Tour­ing Bei­jing on the Dang­dang Bus

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Png Yu Fung Edited by Mark Zuiderveld Pho­tos by Li Xiaoyin and Wara­nun Chutchawan­tipakorn ( Thai­land)

Tak­ing a ride on the dang­dang bus is an ideal way to en­joy Bei­jing’s night scenery.

Night ap­proaches and the ur­ban noise fades away. With lamp posts lit, Bei­jing comes to life. The city's fast pace is colour­ful and worth ex­plor­ing. One of the trendi­est ways of en­joy­ing Bei­jing's night scenery is by tak­ing a ride on the dang­dang bus.

His­tory of the Dang­dang Bus

Start­ing at 7:00 p.m., the road lamps are lit. In Qian­men, a retro dang­dang bus slowly moves out of the plat­form, with its iconic “dang­dang” bell echo­ing down the street. With pas­sen­gers aboard and await­ing an ex­cit­ing jour­ney to see the city's night view, the routes are de­signed to pass through pros­per­ous ar­eas. Pas­sen­gers can choose to get off half­way and walk around or take a stroll in the hu­tong. The two routes are the East and West routes, both run in a loop start­ing from Qian­men. The East Route goes past Chang'an Av­enue, the CBD, San­l­i­tun,

Gui­jie, Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang and Shicha­hai. The West Route goes past the Bei­jing Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­tre, CCTV Tower, West Chang'an Av­enue, Ping'an Av­enue, Bei­hai and Changpu River, pas­sen­gers could get off to see the night view from the CCTV Tower or ride a dragon boat along an im­pe­rial canal.

The retro colour of the dang­dang bus makes it pop in pub­lic view, at­tract­ing at­ten­tion. The door frames, win­dow frames, floor­ing and handrails are all made of im­i­ta­tion wood to make pas­sen­gers feel like they've trav­elled back in time and are sit­ting in a dang­dang tram dur­ing the Peip­ing (to­day's Bei­jing) era. The wide and clean win­dows give pas­sen­gers a clear view of the scenery. The dark coloured uni­form worn by the driver, the trum­pet re­placed by a bell un­der the driver's foot and com­men­tary by the con­duc­tor all add to its quaint touch. As the wheels start to move and the bell sounds, the night jour­ney be­gins. Pas­sen­gers smile and take pho­tos. The dang­dang bus ride is a re­lax­ing and en­joy­able way for those view­ing the city's high­lights on the go.

The bus, which orig­i­nated from the dang­dang tram, was a rar­ity years ago, but many el­derly Bei­jingers still have fond mem­o­ries of it. Ninety-three years ago, on De­cem­ber 17, 1924, an open­ing cer­e­mony for the dang­dang tram was held in front of Tian'an­men, mark­ing the start of dang­dang tram oper­a­tion in Peip­ing. At that time, the tram didn't look as classy, which ran on a track with a trol­ley pole above at slow speed, and also of­fered “hang tick­ets.” As the fare was rel­a­tively cheap, there were many daily pas­sen­gers, some stand­ing on the side doors, hold­ing onto the win­dow frames, and hang­ing out­side the tram.

The tram then moves in both di­rec­tions with­out mak­ing turns at the ter­mi­nus. The driver stands on the left side at the front of the ve­hi­cle, holds the switch han­dle with his left hand and brake han­dle with his right. When­ever he stops the ve­hi­cle by mov­ing the han­dle and step­ping the bell, a “dang­dang” sound is heard. The driver would cre­ate a rhythm while step­ping on the bell, cre­at­ing a har­mo­nious melody pleas­ing to the ears. With a ticket folder in hand, the con­duc­tor sells the ticket, and writes the fi­nal des­ti­na­tion for pas­sen­gers us­ing red and blue pen­cils. When pas­sen­gers have fin­ished board­ing and alight­ing at a stop, the con­duc­tor blows a cop­per whis­tle as a sig­nal to the driver to move on. In the past, many el­derly women who walked slowly be­cause of their bound feet would chase af­ter the dang­dang tram shout­ing to the con­duc­tor, “Don't blow the whis­tle, wait a minute!”

Up un­til 1955, Bei­jing had eight tram routes with ticket fares cost­ing three, five, or seven cents, based on the dis­tance trav­elled. In 1959, to cel­e­brate the 10th an­niver­sary of the found­ing of the Peo­ple's Repub­lic of China, the Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal Gov­ern­ment de­cided to dis­man­tle all trams within the city. The last tram route out­side of the city, which runs from Yongding­men Rail­way Sta­tion to Bei­jing In­door Sta­dium, stopped its ser­vice on May 6, 1966. The dang­dang tram bid good­bye to Bei­jing.

On Jan­uary 1, 2009, Qian­men Av­enue was paved with tracks af­ter ren­o­va­tions. The dang­dang bus, which had been miss­ing for 50 years, reap­peared. The new dang­dang bus re­tained its orig­i­nal ap­pear­ance, but didn't rely on tracks any­more, mak­ing for a smoother ride. Pas­sen­gers of­ten hop on for a ride not only to view Bei­jing's night-time scenery, but out of cu­rios­ity to feel what it's like rid­ing this age- old bus.

West Route: Over­look­ing the Im­pe­rial City

At 7:00 p.m., the dang­dang bus ar­rives at the plat­form and be­gins its jour­ney along the West Route. Af­ter leav­ing Qian­men, the bus moves west­ward onto a route with a colour­ful street lights and scenery on both sides. The height of the bus al­lows pas­sen­gers to get a clear and full view.

As it passes west of the Sec­ond Ring Road, along Fux­ing­men are high-rise build­ings and brightly-lit fi­nan­cial streets. The fi­nan­cial street gath­ers the Peo­ple's Bank of China, fi­nan­cial su­per­vi­sion de­part­ments like China Bank­ing Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion, China Se­cu­ri­ties Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion, China In­sur­ance Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion, lo­cal and over­seas fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions and head of­fices of State-owned en­ter­prises, cre­at­ing a strik­ing con­trast with the an­tique and tran­quil Yue­tan along the road's west side.

When Kublai Khan (1215–1294) built the Great Capital of the Yuan Dy­nasty (1271–1368), he had cho­sen this place as the fi­nan­cial cen­tre. Dur­ing the Yuan, Ming (1368–1644) and Early Qing (1644–1911) dy­nas­ties, the banks, gold shops, merchants and af­flu­ent com­mu­nity, and mem­bers of the im­pe­rial house all gath­ered here. As Khan an­tic­i­pated, Jincheng­fang be­came a bustling com­mer­cial area and fi­nan­cial cen­tre of Yuan Dy­nasty. Dur­ing fight­ing be­tween war­lords, banks and gold shops moved to Qian­men and Dongcheng. It was only un­til 700 years later af­ter Jincheng­fang was es­tab­lished that the fi­nan­cial street once again be­came China's most in­flu­en­tial fi­nan­cial area.

The next stop of the ride is Bei­jing Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­tre, an ar­chi­tec­tural struc­ture rep­re­sent­ing an era of Rus­sian clas­si­cism. Built in 1954, it was pre­vi­ously known as the Soviet Union Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­tre. This was the birth­place of China's ex­hi­bi­tion in­dus­try. The ex­hi­bi­tion cen­tre changed its cur­rent name in 1958, ac­cord­ing to the opin­ion of Pre­mier Zhou En­lai (1898–1976). The ar­chi­tec­tural com­plex con­sists of 12 ex­hi­bi­tion halls, a Moscow Restau­rant and a theatre. Most of the vis­i­tors are at­tracted by its grand build­ings.

On the north side of the Bei­jing Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­tre is the “im­pe­rial ship” jetty where pas­sen­gers can take a cruise along the river. Also known as the “em­peror's river,” this long river was once used by im­pe­rial fam­i­lies dur­ing the reign of two em­per­ors dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty has a his­tory of over 700 years. Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Qian­long (1736–1796), this was a river course used only by the im­pe­rial fam­ily when Em­peror Qian­long vis­ited Wan­shou Tem­ple or when the im­pe­rial fam­ily went to the Summer Palace. Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Guangxu (1875–1908), Em­press Dowa­ger Cixi used this route to get to the Summer Palace on summer re­treats. It is also called the “Em­press Dowa­ger Cixi Wa­ter­way.” To­day, vis­i­tors can en­joy a boat ride on this river to cruise along an “im­pe­rial river.”

The next stop, the 405-me­tre tall CCTV Tower, is a high­light of the ride. Lo­cated on the West Third Ring Road, it re­sem­bles a large lan­tern hang­ing in mid-air. The Chi­nese say­ing, “One must climb high to see fur­ther,” comes to mind. From the 22nd floor and look­ing far from the 238-me­tre open air view­ing plat­form, one gets a 360-de­gree view of Bei­jing's night view. In ad­di­tion to Yuyuan­tan Lake, the fa­mous Diaoyu­tai State Guest­house and Bei­jing Zoo could also be seen. Also in clear view are the Bei­jing Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­tre, Chang'an Av­enue and the pros­per­ous CBD, con­sist­ing of the CITIC Tower and China World Trade Cen­ter Tower III. With a te­le­scope that can mag­nify views by 20 times, the city's de­tailed night-life can be ob­served.

Af­ter ad­mir­ing the view, it's time to en­joy a meal at “the high­est restau­rant in Bei­jing.” This re­volv­ing restau­rant is on the 18th floor of the CCTV Tower takes 90 min­utes. This restau­rant brings dif­fer­ent views of Bei­jing to din­ers as they en­joy gourmet cui­sine.

East Route: An­cient and Mod­ern

While the CCTV Tower gives vis­i­tors a long shot view of Chang'an Av­enue from above, the East Route of the dang­dang bus gives pas­sen­gers a bright Chang'an Av­enue to en­joy.

The bus goes past Zhengyang Gate, Tian'an­men Square, the Na­tional Mu­seum of China and moves to­wards the bustling CBD along the East Third Ring Road and East Chang'an Av­enue. The night view of East Chang'an Av­enue is more beau­ti­ful than its day­time scenery. The Wang­fu­jing com­mer­cial dis­trict is lively as usual, and Dong­dan has an old Bei­jing leisurely vibe with many for­eign­ers tour­ing the Silk Mar­ket in Yon­ganli. The bus ar­rives at the East Third Ring Road, and the CITIC Tower and China World Trade Cen­ter Tower III comes into sight.

The China World Trade Cen­ter is lo­cated at a com­mer­cial dis­trict with heavy car and hu­man traf­fic each day. The city is sleepless with the numer­ous street and car lights shin­ing bright at night. Of­fice work­ers and tourists walk­ing in that area would al­ways look up at the China World Trade Cen­ter Tower III and the im­pres­sive CITIC Tower still un­der con­struc­tion. At­mos­phere, a bar on the 80th floor of China World Trade Cen­ter Tower III, is the high­est, as well as most pop­u­lar for a ro­man­tic date. Guests are able to in­dulge in scenic views of the pros­per­ous CBD area and the capital from a height of 300 me­tres.

Dif­fer­ent from the CBD with its many sky­scrapers is the brightly-lit San­l­i­tun, Bei­jing's most fash­ion­able and trendy zone. San­l­i­tun is not only a fash­ion land­mark of Bei­jing with its own in­di­vid­u­al­ity and charm, but also a pop­u­lar leisure area. San­l­i­tun rep­re­sents cos­mopoli­tan leisure, leads in the lat­est fash­ion trends and boasts an artis­tic en­vi­ron­ment. It is a place for shop­ping, din­ing and leisure ac­tiv­i­ties. As a leader in fash­ion, this area has an assem­bly of flag­ship stores of in­ter­na­tional brands and shops with in­de­pen­dent designer brands, streetwear fash­ion, and is pop­u­lar among fash­ion­istas.

Be­sides the trendy young crowd, many for­eign­ers also en­joy the vibe of San­l­i­tun, lo­cated near many for­eign em­bassies. With many up­scale restau­rants and shop­ping malls, San­l­i­tun bar street is quiet dur­ing the day but comes alive at night. Many peo­ple come here to min­gle, catch up with old friends or meet new ones over a beer. Fash­ion­able ar­ti­cles of cloth­ing be­hind French win­dows, neon lights and melo­di­ous mu­sic and singing add to San­l­i­tun's night-life.

Not far away from San­l­i­tun is Gui­jie, the fa­mous food street and land­mark of Bei­jing's food cul­ture. The dishes com­monly found in Gui­jie's restau­rants in­clude hot­pot, sautéed bull­frog in chilli sauce, grilled fish and spicy cray­fish, which be­came fa­mous in re­cent years. Gui­jie at­tracts many food lovers here each day, and for Bei­jingers, this is their top choice when choos­ing a place to host guests or of­fer a treat. Gui­jie is not only the best place to ex­pe­ri­ence Bei­jing's food cul­ture but can be con­sid­ered the “holy land of food.”

From Gui­jie, the bus starts mov­ing to­wards Bei­jing's in­ner city and into the hu­tong, a must-see of Bei­jing's his­tory. Among the many hu­tong, Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang is most rep­utable and is the next stop along this bus ride. When Time mag­a­zine se­lected 25 places not to be missed in Asia, Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang was among six places from China.

Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang is one long hu­tong stretch­ing from south to north. Con­structed dur­ing the Yuan Dy­nasty, this hu­tong has over 700 years of his­tory. With Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang as the axis, eight other hu­tong are lo­cated on its east and west, form­ing a zone that presents Bei­jing's unique char­ac­ter­is­tics. Other than fea­tured shops that at­tract vis­i­tors to Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang, many for­mer res­i­dences of no­table peo­ple and old mon­u­ments are also lo­cated here. Walk­ing around the old al­ley which presents the “orig­i­nal ecol­ogy” of tra­di­tional Bei­jing, vis­i­tors can feel the his­toric charm of an an­cient city. Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang also has many bars, unique shops and art stu­dios. Per­haps the big­gest charm of Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang is its blend of an­cient and mod­ern styles.

Af­ter pass­ing the Drum Tower along the cen­tral axis of Bei­jing, the bus fi­nally ar­rives at Shicha­hai. Dur­ing the Yuan Dy­nasty, this was the start­ing point of the north­ern sec­tion of the Grand Canal. Shicha­hai has a wide wa­ter area, numer­ous princely palaces, dense parks, tem­ples and beau­ti­ful scenery. There used to be ten Bud­dhist tem­ples in the area. Shicha­hai has been the place where na­tive Bei­jingers en­joy the summer since the Qing Dy­nasty. To­day, even af­ter night­fall, sight­see­ing boats are still seen on the lake, el­derly Bei­jingers take strolls along the stone path, while tourists ad­mire the beauty of a de­vel­op­ing city. Bei­jing is not only charm­ing in the moon­light, but filled with a cap­ti­vat­ing ur­ban life­style.

In­side Bei­jing’s dang­dang bus

Tak­ing a photo from the dang­dang bus, in the CBD area near the East Third Ring Road

Peo­ple come and go in the bustling Nan­lu­ogux­i­ang Al­ley

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