China Day 4 – Beijing

Checked out of Michael’s House, but left our bags to pick up later. We boarded the train to the Haidian district in North Western Beijing – some 15km from Central Beijing, and to the Summer Palace.  It was a lovely place with a big lake, known as Kunming Lake, temples, and Longevity Hill – a 300 hectare playground of exclusivity for royal families to rest and entertain, including Empress Dawaga Cixi, who made it her summer retreat.  Now, old men were flying kites on the bridge listening to the radio.  Kite-flying – that simple, harmless pastime – such joy it can bring.  Those were the days, when people used to look up to the sky instead of down at their phones.  The Summer Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the powers that be there declaring the Summer Palace: “a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design. The natural landscape of hills and open water is combined with artificial features such as pavilions, halls, palaces, temples and bridges to form a harmonious ensemble of outstanding aesthetic value,” It’s true. The perfect escape from Beijing. Veronica and I wandered around, enjoying the occasional tea stop.  An ice-cream.  An air of peace and tranquillity in the air. We all need that sometimes.

We picked up our bags from Michael’s House and got back on the subway again, transferring to Line 5 and Dongsi, in the Dongcheng district of Beijing. I called the hotel I’d booked into – the somewhat dubiously named Double Happiness – and they directed us there. Double Happiness Courtyard Hotel is down a lively hutong – Old Beijing style, full of tiny restaurants and shops and old men and women cycling around peddling their wares, a life of hard work etched into their ruddy faces.

The hotel was a step up from Michael’s House in every way. A hotel with history, tradition and charm. The room was fit for an Emperor, a four poster bed and the reds and gold of royalty framing the traditional style room. After celebrating our good fortune with a cup of delicious Chinese tea, we headed to the hotel’s bar – ‘Happy Bar’ (at least, that’s what I’ve named it), staffed by a lady impeccably trained with fantastic English….but something was a bit weird. It was like she’d been programmed, as she spurted out in staccato: “Enjoy your happy time here in Beijing. Please be sure to visit the Great Wall….your Chinese is very good, soon you will be fluent….Please enjoy this Beijing beer…Happy time, happy happy HAPPY!” She said happy so much I thought she was going to terminate like that head in the movie Total Recall. She couldn’t stop talking, and everything she said had been elaborately rehearsed it seemed. In the bar they had a strange fish with a huge forehead in a tank on the bar top, as though this was a fish with a huge brain, and it probably talked to Miss Happy when she was alone, or was it the Beijing beer causing me to wildly fantasize?

We said goodbye after a beer and left her lair. She waited patiently behind the bar for her next victim, probably cursing and swearing like a hutong trooper before the computer programme kicked in again when a customer walked through the door.

We asked at reception where we could find the best duck in Beijing – and we were directed to Da Dong – the most famous restaurant in Beijing – to try the most famous dish in Beijing – Peking Duck. A huge, classy place, the duck was sliced in front of us – absolutely delicious. We also ordered spinach and scallops – divine. Great service, too. It was perfect fuel for hitting the icy streets afterwards. We caught a cab to Nanluoguxiang for a nightcap –at a great little bar to watch the late Amy Winehouse in concert (on the TV) and drink mulled wine.  A great evening, and a great day all in all.

reat evening, and a great day all in all.

Author: Neil

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