30 August 2012 Thursday | 14:29 | 2012/08 Beijing
The invitation came three days before departure. Because I have some divo-ish demands — a single room, for instance— it was a mad scramble for Rock Records to settle the flight and hotel bookings. I have this unexplained affinity with the Chinese capital. I almost never have to plan a trip there. The universe sends me to Beijing on a yearly basis, this being my fifth time in five years. I was on Singapore Airlines the last four times. This was my first — and possibly final — attempt on a PRC carrier. I wasn’t overly freaked out because it was like everything I imagined — uncomfortable seats, rowdy passengers, sub-standard cabin service, lack of entertainment system, etc.
It was a working trip, but I never fail to make myself as comfortable as I can, and treat every outing as a mini getaway. With the six hour nightmare firmly behind me, I set about the routine I was used to — activating my data roaming service and getting a local SIM card for phone calls. I was stunned to see that nothing worked. I don’t know if I should blame SingTel, China Mobile, China Unicom or my iPhone. My data connection was dead, despite several resets on my part and a reset by SingTel. And my Blackberry couldn’t read the RMB$100 SIM card despite several retries. Argh.
Da Dong （大董）— one of the most famous roast duck restaurants in Beijing — refused to take my reservation because I didn’t have a local mobile number. Because one of their outlets was only a stone’s throw away from my hotel, I took up the suggestion to queue for thirty minutes. But when I turned up, I was told the wait would be an hour. What?! No way! So I decided to walk to Wangfujing （王府井）. The last time I was at Quanjude （全聚德）, I didn’t have to wait too long. But the queue was horrendous that night. It was like a scene from travel fairs, where rows and rows of people sat and waited for their numbers to be called.
It was 7 P.M. by then. My last meal was at 8 A.M, so I was really famished. But I was momentarily distracted as I approached the other end of Wangfujing.
I like how they tied the books together instead of putting them in a plastic bag. I chanced upon the mega Wangfujing bookstore in 2009 and had been wanting to go back since, especially after the relevant agencies announced the launch of 現代漢語詞典（第六版)。 It is the definitive dictionary endorsed by the Chinese government and academics. I’m not sure if it’s already available in Singapore, but I had a hard time looking for the fifth edition back then. Forget about all other titles, this is the one to buy if you need a Chinese dictionary for work or school. I picked up a couple of other books before my growling stomach reminded me of the original agenda — dinner!
There were simply too many people out on a Saturday evening. I certainly wasn’t going to have fast food but where was I going to find a decent restaurant with no queues?! Then it suddenly struck me that the Diaoyu Island saga was the hottest topic of the week. Would the locals therefore be boycotting Japanese restaurants? Oh man, I wanted to give myself a pat on the back right there and then. At the slightly pricey restaurant — a deliberate choice to further avoid the crowds — there were only four customers seated at two tables.
The sashimi, salmon, abalone, foie gras, prawn, potato salad, dobin mushi and fried rice were part of an intensely satisfying set meal. I couldn’t finish everything and packed some of the food back to the hotel.
I picked an accessible hotel near Wangfujing for the first night, before moving to the official hotel for the next two nights. My original choice was Hilton — for points accumulation — but changed my mind after reading some negative reviews. It was my first time at Park Plaza Beijing Wangfujing — or the chain for that matter. Pretty good.
Shortly after I asked for a taxi to the next hotel, the bellboy came to me with a map. I wasn’t sure whether it was because I tipped him for bringing up my luggage the previous evening, or if it was standard protocol for them to print maps for guests leaving for a rival hotel. I didn’t need the map, but I was totally impressed.
I was at Radegast Hotel within fifteen minutes, and my jaws dropped as I stepped into the room. Would you just look at the size of the bed!
Oh man, it must have measured at least 1.9 metres by 2.3 metres. Insane!
Screencap by Helen.
More and more interesting stuff in the bathrooms nowadays.
The new CCTV building just across the street.
RMB$23 lunch. Sharp contrast to the sumptuous dinner the night before.
I had been to most of the historical attractions in Beijing, including five times at the Forbidden City （故宮） and three times at the Summer Palace （頤和園）. The plan was to visit Yonghe Gong （雍和宮） — residence of Yongzheng Emperor （雍正）before he took over the throne — but I got lazy and was content to chill in bed with coffee and a magazine. Because I couldn’t logon to Twitter and Facebook, my updates were via Instagram.
Emperor Yongzheng must be one of the most discussed historical figures in the last twelve months, thanks to back-to-back period dramas like 「步步驚心」、「宮鎖心玉」、「宮鎖珠簾」and 「後宮甄嬛傳」。He was portrayed in a most charming manner by Nicholas Wu and He Shengming, but it remains a fact that Yongzheng finished off his brothers ruthlessly. By the way, I saw He Shengming at the entrance of the hotel on Monday evening. My eyes widened a little and I silently mouthed “四爺”。 Haha.
It’s been an astonishing four years since I went on a media junket. Proceedings of the events, together with an exclusive interview with Yu Kewei, can be heard on air this week.
That evening, I met up with my friends, Zhu Yun, Xiaodong and Qilin — three of the top DJs from Beijing Music Radio. They were stunned to learn that I had voluntarily relinquished my chart show duties, “Why? You are still young! C’mon, I’ve been doing this for twenty years, and I’m still going strong!” Having established a close working relationship since 2000, they were quite familiar with our people.
I heard that Mary acted in several TV dramas.
So who’s more popular? Mary or you?
Mary, of course.
What about Mary and Huishi? Who’s more popular?
Errrr… They belong to different eras.
I had a splendid time with them. Thanks for taking time off and buying me dinner.
I’d like to record my appreciation for Rock Records China, who scores full marks for their hospitality. First they put me in a five-star hotel. Then they gave me a seat in the middle of the front row for the media conference. And when I tried to pay for minibar charges and the American breakfast I had just before checking out, I was told that they would take care of the bill. Awesome.