Embarked on a five-hour odyssey to get my onward travel booked. If all goes well, I’ll be on a train to Lhasa on Friday. Tibet requires two special permits, which take five days to process. All aspects of the tour must be submitted and approved by the authorities. I am greatly looking forward to Tibet.
I decide that my first Beijing experience will be authentic Peking Duck. Everybody offers that here but I choose the upscale Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant, and order half a duck with all the options. Shortly after a chef rolls up a workbench to my table and deftly carves the duck into bite-size pieces, with the best part of the skin on a separate plate. A waitress demonstrates the proper procedure: take a thin pancake, arrange some duck dipped in a dark mu-shu sauce, vegetables, skin, and roasted garlic on it, and fold it to a small pocket. It’s absolutely delicious. The meat is tender, the skin is crisp yet glossy with grease, but it somehow doesn’t taste greasy at all. Wonderful. You haven’t eaten Peking Duck if you didn’t eat it in Beijing. Of course it was fantastically expensive – 15 euro!
Tiananmen square is huge, but not as large and as forbidding as I expected. I guess we all associate tanks with the name, but there is a lot of green, with tourists strolling and taking pictures, and a fat obelisk in the center. It’s sunny and quite hot, and a van sells drinks at low supermarket prices, is that supposed to be capitalism? In order to get onto the square, you have to pass a police checkpoint and have your bag inspected. A few soldiers guard the square, but it’s all very civilized and friendly.
In the late afternoon a wind comes up, it gets cooler, and the sun disappears into a yellow haze. It’s a mild sand storm, very fine sand gets into my eyes and my ice cream. I hear that these sand storms can become quite serious in summer. So I take a tuk-tuk back. I have seen very few cyclists, cars have taken over Beijing. Right of way is determined by mass – bigger is better. Even old ladies at zebra crossings are mercilessly cut off. Like last night, the driver is confused by the hutongs (narrow old lanes) around the hostel; about a third of the old hutongs have escaped modernization and road widening. They are not ancient like in Pingyao, but much nicer to stroll in than the big roads packed with traffic.