Now's the time to take a flight into the future.
Britain and China: compare and contrast. We create a pastiche of the UK as a bucolic “shire” for the opening ceremony of our Olympics, they do thousands of perfectly synchronised drummers and the biggest fireworks display (their invention) ever seen. We do pop-up restaurants; China’s blast furnaces (another of their inventions) produce enough steel to build pop-up cities with populations larger than that of the Netherlands. Overnight.
It’s this growth that both boggles the mind and yet gives the country’s 3,000-year-old capital Beijing an air of permanence. Not to imply that the city is staid or backwards-looking, far from it. Beijing is a bubbling pot of ideas and creative energy, the flames beneath which are fanned by the government’s new-found light(ish) touch “state capitalism”. Speaking of capitalism, guess what? Yep, the Chinese invented that, too.
So go: the weather’s great at this time of year, there’s a buoyant art, fashion and restaurant scene, and it’s probably worth knowing more about the people who look likely to dominate our planet for the next century or two.
Words by Tom Barber
The Opposite House is a green glass edifice full of slick rooms. Add exhibitions by the hottest Chinese artists and excellent nightspots and this is unquestionably the place to stay. theoppositehouse.com
Green T House is a Beijing institution and with good reason. Hip design, eclectic furniture and fixtures (don’t be surprised if your drinks come in a vase) and excellent food. Coffee fans beware: each dish has some sort of tea-flavouring. Try the Xinjiang province-inspired “Autumn Sky” roasted lamb with apple, sesame… and tea leaves. green-t-house.com
Sanlitun — the high-rise, high fashion and often high-priced face of modern China — is the hottest precinct in town, and a world away from the confined hutongs. It’s also home to Transit, which serves the best of China’s hottest (literally and metaphorically) cuisine — Sichuan. Be brave — try the crispy chilli eels.
The hutongs, the traditional one-storey neighbourhoods consisting of narrow alleyways and hidden courtyards. So many were sacrificed before the Olympics that the remaining few are officially protected and home to many of the best contemporary art galleries, bars, boutiques and restaurants. The best way to explore is by bike, once the mode of transport for millions, many of whom now own cars instead, which might explain the pollution problem. If you had to pick one area, try the alleyways north of Nanluoguxiang after a stroll around the Bell and Drum Towers and enjoy a pit stop of fried pork and shrimp dumplings at Mr Shi’s on Baochao Hutong.
The Bed Bar is in the heart of one of the remaining hutong areas of the city. This is a modern take on the opium den with killer mojitos sipped while lying on day beds or hanging out in the open air courtyard.
Lost & Found sells stylish Fifties retro Chinese furniture (they can arrange shipping), but also more hand luggage friendly items such as qianceng buxie — “thousand layer happy shoes” — the thinking man’s slip-on, as once sported by Bruce Lee. lost-and-found.cn
Have a set of tailor-made, monogrammed shirts made for you by Wendy’s Tailors (ask for Hanna or the eponymous Wendy). They can normally turn things around overnight, and the fit and quality is excellent. wendy-tailor.com
8 Have dinner
Try Peking duck at Duck de Chine — it’s the best in town. They also serve French duck dishes and you can wash it down with Bollinger.
There are some truly awful clubs in Beijing, but under the expert guidance of fabulously named owner Yang Bing, Haze gets it just right. Expect minimalist Berlin-basement décor, a sound system pumping out house and disco with a discerning clientele of urbane locals and ex-pats. hazebeijing.com
Tom Barber is a founder of award-winning travel company Original Travel