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Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 04:55 | SYDNEY
Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 04:55 | SYDNEY

The Interpreter's guide to Beijing

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5 August 2008 14:05

Guest blogger: Alistair Thornton is a Beijing-based economic analyst. He's earned the right to be called our Beijing correspondent.

There's a dreadful tune floating around Beijing at the moment. The catch line, 'Beijing Huanying Ni' (Beijing welcomes you), drones over and over to a mind-numbing teeny-pop backing track. But it's all in good spirit, I suppose. And as the tourists have started flooding in, China has started the welcoming. So, seeing as I like to now consider myself a Beijinger, I thought I would do my bit for the welcoming, and give those China-bound Interpreter readers some inside tips.
 
First things first: food. Beijing has a startling array of cuisines catering to nearly any taste, and any budget. From street-barbequed Xinjiang lamb kebabs, to haute-cuisine that would rival anything in London or Paris, at a similar price. Beijing Duck is a must. My favorite places are Li Qun (pictured left) and Duck De Chine. The first for its wonderfully authentic (read 'basic') charm, and the second (at the other end of the spectrum) for its slick, modern Chinese dining experience. Both have great duck.

Baozi (steamed pork dumplings) are my preferred Beijing breakfast. Look for the little round wooden trays stacked high over a metal steamer in restaurant doorways. And for all your deep-fried scorpion and sugar-coated pineapple needs, head straight to Wangfujing Night Market (pictured right) to test your nerve and soak up the hustle and bustle. Don't be afraid to wander off the beaten track and eat at a more 'local' restaurant. You're not going to get food poisoning (well, probably not), but you will find good food at amazing prices, and a real Beijing dining atmosphere.
 
With stomachs filled, there is a lot of sightseeing to do. My favorite part of this city is, without a doubt, the parks. They teem with activity. There are old women blasting out Chinese Opera and old men deep in concentration over cards, teams of ladies doing that swirly ribbon thing and people of all types (and abilities) doing synchronised dancing. There are busy outdoor gyms, complete with bizarre cross-country skiing machines, pull-up bars and a whole host of things I still don't understand. All of this to a pretty backdrop of lush grass, water features and pagodas, and a soundtrack of laughter, chitter chatter and ping-pong balls. Temple of Heaven (pictured left), Jingshan and Ritan are some of the best.
 
For art lovers, 798 is an essential stop-off. This old industrial zone is stuffed with innovative gallery spaces showing the latest in Chinese contemporary art. Great little cafes and restaurants, such as Cafe Pause, are sprinkled throughout. The bigger galleries, such as UCCA and Pace, house an impressively wide range of Chinese artists, including the famous Zhang Xiaogang and Yue Minjun, while the smaller galleries give you a chance to check out Beijing's up-and-coming talent, such as photographer Zu Jing at CPU:798.
 
No visit to Beijing would be complete without a wander through the city's hutongs (alleys), most of which have been torn down to make way for apartment blocks and shopping centres. They provide a wonderful snapshot into the past, and into the lives of their residents (pictured right), who seem to spend most of their time sitting on small stools, fanning themselves, and chatting. Hutongs range from the trendy Nanluoguoxiang, occupied by bars, cafes and design shops, to the more traditional kind around Andingmen, Beihai and Dongzhimen.
 
And when done with a glimpse at the past, a look at the future. Beijing's modern architectural edge is seriously impressive. The National Centre for the Performing Arts ('The Egg'; pictured left), the National Stadium ('The Bird's Nest') and the China Central Television building (known to locals as 'short trousers') are three of the most stunning buildings I have ever seen. The Egg is a peaceful shimmering dome just a stone's throw away from the hustle and bustle of Tiananmen. Having seen the Bird's Nest from both the inside and out, I can only say that those lucky enough to have tickets are in for a treat. And CCTV's contorted Z-shaped structure really has to be seen to be believed.
 
If you manage to get through all of these, I hear there is some sort of sporting event on.

All photos by Flickr users, used under a Creative commons license. Photo 1 by keso; photo 2 by Ayournali; photo 3 by emiana; photo 4 by Sheilaz413; photo 5 by ionushi.

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