A little over an hour on the bullet train south of Beijing is the sleepy city of Shijiazhuang. The city is probably not known for much besides offering affordable apartments for newly arrived ‘Beijingers’ who can’t afford the outlandish prices of housing in the nations capital. The pace of life is slower here and the vibe is a world away from its northern neighbour. A wander along the streets finds small shops selling beer brewed in gleaming copper drums, fragrant smoke from outdoor barbecues perfuming the air beckoning you to a plastic seat and mini table in some impromptu restaurant, and even the traffic seems less hectic and at ease with the rhythms of life. The city’s charms are subtle: beautifully crafted parks, a well ordered commercial centre with a slowly growing metro system, a modern and expansive cultural museum, and plenty of western food options, yet perhaps the cities greatest boon for visitors is in the laid back attitude of its inhabitants. Inquisitive and friendly, people go about life with the innocence and simplicity one often encounters in much smaller and less civilised towns in China.