Crossing off the tourist bingo places by car, foot and park.
Beijing was the last and longest stop on my four-city Asia tour (I stayed there for a month) but a full time media internship made it feel like one of the shortest. Funny that a meal that would have been worth a blog post in Tokyo suddenly became a much more mundane thing if you had to go back to the office right afterwards to sit in front of your computer until 6:30PM. Effectively, my real experience of 'Beijing' as a travel destination was broken down into four sets of weekends.
This was my 'second visit' to Beijing, which gave me full rein to take the more 'hipster' route and forgo the more cliche tourist attractions. In a country like China, this means saving a lot of time, especially when you really only had about eight days to really 'see' the city. But how else to prove I was actually in Beijing?
I didn't even attempt to make a flag raising but I did spend the last day of 2014 in my host family's car as they drove me up and down the street in front of Tiananmen Square so I could take some shots of the facade. Having to position the photo with a 50mm f/1.8 while in a moving vehicle at night made the whole thing a challenge - and also rather more interesting than simply snapping your typical tourist photo. All chilling connotations aside, Beijing definitely knows how to light up their buildings at night. Driving in the area, we also went past the actual government building as well as past Beijing Station.
One of the most popular tourist spots, Qianmen Pedestrian Street is full of restaurants, cafes and your stereotypical Chinese tourist products: brightly packaged Spring Festival candy, tang era clothing and qipao, as well as international chains like UNIQLO and Starbucks, which have been adapted to fit in with the rest of the traditional (refurbished) architecture that characterises the street. In spite of the grey colour palette or perhaps because of the interesting mottled stones, all the buildings were very photogenic. Qianmen is perhaps a very convenient place to shop but know you're getting a pretty steep tourist tax on anything you buy here.
I read on numerous travel blogs to go to Jingshan Park for a free and gorgeous view of the Forbidden City and, despite the long climb up the mountain and roughly ten thousand other tourists vying for a good position, it really did not disappoint - the temple at the top of Jingshan Park makes a gorgeous, 360 degree vantage point from the literal center of Beijing.
For a person who is not a Chinese history buff, going into the actual Forbidden City once is more than enough, unless you really like endless, virtually indistinguishable palace rooms...or if you're a stickler for completing those 'guided tour' quests where you visit all the 80+ 'points of interest' (I think we did about 40 and gave up last time).