Monday, 23 March 2009


My Beijing break was badly needed, as I was feeling exhausted, a little lonely, culture starved and wanted to walk down the street and not have anyone stare at me. And it worked. I’m still exhausted as I haven’t slept well for weeks, but am happier even if my cash stack is considerably smaller than it was last week. The highlight of my trip was the amazing 798 gallery area, which merits an entire post to itself tomorrow.

Despite the very irritating man sat next to me on the train who obviously hadn’t thought that or just didn’t care that perhaps not everyone around him would want to listen to the video clips he was playing on his laptop, the train journey to Beijing was uplifting. For the first time that I’ve made the 5.30 to 7.30pm trip, it was during daylight. This gave me an opportunity to stare out of the window at the newly green fields of Hebei. I saw flocks of goats or sheep being tended, people bent over working the land in the sun’s dying hours, children climbing trees and playing exuberant games, clearly revelling the spring time warmth.

We dined at one of our favourite Western eateries, The Den, which is a sports bar that serves pizzas with light crisp bases and succulent cheesy toppings. I adore cheese, but in provincial China it’s almost impossible to find because the vast majority of Chinese people loathe it, so my trips to Beijing normally feature eating as much of it as possible.

Shooters is one of the most popular bars in the Sanlitun area as it sells incredibly cheap shots and cocktails. We had a few rounds of tequila shots, and it was so crowded in there that it was difficult to hold the glass and manoeuvre it to your mouth without spillage. The majority of our evening was actually spent in the street outside, giggling, chatting to people and eating chips from the fish and chip shop that is conveniently opposite Shooters. Chips after a pizza dinner might seem excessive to some, but I was so glad to get something that vaguely tasted like home that I really didn’t care if they live on my hips forever.

I woke up miraculously unhungover on Saturday morning, and on the way to the bus saw an old man airing his caged birds.

When I got off the bus I had about a mile to walk before I got to the 798 area, and on the way I passed this wall. It’s hard to choose which photos to show! I wish that there was more of this street art in China, as cities are blighted by hugely depressing expanses of grey concrete and bleak, dirty walls.

Our Saturday evening was almost a rerun of Friday night, but at another of our favourite restaurants, where I had (among other things) a baked potato with sour cream and cheese.

Sunday was shopping day, and we headed to the Silk Market. This is five floors of densely packed little shops, selling almost anything you could imagine. I needed prescription glasses, a waterproof coat, shoes and a few gifts. You shop by choosing what you want and then bargaining with the vendors to find a mutually acceptable price. You will be shouted at and grabbed by vendors, and during price negotiations they will emotionally blackmail you to agree to a higher price than you should do. However, if you actually take the time to talk to them and they’re not too busy, most of them are very pleasant. Most of them work every day of the year, saving to one day open their own shop.

When I first came here, this way of shopping blew my mind, but now I’m quite used to it, and even enjoy it if I’m in the right mood. I got everything I wanted except for the shoes: none of the vendors would give me a reasonable price for a pair of black ballet pumps so I shall buy those in Shijiazhuang.

One of the most exciting parts of the weekend happened back in Shijiazhuang train station, where I purchased the train ticket that will take me to Xian on Wednesday.


  1. It's so interesting learning about China through your posts. I'm sure the shopping there would freak me out, too, at first. I'm used to sending the salespeople away so I can make decisions on my own. And there's no bargaining here on price. Shame, really.

    Peace - D

  2. It was very odd not being able to really browse - if your even looking at something you get sucked into the bargaining. But it means that I'm now an incredibly speedy shopper.

  3. What fabulous posts, J! I've been checking into your blog for about a week now, and have only just realised that the page doesn't update automatically, and that I need to choose each day's blog from the Archive list on the right hand side, duhhhh!
    So I've caught up now, and am glad you had such a great time in Beijing this weekend, it must have been great to cut loose and have a few tastes of home too! Being in Spain there's not much I can't get from back in the UK.. but you'd be surprised! Can't wait for tomorrow's post x

  4. Mmmm! Those caged birds look like verrrrry interesting subjects!

  5. Ramblings from Spain - I wonder why that is happening? Is that coming through dashboard? Hmmmm.....
    I'm glad you're enjoying though.

  6. No more grey walls, says quite alot about freedom of speech/expression for the Chinese in China