6. The contrast. With all its economic development as well as the pressure added by hosting the 2008 Olympics, Beijing has done a lot to develop itself. The city boasts a lot of awesome buildings and skyscrapers that many visitors might not expect in this so-called communist country. While the city has done a lot to modernize itself, I am always happy to find that there are aspects of old Beijing life that still haven't faded away. You may walk out of a swish mall only to stumble upon a woman selling shoe inserts and socks on a blanket. In this city you can drop hundreds of dollars on a 5 star meal or spend 15 cents a skewer on barbeque lamb meat from a Uyghur street vendor. You can pull up to a traffic light in an Audi only to look next to you and find a trishaw or better yet, a donkey.
I was reminded of this contrast the other day while taking a walk from my hostel to the fairly upscale Wangfunjing shopping street. I crossed two lanes of honking traffic where in the middle of boulevard was an open area below street level. Steps led down to the space, in which lie ruins of a wall dating back to the Ming dynasty. An old man in a kung fu outfit stood amongst the stones, talking to a young man dressed in jeans and a polo shirt. After some discussion, the elderly gentlemen casually wiped out. . . a sword! He displayed it for the young man to admire. A security guard looked on, completely unfazed. I snapped a photo as evidence that things like this still can and do exist in the heart of Beijing.
7. The late nights. If you have the cash, Beijing can be a great place to drink, and best of all many places don't shut down until the last patron leaves (take that Wisconsin and your ridiculous 1:30am last calls). There's something for everyone in the city--clubs, lounges, live rock bands, sports bars, karaoke. Becky and I spent our first night enjoying some imported Belgiuan beer at Sanlitun south's Beer Mania where we got to overhear a very heated (and quite lengthy) debate over which city is better: Chicago or San Francisco. I think San Fran may have won, but we were silently routing for our beloved Windy City. Eavesdropping aside, this is a nice little place with a huge selection of beer. The following night I made Becky visit my favorite bar Bed, which has won numerous awards due to it's drinks, which actually taste like they are suppose to, and amazing atmosphere. If you are looking to impress a date, this is probably a safe bet.
8. The early mornings. If you stay up late enough or get up early enough, you'll get to see a side of Beijing many people don't often witness. In the wee hours of the morning, you'll find old people out exercising, buying vegetables, and practicing taiqi. You can also see the daily flag raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square. I have to admit, I've yet to make it there myself as I'm not much for waking up at 4:30am. It is on my Beijing "To Do" list. Hopefully I'll make it out of bed one of these times, but in any case, I like that the city comes alive hours before I'm awake.
9. The art. As some of you may know, I once dabbled in art a bit. Now I'm more of an onlooker than a participant. Luckily for me there is quite a bit happening in Beijing's up and coming art scene. While galleries can be found throughout the city, there is a whole district dedicated to them at 798. If you make it to Beijing, I do think it's worth the trouble of making it out past the fourth ring road to this very cool area and not only for the art. This is where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of Beijing's traffic, people, and high rises. You'll feel transported to another place while in the midst of this old warehouse district which has now been transformed into galleries, boutiques, and cafes.
10. Wudaokou. Wudaokou is an area of mainly students, many of them foreign. Back in '06 and '07 I lived just a stone's throw away from WDK and though I don't necessarily miss living there, I do always enjoy a return visit. The place is alive with people and places. Everything you could ever desire is sold by a street vendor. The latest novels (pirated and in English) can be purchased from a man with a cart for 12rmb ($2). If you don't like what he has to offer, there are four other men with carts down the way. You need a poster of Audrey Hepburn? Look no further! A sequined baseball cap? It's done! A new pet? They've got rabbits, puppies, and chipmunks! If the street side shopping weren't enough, there are also great student hangouts like yummy Lush or one of my favorite cafes, Sculpting in Time. Becky and I went there for La Bamba, a (American) Mexican restaurant serving super cheap and pretty delicious drinks and food. For a mere US$6 I made myself sick on nachos, quesadillas, and a pina colada. Life just doesn't get any better than that. I heart BJ.