"Beijing" Beijing by Martialsk
Beijing Travel Guide: 6,296 reviews and 15,868 photos
Beijing. This is where our Asian Epic Journey began...during the annual Chinese National Week no less - at a time when people from all over the country celebrate all things Chinese including the national treasures and places of historical and political interest. Our to-do list was much the same as everyone else's...Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, the Great Wall and all the bits in between. National Week is also an important time for the Chinese to pay their respects to their gods and so the Temples were bustling, full of incense scents, smoke, blazing burners and hordes of worshippers.
Frantic, crazy, unbelievable and above all, an extraordinary way to start this journey. The crowds were like nothing we've ever experienced and definitely took some getting used to. In parts, this could be so exhausting but crowds can provide a fabulous atmosphere that begins to define a place and the associated experiences.
Having just finished a 7 week trip around Europe, we arrived on a flight commencing in Copenhagen (via Kiev) into Beijing at 4.30am only to discover that my backpack had been damaged enroute and needed urgent care before we could leave the city. Our first priority was to find a seamstress/ tailor and luckily for us, the hotel knew of someone in the Hutong just around the corner! After some aimless wandering around the Hutong, surreptitiously sneaking peeks into tiny windows and doorways, a man came running down the 'street' gesticulating at us. When I pointed out my problem, he nodded, took the pack and walked into the tiniest of rooms which was obviously his workshop/ house and proceeded to do the necessary. It’s amazing what can be done using only hand signals, a lot of gesturing and a calculator but, he worked it out and 20mins later we walked away with the problem solved.
In hindsight, two European women wandering through a Hutong isn't exactly commonplace - especially in this very suburban part of the city - and also when one of them has that very particular Scandinavian 'yellow' hair!
I say 'yellow', even though my friend has almost 'white' blonde hair, because that is what people would refer to it as when they approached us asking for photos. It became a common experience - people would stop and stare and even point at us. In some cases they'd sneak a photo from afar, or would shyly approach and gesture a picture - or send the children to do it instead!
I was starting to appreciate how celebs feel when cameras follow them around. There is something incredibly intrusive about someone pointing a 500mm zoom lens at your face without 'permission' and was one aspect of this trip that I never quite got used to.
Beijing is monstrously huge with a population of something like 20 million people! However, it has 5 city ring roads and most of the major arterial roads within the first city ring road are based around the ‘Central Axis’ – North to South as per the Forbidden City & Tiananmen Square layouts. Our hotel was within the first City Ring Road but in the southern suburban end (Hutongs only...no skyscrapers here) and our map was ok except that it wasn't marked to scale so we had no idea of distance until we started walking! A city choked with traffic, people and dust. So much dust that our throats would ache at the end of every day. For the time that we were there save for the last day, we had blue (clear) skies up until early afternoon when the smog haze would set in and reduce visibility. Autumnal Beijing is much cooler than high summer and smog wasn't so bad. All in all, I thought it was a fairly attractive city with some lovely buildings, temples, green spaces (with pagodas & large lakes) & royal parks plus brand new shiny skyscrapers. I’m pleased we had 5 days here because we needed every minute of them!
Considering it was the Chinese National Holidays and the busiest time of the year, we managed to stay together through the massive crowds at the major sites and managed to avoid being run-over by the manic Chinese drivers/ cyclists/ pedestrians/ bikes and the crazy 60+ old grannies on the market warpath.
Generally, we found people friendly and mildly curious but ‘rudeness’ as we would define it was prevalent everywhere - along with spitting very loudly and grossly! Both men and women would loudly work up a decent snot ball before just spitting it anywhere and this practice was exceptionally common in the North. Interestingly, this wasn't as common in Shanghai where in some parts of town there were signs tellng people not to spit in public places! The other noticeable trait was the loud yelling – even among waiting staff in restaurants and almost always usually in one’s delicate ear!
The roads belonged to absolutely everyone…other than yourself. Pedestrian crossings were deathtraps in stripes and even if there was a Green Man you would still need to run/skip/hop/dodge for your life whilst attempting to miss buses,bicycles,mopeds,cars and bizarre contraptions with wheels that somehow had more rights than you! Hectic, manic, frenetic and downright terrifying sometimes!This place put the Italian & Spanish drivers to shame!
The other most notable trait of the Chinese was the inability to say’ excuse me’…they would just bowl you over if you didn't stand your ground or fight for your place in the pecking order and I found the women much worse than the men! I know this because we had to fight for access to toilets in busy places or for the check-out at busy shops!Queuing is taboo!Generally everything was a free-for-all and you needed to be swift and alert!
There is something fundamentally wrong with shoving an old lady out of the way in the toilets…even if she did elbow you in the groin where it obviously hurts most. However, because by now one was still fighting one's conscience regarding shoving old ladies, about 10 of them had taken full advantage of one's weakness and snuck into the toilet that one was desperate for! I can blame my upbringing!
In saying that, I did have my height which was somewhat of an advantage and since I had swiftly learnt the ways of Chinese people I didn't ‘queue’ anymore.I became extremely adept at shoving with one hand and elbowing with the other whilst keeping my gaze firmly ahead and vacant…and no one…but I mean ‘no one’ snuck past me anymore in the toilets!I didn't care how old they were…they could bl*!$y well wait!!
Chinese people just ‘walked’ in an oblivious fashion...they were completely careless about randomly crossing your path or shoving you off the pavement in front of an oncoming bus.It’s very strange for us because when we walk pavements in most parts of Europe, unspoken compromises are made and somehow we get on about our business with minimal physical contact. When people do bump one another there is generally some form of communication (at least in my experience!) Maybe it is because we have more personal space in Europe. There is no personal space in China - too many people and not enough space = no concept of privacy!
In light of all that, not for a minute did we feel unsafe in this massive sprawling juggernaught of a city. It was an education in parts, positively eye-opening in others, grotesquely disgusting in some but all in all? Extraordinarily Fabulous. Wouldn’t change a thing!
- Pros:history, experiences, culture, people, food
- Cons:Gargantuan Huge, dusty, smoggy, busy
- In a nutshell:Frantic, mesmerising, look beyond the smog and dust!
Two important issues that we noticed: 1. Beijing is a city of 20 million people. There is a high chance that the taxi... more travel advice
We wanted to experience a real Peking Duck dinner but unfortunately for us, the choice of restaurants was a mistake... more travel advice
Martialsk's Related Pages
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