I’d like to tell you about Tiananmen Square and Chairman Mao’s final resting place, I’d also like to tell you about how spectacular the great wall was – but I can’t. That’s because as with pretty much everything else that week our “free day” was not to be. It wasn’t spent in any particularly productive manner but I think our hosts had twigged that once we left we weren’t coming back and they wanted to milk us for every last drop of useful data they could.
Not that it matters really, I didn’t see that much of Beijing but I very much liked the city. It might not be as modern as Shenzhen, though to be fair the CBD is pretty modern (and slightly empty – I think it might be too expensive to attract investment from Chinese firms keen on keeping cash in the bank where it belongs).
The only other place we visited outside of Sanlitun that might be of interest to the traveler was the Shangri La in the CBD (near the world trade center). Unlike its counterpart in Shenzhen (at least the one in Louhu which is a dump) it was a fantastic hotel. We got there early in the evening, were greeted by servers who weren’t just beautiful but spoke English and managed to get us a drink in less than an hour.
The happy hour was extended to everybody (in Louhu it’s a dirty secret only shared once the hotel has finished draining your wallet dry for say 6 months) and well-advertised. I have to confess that the ambiance of the downstairs bar was so-so, but that’s OK it meant we could focus our attention on watching the lovely waitresses instead. The only downside of the evening is that in common with many places in Asia there were no toilet facilities in the bar and it meant a hike halfway across the hotel to relieve an aching bladder.
We returned to the airport in the same manner we arrived, with my knees in my nostrils in the back of a Range Rover. I was sorry to leave, I liked the cold weather (Beijing’s not humid so it’s a dry cold that I find quite agreeable) and the friendliness of the city. The people of Beijing are fabulous, I found them so much more welcoming than their cousins in the South of China and I’d be happy to return to Beijing one day for a longer stay and a tourist’s eye view.
On the subject of tourism – most of the time when I travel – I’m not a tourist. I get sent to work all over the world, and much of the time it’s just that – work. I do enjoy being a tourist and I travel frequently in my spare time too, but it’s only when time allows on work trips that I head in to tourist mode.
One of the folks who commented on a piece in this series was outraged that we’d gone to the tourist trap of Sanlitun rather than “slumming it” in a working class Chinese district instead. I rather think he’s got the wrong end of the stick. I’m not a temporary visitor in China who’s searching for an authentic local experience – I live that life every day here in Shenzhen. When I get a little trip away from the day-to-day details of my life, I want to be a foreigner – gloriously unashamed of my desire for a bacon and egg sandwich for breakfast and a pint of lager accompanied by rock music in the evening.
I got to do just that in Beijing and I think that’s part of the reason I liked it so much. I think it’s the reason I’d like to go back too. Sometimes you get tired of noodles and green tea, well at least I do.
The flight home was gloriously uneventful and despite a slight delay at the airport (less than an hour) it was a good journey with China Southern (I’m told we were lucky – but I’m yet to have a disaster experience flying around China), though they still had no beer (we can’t be the only people in China to want lager rather than Baijou on a flight can we?). The only sad thing about it was returning to Shenzhen, a city that I don’t like anywhere near as much as the one I’d just left behind.