In no way do I intend to trivialize my experience in China (or anyone else's for that matter), but I will say that the list of places I saw while in Beijing came out of a travel guide. I saw the Great Wall, of course, and the Summer Palace, the Ming Tombs, and the site of the 2008 Olympics. I traveled with my fellow tea scammed for the week that I was there, which didn't help to separate me from all of the other tourists meandering the same route of historic places.
As redeeming as it was to share tales of Chinese landmarks when home and have friends and family actually know what I was talking about, travel is more worthwhile when I don't come home with a host of stories that could have come out of Frommer's. (No offense Frommer's)
It's easy to get lost in the crowd in a new city, but if you're paying attention you might pick up on a couple of things like these to distinguish your trip...
Foridden City take one...
And take two...
Despite the inevitable crowds at The Summer Palace, there's peace to be found on-site at Kunming Lake. You wont regret renting a paddle boat and taking in the sights from afar.
The PekingUni International Youth Hostel is an extension of campus dorms that will land you in a bunk next to a variety of students and travelers from all over the world. I happened to meet a professor from Shanghai and a lost adventurer whose next stop was Cambodia. I recommend bringing an extra blanket to this dig - the two sleeping options are under the thin blanket provided, or with arms and legs exposed using the blanket as a sort of cushion for the mattress, or I should say board, below.
Down the street from the hostel is Lush Bar, which sits atop a bookstore and some other clothing shops. It's an American-style pub and open mic venue owned by an Australian and one of China's former pop stars. Be careful with the giant electric blue Adios Mothafuckas- after one of those I was singing an old Dave Matthews favorite (off-key and 3 beats behind) to the room of strangers.
We saw an acrobatics show that was a humble Cirque de Soleil with performers so bendy I felt compelled to do more yoga upon returning home.
Immediately after being tea scammed, we stumbled upon what I like to call "the skewer festival"- an outdoor food market with snacks on sticks for strong stomachs, and adventurous eaters. I ate snake and banana cakes. My friends grubbed on chicken stir fry wraps ans silkworm. Also available at this market: starfish, shrimp, scorpion, squid, cat and dog.