I started exploring Beijing on October 10th. First stop: the historic Summer Palace, in northwestern Beijing, with some Darden classmates (Sarita Chauhan, Mark Brown, and Alex Zoppos). The cab ride from downtown Beijing (we were staying at the Grand Hyatt, about two blocks from Tian'anmen Square) took nearly an hour...and cost us all of 58 Yuan (about $8.50).
At the front gate to the Palace, I grabbed a snack at McDonald's--ironically, the first time I'd eaten anything in a McDonald's in years! I got a spicy chicken sandwich, which was made of dark meat and quite tasty.
The Summer Palace is simply a beautiful place to walk (and climb) around and take pictures. At the front gate, I started my streak of being photographed drinking coffee in front of various historical sites around China:
Amusingly, taking pictures of the Buddhas inside the temples isn't allowed, though the signs warning against it are ambiguous (appearing to forbid only flash photography). This one got me yelled at by what I initially thought was a policeman:
Though visitors can't photograph the icons inside the temples, vendors are allowed to set up inside them to sell relics and culturally significant memorabilia...like Kobe Bryant playing cards. :)
At the top of the Summer Palace hills sits the Tower of the Buddhist Incense (also known as the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha). This might well be the most beautiful building I have ever seen. Unfortunately, the below picture (taken with an iPhone 3G) doesn't come close to doing it justice:
(Some better pix.)
We took the subway back downtown from the Summer Palace (for 2 Yuan--about 30 cents). The Beijing subways are incredible--smooth, quiet, and amazingly clean. Due to the 60th anniversary celebration of the founding of the People's Republic, the Tian'anmen Square subway station was complete bedlam (akin to DC on July 4th)--a Saturday-evening crush of people trying to exit through an insufficient number of turnstiles, police on bullhorns, the works. An obligatory "I was here" shot:
After dinner, a group of us headed out to a tailor shot to measure for some custom-made suits. We haggled our price down to $120 (!) per suit. (Mine were an extra $38 due to custom-made vests; I prefer three-piece suits.) We also got custom-made dress shirts for $15 each, and I returned the next day and had a beautiful cashmere topcoat custom-made for about $150. (I was unable to negotiate much off the topcoat price--I think the cost of the materials constrained my haggling margin.)
For pure entertainment, I also decided to see how cheaply I could obtain a knockoff Rolex on the street. I ended up haggling down to just under $3 per watch for a his/hers pair, though, amusingly, at that price the seller refused to throw in the packaging (a little pillow and a cardboard box).