I Heart My City: Colleen’s Beijing

In our January-February issue, now on newsstands, writer Colleen Kinder shows travelers how to tap into expat communities to give their trip an insider edge. To research the article, Colleen consulted several expat cultural houses and foreigners’ clubs in Beijing, China– her new home. She picked up so many great tips that, for today’s I Heart My City, we asked Colleen, to share a few of the things that didn’t make it into the pages of the magazine. Read Colleen’s guide to Beijing, then tell us what you love about the Chinese capital in the comments section below.

Beijing is My City

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is the highest pavilion of Jingshan Park, where you can peer right down on the Forbidden City.

When I crave Yunnan food I always go to Yun Er Town, an alley-side joint with rooftop seating and outstanding cuisine from the south of China.

To escape smog, I head to Mutianyu for a hike along not-yet-restored sections of the Great Wall.

If I want to wander, I turn down the nearest hutong, or alleyway, where all the homes and shops are one-story and eye-candy is everywhere.

For complete quiet, I can hide away at the Bookworm Cafe, a cozy cafe where the walls are lined with nonfiction books about China.

If you come to my city, get your picture taken with the wax statue of Peking opera star Mei Lanfang, at Zhengyici Theater.

If you have to order one thing off the menu from a dive restaurant, it has to be whatever the table of six beside you is feasting on.

The shops along Nan Luo Guxian are my one-stop shop for Mao kitsch, though Panjiayuan is the place for fake antiques.

Locals know to skip the Donghuamen Snack Night Market, where scorpions are sold on sticks and the food is no more than a photo-op, and go to a provincial restaurant for authentic regional cuisine instead.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I look for stacks of dumpling containers outside any tiny eatery, and order a fresh-steamed batch of dumplings for no more than a dollar.

For a huge splurge I go to Dali Courtyard, a prix fixe restaurant tucked back in the city’s alleys, where Yunnan treats are served on tiny plates.

Tiananmen Square (Photo: Jia Kerin/My Shot)

 

Photo ops in my city include Tian’nanmen Square just before dusk, when the crowds thin and the light softens.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be contemporary artist Ai Wei Wei.

The most random thing about my city is how frequently you just end up in malls.

My city has the most decked out, brand-name-wearing men.

My city has the most unabashed dancing women, who crowd the city’s parks with mass dances.

In my city, an active day outdoors involves bicycling in the rush hour fleets.

My city’s best museum is the Urban Planning Museum, for its futuristic models of Beijing.

My favorite walking route is around the grounds of the Summer Palace.

For cocktails, go to Mao Mao Chong.

"Ghost Street" (Photo: Colleen Kinder)

 

Dongzhimen Nei Da Jie, or “Ghost Street,” a long lane strung with red lanterns, is the spot for late-night eats.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read City Weekend.

You can tell a lot about my city from looking at a subway map of 2015 and noting all the new routes and stops.

You can tell if someone is from my city if they praise clean air elsewhere.

In the winter you should order the noodle bowl and heap on the spice.

In the spring you should fly kites by Houhai Lake.

In the summer you should sign up for Beijing Hikers trips.

In the fall you should bike whenever possible.

A hidden gem in my city is Dongjiao Market, a wholesale market for restaurants and hotels that features tea stores and kitchenware emporiums.

For a great breakfast joint try Jin Ding Xuan, a dim sum restaurant open 24 hours a day.

Don’t miss The Strawberry Music Festival, an outdoor music festival in April/May.

Just outside my city, you can visit Caochangdi, a village and arts area nearby the better-known 798 Art District.

The best way to see my city is to ride the comprehensive subway system, and get off at random points. You’ll get a sense of just how tall and dense Beijing is, even in the city’s peripheries.

If my city were a pet it would be a tiny dog. They’re everywhere.

If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live in a courtyard house by the Great Wall.

The best book about my city is anything by Peter Hessler, the former New Yorker correspondent in China.

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the Water Cube (or Beijing National Aquatics Center) .

Chemically-engineered rain could only happen in my city.

My city should be featured on your cover or website because it changes in a blink. You never encounter the same Beijing twice.

Tell us what you love about Beijing. Leave the details in the comments section below.

Want to see your city on Intelligent Travel? Copy and paste our list of fill-in-the-blank questions into an e-mail, fill in your answers, and send your responses (with any photos, videos or links) to IntelligentTravel@ngs.org.

Photo: Wei Xia/My Shot

Related:

[Beijing Photos]

[Beijing City Guide]