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Hidden Charms of Beijing

Updated: 2012-05-08 18:07
2. Panjiayuan Market


For those looking for an authentic shopping experience in China, Panjiayuan Market in the south of the capital would be a wise, discerning choice.

The covered outdoor market offers any type of Chinese craftwork and antique imaginable.

Exploring the rows of stalls and specialized sections, you stumble across antique paintings and calligraphy, jade jewelry, wooden and lacquered boxes, carved bone opium pipes, and many other relics from a bygone era, such as the Ming or Qing dynasties.

Of course, some are fake - like those you think you got for a bargain.

But whether you are a browser or buyer, you will probably find a treasure or two to take home. Hillary Clinton did. She bought two art pieces here.

The best part is that the sellers never yell at passers-by, so customers can enjoy leisurely browsing without the hassle and pressure of confrontational salesmanship.

The flea market is at its best on weekends, when thousands of sellers from all parts of China arrive with their local crafts and specialties.

Having a friend who speaks Mandarin certainly helps in bargaining for that Ming vase you fancy, but foreign tourists can calculate the risk for themselves just as easily on the vendor's (usually big-button and virtually antique) calculators.

How to get there: Take subway Line 10 and get off at Jinsong station.

3. Gaobeidian Antique Furniture Street

Museums and old palaces are not the only structures to display the city's splendid history. You can also find touches of the past among the thousands of pieces of antique furniture in the 1,000-year-old village of Gaobeidian, at the far end of East Chang'an Avenue.

It is a fascinating stroll down the main road of the village, with warehouses and showrooms lining either side. Reproductions of furniture from the Ming and Qing dynasties, with all their elegance, luster and intricate motifs, make Gaobeidian not only an nostalgic alternative to Ikea, but a virtual historic site in itself.

You will find a few time-honored stores overflowing with opium beds, benches, stools and drums, as well as antique decorations, refined porcelain and modern concept furniture made of old wood. A small piece can prove an excellent choice for an oriental collection or a souvenir of your visit to China.

How to get there: Get on subway line Batong and alight at Gaobeidian.

Dining and lodging

Though visitors to Beijing can choose cuisines from all parts of China, Beijing's own specialities are not to be missed. To sample them from snack stalls on the street takes more time and effort than dining in fine restaurants, but it is a more rewarding experience.

Snacks that have been popular for hundreds of years have obvious proven appeal and, you will discover, a unique taste. These include:

Wandouhuang, a kind of sweet and smooth pea-flour cake, was considered a royal dessert during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Ludagun, which means "donkey-rolling roll", is a Middle Eastern-style sweet snack, made from steamed glutinous millet or sticky rice, scattered with fried bean-flour, and filled with red pea. It has nothing to do with donkeys, you will be pleased to know.

Jiaoquan is an irresistibly crisp fried bread circle with salt, alkali and alum and is a breakfast favorite with local people.

These Beijing delicacies can be found night and day on the snack streets of Longfusi, Wangfujing and Shichahai.

If you do not want to stay in a big chain hotel with hundreds of other tourists, there are small boutique hotels that offer a cultural taste of the country.

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