Beijing is a place you have to see (taste, smell and hear) to believe.
The small woman holding the zip line harness notices my apprehension and offers the same grin she’s probably flashed countless times to thousands of other tourists. I’ve just completed a four-hour trek along the three-mile section of the Great Wall of China known as Simatai, which was originally constructed in the sixth century and snakes precariously over the mountains, its crumbling watchtowers perched like sentinels all the way to the horizon. As petrified as I am, I’m also tired, hot and thirsty, and I’m thinking the zip line across the glittering lake is the quickest way to some pork dumplings and a cab ride back to Beijing. So I throw caution to the wind and wriggle into the straps, gazing at my distant destination across the sheet of water with my heart pounding. But where is my helmet? How do I slow down? The woman shakes her head and points to a man on the other side, ready to catch me. I ask for any final instructions, and she responds in her limited English. “Sit,” she says, patting my rear. “Go!”
Suddenly I’m flying through the air watching the massive ancient wall fall away behind me. I scream with joy over the rushing wind, thankful the simple pulley system is functioning correctly. Far off, tourists wearing bright hats trudge along the wall, and I, suspended in the sky above them, feel on top of the world. But I’m swooping close to the other side, where the man holds his arms outstretched in front of a thickly padded post. WHAM! We collide into the cushions as I let out one last whoop, my feet firmly back on land and adrenaline pounding through my body. As I catch my breath, the man smiles widely and greets me in heavily accented English: “Welcome to China!”
Living in Beijing gives me the same rush. The capital that Genghis Khan’s grandson founded 800 years ago is a sensory overload, bursting with life and a zest for the future grounded in centuries of tradition. I came here to explore this rising stronghold of global economic and political power and found a world where the narrow streets and alleys (called hutongs) have names like Soldiers and Horses Hutong and Dragon Whiskers Ditch Hutong, tattooed rockers in Chuck Taylors rage on drums, and tea vintages are collected like the finest wines.
Two years past the Olympics, the city continues to bound with energy, sustained by a perky economic outlook and a vibrant arts scene. And like zip-lining off the Great Wall, Beijing beckons you to jump into the unknown with eyes, ears, nose, mouth and arms wide open. So live a little, eat a lot and discover this metropolis’s feast for all your senses.