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4 Jul 2008

Navigating the Beijing Olympics

Heading to Beijing to enjoy the sport-filled three weeks or so of frenzy? Fridae's Beijing correspondent Dinah Gardner shows you where to eat, sleep, shop and party.

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China's been getting jittery before the Olympic Games this summer, tightening visa restrictions, shutting downs bars, snatching magazine licenses, raiding saunas and generally spoiling a lot of fun, all on security concerns. But don't let that stop you from heading to Beijing to enjoy the sport-filled three weeks or so of frenzy. The Chinese Communist Party is not worried about gays per se; it knows the western world is watching and approves its growing tolerance. It just wants to tame the wilder sides for reasons of face - so prostitutes - and that includes the city's army of money boys - are personae non grata along with, of course, the Free Tibetan posse, restive Uighurs (a Muslim minority from the northwestern Xinjiang region) and, well, protesters of any kind. It's One World, One Dream, after all, with the emphasis on the "one."

The capital's sole gay club Destination has just shut down for a renovation and hopes to reopen by Aug 8 to allow for a larger patron capacity, Beijing DaDong Roast Duck Restaurant is fast becoming one of the hippest places to try the golden-brown slices of roasted bird, and the 80,000-seat Beijing's Olympic stadium.
First off, getting inside. Beijing's made it a lot more difficult in recent months to get a visa. Here's what you need: a passport that's valid for at least six months from the date of application, a return ticket (proving you will be leaving China at the end of your trip) and proof of hotel bookings for the entire duration of your stay. Roomrates have also gone up.

At least the tighter visa restrictions mean it's now possible to get a room. Before the security crackdown everyone was predicting hotels would be jam-packed. The government was so panicked it roped in 1,000 Beijing households to offer to be host families for Olympic tourists. It now looks like there's going to be surplus of empty rooms because of China's stricter rules. It's now early July, the peak holiday season, yet five-star hotels which are usually full at about this time are reporting about 60 percent occupancy. Beijing's Tourism Bureau revealed in a report that among five-star hotels, only 77 percent of rooms have been booked during Aug 8-24.

While you would need to contact the hotels yourself to see if there is still availability, we have picked out what we think are the three sexiest places to stay. If five star's your thing, the Park Hyatt at the top of the Yintai Centre in Guomao (in the central business district) is not only one of Beijing's highest hotels - the lobby is on the 61st floor - it will also be one of its plushest. Hotel G (for Glitzy, Gracious & Glamour, according to its web site), a five-minute stagger from the capital's sole gay club Destination, has just opened its doors earlier this month. The funky boutique hotel, which is said to be infused with Austin Powers chic features free wireless, a Tibetan themed night club and outdoor Jacuzzis. If you want more of a taste of old Beijing, kip down at Lusongyuan Hotel, a beautiful courtyard bed and breakfast in a little lane near Houhai Lake.

Now you've got a comfy bed for the night, you'll want to know where to eat. There's no shortage of fabulous restaurants. As well as some classic places to scoff the city's signature dish, Beijing Duck, the whole slew of regional Chinese cuisine is also well represented along with everything from Ethiopian spongy flat breads to hunks of Norwegian salmon.

Pick up a copy of one of the free entertainment magazines - The Beijinger, Timeout Beijing (its license was removed by the government last month but it's expected to be back on the shelves in August), or City Weekend - at your hotel for comprehensive listings and reviews. We have a few suggestions here. Beijing DaDong Roast Duck Restaurant is fast becoming one of the hippest places to try the golden-brown slices of roasted bird, smeared in plum sauce and then wrapped into pancakes. They also teach you how to do it right. If it's romance that you are looking for try a candlelit nibble at Brasserie Flo, an art deco palace with arguably the best French cuisine in the capital.

While police are threatening to cap the city's nightlife with a 2am curfew during the Games, up until now Beijing's bars and clubs are still vibrating until all hours. The only gay club in town is Destination, affectionately known as Desperations. It's in the centre of the city near the Worker's Stadium and is jam-packed with hot men Friday and Saturday nights. Pre-Olympics security and a renovation plan has shut down Destination's dance floor for now. Owner Edmund hopes that by August 8 the newly enlarged club will be open and ready - complete with police-approved dance floor. Big-name international DJs tend to play at CoCo Banana, across the road. Pepper near the infamous World of Suzie Wong nightclub is much better than Suzie's if you're in this neck of the woods. The hot (although probably straight) waiters make magic cocktails and perform bottle spinning tricks - sometimes with their shirts off - on the rooftop terrace.

The government which has already announced a crack team of 100,000 security personnel will be deployed to ensure safety during the Games says it will launch a crackdown against drugs so play it safe when you're in town. The public security ministry said it will target nightclubs and clubs in particular. Destination, as well as other clubs, is periodically raided by the police who often make patrons take urine tests.

Daytime is shopping time and Beijing's been smartening itself up on that front in recent years, although luxury goods and electronics are still much more expensive here than say Hong Kong and Singapore. Several shopping malls to please are Shin Kong Place just east of the central business district in Dawanglu with almost 1,000 brands, Oriental Plaza, at the far end of the Wangfujing shopping street which has Tiffany's and Shanghai Tang and 3.3, a boutique-style shopping mall packed with the work of local designers in the Sanlitun bar area. If you want the flash without all cash, Silk Street and Yashow Market has the full repertoire of fake brands. For souvenirs, Mao kitsch and antiques head to the mother of all markets, Panjiayuan in the southeast of the city, which has over 3,000 stalls selling everything from wooden bird cages to chunky chains of Tibetan turquoise.

Despite a recent fuel hike rise, public transport costs shouldn't be going up which means it will still be very cheap to get around the city. New subway lines mean that you will be able to jump off at all the Olympic venues, and nip between downtown and the airport. The new Olympic branch line, or line 8, is a bit tricky to get to - you'd have to make four changes, say, if you're coming from the central business district - but, hey, it's just US30 cents for the whole trip! Taxis are also inexpensive - average cost of a trip around town is usually less than US$5 - flagfall is just over US$1.50.

Finally a quick word on what you can and can't do. China released a nine-page rulebook in June listing activities it said foreigners were banned from doing during the Games. These include sleeping under bridges and bringing in materials harmful to national security. Those with sexually transmitted diseases or mental problems will not be allowed to enter the country - although it's not clear how they are going to check. Spectators at the Games can wave their country's flag provided it's not too big but all other banners are strictly prohibited. Even groups of people wearing the same clothes may be told to go home and change, media reports say.

Journalists love to sex things up and many of the security crackdowns probably won't affect most visitors. Keep it clean and you should enjoy a "harmonious" Olympics.

For addresses and other details, visit the newly updated Beijing cityguide.

China

Reader's Comments

1. 2008-07-05 04:13
i believe destination should be close during the games, like most of the popular clubs in bj. not 100% sure but check it out...

bj will close the night scene due to safety reasons...
2. 2008-07-05 04:37
"Journalists love to sex things up ". True. Yet some/many of us Also love to tell the simple truth, as plainly as it seems, without putting 'spin' on what seems to us to be the facts. And one rather obvious fact, if not the biggest one, is that the very easiest way to navigate the Beijing Olympics is, quite simply, not to go, to see, or to participate. That way, there's no need for any political, patriotic, idealogical or personal conflicts to arise between Anyone - right?
3. 2008-07-05 13:13
Go to the Holland Heineken house around sanlitun for the best night out!!Guess they will close it after the first day if we cant wear the same clothes,lol
Dont waste ur money at flo brasserie cause the food sucks big time.I hope but doubt this great city will be fun to live in from now till after the games.
Cheers Vv
4. 2008-07-05 14:23
Right! This city is not a great place to stay on at all.
lets talk about other more meaningful topics other than 2008 olympics in Beijing.
Dirty ..... just the word to describe.
Comment #5 was deleted by its author
Comment #6 was deleted by its author on 2011-08-21 18:57
7. 2008-07-06 10:00
Beijing is always a great place to live and enjoy the best food in china . I love resturants in Beijing cus they're great . Good value, quantity and delicious ... If you are coming beijing ti travel , Temple of heaven is great to visit early mornings to see real tradtional beijing life .. Don't miss to eat Beijing JiaJia mian ( noodles ) great to have near Temple of heaven... If you are shopping freek then Beijing outlet is great place to get all reall barnded stuff on low price ... but may be a bit old 3-6 months but still great valued and real stuff ... Resturants like ''A lan'' a great place to eat
8. 2008-07-06 11:25
yeah....wait till AFTER the olympics are finished, to visit....when Beijing goes back to "normal" ...see the sights, eat the great food, enjoy the clubs...shop at the cheap outlets....all without the extreme government intrusions. i'll also give the olympics a miss...except i'll watch in my apartment, on satellite tv...with my bf...NAKED....we'll wave a BIG FLAG and will get drunk and have sex during the commercials!! ha ha ha
9. 2008-07-08 01:43
I urge everyone here, to boycott these games because they are being used for poltical purposes and covering up the suppression of human rights in China, for gays included.

If you attend these games, you support this oppression.

China is wonderful, but skip the games. Go before or after.
And Beijing is not interesting at all. Just another big city. Go west, young man/men/ladies, go west and southwest in China.

I know people will complain about this message but this is freedom of expression, correct? Isn't that the whole point?
10. 2008-07-09 10:10
I'm disappointed to read all the calls for a boycott of the Olympics. It displays the same degree of political sophistication as Sharon Stone's shallow and simple understanding of what's happening in the world.

Measured by the same yardstick, we should all boycott the US, the UK, the Germans, the French, the Venezuelans, the Cubans, the Malaysians, the Singaporeans, the Catholics, the Anglicans, the Muslims, the list goes on. Give me a break.

Leave the politics out of it. This is about people, sportsmanship, pushing boundaries. Enjoy the games, even the city, for what it is.

If you want to change the system, be constructive. Boycotting Beijing, or the Olympics is not going to do a thing.

Don't pull a "Sharon". Or should I say, don't drop a "Stone".
11. 2008-07-10 02:58
If a boycott is "not going to do a thing" why are the Olympics so important to the regime?

I understand your views re other boycotts, but this is a specific event framed by the hosts for a political purpose.

But everyone is free to do as they please. And the regime will be so happy that everyone showed up to support them by showing up at the games. And spending their money there. then.

Well, maybe we can ask some ethnic Tibetans for their views or this subject. They might have more to say than Sharon Stone. By the way, who is Sharon Stone?

12. 2008-07-14 21:09
You are "right on" Dinah with this article. But how about mentioning Xiao Wang Fu as a great restaurant?

There are five locations all staffed with young, handsome Chinese boys waiting to serve you--hence the "Little Prince" is there to meet his challenge.

The chance to perv is wide open, so make sure you have your hands holding chop sticks so you don't look too obvious!

The food quality and related costs are all in order so as to have a good dining experience.

Enjoy!
13. 2008-07-15 01:41
Well, to move the discussion on to more important things, thanks to Bunky Roo here. For those of you going west to Kunming, to to the Sichuan style restaurant, called "The House" next to the Spring Flower Market and Bird Market outside of the main city in middle class funky land suburbs. If you have gone by the fake Paris style housing develoment complete with golden gates and a gold plated Statue of Venus in Chariot oblesik, you are on the correct road. The restaurant is enormous as usual, seats 1000 people but the waiters...........wonderful, all 900 of them. Sit amidst the fake water fall with the old man with the ducks (both real) and just order away. Take out is possible according to some. Pricey, like USD 20 each minimum but worth it.
14. 2008-07-19 22:04
re olympics preparations, so sad today on bbc today to see films of many poor peoples houses being buldozed to make way for olympics parking lots and apartments and villagers being beat up. look on bbc and youtube.

really sad. is this necessary for "sports"?

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