Beijing China is theplace many people will start their journey in China, and there's good reason. It is the center of the country. China operates on Beijing time. Beijing is the capital where China's leaders shout orders to a billion people around the country. China revolves around Beijing. When Beijing says "Jump!", the rest of Asia asks "How high?"
It's a industrial town, this fact made most obvious by the two things. 1. The sun taking an extra hour each morning to come up as it has to get high enough in the sky to break through the smog. 2. The sore throat that plagued me after only my fifth day in town, yet didn't clear up until my seventh day away. Thank you Beijing.
The air in Beijing is so bad the US Embassy started a twitter feed reporting the pollutant levels in Beijing. The Beijing Government has officially asked the US to stop this as it "creates confusion and spreads misinformation". Luckily for China, Twitter is censored, so they don't have to worry about their people finding it.
Beijing has more than just terrible air quality, it also has food, some good and some bad. At this street market in Beijing tourists walk up and down the stalls, daring one another to eat something unique to the region. In this case, scorpions, silkworms and bats were on the menu.
Other "foods-on-sticks" offered to tourists brave enough to ruin their stomach includes starfish, centipedes, snakes and sheep's penis. Yes, that old gem of a desert. Sheep's penis is that perfect hors d'oeuvre for dinner parties, wedding and bar mitzvahs the world over. I opted to skip the Beijing Bowel Purge Diet and went the safe route with dumplings.
One interesting observation; not seeing any locals eating from this array of once living stuff on sticks. It leads me to believe that this is put on for the tourists, while the locals go to their nearby McDonalds. A theory reinforced every time I walked past the fast food establishment only top find lines out the door and all the tables full. They may not like our capitalism, but they love what it makes for dinner! Yet somehow I still think the sheep's penis is a healthier alternative.
So, to answer the question "How do you feed a billion and a half people?" Eat everything possible, even if it is McDonalds.
Eating this Scorpion on a stick might rock you like a hurricane in the morning. Do you dare?
I'm no Anthony Bourdain nor Andrew Zimmern, and I'm also not getting paid for this, so I opted not to eat these items either. Does that make me lame or unadventurous? Perhaps. But I also didn't have the squirts during my whole 24 days spent in the region. I'd say that makes me a winner.
How to kill 35 million of your own people and live to tell not about it... Bonus points if you can do that and have a god like status amongst the survivors and their families. Mao is the perfect example of how one can accomplish that and more. Today he adorns statues, museums and every denomination of currency. The Chinese travel from around the country to have their photos taken with these images.
One of the destinations within Beijing for Mao and the many rulers before him was the Forbidden City. The place was built in the early 1400's and today it stands as a great way to learn about the cherished Ming Dynasty.
At the very least you should get the English Audio Tour. The price is nominal, but you get much more out of the experience hearing actual stories of the place. While the Lonely Planet China that I used mentioned the audio tour was voiced by Roger Moore, I was disappointed when I didn't hear the former 007 in my earpiece.
The other option you have for a tour in the Forbidden city is to ask anyone who looks local. You will be asked if you want a tour by anyone with basic English skills. While the quality of the tour is not guaranteed you will certainly get to meet a local and feed him or her for the day. As well, you learn some things you didn't already know and they get to practice their English language skills.
A word to the wise: agree on the price before going on the tour.
Finally, you can opt for a proper tour of the area. This is going to give you the best overview of the area, but you're going to have to pay for it. Tour companies take groups in here all day long and in many different languages. To find the best tour of Beijing's Forbidden City, just ask the people working at the front desk of your hotel or guesthouse.
Inside the Forbidden City is the courtyard. Look at how empty this is! This is the whole point of traveling in the off season or on shoulder seasons. I can't stress enough how I dislike places so much more when they are packed full of wandering tourists. Beijing is packed tight enough as it is without the tourists.
Across the street to the south of the Forbidden City is Tiananmen Square, the infamous site of the 1989 protests. Don't bother asking a local about it, however, they probably have no idea. South of Tiananmen is Zhengyang Gate Jianlou and further south of that is the Chinese built Houtong for tourists known as Qianmen Street . It is the houtong that Beijing wants you to see.
This area was renovated just before the 2008 Olympics and considering how gentrified this area is, it's hard not to feel safe here. Restaurants, souvenir shops and tea houses line these streets with inflated prices for you, the tourist.
If it's a taste of an actual Houtong you're after than jump off that beaten trail and start wondering. You wont' have to go far to see some of the "real" Beijing. Neon signs, mopeds and rubbled buildings are the greatest indication that you have arrived. It seems the traditional Houtongs are getting demolished and replaced with newer buildings. While one can argue that this is removing the character from the streets of Beijing, other would say that it is progress. And somehow, they
Beijing is a seriously overwhelming city. While we covered the obvious tourist sights in this article, be sure you see what else Beijing has to offer. This is the main hub for those wanting to see the Great Wall of China as well as those heading to Mongolia. Above everything else, enjoy Beijing, but never forget you are seeing what the government wants you to see. A happy society in which everything is how it should be. Even if it is a fried sheep's penis on a stick.
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