Day 16: Beijing

March 13, 2011

This morning we took the train to Beijing’s National Center of the Performing Arts located near the Forbidden City. We had tickets to a performance later that evening but since we weren’t going to be able to take our cameras in, we wanted to get some pictures of the theater during the day. Opened in 2007, the theater is known as “The Egg” due to its elliptical dome shape and is completely surrounded by a man-made lake. Its construction was a considerable source of controversy due to its proximity to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City; the architect defended his design, saying that as the capital and an important international city, Beijing needed both modern and traditional Chinese architecture.

The theater is designed to look like it’s floating on water


Entrance to the theaters via a long hall under the lake


Hall leading to theaters

The NCPA has three separate performance halls for opera, musical performances, and theater. The Beijing Opera performs here, as well as the National Ballet of China. It is located immediately west of Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People.

Poster for “Raise the Red Lantern”, the ballet we were going to see


Great Hall of the People


Kids playing shoot-em up (!) around the theater perimeter

We wanted to walk back to the hotel past Tiananmen Square, but we were stopped by a massive security line leading to the entrance for both the square and the Forbidden City. Even the underground tunnel that runs along the length of the square had a long line for security, so we gave up, headed back to the subway and got off at Wangfujing, the famous shopping street near the Peninsula.

Thankfully we saw Tiananmen last year and avoided this mess


Beijing’s trains are packed at all hours of the day, every day of the week


The famous “Wangfujing Shopping Street”

Along Wangfujing, we did some shopping and snacking, including a stop at a store selling an incredible number of different candies (we think?) – too bad we couldn’t tell what any of them were!

Kid in a candy store (what IS all this?)


Snack 1: Caramel-coated strawberry kebabs


Snack 2: Jasmine tea soft-serve


Snack 3: New flavor! Just as tasty as taro and banana!

Back at the hotel, we started packing while watching TV coverage of the Japan earthquake until it was time to leave for our show. We had tickets to the National Ballet of China’s performance of “Raise the Red Lantern”, a ballet version of the famous Chinese film. It tells the story of a young woman who becomes the third concubine of a wealthy man, her subsequent affair with her former lover, and the repercussions when they are found out. The ballet has toured around the world to international acclaim and was only in Beijing for two nights. This was the first ballet I have seen – it was an outstanding performance and a lovely end to our trip.

Sneaky iPhone pic inside theater

Our flight back to Chicago was leaving at 6:30 the next morning, so we decided to stay up until it was time to leave for the airport. We enjoyed our first McDonald’s dinner in Asia (we had money to spend and it was the only place open!) and spent the rest of the night packing and relaxing. By 3:30 AM we were in a cab to the airport, and fifteen hours later we landed in Chicago.

Leaving in the middle of the night


Our plane home

We enjoyed this China trip just as much, if not more, than last year’s. A little research beforehand, more-than-a-little patience during, and an open-minded sense of adventure are all called for when visiting this country, but the rewards are totally worth it. It’s a fascinating place to travel, and we would return in a heartbeat. And if we do, we’ll blog it all over again!

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