Beijing by Foot by Eric Abrahamsen
Although not technically a book per se, Beijing By Foot is quite possibly the most illuminating guide to the Chinese capital this year. The concept is simple, a box set of 40 cards, each detailing an individual walk around the city. However it’s in the execution of this idea that Beijing publisher Immersion Guides has excelled.
The eureka moment came when managing editor Adam Pillsbury was on a visit to his childhood home of Paris and stumbled across a set of guided walks to the French capital. The walks were such a pleasant, interesting way to rediscover his hometown, that Pillsbury proposed the same for Beijing, bringing onboard long-time Beijing resident Eric Abrahamsen to compile them. Abrahamsen then spent six months traipsing around the city’s hutongs and highways to research every minute detail. It appears time well spent.
On one side of every card are a brief history and list of the neighbourhood’s highlights, while the other has a detailed map in English and Chinese, as well as a recommended walking route. Reading the tightly written text, which boasts a huge wealth of insightful facts and figures on capital life, it becomes quickly obvious that Abrahamsen didn’t take any shortcuts on his long and tortuous journey around the city. Immersion Guides are to be praised, too, for their willingness to introduce a new concept to an already-crowded guidebook market, and a product that, through fortune or good planning, has found itself an unoccupied niche.
On card number 40, entitled ‘The Egg’, Abrahamsen writes: ‘Like a spaceship descended, the glass and titanium dome of the National Centre for the Performing Arts commands attention from every angle.” One could say that Beijing by Foot commands similar respect for its attention to detail, and for revealing, as the synopsis aptly says, ‘the real city behind the tourist façade’. Simon Ostheimer