Trip Start Jun 03, 2006
4Trip End Jun 21, 2006
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The first change I found stepping out of the airport on a Saturday evening was that the taxis had been updated, with the little red ones replaced by blue-and-gold or green-and-gold striped vehicles. The pollution on the way downtown hadn't changed though - it hovered over the city like a thick fog, as it had ever since I first visited ten years ago.
Since my friends wouldn't arrive for another few hours, after checking in at the hotel I headed to Oriental Plaza to do some shopping
My friends arrived later that night, and in the morning we headed out to some of Beijing's parks. Beihai Park was a completely different world from the young mall scene of last night - early in the morning (we were jet lagged), the parks were filled with retirees doing everything from fan dances to martial arts practice to singing to writing elegant calligraphy on the ground with large, oversized brushes.
Tiantan (Temple of Heaven) Park was much the same, with dozens if not hundreds of people playing badminton and other games in the still-cool morning air, a stone's throw away from one of Beijing's most famous landmarks. The Temple of Heaven itself was just renovated recently, restoring the complex to its original bright red-and-blue splendor.
For the most part, I spent the remainder of my days in Beijing visiting friends, avoiding the tourist sights (in the meantime, my friends visited Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and Peking University)
We went to the Mutianyu section, which is farther away from Beijing - and consequently less visited - than the nearer Badaling section I'd seen before. It's much nicer than the overcrowded Badaling portion; the Mutianyu wall is high up on a mountain ridge, offering a much more dramatic vista, and without the crowds we were able to walk up and down the steep steps without jostling for space. As it turned out, Mutianyu was just the first of several truly picturesque areas we were able to see on this trip - Guilin, where we were headed next, was supposed to be even more scenic.