I’m a morning person. And that means that there’s one thing I love about jetlag when flying in to Beijing: waking up before the world comes to life. There’s something so tranquil about being outside when the weakest rays of light start shining through the clouds, breathing in the crisp air and watching your breath fog as you exhale. It’s even better when the streets are still empty and you feel like the only person in the city.
Beijing in January is bitingly cold. As a Canadian, I always profess that ice water runs through my veins, but when I visited, the cold still packed a punch and I wished that I had brought some boots or legwarmers. However, if you are one of the few people who can brave the cold (the majority of residents and visitors choose not to), you’ve stumbled on the best time of year to visit. In the month leading up to the Lunar New Year, Beijing’s streets become deserted as thousands upon thousands of migrant workers return to the countryside to celebrate the biggest ethnic holiday of the year with their families. And this means that the rest of us can finally enjoy the sights of the city without the crushes of bodies.
Jingshan Park lies across the street from the back entrance of the Forbidden City. It’s impressive when you consider that the middle of the Forbidden City lines up perfectly with the middle of the park, but even more so, because the five peaks inside the park were entirely man-made, dating from a thousand years ago. Talk about ridiculously high expectations!
There are entrance fees to every park in Beijing; those funds go to maintaining the historical buildings, the staff, the foliage within, and perhaps even the pocket linings of PRC officials! Just kidding… maybe. Seniors, students, and children pay less for their tickets and so do those who opt for annual tickets. Those who choose to exercise at dawn and dusk in the parks usually do so; year-round, you can find China’s notorious dancing grannies, opera aficionados, and practitioners of martial arts.
Atop each hill in the park is a pavilion. We climbed the middle one, which was the highest, because our toes were freezing and all we really wanted to do was settle down in a nice warm place. From there, we could see the whole city.
The pavilions themselves were gorgeous. Painstakingly painted in bright reds, golds, greens, and blues, and lit up by the golden morning sun, they were ethereal.
There was only one other thing that rivaled the lacquered beauty of the pavilions: the view from the hill. To the south, a perfect view of the Forbidden City
To the west, the White Tower at Beihai and, beyond the bounds of the city, the mountains
And to the east, the glittering new buildings of modern Beijing