The NetBeans Days in China have wrapped. Emily is back in Nanjing, preparing for classes. Martin’s packing his bags for the night train back to Shanghai and I’m contemplating another few days in Beijing to let the antibiotics kill off the rest of this evil flu I developed last week. There couldn’t be a better place to do it, although it could easily be a few degrees warmer. Beijing is by far my favorite city in China thus far, even though it’s more the size of a small country than a city. I’m looking forward to breathing easy on the Southbound train in a few days to begin the second phase of this trip, but there’s still plenty to see here, including the Great Wall. We did manage to squeeze in an incredible amount of sightseeing, even with shooting the conferences.
Our first day, we headed down to the Drum and Bell Towers, surrounded by a Hutong neighborhood North of the Forbidden City. The Hutongs are the traditional Beijing neighborhoods, which are quickly being bulldozed away or painted over to meet the needs of some questionable group of visitors. They are basically small webs of alleys connecting family courtyard homes with the wider peripheral streets, all arranged according to Feng Shui, evidently, with main doorways facing to the South and main thoroughfares running East-West. In advance of the Olympics, the city is putting the repairs on rails – painting and paving at an incredible pace. Last night, we returned to one area and saw the entire neighborhood turn out to help lay and bury a new electrical service cable.
We wandered through a number of fantastic, although obviously planned, little Hutong streets and paused for a pot of Puer smoked green tea at the Sandglass café before continuing on to Tiananmen Square. Just before emerging from the Hutong district south of the Drum Tower, we came across the lane with the Sandglass. I don’t know if it’s some sort of concession to indie designers in the city, but it is far and away the best place to pick up some unique, urban, distinctly Chinese gifts. Everything from hand-embroidered silk to sculptures was on offer behind the ancient panes of glass and wood lattice. Like I said, I’m sure the area was planned, to some extent, but it is still a very chilled out place to stroll around.
The Tiananmen Square is entirely overwhelming. You can really feel the weight of history and events on the paving stones and the scale of it is unearthly huge. We managed to slip onto the square just as they were closing for the night and enjoyed the short, but relatively rare pleasure of strolling around almost entirely on our own. The space just goes on forever, but sound is somehow muted – despite the steady stream of traffic passing beneath Mao’s stern gaze.
The second day, we returned to the Hutong, exploring further from the center and looking for a good hot pot restaurant, which we eventually found. Rob came out with us, despite some pretty extreme jet lag, and enjoyed a bottle of Bai chu with us after dinner.
I’ve managed to locate a new backpack and ditch my stupid old rolling suitcase, so I’ll be traveling light from now on – just the camera and a backpack. Very much looking forward to it all.