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China 8: A glimpse of old Peking

The area south of Tiananmen Square is a good place to get a flavour of commercial Peking/Beijing from Ming dynasty days. The modernised shopping streets carry a heritage vibe though beyond them are the best bits – old, far more original neighbourhoods.

After visiting the city wall ruins we subwayed over to where we began our Tiananmen Square visit a couple of days before.

Being a good head above everyone else is a godsend in crammed trains. Sorry to everyone at our armpit level!

Being a good head above everyone else is a godsend in crammed trains. Sorry to everyone at our armpit level!

From under the Arrow Tower looking to the Zhengyangmen Gate.

From under the Arrow Tower looking to the Zhengyangmen Gate.

One of the Arrow Tower's guardians.

One of the Arrow Tower’s guardians.

Approaching the decorative gate thingy at the top of Qianmen St.

Approaching the decorative gate thingy at the top of Qianmen St.

Looking back to the Arrow Tower.

Looking back to the Arrow Tower.

Qianmen Street is an historic shopping street and was one of the many, many landmarks refurbished in the lead up to the 2008 Olympics. This was a bit controversial as many buildings were demolished. However, they used photos from the 1920s and 1930s to guide the renovation and to my untrained eye it looks very similar. The street reopened the day before the Olympics started; luckily since it was part of the marathon route.

Since visiting Beijing I’ve wondered how different parts of the city would look if not for the Olympics. Probably a lot more run down.

Today Qianmen Street is a pedestrian mall

Today Qianmen Street is a pedestrian mall

...but it still has trams like it first did more than 100 years ago.

…but it still has trams like it first did more than 100 years ago.

Delving off down a side road

Delving off down a side road

Beijing means ‘north capital’ and was named such in the Ming dynasty when there was also a ‘south capital’, Nanjing. The name Peking was an older English variation of Beijing (based on an alternative phonetic pronunciation) and still gets used today such as the Beijing International Airport code PEK and of course Peking Duck. The Beijing spelling was made official in 1949 after the People’s Republic of China came into force.

As we came to realise in the souvenir shops, Beijing has a mildly unfortunate abbreviation…

No I did not buy this t-shirt.

No I did not buy this t-shirt.

We found a restaurant for lunch. If we were going to experience Peking Duck, this would have been the area to do it; unfortunately we got a fail on our Beijing scorecard for this as it just didn’t organically happen into our plans on the day.

Continuing west we followed a walking tour in the Lonely Planet book and entered an older area with an abundance of character, and best of all, very few other tourists.

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Think this was the site of an old temple

Think this was the site of an old temple

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Below the air conditioning units is a slogan from China's cultural revolution.

Below the air conditioning units is a slogan from China’s cultural revolution.

The artist coaxed us down the alley into her shop where we bought an arty thing for the house. I think most of our shopping on the trip was arty things.

The artist coaxed us down the alley into her shop where we bought an arty thing for the house. I think most of our shopping on the trip was arty things.

Don't follow me, I have no idea where I'm going.

Don’t follow me, I have no idea where I’m going.

When it's raining you probably want to swap your scooter for one of these three-wheel contraptions.

When it’s raining you probably want to swap your scooter for one of these contraptions.

Bustling with character and life. It was good too in that we were pretty much ignored.

Bustling with character and life. It was good too in that we were pretty much ignored.

After a lot of wandering around, jaded bodies were sent back the way they came. This was the day we went to the Tiananmen Square flag lowering ceremony and with time to kill, it was time for another refreshment stop.

It's tough being on holiday.

It’s tough being on holiday.

This was a great spot for people watching. Shame our hot chips didn’t arrive though.

This bar was a magnet for westerners. Those of us sitting out on the street front got lots of amused (I think) stares from Chinese walking by - not entirely sure why that was!

This bar was a magnet for westerners. Those of us sitting out on the street front got lots of amused (I think) stares from Chinese walking by – not entirely sure why that was!

Continuing our wanderings, I got side-tracked with silk – a famous commodity here, one of the stores dating back 120 years. I found some gorgeous outfits but the good stuff is expensive and I guess my heart wasn’t fully in it – or at least the vodka red bull wasn’t quite enough to make me fling around my credit card.

We walked down the middle of Qianmen Street and back, watching out for stealthy trams. Along here was another of the quirky things I came to associate with Beijing: vendors walking around selling gimmicky things that they continually demonstrated. There would always be several such individuals in a general area, always selling the same thing. If you go somewhere else, you’ll see lots of a different gimmicky thing. Here it was a kind of paper bird that would glide and flap around.

Later that night, after Tiananmen Square, we walked in search of The Place – a large well-to-do shopping mall. The purpose two-fold – it may have been the first time we actually high-fived each other with relief at having found toilets – and there’s a massive outdoor LED screen that kicks in with a video show every night.

B I G

B I G

That brought our day to an end – after another long one there was no way it was going to be a late night, and besides, we had to get up early for a date with a rather large wall.

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. I should cocoa! The BJ abbreviation is most unfortunate but very funny (Lottie’s school girl humour kicks in to play!!) and I love your description ‘decorative bridge thingy’ that made me smile, I most definitely would have got stuck on how to describe it too! Well, I watched the part two of the bbc programme that I mentioned a few posts back and am now enchanted with the place. Your wonderful, evocative posts telling it like it is, your great humour and no-nonsense approach make this an interesting and informative journey, thanks Hayley! xxx

    8 November 2014
    • Thanks Lottie 🙂 that’s lovely of you to say – most of all though I’m really happy this has been able to throw a bit of a spotlight on the city. Now, if only I can rattle my dags (have you heard of that saying?) and finish the series! :/

      21 November 2014
  2. Haley, these are great and so educational. Love all the photos. They are terrific. My favorite photo is of the old house or some sort of building that has plants of some sort growing on the roof. You two sure covered a whole lot of territory in that trip.

    9 November 2014
    • Yvonne thank you, and sorry for my late reply – I’ve been very hands-off the blog for about three weeks now, which is concerning me since I really want to get the rest of these China posts written! My blog reading is similarly behind, yet again. In another few days this should start to resolve. That small house/building looks like it has been there a very long time, though from its current appearance I wonder how much longer it can last! It was such an interesting neighbourhood.

      21 November 2014
  3. It’s interesting to see how modern events — such as the Olympics — affect the history of a place. Good or bad? Maybe that’s up to future history to decide?

    And, thanks to reading your post, I know that the official word is “thingy” for the decoration at the top of Qianmen St.

    (The Beijing abbreviation? I LOL’d. I also wouldn’t have bought one either.) 🙂

    10 November 2014

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