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Dear Audiophiles,

I'm embarking on a trip to Beijing very shortly and am wondering if any of you have any tips or recommendations for places of sonic interest, as I hope to come back with a collection of interesting ambiances and oriental soundscapes.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Sound, Nicol

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I was in Shanghai for 5 weeks and I loved the markets over there. Bustling with life, chickens and other animals, people screaming, very fun.

I will say though be careful out there especially in Beijing. Don't start whipping a recorder out infront of soldiers or police or in any government areas, they don't like that much from foreigners!

  • Thanks for the tip, I have been warned as much. And already have had to declare I have no media intentions when I'm there! – Nicol J Craig Mar 7 '12 at 18:44
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I went to Beijing in 2009 and found it to be sonically very rich. The first thing that struck me was the number of people - sounds like a cliché but the population difference between Beijing and the big cities in Europe is quite apparent. This makes recording nature (such as in parks, of which there are many) slightly difficult. On the flip side, markets, subway stations, teahouses, streets etc. make very interesting subjects to record.

As Edmatthews82 has said, just be aware of recording in certain places. I did all recording with a small handheld. Check this post for more info. There are many street markets in the daytime and at night which are pretty cool to record. Silk St market is a great place to get cheap counterfit clothes, and offers an interesting soundscape and Donghuamen, a night food market is also well worth a visit. Also, the Hutongs (complex network of small alleys and backstreets) are usually pretty lively and I got some great recordings there.

In terms of temples and monuments, at the Forbidden City, there are usually some musical performances and a lot of interesting temple sounds (gongs, chanting, traditional instruments). Further towards the outskirts, the Summer Palace is a much bigger, greener space where it's possible to record much calmer ambiances. But there are many smaller temples, such as Prince Gong's palace, where you can often find some interesting (and usually very calm) soundscapes.

Teahouses are great places to record, as well as to soak up some local atmosphere. Try to find a genuine one though, rather than a tourist-aimed operation. I found the soundscapes of the subway system to be really interesting too. Maybe it's the fact that to me, the language is so different, but the announcements reverberating around the station, along with the hustle and bustle of people made it very rich.

Lastly, if you have enough time it's well worth making a trip to the Great Wall of China. There are a couple of spots not far from Beijing, but these tend to be very busy. I would recomend taking a trip a bit further out to avoid the masses. I went to Jinshanling (about 2.5 hrs from Beijing) and hiked 12km to Simatai. An awesome experience both sonically and visually.

I have archived all of my recordings on my Sound Map. If you're interested to hear what I recorded, just zoom in on Beijing and have a listen. Enjoy your trip, and I'd love to hear what you experienced once you're back!

  • Thanks so much for your input! Very interesting read and the Sound Map is great. I'm excited about the markets, will definitely take your tea-house idea (any in particular you'd recommend? we're close to Tienanmen). I'm glad you said that about the wall, as we've organised a trip close to Jinshanling. As it's handy and I can't carry the sound devices I'll be using a Zoom H4n. Hoping that even beside the main monuments I won't be castrated for pointing a mic towards them. We'll see. Anyway, thanks again. I'm seriously excited (both sonically and culturally). I'll post up some of what I get. – Nicol J Craig Mar 7 '12 at 19:01
  • I can't remember names of teahouses, but in and around the hutongs there are many scattered around. I just kind of stumbled across them as I walked around. Honestly, the ambiance in the hutongs is really special. It's there where I felt like I was seeing (and hearing) a slice of local Beijing life! – Colin Hunter Mar 7 '12 at 21:24
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I was in Beijing for a week or so back in 2000 and the most memorable recordings I got were

  • I went to the Bell Temple/Museum and paid the assistant a small amount to let me record some of the bells

  • stealth recorded in a really big & well know noodle restaurant, where all the waiters shout out the number of people in the next group waiting to be seated....

  • about half hour drive out of Beijing towards Great Wall there is a military base with a shooting range where you can pay to sue whatever weapons you like... i think it was listed in the Lonely Planet Guide

  • recorded a guy using a spinning device/toy in a park that made an amazing sound!!

Examples of it & other recordings from trip are here: http://www.musicofsound.co.nz/blog/field-recording-2000

(the most bizzarre thing I saw was at the Natural Health Museum (or something like that - it was in Lonely Planet guide book) - dissected human cadavers!? it was very strange, straight out of a David Lynch film...)

  • Cheers tim. Definitely get myself to the Bell Temple. Had a gander at the blog which was really interesting too. – Nicol J Craig Mar 8 '12 at 10:10
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I've never been, but if I were you, I would record everything! You can never have TOO many recordings!

  • Yes, easier to blow out useless recording later than sit there in a "woulda coulda shoulda" stupor. – Stavrosound Mar 7 '12 at 7:31

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