Today’s photo essay features a few things I learned in Beijing over the last two weeks. It was both fantastic and disorienting to live for a while in a city of 22 million people, the vast majority of whom do not speak English and whose cultural background includes emperors and concubines and Mao, Buddha and Confucius and the Tao. President Xi Jinping has just secured power indefinitely.

They are nothing like us – and also just like us. I’m still thinking about the ways both of these things can be true.

In the meanwhile, here are a few observations about life and travel in Beijing. Book recommendations will follow in a few days!

Ten Things to Bring to Beijing

The first thing you must bring to Beijing is your umbrella because

If it is raining you will need your umbrella

If it is sunny you will need your umbrella

And if it is cloudy you will need your umbrella

No black, please.

Every color of the rainbow is good.

The second thing you must bring to Beijing is your fan because

Your beautiful girlfriend might need a refreshing breeze

Or – if you are a grandmother – the sweaty toddler in the stroller needs your cooling love.

The third thing you must bring to Beijing is your shirt with English words on it

If you are a tiny girl, you might wear a white shirt declaring

“I heart Mather” (sp)

If you are a little boy, you might wear a red shirt saying

Tribute to friendship
Tribute to love

If you are a teenage boy, you’ll sport Blood and Thunder or Space Advance or Urban Decay

Teenage Girls say Try Mindfulness You Look Great or Go College or Geometry.

You might also consider incorporating the pink panther or Peppa pig into your look.

If you are a man in Beijing you may wear a “Beijing bikini,” rolling up your t-shirt to stay cool. I didn’t get any pictures of that because I didn’t want trouble.

From The Beijinger

I was looking at people in Beijing –

And also they were looking at me. Often we got pictures with each other. 

Girls eating fried squid on a stick

The fourth thing you must bring to Beijing: your eyes wide open. You don’t want to miss

the Forbidden City where emperors lived –

the Lama Temple, rich with incense, prayers and Buddha –


the magical animals –

the lotus flowers, pure of heart with humble roots in the mud –

or the elegant dance of organized chaos that is traffic in Beijing. All manner of cars, small motorized vehicles, and bicycles share the streets, loosely interpreting rules of the road.

The fifth thing you must bring to Beijing: your ears wide open. You must listen to the names you hear…

At the Summer Palace, you might begin at the Hall of Good Sight

And end in the Garden of Harmonious Interests

crossing over the Bridge of Knowing the Fish.

Along the way you may spend time at the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha, the Revolving Archives, the Hall of Dispelling Clouds, and the Pavilion Heralding Spring, among other enchanting sites.

The sixth thing you must bring to Beijing is your mouth shut because – you know – Tiananmen Square. And state-controlled media.

Things seven, eight and nine? A willingness to bargain at traditional markets. An enthusiasm for beer, spirits, and tea. Your own toilet tissue.

Jasmine beer

“Milk tea” which is a cold drink a lot like our fruit tea

Panjiayuan market

The most important thing you must bring to Beijing is a map and the ability to read it because no one – mostly no one – speaks English in Beijing.

If you are alone and your map is an artistic rendering you might get lost. Who am I kidding, the map is not to blame. But if you stand long enough with your map in hand and feel like you might cry, Beijing will help you find your way home.

Guardian Angels in Beijing

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Just a few other photos…

From the ultra-hip 798 Arts District

Again, from 798 Art District

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Sincerest thanks to our wonderful guide for 4 days, Connie, a spirited little girl (maybe even “naughty”!) who grew up into a smart, beautiful, adventurous, intellectually curious woman

My thanks to Tony, as well, who spent half a day with me at the Summer Palace and regaled me with tales of the Empress Dowager Cixi among other important personages.

To the staff at the Aman Summer Palace: thank you for taking care of me for a week after my husband left. Thank you for your warm hospitality and care.

Also, I loved your darling hotel xiao mao.

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Daughter Ruth is studying Mandarin at Peking U this summer

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All photographs copyright Jennifer Puryear


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