Archive for September, 2011

More Beijing tango

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

After Tuesday night’s successful foray into Beijing tango I decided to have another outing. It’s not like Buenos Aires with a choice of half a dozen or more milongas on a weeknight, but there actually is some tango somewhere most nights of the week. On Thursday night it was the “Tango at it’s core” milonga organised by Beijing Tango and held above the Sino-Chu wine bar. Their website hadn’t been updated for a while but a phone call confirmed it was on.

I went with Dawn and Phillip. We got there for the last hour. There were only four couples and a couple of spare leaders when we arrived, dancing to traditional music organised in tandas. The standard of dancing was a little higher than on Tuesday, not that it mattered much to me. I’m so out of practice that I brought the average well down. Another couple and a single follower arrived after us. Amazingly Dawn knew the lone follower. It’s a small world!  Unlike on Tuesday night, most of the dancers there were foreigners, although all seemed to be resident in Beijing.

It was another fun night and I was tempted to go to a third milonga on Friday night. Instead I ended up at a couchsurfing meeting/meal and afterwards a jazz/swing club. The music was good and there were dancers there, but they were doing lindy hop or east coast swing so I just watched and listened. Nevertheless it was a good night out.

More Beijing sightseeing

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

After the previous night’s milonga I had a well deserved lay in and then ventured out for more Beijing sightseeing. First though I did a recce to find out where the buses to the Great Wall leave from. Actually there are several, it depends which part of the wall you want to visit. I decided on Mutianyu and after the recce decided to go for the more expensive but simpler option of taking an organised tour.

I had ambitious plans to see both the Lama Temple and the Summer Palace but ended up enjoying the tranquility of the Lama Temple for too long. The Summer Palace will have to wait for another day.

It was an early start this morning for the great wall tour. I booked it with Happy Dragon hostel and at 7am was enjoying their breakfast. We set off at the appointed time – 7:30am to pick up participants from other hostels. None of them were keen to be on time. Eventually we set off for the wall at Mutianyu and arrived about an hour and a half later. There were a bunch of stalls selling souvenirs and snacks, including “Manual dumplings” at the start of the walk up to the wall. I wonder what an automatic dumpling is like? Most of us opted for the (extra) 65CNY chair lift up to the wall. Five minutes of extra sightseeing or thirty minutes hot and sweaty walking in the trees; no contest really. The Mutianyu section of the wall is 2.5km long and includes 23 watch towers. The walkway is in places smooth slabs, in others steps. I for one would not want to assault the wall. Nowadays artillery would punch a hole though it without any difficulty but at the time it was built an attacker would have needed massive superiority of numbers to have a chance of overpowering the defenders. I walked the full 5km round trip in a couple of hours, grateful that the temperature was a few degrees cooler than yesterday and the sun was mostly hidden behind the clouds. As an alternative to walking or taking the chair lift down they have a toboggan run. The attendants waved their arms theatrically and shouted at me to slow down but where would the fun have been in that? Full speed is the only speed!

Milonga in Beijing

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Qantas and Dragonair did a perfectly fine job of moving me from Bangkok to Beijing via Hong Kong. Taxis and tube played their part too and 14 hours after setting off from my hostel I met my couchsurfing hosts for the next few days.

Beijing airport had a slightly cold, clinical, unfriendly feel to it. My hosts on the other hand are very friendly and helpful. My first surfing experience through the couchsurfing website is off to a great start and looks like it will be very successful indeed. Despite the late hour of my arrival we ate dinner and chatted for a couple of hours. I’m staying with a couple. Phillip’s not a dancer but Dawn is. And she was up for trying a milonga.

Next morning Dawn accompanied me to the railway station and helped me buy a ticket for Xi’an. Without her help I doubt I’d have managed it. There is no concession to foreigners here. Everything is in Mandarin. Very few people I’ve encountered speak any English. And presumably not any French, Spanish, German etc. either. Anyway, I’ll be heading for Xi’an a couple of days later than I would have liked and in a soft rather than hard sleeper but at least I’ll be heading there.

Getting around Beijing is easy enough on the subway. The buses are probably not so easy because of the language issue. Walking is possible but it’s a large city so not always practical.

After the railway station I hit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square is a vast space enclosed by symbolic gates and crowd control barriers. Towards the southern end of the square is the Mao Zedung memorial hall. Close to the centre is the Monument to the Peoples’ Heroes and at the northern end the National Flag. Across the road to the north is the Gate of Heavenly Peace; the entrance to the Forbidden City. East and West of the square are huge concrete buildings housing the National Museum of China and the Great Hall of People. The square was not very busy and only a very small percentage of the visitors were foreigners. For over five centuries the Forbidden City was the preserve of emperors, concubines and courtiers. Riff raff were not allowed. Maybe that explains why the huge spaces felt austere and unwelcoming. Or maybe there just weren’t enough people there to make the now uninhabited city feel vibrant and alive.

After a day of traipsing around and riding the subway a milonga was just what I needed to perk me up. ATERtango run a milonga every Tuesday night at 8:30pm. Dawn is primarily a swing dancer but there is no swing dancing in Beijing. She was game for some Argentine tango though and accompanied me to the milonga. We arrived towards the end of a class. There were about 15 people there, with girls outnumbering the guys about two to one. A few more people arrived after the class finished which improved the balance. I was very rusty – only one milonga and no classes in almost six months has not improved my dancing – but I also had novelty value as the only obvious foreigner in the room. The people were friendly, the music was traditional and in tandas, and I had a good time. Dawn enjoyed it too.