With Fuji behind us it was time for Jelmini, Eric and I to venture further west into China. We landed down in Beijing and experienced a bit of culture shock skipping from Tokyo’s orderly, clean streets to Beijing’s noise and air pollution.
One of the first things you do when visiting Beijing is develop a daily habit of checking the Air Quality Index (AQI) in the same way you’d check the weather anywhere else. The US Embassy hosts a webpage showing current conditions and also has a handy table explaining the potential health risks of each AQI level – from 0-50 (no health risks), all the way up to 301-500. During most of our visit the AQI hovered in the “unhealthy” range, but it’s not uncommon for the city to issue air quality alerts telling people to stay inside and limit physical activity.
Anyways, getting back to our visit.
Our first stop was the Forbidden City, an imperial palace built in the fifteenth century and occupied by the last emperor of China. There is a definite police presence in the Forbidden City, including many plain-clothes officers. We saw a small skirmish that resulted in people being forcibly removed.
The walled city is just HUGE and it’s home to many artifacts including pottery dating back thousands of years. If you want to see the whole collection, though, you’ll have to visit Taiwan too. Most of the treasures stored in the Forbidden City were moved there for “safe keeping” during the Chinese Civil War and remain at the National Palace Museum in Taipei to this day.
Just across from the Forbidden City is Tiananmen Square, site of the 1989 protests which ended with the declaration of martial law and the deaths of an untold number of civilians. Just recently a new tragedy took place there when a vehicle careened through barricades and caught fire (another event where Chinese officials were quick to impede foreign reporters). All was calm on the day we were there, with children playing and tour groups visiting Mao’s mausoleum.
After the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, no visit to Beijing would be complete without a Peking Duck dinner. Da Dong is a popular upscale restaurant where you’ll see chefs roasting the ducks in wood-fired ovens.
Once it’s been roasted to perfection, the duck will be carved up tableside and served with various trimmings including garlic, hoisin sauce, cantaloupe, cucumber, Chinese pickles, and a stack of paper-thin pancakes for wrapping everything up into wonderful little parcels. They also give you sugar so you can dip the skin into it and make a sort of duck skin candy. It’s delicious, but I think the duck is better all on its own.
After a short tutorial on how to make the wraps they left us to devour everything on the table.
This might have been our most expensive meal in all of China, but the crispy skin and unctuous dark duck meat were worth a splurge. SO good.
Next up: A Great Wall!