A principal dancer of the San Francisco Ballet, Tan Yuan Yuan has a long-standing connection with the Chinese capital
eijing reminds me of my childhood and all the people who are special to me. I first visited the city when I was four years old. My aunt and her family lived in a hutong—an alleyway with traditional courtyard residences— near Tiananmen Square. At the time, the square wasn’t as crowded as it is today, so my cousins and I would ride our bikes around the square and fly kites. We used to buy fruits covered in hard candy on bamboo skewers, one of my favourite snacks and an authentic Beijing treat. Back then, the sellers would carry the candies in a wicker basket on their shoulder. Every time I come back to Beijing, I still make sure to go pick one up.
Whenever I visit the city, I like to sleep in a little late and then have a hot shower to start the day. For breakfast, I crave the local staples like Beijing yoghurt (a traditional fermentedmilk drink) or a glass of fresh-ground mung bean milk and sticky rice. After breakfast, I might venture into Nanluoguxiang, an ancient part of the city with traditional architecture. Last time I was in town, my friends and I stumbled upon a hip bar with a wonderful live singing performance, fantastic cocktails, and many old books from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. I guess that’s the beauty of getting lost in such a big city with so much heritage—you’ll never know what you’ll find.
I always try to accessorise with an Asian twist, so my favourite place to shop is the antique market Panjiayuan. Every time I go there, I feel like I’m on a treasure hunt to find the most beautiful, elegant and ancient style accessories— like a bangle, a necklace or a hairpiece. Guijie (Ghost Street) is the only street in Beijing that truly never sleeps; after a performance, when it’s late and everything else is closed, I love to go there for comfort food. For the perfect gift from Beijing, I would get my friends pearl earrings from the Hongqiao Pearl Market. For Chinese people, pearls symbolise purity and carry a lot of meaning. I would get them similar-style earrings, but always in different colours.
You can’t visit Beijing without trying Peking duck; I recommend Country Kitchen at the Rosewood Beijing. The wood-roasted Peking duck is revived from an old recipe that was once lost—and it’s better than any other I’ve had. For dance lovers, a visit to the Beijing Dance Academy is a must. The Grand Theatre has fantastic performances. You walk through a hallway that goes underneath a man-made lake—i suggest getting there early before the performance starts to spend some time there. Have a coffee at the cafe, take pictures and immerse yourself in the environment. When I was young, my grandfather took me to see Drunken Beauty (Guifei Zuijiu) and I fell in love with Chinese opera, so if I can, I always try to catch a show.
At the end of the day, I enjoy spending some quiet time in my hotel room, reading a good book and having a glass of red wine. Either that, or I spend some time in the spa and get a massage to relax my muscles after a busy day of exploring the city or practicing ballet.
Tan Yuan Yuan is a Rosewood Hotels curator for the city of Beijing