Is it or isn’t it? The answer is frequently given as fact: the Great Wall is the only human structure visible from space. Alas, that verdict was disproved when the first of China’s own astronauts, Yang Liwe, could see no sign of the Wall on his journey around the earth.
But the view from space is immaterial. For this massive example of human determination and endeavour was built specifically to keep other humans out. And for centuries it worked. Then in 1279 the Mongols, led by Kublai Khan, grandson of the great Genghis Khan, finally invaded and vanquished the 319-year Sung Dynasty. The new Dynasty only lasted 79 years before the Han Chinese retook control in 1368. Again, though, the Wall did not do its job. One of its Ming Dynasty generals opened the gates and allowed the hated Mongols to invade. The Mongol Qing Dynasty took power in 1644 and was to be the last to rule China. It ended in 1912.
Today there are regular invasions of the Great Wall, but by tourists heading to see one of the wonders of the world. The most crowded part is at Badaling, partly because it is the most restored section and partly because of the Ming Tombs can be visited en route. If you have a day to spare, there are other sections now open for tourists. So forget Badaling and head instead for Mutianyu where there is a cable car if you prefer not to hike up steep stretches. On clear days you will have spectacular views.
But there’s the rub. The Great Wall was pretty effective at keeping out mankind. It is hopeless when it comes to the forces of nature. The Gobi desert may be some 450 kms away but global warming is seeing it move slowly south. Just 160 kms north of Beijing, the village of Langtougou has all but disappeared under great mounds of sand. The Chinese themselves were also at fault. Following the revolution huge swathes of forest were cut down. Now spring sandstorms engulf the city with increasing regularity. Add to that the pollution from factories built during Mao’s regime and a massive increase in road traffic and you end up with air quality that is way above acceptable levels on many days each year.
Yet that is no reason to avoid one of the world’s most fascinating cities. Just make sure you avoid late spring and Beijing’s incredible summer heat and rain. Instead, opt for the cooler autumn months of September/October or even the crisp, cold days of winter which I like best because there are not nearly as many tourists. Whenever you go, make sure you avoid the weeks around National Day of October 1st when half China seems to be in Beijing!
So you are now in gay Beijing, perhaps on your 72-hour visa free entry. What to see? The list is really quite obvious. At the top is the 600-year old Forbidden City. You enter this vast complex of courtyards and palaces at the north end of Tiananmen Square under the portrait of Mao. Soon you come to the official entrance where you pay your fee, get an audio guide and start a two- or three-hour wander through the entire length of the City. Some tour companies offer guided tours enabling you to skip any queues. But frankly, if you arrive early in less peak periods, that shouldn’t be necessary.
After exiting at the north end, cross the street and take a gentle walk up the hill to the Wanchun Pavilion. From here you have a stunning view over the entire Forbidden City complex. Nearby you will find an interesting clutch of sites – the large Lama Temple complex, the Temple of Confucius and the Mansion of Prince Gong. In this area, too, are some of the few remaining hutongs – the old narrow alleyways leading to simple family compounds.
Beijing is bisected by the multi-lane dual highway, Chang’an Avenue. For a half-day trip, cross to the other side and east of Tiananmen Square for a visit to the enormous circular Temple of Heaven. This is where the Emperors would come to pray to intercede with the Gods. You can avoid Beijing’s notorious traffic and get close to most of the main city sights using one of its many subway lines. For a full morning or afternoon, take subway Line 4 as far as Belgongmen (all the stations are marked in English) and take a walk to the Summer Palace.
Once the most beautiful collection of architecture and art anywhere in the country with fine Palaces and other buildings filled with cultural treasures, most were destroyed or looted in an act of revenge by British and French troops in1860. If Muslims cannot forget the barbarity of the Crusaders as they invaded the Holy Land letting loose rivers of blood, the Chinese regard the destruction of the Summer Palace as forever a stain on Britain and France. The Empress Dowager Cixi had some of the Summer Palace rebuilt and it is still very much worth a visit. If you’d like to have a quick look at the famous Bird’s Nest Stadium, on your way back change from Line 4 to the Circle Line 10 at Haidianhuangzhuang and again from 10 to Line 8 at Beitucheng. The first station north is Olympic Sports Centre where you take Exit D. You are right there.
With a population approaching 20 million, there are many gay guys in Beijing and an expanding gay scene. The apps will always attract quite a number of guys for no effort, most of whom will be delighted to visit your hotel. If you want to be more sociable, in the evenings make your way to the Sanlitun District for its bars and clubs. Not really a gay scene here, apart from Kai and one of gay Beijing’s original bars – Adam’s which opens at 11:00 each night.
But check out the famous Mesh Bar in the minimalist Opposite House Hotel. This is a hangout for middle class professionals, many gay. Great eye-candy but it’s expensive. Funky Bar can be fun, but it’s a long way out west near the Beijing Zoo. By far the most popular gay destination is just that – Destination! This is a huge bar/club with lots of rooms and great looking waiters situated close to the Worker’s Stadium in Chaoyang District. At weekends it overflows on to the street, mostly with young, tall and in-shape Chinese, many utterly stunning! While many go in groups, there will always be some individuals hanging out, so you may attract a smile or two. Beijing also has a lot of gay spas with handsome masseurs offering both in and out-call. Usually the mamasans will speak some English although the guys may not. For additional info about gay venues in Beijing, please visit Travel Gay Asia and CN Traveler.
Two caveats. Homosexuality is not illegal in China. Paying for sex is. Secondly, never pick up anyone from the street, no matter how good-looking. Beijing attracts more than a million immigrant labourers desperate for work. Some have learned how to scam gay tourists and a few can be dangerous. As Dionne Warwick says in her famous hit, “Just walk on by!”
Lastly the city is so spread out, you need a guide. For a short stay, you will not do better than the pocket-sized DK Eyewitness 10 Best Beijing.
Been to China or have a Chinese boyfriend? Please post your comments below
Contribution by Jason Fairchild who is a Gay Travel Writer and Photographer who has traveled throughout and lives in Asia.