Square is the Great Hall of the People, where the 3000-odd party representatives of the people of China meet for the National People's Congress each year. Effectively it's the parliament, and the auditorium is the largest I've ever seen, capable of seating 10,000 people.

Great Hall of the People

Floating silver egg

The National Center for the Performing Arts was a controversial addition to the centre of Beijing, sitting immediately behind the historic Great Hall of the People as it does. It is clad in titanium, and looks like a silver egg floating on an ornamental lake.

Inside the Forbidden City, absolutely classic Chinese architecture replete with bronze lions. The lions always come in pairs, with the male identified by the ball under his paw, and the female with a lion cub under hers.

Want to play ball?

Detail of the Forbidden City

Detail of the artwork on the buildings of the Forbidden City, much of which was retouched in preparation for the Olypmics.

A courtyard in a traditional hutong, the old style housing which is rapidly disappearing under modern developments. This one has been preserved as a museum.

Hutong courtyard

Lama Temple

Inside the Lama Temple an old man has just spun this prayer wheel. I had also been to the Lama Temple in 1989 but I didn't realise until I recognised part of it from the pictures my parents had taken back then.

Boating in Beihai Park on a lovely summer's day, with the white Bai Ta stupa on Qionghua Island.

Boating on Beihai Park

Temple of Heaven

Close-up of the Temple of Heaven, which I remember clearly from my first visit in 1989. I also tried to recreate the picture from then, but didn't get the angle right...

If you fancy a tasty treat, you're bound to find something interesting at the night food market off Wangfujing Avenue, Beijing's answer to New York's 5th Avenue. Aside from the fairly regular fried fruits, shredded cow's stomach and dog meat pots, you can sample scorpions, crickets and sea snake, all deep fried to perfection. I speak from experience.

Night food market, Wangfujing

Beijing Station

Like any large city, Beijing has numerous transportation hubs - this is Beijing Station, where we arrived on our journey back from Shanhaiguan.

I was much more regularly hanging around in Beijing South Station though, the shimmering new cathedral to high-speed rail travel, where I'd pick up the 210 mph bullet train back to Tanggu. The station was still operating way below capacity, so it was always very pleasantly quiet.

Beijing South Station

Nine million bicycles in Beijing?

I had to get a shot of this, primarily because it was one of very few concentrations of bikes I saw! The old adage of all Chinese pedalling around the pancake-flat city no longer stands true, I reckon less than 10% of road users are on bikes these days.

Out at Beijing Zoo a giant sculpted tiger greets you. I checked out the pandas too, of course, but unfortunately didn't get any decent shots.

Beijing Zoo

Birds Nest Stadium

The most famous of the new Olympic constructions in Beijing is almost certainly the Bird's Nest Stadium, its wonderfully wirey weave of steel defying gravity goodness knows how.

Facing the stadium is the equally prominent National Aquatics Center, otherwise known as the Water Cube. Close up, the cells are pleasingly like blue bubble wrap.

Water Cube

CCTV Building

Chinese state media is faithfully spouted by CCTV, the national television broadcaster. Their new headquarters were almost complete, another gravity defying structure of epic proportions, unfortunately tainted by the torching of the adjacent Mandarin Oriental Hotel during new year fireworks in 2009.

A short drive out of town can deposit you at the Great Wall of China itself, although there are many spots that can be visited, it is after all a very long wall. This is Badaling, the most visited section, which is almost certainly where we came in 1989.

Great Wall of China

Chang cheng

The winding wall stretches forth across hill and dale, and in fact has many loops and spurs which would further confuse the enemy.

Closer to town, the Summer Palace is another key stop on the tourist trail. It was built for the royals to escape the summer heat of the city, and chill out by the beautiful Kunming Lake. Here the Seventeen Arch bridge crosses to a small island.

Summer Palace bridge

The Long Corridor

Another sight I vividly recall from 1989 is the Long Corridor within the Summer Palace, a covered walkway running along the north shore of Kunming Lake towards the marble boat, which is happily still there to be admired.

A local artist calligrapher writes Chinese characters on the path with a sponge and water.

Writing with water

Kunming Lake, Summer Palace

View across Kunming Lake while crossing back to the entrance from the marble boat. In the background you can see the Yu Feng (or Jade Peak) Pagoda.

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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2010