Beijing’s many gems and the unfamiliar hidden gems, by Lucille Van Niekerk

I have now been in Beijing for almost 8 months and still haven’t fully seen all this wonderful city has to offer. I will list some wonderful places to wet your appetite but indulge me and allow me to offer you my own personal version of gems I discovered in Beijing. The following will probably be the 10 tourist sites that you must see when in Beijing it will transform you with it’s rich culture and beauty.

1. Forbidden City- one of the worlds greatest palaces
2. Summer Palace
3. Temple of heaven
4. Tiananmen Square – largest city in the world
5. Beihai Park – Central Beijing. You can ice skate on the lake in winter and stroll around it in spring.
6. Lama Temple – one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world built by the Chinese.
7. Nanluoguxiang is Beijing’s yuppie street. The nightlife and trendy bars and restaurants are great.
8. Art District
9. Golou and Zhonglou – official timekeepers during the Yuan and Ming dynasties.
10. Badaling – easiest access to the Great wall of China

In all fairness the above is probably not unheard of to most of you flirting with the idea of coming to China. If you anything like I was I googled and read about all that China especially Beijing had to offer. However, what this didn’t show me that my experience here has, is that added to it’s rich culture and beauty day to day life as well has many hidden gems.

Allow me to extrapolate. In my day to day life perusing Beijing and living here these are what I would call hidden gems in my opinion.

1. Dancing in the park and any available space
You will find Old Chinese people dancing and they take it very seriously. It is very beautiful. You will see Chinese dancing, Arabic dancing, Salsa dancing, however with a small catch. They interpret all these various dances with Chinese music. They are very welcoming and enjoy foreigners watching them. I on the other hand have a great affinity for dancing and couldn’t resist joining. It was salsa music accompanied by yes you guessed it Chinese music. This was a first for me as I am used to salsa music. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and the instructor politely took me under her wing supervising me and instructing me. She was very pleased but admonished me for too much hip movement. I now fearfully salsa with less hip action as her disapproving face is etched in my mind and I don’t want to disappoint her.

2. Scooters
You can buy a scooter for next to nothing without a license. It is wonderful. Many of the foreign teachers have scooters and it is so much fun. I, myself haven’t yet procured one but have been fortunate enough to be a passenger on numerous occasions. It truly is so much fun and although the Chinese loosely interpret traffic rules owning a scooter almost makes you immune to any traffic rules. It truly is pure joy and I have noticed that most of the owners with scooters walk with a confidence that speaks volumes because if you can drive in this traffic you have gained an important skill – great defense driving skills.

3. Foreigner magic
Truly been a foreigner in China especially Beijing comes with many perks. The Chinese are more kind, forgiving and accepting of our foibles and mistakes than with their own countrymen. I think they put all our mistakes down to just been a foreigner. They will go out of their way to assist you. My transport card wouldn’t work because I forgot to swipe when I got out of the bus and this can lead to a fine or other problems. When I took the subway it wouldn’t let me enter due to this mistake. To cut a long story short when they found someone who spoke English and explained to me the mistake I was willing to pay but the foreigner magic worked and they swiped some things smiled at me and kindly sent me on my way. Rachel, a colleague of mine had a flat tire on her scooter. A resident in her block refused to leave her alone until it was sorted. They paid for the tire, found a person to fix it, stayed with her and offered to take her to lunch.

I have many more personal instances of day to day gems but I am afraid instead of a blog piece it will turn into a mini dissertation. If you have stayed with me thus far I would like you know that no amount of research and reading prior to coming will aptly give you a sense of China. An open mind, a child like joy for learning new things and realizing that you are in a different country so it will not be like home.

It is interesting. It is unique. I am glad I came.

Posted in Uncategorized.