Trips and Tales: Part 120
I’ve been scanning some info about the various districts of Beijing, progressively heading further out from the capital’s centre. We start touching upon countryside from this point onwards, still with experiences to offer, of course.
Located south east of central Beijing, Tongzhou has in recent years been the subject of an online photographic preservation drive. It’s a bid to record for posterity the layout and features of the old town before they are “developed” out of existence. “Old” is a relative term of course, as – without any trace of irony – I read the words of a nostalgic local woman bemoaning the loss of the district’s first McDonald’s. Er, what?
The link to the online photographic repository leads to a dead end, signifying that the past is indeed lost, perhaps? Anyway, there’s good news for non fast-foods fans into cultural history: the tallest and oldest pagoda in Beijing is (still) located here. That’s Randengfo Pagoda which features thirteen ornate tiers, and stands 53 metres high. Impressive, especially so when it is said to originate from the Liao and Kin dynasties, putting its date of creation between 1115 and 1234. No, you are not allowed to enter its interior.
In contrast to one of the oldest features: one of the newest, the Songzhuang Artist’s Village may also be of interest, with samples of work taken from amongst the 2000+ creative residents on display in the galleries and art-spaces of the settlement. There are also a couple of parks, a museum pertinent to Beijing’s Eastern Gate area, a market, shops and numerous eateries.
The Northern Suburbs
These consist of a wide, shallow region separating urban and rural Beijing – and consist of two sub-districts: Changping and Shunyi.
Datangshan: the China Aviation Museum stands out as a potential must-see for even the most casual aviation buff, largely due to the range and rarity of its exhibits, whilst the Dynasty Wax Works Palace may have less instant appeal for the average Westerner at least – unless he or she is au fait with figures from Chinese cultural history.
Two more art institutions are available for your perusal: the Beijing Central and Open galleries. There is definitely plenty of interest for devotees of the arts in Beijing.
On a completely different tack, consider Changping’s Ming Dynasty Tombs on the Tianshou Mountain’s southern slopes. Yes, we are still officially in the city suburbs but we have mountains. That gives an insight into just how massive Beijing is. Changping itself drapes an area approaching 1500 sq km and itself contains 7 sub-districts and no less than 10 towns!
At any rate, the Ming tombs sound amazing; accessed by the 7-kilometre Spirit Way lined with statues depicting human, animal and fantastical figures. The tombs are the final resting place of 13 emperors and their treasures, though only three are accessible currently – until future archaeological excavations unearth more of the wonders and remains within.
The Great Wall of China, which had to feature sooner or later, passes through the region at Juyongguan (Juyong Pass), with the current incarnation (of the pass) also surviving since the Ming Dynasty. Remarkable.
Shunyi district is Changping’s counterpart, and like its neighbour is a composite in itself. In this case there are 5 sub-districts of Shunyi City, the airport district and a total of 19 towns all spread across an area of approximately 1000 sq km.
Initially remarkable are the number of international schools located within the area: seven in total, and the Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park built for the 2008 Olympics – though open for competition a year earlier. Shunyi also contains the Beijing Capital International Airport and the (currently 8-hall) International Exhibition Centre. “International” is the by-word here it seems.
On a decidedly local level, the buzz of construction can be experienced in the airport-neighbouring Tianzhu Development Zone – as Beijing races inexorably towards its hectic, bustling future.
More next time.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 121) Arrival Beijing #10
[Photo by maltman23]