Beijing. Sunny side up.

by Ant Stone on August 13, 2007

in China

Beijing is to China, what a fried egg is to an English breakfast. I simply couldn’t leave it unconsumed at the side of my plate so I’ve returned to burst it’s yolk, all over my chin. The chef needs a medal, it’s almost cooked to perfection. It’s said, you should never judge a book by it’s cover. In my recording of my previous arrival in Beijing I “felt like a borrower rolling through a Monopoly board, contested by two heavy smokers”. Now I feel myself timidly muttering ‘do not pass go, do not collect £200.’. In hindsight I judged the cover of a book I couldn’t even read, the illness had crippled my senses and the only thing I had to go on, was the cloak of smog cozily settled over central Beijing.

In a bid to start completely afresh, I booked into a different hostel (the first thing I did was order a fry-up) and as I arrived at Beijing West train station my decision to return was rewarded with the natural remedy of bright blue skies, without a whisp of cloud and a golden globe warming the streets of the hutong district I find myself residing in tonight. The hutong holds a special place in the hearts of Beijingers, they are the ancient narrow alleys that knit this city together but unfortunately, a variety of factors are seeing these vivacious areas disappear under a mound of concrete and tarmac as China attempts to keep pace with the populations growing ambitions. The residents of the hutongs are a different breed to those I’ve encountered elsewhere. I’ve only been here for 5 days but a warm “ni hao” is offered wherever I go; when I’m lost they do everything possible to get me back on track, hollering into their mobiles until they’re satisfied the directions offered will lead to success. One moment that summed up the hutong-way, was a shopkeepers realisation that the 37c heat might be slowing me down, he swiftly pulled out a stool, shut the shop doors and cranked up the aircon while I sipped cold water as we watched a movie. I hadn’t uttered a word, he’d simply read my mind. Such is life, within the hutong; the heartbeat of Beijing.

My first day back here was spent with a stroll around Belhai Park, home to various points of interest, including a spectacular 9 dragon screen (believed to keep evil spirits away). Though the highlight of Belhai was a simple gathering of 50-somethings, meeting to serenade the shores of the lake with traditional Chinese song. It wasn’t for money, it was purely because they enjoyed each others company. I’ve seen this a lot in China, it’s a sociable place. It’s rare to walk down a street and not see a crowd gathered – no matter what time of day – to play Chinese chess, to share a pot of soup or simply to sit and chat while they stare at the anonymous ‘foreign devil’ strutting past, with curly hair and funky blue shoes. I’ve also started my incursion of the ‘must-sees’, though none of them come close to a jaunt through the hutong. The Temple of Heaven, didn’t live up to it’s name, though was a fine example of traditional Chinese architecture and almost excuses me from the obligation to see another. I’m getting to the point now where I’m craving something new, something fresh, something modern. With this in mind, I failed spectacularly and visited The Forbidden City if you’re visiting Beijing, and only have time for one of the major sites then I suggest you make it this. Although it didn’t blow me away, the variety of things on offer were enough to keep me amused for half a day. Ironically the highlight for me was an exhibition of clocks, the majority having been made in England.

Being English, there was only really one thing on my mind that Sunday and I accomplished this with spectacular success. You see, this weekend in mid-August holds a special place in the hearts and minds of the majority of the British population; it was the start of the Premiership football season and my beloved Arsenal were taking on Fulham at the start of a day that would see two more games, and allow me to consume a skinfull of cold, conscience killing Tsingtao beer. With the time difference of +7 hours, the final game didn’t finish until the early hours. I stumbled out onto the streets, that upon my entrance to my now beloved Sangria Club had been soaked in sunshine to find a rainstorm had swept through giving the city a sparkling coat. In 6 weeks I’ve only experienced rain twice, so in some ways I was disappointed but it was all for a good cause, Arsenal won 2-1 in a thrilling London derby.

My jubilation however, quickly turned to dismay. Upon my return to the hostel it was apparent that my laundry (left to dry in the courtyard) had half vanished. It was 3am, there was nothing I could do so reluctantly I hiccupped my way to my dorm- only to discover I had lost my key, and my student card. My days of negativity within the temples and monasteries I’d endured were surely coming back to haunt me. In a bizarre twist, by 7am one pair of shorts had reappeared and following a ‘polite notice’ my clothes have finally been returned, but with an air of mystery over their journey. Alas, my own clumsiness at losing my student card and dorm key will cost me in the long run. Vain attempts to track them down were shunned once more by the temptation to lose myself in the hutongs, this time venturing further afield around the city by bicycle. I returned, to pack my clean clothes as I prepare for my imminent journey to Kunming; 2000 miles, and 47 solid hours aboard a Chinese train. Compared to my previous 5 day journey aboard the Trans-Siberian, it’s child’s play. I’m relishing just sitting back and whiling away the time aboard the steel dragon as I cut diagonally down to the Yunnan province, the very south of China. With borders shared with Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam this province is a world away from my Beijing breakfast. Though if the weather man is to be believed, it’s at least 15c colder and you guessed it, raining.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Rachael August 14, 2007 at 1:41 am

Hey – do they take their birds (the ones in cages) for walks there like their Hong Kong coussies? And sit playing chess for ages in the parks??


Ant August 14, 2007 at 4:06 am

I gather the ones in cages are waiting for the soup pot, while indeed they sit playing chess


Rachael August 14, 2007 at 6:03 am



Thoms August 18, 2007 at 1:02 pm

Did the ‘legendary t-shirt’ go missing that night mate? That’s quite a strange one…bet you didn’t think you would get em back.


Matt September 23, 2007 at 3:59 am

I take it you missed the Tsunami then…I thought I’d pass a snippet on

BEIJING (AP) — The number of dead or missing in China from Typhoon Kaemi approached 100 on Friday, as gales and rains continued to batter the nation’s densely populated eastern and central provinces, state media said.
The official death toll from Kaemi, which hit China’s southeast coast Tuesday night before being downgraded to a tropical storm, has risen to 32, while at least 65 are missing, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Kaemi is the fifth typhoon to hit China this year and has caused scenes of misery and devastation, striking rural communities ill-prepared for the relentless bad weather.

State television showed footage of farmers fleeing their flooded homes, one of them carrying a tiny and fragile-looking old woman huddled into a basket.

You can read the rest at

Big Bro.


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