To summarise my overall experience in China would take up the best part of an entire evening, let alone a single A4 page. Nevertheless, below are my 5 favourite things about Beijing:
It goes without saying that China’s history is one of the most rich, interesting and historically important in the entire world. From the Great Wall, to the Summer Palace, there are some truly impressive places to visit.
If you can find your way past the throngs of people that litter each and every (seemingly identical) square and courtyard of the Forbidden City 故宫, you experience a place that, in my opinion, brings you closest to Chinese history (other than the Great Wall). Walking through the enormous palace, you truly feel the weight and power of China as a country and the rich and unique history that comes with it. Without a doubt, the best place to get a good view of the Forbidden City is from the top of Jingshan Park (景山公园), where you get a fantastic panoramic view of 故宫 (even on a bad day).
The nightlife in Beijing is, as you’d expect from a capital, usually relatively quiet during the week, but takes off on the weekend and is a great night out.
The main bar/club area in Beijing and a place where you can still find some cheap beers (thank you Smugglers), not to mention some really busy and happening clubs, is in Sanlitun 三里屯 and around the Worker’s Stadium. For Beijing nightlife, this is the place to be. I sadly don’t have any photos from my times in Sanlitun, but as they say: what happens in Sanlitun, stays in Sanlitun.
For those wanting to experience proper Chinese nightlife and a more ‘authentic’ Chinese experience, a trip to one of Beijing’s many KTV bars beckons. From the very first KTV night I went to I was hooked on singing (terribly, I might add) everyone from Robbie Williams to Queen.
As someone who has grown up loving Chinese food, it’s probably fairly obvious that one of the things I love most about Beijing is the food. China (if you hadn’t noticed) is a vast country and that lends opportunities to an incredibly varied and diverse landscape for food. I can’t think of a better place to experience this diversity than in the capital, Beijing. From some of my personal favourites, such as: Ganguo tudou pian 干锅土豆片, Gongbao Chicken 宫保鸡丁 or Dumplings 饺子, to those that are a little more obscure, such as pig’s ear, or even sheep brain hotpot. The Chinese are infamous for eating ‘everything’, and you certainly feel that sometimes this is the case! It’s an experience either way and some things just have to be tried (I personally wouldn’t recommend silkworm, however).
For some of the more ‘odd’ snacks, Wangfujing王府井 is definitely the place to go. It may be touristy and not necessarily a place that Beijinger’s go, but it is an experience in itself, particularly for those not familiar with Asia or China. Every night it is jam packed full of people looking around the various stalls and some adventurous (or stupid, depending on your perspective) people even sampling some of the ‘creepy-crawlies’ that you can find there. Scorpion was as far as I could go!
It is largely down to the people that makes Beijing such an incredible place. This extends not only to the people you meet at LTL, but also to people you will stumble across at bars, clubs, or tourists spots with people asking to take your photo simply because you don’t have black hair! It may be an enormous city but there still is a certain charm to Beijing and this is partly thanks to its people, whom are incredibly welcoming of foreigners. There seems to be a fantastic balance between the hustle and bustle that you would expect from a major capital and the deeply ingrained traditions that form Chinese culture.
Lastly, but certainly not least, what made Beijing such a fascinating experience was the side of Beijing that you sometimes see on a day-to-day basis. Ranging from some interesting fashion senses, such as the ‘Beijing Bikini’, to the downright strange (for example: a man walking around carrying a live turtle on a stick, to even a young girl with ACTUAL snails sitting on her hand while I was waiting for a takeaway, as if that were normal behaviour…). Little things that make you do a double take, even when you become accustomed to being ‘surprised’ in Beijing.
It is with a heavy heart that I must write this, not knowing when I’ll next get the chance to go to Beijing.
Having spent 5 out of the past 10 months there, I’ve really grown fond of the place. China is a country like no other and an incredible place to be not only for foreigners new to Asia, but even ones who have spent most of their lives in Asia, as I have.
I am really grateful to LTL for providing the platform for me to hone my Mandarin skills and experience Beijing life as if I were a local. Having the chance to live with a local family truly opens your mind to Chinese culture and a local way of life, not to mention the chance to meet people who will likely welcome with open arms if you ever find yourself in Beijing again. I am also truly grateful to all the people I met along the way, whether it be the other students at the school, new local friends whom I grew close to over time, or even those I met while I had the opportunity to travel around China. A truly fantastic experience, and one I wish I could experience all over again!
Till next time, Beijing. 我想你中国！
This article was written by LTL student Jamie Coates, 22 from the UK.