The heart of China and Chinese culture, the ancient city draws both Chinese and Westerner alike

The high-speed rail from ShenZhen to Beijing is much like the Shinkansen. I only wish there was an equivalent for the Japan Rail Pass to explore more freely.


I make a brief one night stop in ShangHai. My walk along The Bund was marred by the persistent solicitation of a pimp. "Don't you like girls?" he quips.

The cross-city maglev train in ShangHai is the fastest in the world. The design is rather 80s futuristic.

Arriving in Beijing, I have a traditional Beijinger breakfast: fried dough and soy milk. I've seen "Breakfasts around the world" on the internet and don't know how they get it so wrong. Noodles? Not likely.

Peking Duck

I've never been a fan of duck until I tried it in Beijing. North American versions of Peking duck always seem to have too much unrendered fat. If there's only one dish to try in Beijing, this is it.

The duck is parted and used in 3 separate dishes and a soup. Duck skin with sugar might sound odd, but it works.

Traffic in China feels like a game of chicken between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. You have to be assertive and rely on the awareness of others to not crash into you. Paradoxically there is perhaps more order in high traffic intersections - you can't charge across the street through a steady torrent of cars.

The toxic driving culture in China is systemic - you have to drive like an asshole to get anywhere. Rather than risking my life attempting to drive the Chinese way, my cousin (who lives in the city) acts as my chauffeur.

At 2 Yuan (30 cents) per trip, any distance, the subway is the cheapest and least stressful way to get around (just avoid rush hour). Taxis are also extremely cheap and convenient, one of the things I miss most about Beijing.

Powered tricycles are supposed to be illegal, but they litter the roads anyway. Many act as mini-cabs, taking passengers on short trips for a few yuan. Occassionally they flock down the street in great packs mimicing migratory birds, after police sporadically crack down to keep up appearances.

Most of Beijing looks like this: rows upon rows of homogeneous apartment buildings. The view out of my apartment is quite nice immediately after a rain storm.

Pollution is like bad weather, something unavoidable that fades into the background. There are days when you can't see across the street, but mostly it looks like this - a light grey haze that stretches into the horizon.

Beijing is if nothing else a tourist city. The major attractions are an obligatory, but ultimately forgettable experience.

The Olympic pool is now a water park. They made me swim a few laps to prove that I won't drown before admitting me to the deep end.

Surveillance, commerce and unabashed opportunism - Tiananmen square is a striking microcosm of China itself. Dozens of merchants wearing red armbands hawk their wares to tourists.

The Great Wall is definitely worth a visit, though the hike may be strenuous for some.

For the real magic of the Great Wall, stay the night. Photo credit to my cousin.

I enjoy walking on the sidestreets in Beijing, taking in the surroundings. There's always something odd and wonderful around the corner.

During my time here Mcdonalds and Pizza Hut had a bad meat scandal - even the big franchises aren't immune from food safety issues it seems. Fishing in the forbidden moat might just be the most sensible choice for your health.

They call these ubiquitous road-side BBQs "dirty kabobs". An electric fan bathes the entire block in pungent smoke. Sometimes I think these are solely responsible for Beijing's pollution problem.

Restaurants and foreigners in abundance on the streets of Beijing. In some other parts of the country the sight of a foreigner is still a novelty, here it's not a big deal.

The 798 art district came highly recommended. The wikipedia article gave me the impression of a much grungier, raw experience than the reality. Maybe it was better before it gentrified.

Probably the only place you'll see graffiti in Beijing

Anime and western superheroes are big in China too. I attend "Comic Con" in Beijing, though I suspect it's not licensed.

Several thousand people line up outside, waiting to be admitted. We pay 20 yuan and are quietly led in through the side entrance.

At the end of my trip, my cousin and I camp at Ling Shan. The lights of Beijing illuminate the distant skies.

As night sets we huddle back to shelter. It's much colder than we expected, and the wind threatens to abscond with our tent and food.

The party builds a fire to stave off the cold. After a few hours the group decides to descend the mountain before freezing to death.

My cousin had always wanted to take pictures of the stars, but couldn't with the air and light pollution. I ask him why he lives in Beijing despite the pollution and high cost of living - He says he can't imagine living anywhere else.

Up on the mountain the air is crystal clear. The stars shine brightly in the sky, and the sounds of the city are but distant echos in the wind.