Visitors at Mutinanyu, Great Wall, China.

Visitors at Mutinanyu, Great Wall, China.

While we have written else where about the magic of China, the city of Beijing we found fascinating.

We write this now having been to other Chinese cities.

We found the welcome great and the history extremely interesting. For a capital city it was enormous now its population stands at 16 million. We lived in our younger years in London, but Beijing and Shanghai are twice as big as London, add on the city of New York and you have the same population

The Olympics building programme meant that the population went from 13-15 million with migrant workers coming from the country to work on building sites, hotels roads buses and trains. Another one million was added as the city expanded outwards too. This is all within a decade.

It has now surpassed its southern Rival Shanghai by a million.

Beijing is a cultural centre with a history going back thousands of years. Foreign influence was limited although Marco Polo made it there too. The wall was built outside the city to keep out the Genghis Khan and Mongol tribes from the city . This was build with slave and captured labour and is well worth a visit.

Beijing was thus protected, the Forbidden city and areas of lanes or hutongs as they are called are thus well preserved. Invaders may have come later but did not destroy the place. The forbidden city is still well intact

Temples and walled city remind one of medieval times. We were invaded so often in Ireland by Cromwell and others before him meant that our towns have been rebuilt many times. Not so Beijing, you feel it when you go there.

The famous Tianenmen Square is just nearby the Forbidden city and is kept under guard as is the famous Chairman Mao tomb. Hordes of tourists now go there.

We preferred the parks and drum tower nearby as well as the old lanes where you could stop in a shop of café and watch what was happening. Here we met David who used to live in Dundalk back in the 80s, and now teaches calligraphy and had rented a shop during the Olympic Games.

A great character he thought we were German initially, which helps in price negotiation, he said, as the Irish have a reputation for over paying.

He invited us back the next day for a drink and to tell us more about China. He knew the Irish customs and even gave us some local history from the border town.

The Irish he sees as great communicators and good to do business with, but they should be less consumer oriented or frivolous and think more.

He left before the Celtic tiger and seemed to have us well sized up.

Family was all important in China and people kept together and were quite traditional, men loved to play cards with each other and chat, the women did likewise but more likely in the home.

The new openness that the Games brought with many foreigners visiting would lead to a new China.

A humourous Chinese lifted our perception of these people who could talk just like the IRISH albeit with an oriental flavour.

This was an introduction to how to get know Chinese people, it does take time and is not as quick and easy as in the West. They do enjoy a beer or tea however occasionally as David did and that is a start.

The Chinese like to take their time a little and think. Down in Shanghai we found them more frenetic.

Chatting over food is a favourite pastime and all round Beijing we found locals spending a long time talking over food, whether with friends or family. Discussing food is a big topic. We found the Dongcheng area of Beijing a great area for food and leisurely walks.

Paddy O’Sheas near ——- road is a meeting point for the Irish as is Durty Nellys in the —- area, Chaoyang. This is also popular for eating too and you will find various cultural choices. Dongshimen is close by and this a hub for shopping and transportation.

The Shopping Centre nearby the station was really up market and had all the top designer labels with prices to match.

People were very smartly dressed and let one know how more sophisticated the Chinese capital is becoming.

All these areas have many top western hotels from the Marriotts to the Holiday Inns at high prices or three times the average during the Games, but less than 100 euro at other times. Novotel and Accor, the French hotel groups are here too and we spotted an Ibis if you want to budget.

These older areas are good to explore and require quite a lot of walking. It is great to explore whether day or night. If you get tired never fret as there is a taxi not far away. Taxis just cost 2-4 euro.

On the roads you will find a massive number of bikes and scooters and watch out on footpaths because they are everywhere.


Around Dongshimen you see them wearing western T shirts with English writing, even though many young Chinese do not speak English, some of the slogans may be rude and suggestive yet they do no mind.

Leggings were on the ladies despite the heat, men wore well cut suits made locally or shorts.

People have become very brand conscious like in Ireland, another sign of affluence. Maybe we read too much of Ross O Carroll Kelly but there is a bit of that lifestyle here too, as people are image conscious.


Hair care is also important, nail bars appear in shopping centres. Beauty care is getting more attention from the Chinese if they have the money. Those that do not become inventive themselves especially the students. Many dye their hair and blond Chinese can now be seen.

Rock bands and western music are featuring in the newspapers in the Irish pub, there was a band playing rock classics and all the musicians were Chinesek

There is also a new alternative culture emerging but they are well behaved, little sign of drunkenness or loutish behaviour.

KTV or Karaoke is popular where people sing English or Chinese songs from a screen a big hit in Japan so also in China too. For the older people jazz and piano bars are there too.

The cars that you see can sometimes range from luxury to basic ones. Foreign cars such as Audi and VW or Mercedes can be seen as well as Toyota, Lexus and some French or American makes.

Lap tops are all over the place, many of the young people have mobiles,


Nearly all students have e mail addresses or qq ones and broadband is widespread. We went to an internet café to watch a hurling game at midnight and it was packed with people watching movies online. In the hotel security staff watch DVDs to pass the time.

Art District

768 Chaoyang: This famous art district is somewhere to go if you want to look at how the new rich Chinese spend their money. Get a taxi there and see something a little different, where a whole type of industrial area is changed towards the arts.

Art is a significant way that the Chinese are expressing themselves. We can recall the old communist artist propaganda but this is far from it at the moment it. Now there are cutting edge galleries covering all forms of art with prices not far off western ones. It is a great idea to have all them in one area such as old industrial area that has been made look better with public investment.

With such a large population this type of promotion can work and having them all near each other makes it easy for the consumer.

Some of the buildings are run by the city and state others are privately owned, some are even foreign owned with some Italian and French firms opening up here and spotting opportunity.

We found a new emerging China here, where there is free expression in art and where some of the Chinese modernisation is criticised. You will even find also here some old Chairman Mao prints too.

AS China opens up to the West more self expression is being made. The state may control the media but the arts are an element where there is more self expression in our view, others may disagree.