When you arrive in China the combination of the journey, the heat, the fatigue and the breaking of your internal clock make for a pretty bad feeling. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to counter it; waking up, and getting about even if it means zonking out cold in your wife and daughter’s room. My mother and I were not quite so… motivated. Therefore, the list provided is not particularly long and does not include vast paragraphs of information for you to ‘ooh‘ and ‘ah‘ at.
Also, pertaining to the featured image, the sighting of birds in Běijīng is a relatively recent development as Chairman Máo disliked the birds going to toilet on his roof. So he ordered them all to be shot dead, which is, you know, totally not an over-reaction. When my family and I left in the summer of 2003 the birds were only just beginning to re-appear; hence why I scarpered about after a dozen birds like a lunatic.
Place of Photograph – Tiān’ānmén Square.
- Travelling in Běijīng
This is not recommended over large distances and main roads. Though the heat in Summer is atrocious and the cold in Winter can be terrible, that is not why this mode of transport is advised against. However, it should be said that no one was harmed and that I am a scaredy-cat – take these words with due heed. Walking is better for health and for the environment.
If you have ever seen India on television – its roads specifically – then I imagine it would be followed with a sense of ‘I’m glad our roads aren’t like that’. If you go to Běijīng and see that the Little Green Man is standing proudly you should proceed with caution. Traffic lights mean nothing. If there is a crowd of people they may well push their way across the road. If there is a green man it is almost certain that a car (or cars) will slowly edge on by regardless.
There’s a good saying that I came to really appreciate when in Běijīng – go with the flow.
Safety in numbers is a marvellous, marvellous thing.
There is no country in the world that is worse for trying to hail a taxi than Běijīng. Aside from the hazardous roads where cars will drive in bicycle lanes, in the emergency lanes of motorways, also known as the ‘shoulder’, will not stop for a red light and all drivers fancy themselves as speed racers. There is a ‘taxi app’. Those who use it to get a taxi are paid an added 10 kuài or so. Therefore, no taxi app, no taxi.
It will make you mad as Hell to see empty taxis flying past you. It doesn’t matter how long you stand there with your hand out. They just are not interested.
While it should be said that we did get taxis when in these situations it was after a long while. In some cases we had to locate the nearest hotel and ask them to use the app to get us one.
It is not impossible, though it will sometimes seem like it.
Subway / Underground
When it comes to travelling in Běijīng I would recommend that, where applicable, you take the subway. The system is astoundingly simple. In fact, it is so simple that you can get your tickets from the machine with the language set to Chinese. All that you have to do is select the number of stops that you wish to travel and the number of people travelling. During my holiday it was priced at 元2! That’s £0.20 per person! That was set to change in the weeks since our departure so the tickets will probably already be at a higher price which, I think you’ll agree, is actually a very good thing.
Why? Well, if you see your train racing off just as you come down the stairs – don’t worry! Another one is already on it’s way. Just count the number of advertisments on the walls. No, really! Two minutes and you’ll be on your way. What is that? You have to connect to another line of the subway? That’s easy! Take the train to your connecting station (i.e., you need to exit Line 1 Station 10 to connect to Line 2 Station 3) and get off. When you disembark, you’ll see a big sign with the line and station number that you’re going to (for example Line 2 Station 3) on it. Here there are clear signs telling you the name of the stop you’re going to. There will also be (in my experience) a majority (or an amount that feels like a majority) of those disembarking making their way to that connecting stop as well.
As for the exiting of the subway? That’s easy too! There are these boards stuck onto the walls. They’re right next to the stairs that you go down to reach the platform. They tell you that, for example, to come out at ‘Place 1’ you need to choose Exit A, Exit B, Exit C, or Exit D. Each Exit has an arrow next to it. Just go in that direction and you’ll come out where you need to. If ever you’re unsure, check at the reception of your hotel before you go. If necessary, ask the receptionist to write down the name of your exit (they, and the station names are all in Chinese characters and the phonetic spelling. Only in Chinese characters and the phonetic spelling).
The only thing I would say to this is that it can be sore on your feet. The subways were only ever really crowded about two or three times (when I was there), but Chinese Chinese people are like lightning. If a seat is vacated it will be filled. Just give it a second or two (much longer than you could ever take to move) and once more there is an ass on it.
- Place of Temporary Residence
Do try to choose a hotel that caters for foreigners. I mean, it’s just not a good idea, really, otherwise.
Another thing that absolutely must be kept in mind while in China is that China is run like the military. No matter where you go you shall be out by a certain time. Even restaurants. If the restaurant closes at ten, the kitchen will be shut at half past nine. If, in that restaurant, you see a slice of cheese cake, but it is one minute past the kitchen closing time, do not expect the staff to go and put it on a plate for you. The kitchen is closed. End of discussion.
(oh, cheese cake… *sniff, sniff*)
Also, unless things have changed hugely since I was there, expect armed soldiers (not police) to be standing at every corner and junction. Some may even be stationed beside armoured vehicles.