Half a year flew by working, while my diary notes covering the week after the Beijing Olympics in August 2008 were left untouched. Back that time, my wife Shanshan and daughter Nicole had returned to Brussels, so did my Belgian colleagues Zhijun and Rik, while my other colleague Fred had hopped to Japan to realise his Tokyo dream. Meanwhile I moved from the Yong An hotel - who intended to charge me a staggering 430 euro per night for the extra stay - to the Huadu Hotel on Xingyuan South Road nearby (80 euro per night for much better service). This extra week after the Olympics was a fantastic opportunity to discover the former imperial capital, but first I needed to recover a couple of days reading & sleeping. As if nature wanted have its final say, heavy rain continuously poured out of the city skies, which had been artificially kept clear during most of the Games.
My nice Shunrun - a.k.a. Baobao - was so kind to guide me around. Wednesday 27th August we visited the magnificent palace of Prince Gong and the former residence of Soong Ching Ling near the lakes in the Xicheng District. Unfortunately the Drum & Bell Towers were still closed after the fatal incident during the Games, but we enjoyed some excellent xiao chi (snacks) and pear juice (Boabao's favorite).
Thursday 28th we visited the Dashanzhi art district, the Beijing Urban Planning Centre near Tiananmen with a huge mock-up of the city and the Vancouver pavilion to heat up the Winter Olympic Games in 2010. In the evening we were served tea and traditional Chinese spectacle in the Laotse tea house, where baobao was especially impressed by the performance of the Shaolin monks.
An early start on Friday 29th allowed me and my cousin Shanzhou to enter the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall and Qianmen (without our personal belongings and camera). The solemn atmosphere inside the mausoleum acted as a silent reminder that the Chairman's heritage has left an enduring mark on the People's Republic outside. The Qianmen gate on the other hand, which used to be a enclosed square and Southern gate to the old city, provides an unforgettable view on the Tiananmen square. Afterwards our party strolled near Qianmen Dajie, which has always been a shopping centre since Beijing's early days. We bought some traditional Chinese medicine in the Tongrentang drugstore - in the hope of suppressing my painful cough - and ate the best baotzi around in "Gou Bu Li". "Gou bu li" means "dog doesn't bark" and that's because the dog is more interested in snatching the delicious buns, as opposed to guarding the house. Late afternoon the rain locked us in the Lama temple North-East of the city, so we were left contemplated the monk's eternal chants under the watchful eye of the Bodhisattva. This joyful event - according to Baobao - indicated good luck, so I bowed 3 times before the Medicine King (for my health) and she 3 times (no more no less) before a God of Wisdom & Study.
The entire Saturday was dedicated to the visit of Yuanyuanming. Though the old Summer Palace was destroyed in 1860 by English and French troops in the wake of the 2nd Opium War, I really wanted to visit this place, as Shanshan always recalled her careless student days, when she was still studying and lecturing at guo ji guan xi xue yuan ("Institute of International Relations") nearby. In the evening we savoured tea in a traditional Buddhist tea house, which was recommended by Shanshan's friend Emily.
Curious how many chi gong diehards really were early birds, I cycled to Tiantan at 6 o'clock in the morning. To my utmost amazement, the whole parc was already filled with elderly practitioners of ancient and contemporary hobbies, including flying kites, chanting opera, shadow sword fighting and some sort of yin/yang dance/badminton. Indeed the fresh and crisp air warranted an early start of the day. This last Sunday of my Olympic month, we listened to music and watched dance in Beihai and Jingshan parc. The mountain in the Jingshan protected the Forbidden City for the evil currents from the North, and on top provided an amazing view across the horizons which were still unusually clear. In the evening we were welcomed by the residents of some traditional houses in Shi Sha Hai, introduced by a friend of my cousin Shanzhou. This allowed us to admire the old Beijing style bungalows, which are normally off-limits for tourists.
Anyway my walk from Jinshaling to Simatai - a wilder piece of the long wall - would be left for another trip. The day before departure (at 1 o'clock in the morning), I nearly ruined Emily bike after returning the SIM-card of my mobile phone at DHQ in the Olympic Parc, but a skilled mechanic at a road shop got pedals, spare parts and all together after 2 hours for less then 10 euro. Luckily the bike could return to its stable in one piece, and with a stomach stuffed with Cantonese delicacies, it was my turn to fly westward, were work has been calling ever since.
Chairman Mao Memorial Hall Qianmen Southern Gate of Tiananmen square Rainy reflection inside the Lama temple Finding the cure in Tongrentang drugstore CCTV Tower - Vancouver pavilion - Tea house Baobao scouting for her univsity from the sky Baobao in Yuanyuanming What's left of the old Summer Palace Inside a Beijing bungalow My cousin Shanzhou and her friend who guided us through Shi Sha Hai Friendly beijingers who raced us through town with their cute red automobile Dancing in the streets Never resist making a photo of the temple of heaven In preparation of the Beijing 2008 Paralymic Games Group medidation amidst the trees Me as walking target for throwing rings Life-saving surgery on Emily's bike Drum tower & lanterns View South from Jingshan parc to the Forbidden City Happy Hour with Tia - Olympic Gold for Women's High Jump - after the Games (one of the torch bearers joined our Belgian Team) The Atos Origin Olympic Team counting 400 heads