Beijing bleg

by on July 14, 2012 at 12:42 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

Help!  I’ll be there in a bit.  You can be as detailed or as conceptual as you wish.  Merci.

1 bob July 14, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Find the hutongs.
Buy traditional silk shirts.
Summer palace, yuang min yuan park.
The great wall is at Badaling, get there from Beijing Bei (South station)
You’ll need a chinese speaking guide, especially for navigation through the subway system and for help with menus. Seek out Chinese muslim food.

2 otto July 14, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Get a “foot massage”.

3 Turing Test July 14, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Don’t discuss politics or “human rights”

4 Andreas Moser July 14, 2012 at 3:01 pm

DO discuss politics and human rights!
You are a foreign citizen, nothing serious will happen to you. At the very worst, you will be deported, but even that will happen in a friendly way. And it will make for a good story to tell.

5 Dave July 14, 2012 at 1:55 pm

I definitely want to second Bob’s advice to seek out the muslim food from XinJiang. I especially recommend Nan baorou 馕包肉 (bread carries meat), and lam skewers (yang rou chuan 羊肉串). Also, I remember the natural history museum south of the forbidden city to be really interesting (especially their anatomy section), but I’m guessing a lot of the, um, character of the place got cleaned up for the olympics.

6 Tony July 14, 2012 at 2:13 pm

It may not be a top foodie destination, but I am a fan of the Red Capital Club, a campy communism-themed restaurant popular with western expatriates. They serve dishes with poetic names such as “Socialist Economic Model”, each with a little story behind it. Their courtyard is a lovely place to hang out in the evening.

7 Jonathan T July 14, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Best dumpling restaurant in town: 140 Nan Chi Zi street. Small place, few westerners, a mandarin-only menu but the waitress will help you out. Divine stuff really, and so cheap you can try a bit of everything. Geographically, south-east of the Forbidden Palace (which you also have to see, but that is quite obvious).

8 Christopher Monnier July 14, 2012 at 2:36 pm

1.) I second the recommendation for the Great Wall at Badaling. It’s about 1 hour from Beijing North station and the fare is something like 6 RMB.

2.) Based on a recommendation from local colleagues, I had Peking Duck at Dadong (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g294212-d812015-Reviews-Dadong_Roast_Duck_Dongsi-Beijing.html). It was delicious, if not undiscovered.

3.) Watch out for the Beijing tea scam: http://scams.wikispaces.com/Beijing+Tea+Scam

4.) The “Silk Street” mall is where all the fake stuff is and is a fascinating bazaar. Markups are typically at least 10x, even for non-fake stuff.

5.) Buy some Hua Fei Hong spicy peanuts (with Sichuan peppercorn) at Wu Mart. If you’re lucky you might find a vendor (I found one inside a Wu Mart) making fresh spicy peanuts with Sichuan peppercorns. They changed my life.

6.) Walk through one of the big parks and just watch all the different group and individual exercise activities going on. My favorite was a guy whipping two large chains in Temple of Heaven Park.

7.) The Russian quarter near Chaowai is interesting–lots of Russian signs and some Russian people.

8.) The subway has a lot of English signage and you can navigate it easily without a guide.

9 Thomas July 14, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Sit in first class and network with the heavy hitters.

10 Andreas Moser July 14, 2012 at 3:02 pm

They are always asleep in first class.

11 Tim VH July 14, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Musts:
(a) eat Yunnan food at Middle 8, in Sanlitun
(b) eat Sichuan at one of the 2 giant Sichuan restaurants in Workers Stadium
(c) search out the art work of the following Chinese contemporary artists: (i) Peng Yu & Sun Yuan, (ii) Gu Dexin (recently retired, but Ullens Center for Contemporary Art or Continua can help), (iii) (younger) Liu Wei, and (iv) Xu Zhen, who now goes by the corporate name ‘MadeIn’ — these are the best, and the real deal rather than commercial fluff which one sees too much at auction and in the low quality commercial galleries.

12 Tim VH July 14, 2012 at 3:09 pm

oh, and finally, some pleasant evening, go by Hoa Hai (lake area, north of forbidden city) and eat at the outdoor HONGZHOU cuisine restaurant.

13 Abiel July 14, 2012 at 3:09 pm

I recently visited a good Yunnan restaurant just north of Worker’s Stadium that serves personal hotpot with a variety of interesting broths and sauces to dip your food in. Chinese name is 滇草香云南原生态火锅 (Dain Cao Xiang) and address is 朝阳区工体北路13号院3号楼世茂百货4楼E409号 (No. 13 Workers’ Stadium N. Rd, Floor 4). It’s on the fourth floor of a commercial building on the corner of an intersection; after taking the elevator up, look for a restaurant that looks like this: http://www.dianping.com/photos/14725205. Don’t worry about the decor looking like a Rainforest Cafe. I recommend the mushroom broth (the menu has pictures of everything, as menus in Beijing often do these days).

Note there are a few other branches of this restaurant, all in the Chaoyang district in the northeastern part of the city. If you search for 滇草香云南原生态火锅 on Dianping (http://www.dianping.com, a Chinese Yelp-like site) it will list them all. If you click an entry it includes a map.

14 Kevin Lees July 14, 2012 at 3:42 pm

I was in Beijing at the end of a two-week China trip in April, and I found it much like Moscow, with its ring road structure, and the amount of time it takes to get around. Much more trafficked than Shanghai, but the air was cleaner than I’d imagined.

Many taxi drivers are not locals, so they will know about as much about how to circumnavigate the city as you do. Don’t expect that your concierge will even be able to ensure a smooth taxi ride. The metro can be crazy, but is always a solid bet.

I was not successful in finding out where Ai Weiwei lives.

If you must go to the Great Wall, Badaling is way overrun with tourists; Mutianyu is by far better, but still crowded. In both cases, expect that it will take a full day to get there and back, even though it’s just 90 km from Beijing — take your entire Fallows library to read along the way. Riding the luge down from the Wall was the highlight of the day. I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather have had that day back to eat more street food in Beijing (the spicy peanuts are epic). The Forbidden City is similarly overrun, but gorgeous by moonlight. I enjoyed much more the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace. In each case, watching and trying to talk with the ubiquitous Chinese tourists was a highlight.

Duck de Chine served up some of the most delectable duck skin I’ve eaten, but it’s a little twee, especially as far as Beijing restaurants go. The Dongdo pork was a highlight among a feast of Zhejiang food (preserved egg in ginger sauce and crab dumpling were also great), at a little restaurant at 322 Dongsi Beidajie. You can try drunken shrimp if they are available and if you’re willing — I was not.

For Yunnanese, forget Dali Courtyard and try Yun Er Small Town instead — it’s a spinoff restaurant from Chen Tao, who’s 24 years old, from Yunnan and formerly at Dali Courtyard. It’s the Little Serow to Dali Courtyard’s Komi. I had veggies sautéed in pu’er tea, eggs scrambled with jasmine flowers, shrimp fried with mustard and pineapple and beef seared with chillies and mint.

I became a fiend for pu’er tea by the end of my trip, also for white tea.

I didn’t get around to it, but each province has an office in Beijing and a restaurant; it’s all very Mao-era, but I’ve heard from many friends that these serve some of the best provincial food in town.

15 Foobarista July 14, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Go ahead and do the been-there, done-that tour of the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and other downtown sites, as well as the Ming Tombs, the heavily touristed Badaling area of the Great Wall (the last two tend to be done in a day-trip outside the city), but not with a tour group if you can avoid it. Also, walk around Tiananmen Square itself at least once. Bring good shoes – you’ll do lots of walking.

It sounds like you’re going during the hottest time of the year – be prepare for double-century (100+ degrees F, near 100% humidity, lots of pollution) weather, so bring plenty of water.

If you do go on a tour, make sure ahead of time that it doesn’t do “shopping”, or “medicine shows”, as these involve lots of time-wasting sales pitches (in Mandarin).

I second the suggestions to seek out Chinese Muslim food. My fave is Xinjiang food, and if you can have Yangrou Paomo soup, give it a try. Not sure if the “Xi’an Fandian” still exists as it’s been 10 years since I was there, but it was famous as a place where Mao Zedong snuck away from his security detail to have yangrou paomo,.

16 Foobarista July 14, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Another good place to walk is Beihai park near the Forbidden City (and close to Zhongnanhai where the leadership lives), as well as the Yiheyuan Summer Palace (built by Empress Dowager Cixi at the end of the 19th century). Both are huge and very crowded, particularly on the weekend, but are good places to walk and watch people.

17 Jared July 14, 2012 at 10:07 pm

A trip to Beihai is not complete without paddle boating!

18 Pekka Taipale July 14, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Not been there for a while, but when I lived in Beijing over a decade ago, Badaling was not really a good place to visit the Wall, it was *so* crowded. I liked to hike at Mutianyu. There’s a cable car in case you don’t want to climb. The wall isn’t restored (or re-built) as much as the one section at Badaling, but somehow I liked the more authentic, crumbling wall better. You can get a taxi at a hotel to drive you around for a whole day on your own, it costs a few hundred RMB but is worth it to see a bit the countryside around the city.

But even if you decide to go to Badaling, the Wall is definitely something you should see. You can miss anything else but not it.

Regarding food: IMO Beijing duck is overrated (had it many times, usually OK but not extraordinary).Beijing soy pork shreds (Jing jiangrou si, 京酱肉丝) is underrated and my favourite, along with xinjiang mutton and of course the real gong bao ji ding 宫保鸡丁 and ning meng ji 檸檬雞 and suan rong xi lan hua 蒜蓉西兰花 and whatever.

I think they no longer have the nice pirate markets in Chaoyang area. I regret that I have never found a better shirt than the Ralp Lauren Polo copy I bought 13 years ago. It is such a high quality shirt that I still wear it, and can’t find anything as good at any price.

19 Foobarista July 14, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Yes, you have to have gongbao jiding if you’re in Beijing. It’s called “Kung Pao Chicken” in the US, but what is sold in the US bears little resemblance to the “real thing”.

20 Engineer July 14, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Check out the indie-rock scene .. I think Hedgehog still plays shows occasionally.

21 mkt July 14, 2012 at 5:05 pm

I don’t know how much Chinese you already know, but if you’re a beginner, then an incredibly good book is Sussman’s “I Can Read That” which does what it promises: gives the reader basic reading skills in a very short time in a very short and easy book. I was dubious: how can one learn to read Chinese if one doesn’t know a word of Chinese? And I’d previously glanced at books which tried to teach Chinese characters, or Japanese kanji (pretty close to the same thing) and quickly found my brain getting overflooded with visual information which it couldn’t process.

But literally in the first minutes and first two pages of “I Can Read That”, the book showed me that yes I can read that — because there’s a system to Chinese characters, with roots and combinations which can be recognized, once one learns how. Previously, all those characters had looked like random squiggles to me, impossible to memorize. But the book shows you how to recognize the patterns and underlying roots.

It’s one of tne of the best books for a traveller that I’ve ever read. Useful however only for a non-Chinese speaker travelling to a Chinese-speaking (or really, writing) area. (One of the bonuses of the book is that I now understand why the Chinese hang on to their cumbersome character-based writing system: they have too many mutually unintelligible languages, where even a person’s name such as “Cowen” is pronounced in a completely different way in Cantonese compared to Mandarin. So an alphabet simply doesn’t work; you can’t phonetically sound out “C-O-W-E-N” in Cantonese if you name is pronounced “Smith” in Mandarin. But the characters provide China with a universal written language that they can all, or at any rate mostly, read and write together.)

Aside from that, I’ve only been to southern China not Beijing but I’m sure this advice is still valid: walk through the many interesting neighborhoods, and take the subway to other interesting neighborhoods and walk some more. It was endlessly fascinating to see the mixture of foreign and recognizable; and traditional and modern. I spent hours and hours just walking and looking.

Yes to the Xinjiang recommendations that people have mentioned: in Shanghai one of the popular street cuisines was that of the western provinces, lamb on skewers and flatbreads. There’s undoubtedly fancier additional stuff but I’m no expert, but those western Muslim dishes seem to have universal appeal.

Although I can readily believe the recommendations that people are making about Yunnan restaurants, I wonder how the ones in Beijing compare to the ones that are actually located in Yunnan?

22 Ryan Muldoon July 14, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Go to District 798 for a pretty interesting contemporary art scene. There are a large number of galleries there (XYZ is my favorite). It used to house a lot more political art, but as it has become more discovered, it has become more expensive and more geared towards selling things to wealthy people. Still, a great deal of beautiful work there.

I’m rather fond of the duck at Quanjude, even if it is rather well-known. The food is pretty outstanding. Many of the non-duck items are spectacular as well. My general rule is to always eat eggplant dishes anywhere in the city.

I would not recommend Badaling for a visit to the Great Wall. Go to a “Wild Wall” section. Pay someone to drive you out there, and you can have a much more interesting time. I’d go towards the end of your trip so you can have the stark difference of all of the sudden being relatively alone outside of a packed city.

23 nathan w July 16, 2012 at 5:30 am

Yes, yes (eggplant, not so much on the duck) and yes.

Find a park or public square at 6am or 8pm, and do tai chi or dance, or at least go watch it.

I dunno, depends what you’re looking for and how much time you have. There is no end to the variety of food in Beijing … all of China is there.

24 Ray Lopez July 14, 2012 at 5:18 pm

You will hate the food. I kid you not. I love Chinese (American California / NYC kind) but when in Beijing I ate at McDonalds, which I hate. Unless you enjoy chicken feet with fried rice, every day. And the hookers around Tienanmen Square are very aggressive. Do not fall for the scam of “Chinese Special Tea Ceremony” where the bill comes to over 1000 USD for ordinary Lipton style tea. Very common scam, even when in a group. If anything special is called for, ask for prices in advance.

25 KenF July 14, 2012 at 6:24 pm

There are jiaozi places that make many different types of jiaozi. I enjoyed that. Here is an article with info.
http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/beijing/articles/mag-bj/best/best-jiaozi/

If you go for Peking Duck, be sure to order duck-related side dishes. They have duck tongue, etc.

Don’t order live fish from the fish tank without being very sure about the cost; it can be extremely expensive. Actually, don’t order anything without being sure about the cost, because they can try to gouge you with over-priced items and rely on your shame, or your host’s shame, to pay.

26 Tim VH July 14, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Sorry — Ray, I have to reply to that… “you will hate the food”

I’ve been @ 2 dozen times over the past decade, and just got back from several weeks there. No, the idea that one would “hate” the food is absurd, particularly relative to Chinese, or pan-Asian, food anywhere in the West.
The list of extraordinary restaurants and cuisines — not counting anything like Peking Duck or Westernized versions — is the longest of any culture I’ve been to. It’s especially worth seeking out: (A) Yunnan for their famous noodles, as well as mushrooms, fungi, and fish; (B) Sichuan for fish in pepper oil, spicy eel, or garlic pork; (C) Shanghai crab dishes; (D) Mongolian cumin beef, horse and donkey. I’d also recommend trying the “giant salamander” (yes, I’m not making that up) at the Zhonglong hotel near Sanlitun. The steamed salamander feet are extremely tasty.

27 Ray Lopez July 14, 2012 at 11:38 pm

@Tim VH – I was in Beijing. It was before the Olympics and it was awful. Maybe you were somewhere else, sounds like south China or SW China from your Sichuan description. I also prefer south Chinese cuisine, which you cannot get easily up north. Also the air pollution was bad and I’ve lived in LA. The Beijing Great Wall was nice, and I got to ‘ride’ down it in those sliding contraptions which was fun. Also the nightlife near that moat with the water (name escapes me) was OK, kind of like Santa Monica. Also don’t buy any ‘original artwork’ it’s all fake. Also–don’t shop too much: I was way over the limit on the way home in baggage and had to actually give away most of my gifts to the busboy. All in all: China was a disappointment compared to other places I’ve been. Overhyped. The architecture of Beijing was interesting however (skyrises), but that’s hardly a big deal. Yeah you can buy a Rolex for $5 and sneak it past US Customs most of the time (but sometimes not).

28 bartman July 15, 2012 at 5:35 pm

I just got back from 2 weeks in China. Now I hate the food here (NJ). You have to try hard to have a bad meal in China (trying to eat western food over there is the easiest route to a crappy meal.)

29 Alan July 14, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Read ‘Flashman and the Dragon’ on the flight over.

See The Summer Palace (obviously the Wall and Forbidden Palace are required), which I found quite charming (you need some time).

30 Ernie July 14, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Get a cheap cell phone so you can call places and have them give directions to taxi drivers. Getting taxis is way, way harder here lately because they haven’t raised prices in 5 years or more, and have added a couple million cars to the roads, so with all the traffic drivers don’t really have an incentive to work. There are black taxis driving freely everywhere at night, – in some places outnumbering regular cabs 10 to 1. So transportation is really tough these days if you don’t have a bike / ebike.

A couple places I like:

PanJiaYuan flea market. The right half is big fake antique stores, but the left side consists of 2×2 meter squares of ground for rent to anyone, for ~80$US / day (I’ve asked). They sell everything – lots of old junk, dirty statues they’ve allegedly just dug up, random old electronics, etc. It’s fun to look around. Watch out for the XinJiang guys outside hawking furs. Also, you will see lots of rocks for sale here. Located in the southeast, Pan Jia Yuan: 潘家园 Every taxi driver will know it.

Park Life – People spend much more time in parks in China than anywhere else I’ve been. Any one will do (or even any public square after dark) – I highly recommend walking around from 7-9pm and just following music. You’ll find lots of different groups of mostly middle aged ladies with terrible cheap amps, dancing along to different kinds of music. This is why there are so many social movements in China… flg started the same way, as a communal physical ritual. One park I like near DongZhiMen in the northeast corner of downtown is Nan Guan Gong Yuan. 南馆公园

Also, I second the Sichuan food provincial restaurant. Just make sure you have a reasonable person to order – don’t get the weirdest stuff, just get the normal sichuan dishes and they’ll be great.

31 Ernie July 14, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Also, if you haven’t read it, Country Driving by Peter Hessler is great, & really captures the feeling of China today.

32 Casey July 14, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Was just in Beijing, stayed with local family, ridiculous amounts of food cooked by her chef husband, and she helped us order at restaurants( every restaurant we went to we were the only foreigner)
She was also our driver to the sites. I found her via vrbo her name was joy, but if she is booked there are others with similar setup, she is also open to talking politics, and definitely gives you insight into the local view.

33 Case July 14, 2012 at 9:12 pm

A few more recs
All 3 hessler books
Mutianyu over badaling for great wall
Hot pot restaurant at south end of temple of heaven
Restaurant on inbound side of mutianyu , have to make a short u turn if eating afterwards, has blue beads on front door
For crazy cultural experience, summer palace with a blond child… Can’t walk 20 feet without pic requests from the rural folks in town for vaca

34 Jared July 14, 2012 at 10:04 pm

I’ve seen some mention of taking a trip to the great wall. I would advise avoiding any of the major obvious tourist destinations (Great Wall, Forbidden City, etc.). It’s the summer. Chinese tourist season is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. I would only say to venture to these places if getting pressed person to person in crowds is your thing. Even then, you’ll get enough of that on line 1 of the subway.

I would recommend heading over to 798 if you haven’t been, though I doubt that bears mentioning.

Definitely seek out chuar. My favorite spot was just outside the West Gate of Beijing university. A wonderful husband and wife from Anhui had quite the set up when I was there. They had a large piece of sheet metal bent into a trough where they cooked skewers over coal and had miniature troughs for customers so you could get your food just right. Grilled mushrooms, lamb, and any number of other things.

The Bookworm in Sanlitun might be worth checking out. It’s a popular expat library/restaurant/bar. The food is slightly overpriced/overrated, but it does have some worthwhile events. Off the top of my head, David Sedaris gave a reading there. They have whiskey tastings. If you want to check out expat life, the bookworm could be a good choice.

I would definitely recommend stopping by one of the fast food places around the college campuses in Haidian (Beida, Tsinghua, etc). Chinese students hang out in KFC’s and McDonald’s all hours of the night, playing cards and doing puzzles. There all great kids and seemingly all genius level.

Good luck in Beijing. It’s a wonderful city, but it’s sprawl makes things timely travel very difficult.

35 XY July 14, 2012 at 10:53 pm

I agree with walking around “normal” areas of the city and avoiding the major tourist destinations. For an academic, there is much to be learned from watching regular people interact, and very little that is genuinely interesting about the major tourist attractions. (Especially the Great Wall, which looks exactly like it does in the photos, except that there’s two million tourists on it, making it look ridiculously silly – not doing a great job of keeping the foreigners out, is it)

36 Steve July 14, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Muslim noodles from Lanzhou are amazing. The “Daoxiao mian” (knife cut noodles) are amazing all by themselves.

37 magnusb July 15, 2012 at 8:59 am

I can recommend the Lama temple. The 26m high sandalwood buddha is fantastic. Here are some of my photos:
http://magsmag.com/lama-temple

38 no smiles for you July 15, 2012 at 11:23 am

The government must have added something to the water supply because compared to my last travels the people in Beijing seem to have lost it a bit. Rarely will you come across city filled with so many unfriendly people, hardly anyone is smiling, and most people seem to think that they need to yell and scream at their phones. Begging and open prostitution seems much more widespread. Take care off your phone, China is safe but pickpocketing is highly on the rise. Take Subway Line 1 to witness over-crowded infrastructure, at times it feels like taking a train in rural China judging by the sound and smell.
Not a nice city for walking, Communist architecture likes grandiose buildings with little thought to making them fit in with the environment. Walk through a bookstore to witness how important reading is in China. They will grab a book, sit down in an aisle and keep reading for hours.
Cab drivers have become ridicolously unfriendly, sometimes just waiving you away. The service level in restaurants has gone down as well, must be poorer still if you don’t speak Chinese.

39 Richard Sprague July 15, 2012 at 2:46 pm

My advice to people with a somewhat sophisticated view of China, but who’d prefer to avoid “roughing it” in unclean environments:

Consider staying overnight at the SchoolHouse Mutianyu so you can wake up and see the Great Wall at sunrise. You’re under 2 hours from the airport, so this is a good option if your flight is leaving Beijing in the afternoon.

Also please ignore suggestions to try Quanjude. In spite of (or perhaps because of?) its fame, the food is mediocre and overpriced. If you’re with someone who can take you off the beaten track, I much prefer Private Kitchen for very authentic Peking Duck.

In addition to the Xinjian recommendations above, you might try Hakka food, which is noted for its simple ingredients but original preparation and unique flavors. My favorite place in Beijing is Ka Jia Yuan.

Don’t waste time at the Silk Market or any other of the shopping suggestions above, which are unauthentic and purely for the tourists. If there’s something particular you’re looking for, seek out a local. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for and just want to sample a variety of authentic things, go to the Panjiayuan “dirt market”.

Be sure to subscribe to a VPN service of some kind before going, so you can reliably access the full internet wherever you are, (Twitter/Facebook/Google docs are usually blocked or unreliable). I recommend Witopia.

Opposite House in Sanlitun is one of the world’s best hotels. Not particularly “Chinese”, but very original and not outrageously expensive.

40 JD July 15, 2012 at 11:54 pm

I’m curious to hear what you thought of the trip. I do hope you didn’t follow the advice of your readership (save for a couple); even a site like TripAdvisor would have given you a less touristy, generic guide to BJ.

41 JD July 16, 2012 at 12:16 am

In case you haven’t finished your trip, a few spots of interest:

圆明园 (Yuan Ming Yuan): The ruins of the old Summer Palace, destroyed by the British during the Second Opium War. Spend an hour there over a quiet afternoon, if you have one. There were only a handful of other people there the few times I went this past winter.

The recycling slum near Bajiacun 八家村:(http://it.people.com.cn/GB/42891/42893/5292163.html) A slum near wudaokou in which the people live inside the heaps of recyclables they collect to sell. Interesting if you speak Chinese or are with someone who does to converse with the dwellers there.

If you have the time, the unrestored ‘wild wall’. Can be difficult to hike, but is the most worthwhile trip I have taken in the Beijing area. We didn’t pass another person in our 10km hike. There are sections in Huairou 怀柔区 north of Beijing, ask around.

Find an uncrowded bus and get a window seat. Spend an hour watching the people and the city.

In China especially, it’s (almost) always better to be told off for being somewhere you shouldn’t than to ask permission. As a foreigner you can feign ignorance, and you get to see interesting things you wouldn’t have otherwise.

I also second a trip to the Sichuan or Yunnan provincial offices with someone who knows the cuisine.

Good luck!

42 Malto Dextrin July 17, 2012 at 1:05 pm

I second JD’s comments. Most especially: I spent a year in China as a student ten years ago, and my visit to an unrestored, non-touristy section of the wall, where there was nary a soul around, was by far the highpoint.

43 philipp July 16, 2012 at 12:37 am

For food, check out the restaurants in the provincial representative offices. You will find some of the best and most authentic cuisine there. This is the Sichuan one: http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/beijing/listings/dining/sichuan/has/chuan-ban/

If you have some time and want to see the great wall without millions of people, go here: http://greatwallfresh.com/
Very basic accomondation, but also great just for a day trip.

44 sanzhidagou July 16, 2012 at 2:05 am

philipp is giving truly great advice. definitely check out the provincial representative offices. this is where you get the truly authentic food, a secret which is becoming more widely known.

45 philipp July 16, 2012 at 12:45 am

Get out of the subway at Beixinqiao (south-east gate), or lama temple (north east gate) at around 7 or 8 pm and check out the locals dancing and some live performance of some local musicians in the latter place.
If you get out at beixinqiao stroll down the guijie foodstreet. Most of the restaurants aren’t realy good, but the atmosphere is quite interesting. Its there where all the red lights are.

46 Jsc7 July 16, 2012 at 2:10 am

Caochangdi is now more interesting than 798 for art, start at Three Shadows Photography Center.

Michael Pettis runs D-22, a big deal in the indie music scene.

Great Leap Brewery for Chinese inspired microbrews and great setting, only game in town for great beer.

Chocolate is a very silly Russian club: midget bouncers, escalators, and 17th century portraits.

“The Hutong” organizes a lot of cool cultural events.

47 Engineer July 17, 2012 at 5:44 am

D-22 closed down earlier this year.

48 Ken Payne July 16, 2012 at 6:44 am

For an amazing place to eat that you would never otherwise find, check out the Mongolian barbecue place near the Drum Tower. It is on Jiugulou Street. Walking from the Drum Tower, you see a Vietnamese Cultural Center on the left, and the restaurant is about 50 meters further on the same side of the street. It is tiny, with only about 5 tables. You recognize it by the fact that the tables have stone slabs in the middle for the barbecue. The peppers are amazing, as is the eggplant. But two words that will change your life: barbecued bacon. Of five dinners in Beijing (including some very special affairs at the Forbidden City and some place supposedly founded by the last emperor’s chef), this place was by far the best.

49 el July 16, 2012 at 9:50 am

I have no tips for food, etc as I’m not familiar with Beijing, but do as the Chinese do – get an umbrella/parasol (the ones made for the sun tend to have a heavier metallicy material). It may seem weird to an American as that’s just not done over here, but it greatly cuts down on the heat you feel, which is important especially when visiting any major tourist site in Beijing as there is little shade. The Forbidden Palace is an exercise in crossing long stretches of burning hot pavement.

Also useful, a little hand towel that you can wet with some cold water.

50 Marcos Jazzan July 16, 2012 at 10:32 am

Black sesame kitchen! Best restaurant in the city, just make sure to make reservations at least a week in advance, and get there with plenty of time, it takes a while to find as it’s inside a hutong. Also, stay near a metro station, cabs are insanely hard to get.

51 Brett McDonnell July 16, 2012 at 12:46 pm

When we were there 3 and 5 years ago (nearly an eternity in modern Beijing, so things may have changed), we really liked Nanluogu Xiang. It’s a street/alley in the hutong area near Beihai. It still retains a lot of the feel of the old hutongs, but many buildings have been updated, and there are a lot of tea houses, cafes, restaurants, and bars. It was an interesting mix of old and new, and pretty charming in a city that’s often very impressive and fascinating, but not usually a place where the word “charming” springs to mind. Pass By Bar was one place popular with travelers like us.

52 Barkley Rosser July 16, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Depends on how long you are there and if you have been before. Besides the obvious stuff:

Yes to Lama Temple and catch the Confucius Temple about a block away but more obscure, However, interesting from historical, philosophical, and current political perspective. Was shut down for a long time.

I agree that metro is a good way to get around. Traffic awful and indeed many cab drivers totally ignorant. Last summer I ended up having to guide most of the ones we used around myself, really.

Definitely do Yunnanese cuisine, not in Washington, indeed, not many places (I have had it in Taipei also). We enjoyed Dali Courtyard (in a funky hutong), but perfectly believable some others recommended here better. Anyway, do it, distinctive and good.

As for discussing politics, depends on whom you do it with. If visiting academics, OK when in small insider group. You will almost certainlhy have a private dinner at some point in a closed room, which may be the best meal you will have there. That is also the time you can discuss politics, but start with the top dog of the group, who is often not the official host. However, you should be able to figure out who it is pretty easily. Not that hard to see who is deferring to whom, :-).

53 Kevin Miller July 16, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Contra some advice, the subway system is easy to maneuver. Buy yourself a magnetic subway card (it’s a stored value card) and I’d recommend putting 100 yuan on it so that sunk costs will encourage you to get out and about. You can also use it in many cabs, so it won’t go to waste.

I’ve been going there for about 3-4 weeks a year for 25 years and taking naive American students there for the last three, many of whom have not left the country before, and they’ve found it very manageable.

Everyone loves seeing acrobats. The Chaoyang theatre or Tiandi theatre both have great shows. Try to get discount tickets, because the official prices on the tickets are close to double what you might pay.

The 798 art area is very interesting and well worth visiting. I guess it isn’t really the current scene now, but there’s still some very interesting stuff and much more avant garde than would fly in the U.S.

Walking around the lakes – Houhai (“Duke” sea) and Qianhai (“Front” sea) is quite pleasant on a hot day. Beihai (“North” sea) is better for seeing people, and abuts Zhongnanhai (Middle and South sea) where the leaders live.

If you have time to read Jonathan Spence’s The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, or even if you don’t, the old observatory near the Jianguomen subway stop is interesting (western-designed early modern astronomical instruments with Chinese features).

The Temple of Heaven is both pleasant and a must see.

The Forbidden City isn’t pleasant but is a must see.

Going to the Great Wall at Mutianyu is better than at Badaling, but both are pretty impressive.

If you like Chinese traditional music at all (erhu, pippa, etc.), the Sanwei shuwu “Three flavor bookstore” (it’s a Lu Xun reference) — has very good concerts on Saturday evenings in a small venue. They have jazz on Friday, which I’ve never gone to.

Wherever you stay, go out walking in the nearest park early in the morning to get a sense of the variety of exercise people do.

I’d recommend listening to some of the Sinica podcasts on Popup Chinese. I think Chinesepod might be better for intro language learning, but both are pretty good.

Finally, City weekend and The Beijinger are good online current-happenings sources.

54 Laura July 16, 2012 at 9:16 pm

For sights, don’t miss walking around the Andingmen area. (It will be very hot, so dress/plan accordingly). The area has a nice combination of old-fashioned ancient lanes and wider, renovated, spruced-up streets. You’ll see a lot of laundry on the line, people eating outdoors, a ton of bikes etc. as well as nice boutiques and a Ming-era temple. The Confucius Temple and the street it’s on, Wudaoying Hutong, is maybe one of the most gorgeous spots in Beijing.

Andingmen also has one of Beijing’s best dumpling restaurants, Xian Lao Man (陷老满). They’ll give you an English menu if you look confused. I’d highly recommend tomato-and-egg dumplings and crispy-skinned fish-fragrant eggplant. (http://beijingfoodbible.wordpress.com/2012/06/05/xian-lao-man-%E9%A6%85%E8%80%81%E6%BB%A1/)

Golden Peacock for Yunnan. (http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/beijing/listings/dining/yunnan/has/goldpeacock-dai-nationality-flavor-restaurant/). Yunnan food is having a well-deserved moment in Beijing, but Golden Peacock has stood the test of time. Try their beef-and-mint salad and Yunnan ham stir-fried with chilies.

55 Tim VH July 16, 2012 at 10:50 pm

The 4 Big Q’s for China now:

—–(1.) What will be the wealth effect from the real estate crash? esp the on-going, incipient problems in commercial real estate, where much of ‘family office’ East Coast major city personal wealth has been invested. Is Hainan Island the poster child of Chinese real estate?

—–(2.) What’s the extent of decline in efficacy of contributions to NGDP growth from (a.) further growth in banking system leverage / lending or various other monetary initiatives; and (b) further growth of the Investment account from the central gov’t spending of reserves? Are the SOE’s, and effectively ‘family offices,’ which would borrow more, already too leveraged because of decline in asset values; and are prospective regional government public good externalities simply less effective since this investment is going more and more rural where the rate of change in relative marginal productivity is less than it was previously?

—– (3.) Are there on-going marginal limits to the growth contribution from more exports, given that total global final demand will be declining the most in decades, while at the same time there’s greater competition than ever to sell widgets, from Germany to Korea, and importantly including Japan and now America?

—– (4.) by far the most important single question:
Is the State Council, via the CSRC, setting a “trap door” for, or waging war on, its own elites through finance industry reform which will ultimately lead to interest rate liberalization, improved governance via challenge from private capital, and a wave of both restructurings and privatizations? Is the clearly stated, and partly implemented, radical agenda for financial liberalization (domestic bond markets, broad internalization of the RMB, derivatives business on mainland, both electronic & open outcall exchanges of all kinds, PE/VC, foreign investment in finance, insurance & reinsurance exchanges…. on and on) for real? Will it work? Will it have the intended effect: to undermine the financial repression which has been the key fundamental subsidy to the elite?

————————-

In other words, do the Grandpa Wen / Guo Shuqing / Le Keqiang crowd see the writing on the wall — as a function of the answers to the first 3 questions —- and are now going to leapfrog right over to large scale restructuring / privatization in @@ 2 to 4 years after the pilot programs on financial liberalization, which are effectively designed to pull the rug out from under financial repression??

And will they win?

56 Brian July 17, 2012 at 1:39 am

Just finished reading your book, think you’d really like:

Zhang Ma Ma in Fengsiteng Hutong, sort of northeast of the Bell and Drum Towers

Stay at a place called the Orchid nearby and it’s a wick walk. Super interesting owners of this cheap but really nice and small place in a Hutong.

For a novel twist on Hunan, I highly recommend restaurant Club Camp if it’s still open. Don’t judge by the name, location (by workers’ stadium and the douchy nightclubs), or the building. I will pay $50 if you can get me their recipe for ther dish called Lan Cang Jiang River Beef (澜沧江牛肉 or Lan Cang Jiang Niu Rou)

We have not been able to replicate that at home as well as we’d like.

57 Max L July 18, 2012 at 11:29 am

For an unforgettable restaurant experience, I’d recommend Dianke Dianlai (http://www.thebeijinger.com/directory/Dianke-Dianlai). You pay a set price (the cheapest is 128RMB (~$20USD)) and they bring out dish after dish after dish of bizarre, interesting, and delicious traditional Yunnan food. Make sure you write down the address, because the entrance is unmarked, aside from the number. It really seems like the sort of place you’d enjoy.

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