A glimpse of Beijing’s Past and Present

In several short decades, Zhongshan Suit have given way to blue jeans, traditional brick courtyards have morphed into skyscrapers, and millions of bike owners have upgraded to cars. This Beijing China travel is meant to give you a glimpse of Beijing’s past, present, and future – all of which exist side by side in this rapidly transitioning capital.

Panjiayuan

Chairman Mao memorabilia, black-and-white photographs of Beijing’s streets, and traditional minority costumes can be found in the bustling stalls of Beijing’s best antiques and curio market. We prefer coming on weekends for the wonderful buzz. Vendors from all over China convene here: Folk artists, Tibetans in canvas robes, and hill tribes people from rural parts of China wearing brightly embroidered dresses begin pulling cartloads of traditional wares to the market starting just after sunrise, though the market’s gates don’t open until 8am. The weekdays are less busy, but sometimes better for bargaining since there are fewer travelers. No one can vouch for the authenticity of the supposed antiques that are offered here, so bargain hard.

Beijing Municipal Planning Exhibition Hall

The 20-minute taxi ride from Panjiayuan (if the traffic is decent) will feel like a huge leap forward in time once you’re immersed in this high-tech museum, which gives you a glimpse of tomorrow’s Beijing. Several of the exhibitions are interactive, including the scale model of Beijing that you can actually walk on. I highly recommend the short movies, offered at half-hour intervals and in English on request. The 3D movie, complete with the funny glasses, tells the history of Beijing’s development. The 4D movie—more like a ride at an amusement park — takes you on a travel of Beijing’s future subway lines, which will supposedly connect any two points in Beijing in less than an hour. Even if it is propaganda, it’s still good fun.

Laoshe Teahouse

A 15-minute walk from the Exhibition Hall, this old teahouse recently underwent a slick makeover, but still offers the same traditional tea and afternoon musical performances with Chinese instruments like the zither and the erhu, a Chinese violin.

Capital Museum

A 30-minute subway ride (take a taxi, if you’re feeling lazy) will take you to one of China’s best designed museums. The Capital Museum displays artifacts from Beijing’s past and present, including bronzes, photographs, and models of traditional courtyard gates. The fifth floor has interesting exhibitions on Beijing folk customs and the Peking Opera, with live performances on Saturday from 10am to noon. It’s a good way to sample Peking Opera music (which isn’t to everyone’s liking) since you can always move on to the next exhibition without the embarrassment of sneaking out of a theater. The basement cafe offers an impressive range of international foods.

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