Beijing’s New Attraction: Qianmen Dajie

Beijing’s Qianmen Dajie (Front Door Main Street) was the city’s busiest and most famous business street during the late 19th century and the early 20th century. The street, in decline since the mid 20th century, has recently been restored to its look in its prime, lined with wooden buildings and decorated in “old Beijing” style. Famous traditional Beijing eateries are grouped into a corner of the street.

To be reminiscent of the “old Beijing”, the place has a tram running, which was a familiar Beijing sight from 1924 to 1966. The tram’s whole journey is about 10 minutes, crossing the whole breadth of the street of more than 800m.

The restored Qianmen Dajie has been open to the public since May 2008, after a 2-year facelift work.

Hangzhou Accommodation – Youth Hostel (Part One)

Hangzhou International Youth Hostel at the Nanshan Road (No.101-3 Nanshan Road) is very ideally located – just right at the side of the beautiful West Lake. Opposite is the famous China Arts Institute (中國美術學院).  Nearby, on the tree-lined Nanshan road, you can find good bars, teahouses, restaurants, cafes, museums and galleries.

You cannot find another youth hostel in the whole Hangzhou such nicely located. I was very impressed by the location when I visited it years ago.

The hostel is well run and has a nice garden and a tastefully decorated spacious living room. Room price ranges from US$4 in a dorm to US$ 18 for a single private ensuite. Some rooms have view over the West Lake.

You can book online here via Hostel World.

The “Book City” in Beijing

It is common knowledge for the Beijing locals that, if you want to buy books, go for the array of bookstores converging in the Haidian area(海淀區) , where all the prominent universities are located, such as Qinghua University or Beijing University.

Since May 2007, the bookstore area called Book City (圖書城) has been given a facelift by the authorities, with grey as the standardized color of the area, and allowing only bookstores or culture related businesses in operation. Some new bookstores have moved in.

Though the color of the City is drab, it now boasts hosting some of the “vanguard” bookstores in China, such as the reputedly first and only 24 hour bookstore Guang He Zuo Yong (photosynthesis, 光合作用), focusing on lifestyle books with coffee shop attached, and the giant Di San Ji (The Third Pole﹐第三極) bookstore, which claims to be the biggest bookstore in the world with the widest choice of books. I am not sure its claim is valid but the bookstore has become a new force in Beijing’s book industry, with its 20,000 sq meters of floor areas and 300,000 books on offer. The Beijing University is just around its corner.

In the Book City, you can also find secondhand and specialty bookstores, galleries, stationery shops, and so on.

Foreign visitors may think the Book City offers Chinese books only and hence irrelevant to them. Wrong. You can also find English books, Japanese books and Korean books here. In the Di San Ji bookstore, for instance, one area is devoted to second hand foreign language books, including some real bargain second hand English books.

Beijing’s New Air Terminal

Beijing’s new air terminal, Terminal 3 at Beijing Capital International Airport, reputedly the world’s largest airport building, will start trial operations this Friday, 29 Feb.

The new terminal will have 64 restaurants, 90 shops and a high-speed commuter train that will transport passengers to the city centre. And its runway is big enough to handle the huge Airbus A380 superjumbo. Its floor space, to match up to its reputation as the world’s largest airport building,  is nearly 100 hectares.

The building, designed by the famous British architect Lord Foster, is decked out in red columns and gold roof, the typical “Chinese elements”, an evocation of the imperial palaces in ancient China.

What interests me most is that the state media hailed its world-record pace of construction – finished in under four years. But not to forget that it also means a world-record pace of destruction – more than 10,000 villages have been demolished over a short period of time to pave way for the construction.

And the fast pace is intended – to open the new air terminal in time for the Olympics in August when a huge number of visitors are expected and the current airport capacity can hardly cope.

Hangzhou food and restaurants (part two)

lou wai lou restaurant
lou wai lou restaurant

“Lou Wai Lou” is Hangzhou’s oldest, most authentic and best restaurant. It is said any trip to the city must include a visit to this Hangzhou restaurant, if only to sample the great atmosphere of the place. The restaurant is located at the lake side and has great views over the West Lake. It is lit up like a beacon at dusk, a symbol of the restaurant’s superb status.

Address: Solitary Island, West Lake, Hangzhou

“Yao Bu De” restaurant is a specialty shop selling fried buns. The bun’s bottom part is slightly burned and crispy, while the upper part soft. The most interesting aspect is the bun is very juicy. When you take a bite, the juice, very hot, splashes in all directions from your mouth. You have to be careful and skillful eating it. That is why the restaurant is named “Yao Bu De’”, meaning not to bite. But then you find the whole eating experience memorable.

The making of such buns has a long history. It was said to be a favorite food of the Emperor of Gao Zhu in Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). In Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties, it became popular in the region of Shanghai, Hangzhou and their neighboring areas.

Address: Wen Er Road