Fast Facts:
China

WHAT WE DID:

  • Spent one week in Beijing (at a guesthouse off Wangfujing Road, ~3km from The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square).

 

WHAT WE LIKED:

  • Beijing’s metro was quite good – cheap, clean, easy to navigate, and the trains ran very frequently… a great way to get around the city.
  • The Great Wall was as cool as we expected it to be. After being so disappointed with Beijing, I feared that wall wouldn’t live up to my expectation, and I would feel like visiting the country was a waste. I’d wanted to see the wall ever since the Chipmunks and Chipettes danced across it in 1987’s Chipmunk Adventure. Luckily, we had a fabulous time hiking, especially the Gubeikou to Jinshanling section – just beautiful.

 

WHAT WE’D CHANGE:

  • We wouldn’t have stayed nearly as long, but were trapped by the need to acquire a Russian visa.

 

WHAT WE LEARNED:

  • Taxis are a royal pain in the ass; I think we had about a 10% success rate on hailing a cab. A lot of drivers in Beijing don’t actually know how to get many places, and others don’t want to take you if it’s even slightly off their usual route, where they’re guaranteed to nab a return customer… and we were typically asking to go to high-traffic areas.
  • Being a vegetarian in China is difficult. Moreover, the food is so full of sugar and MSG, I [Jenn] found it barely edible.
  • China and I [Jenn] are ethically and socially incompatible. It’s great that a lot of people find happiness there, but it is not at all for me.
  • We were aware of the vast cultural differences in personal space and physical contact between our cultures before we left. However, I don’t think we were prepared for just how aggressive one could be in fighting to be first on a subway train, or ahead in a ticket line, while still being socially acceptable. It is what it is – just a cultural difference – but one we found to be rather unpleasant.
  • Postcards are impossible to find in Beijing. No joke – we looked at all the tourist sites, and at post offices and major bookstores, as others had recommended. I finally had to mail my best buddy Reese a POS postcard-esque advertisement for some Chinese movie. Lame. Sorry, Reesie.
  • Chinese has got to be the most overwhelming and challenging language to try to learn. To read a Beijing newspaper, it’s estimated that you need to be able to recognize at least 3,000 characters of the character-based (logographic) written language. Well-educated natives typically recognize 4,000–7,000 of the more than 10,000 commonly-used characters. When we were at the visa office, the Chinese gentleman paused thoughtfully when he had to come up with the character for Poland. That was when we first thought, ‘my gosh… it has got to be unbelievably difficult to recall an infrequently-used symbol.’ Also, watching people text on the metro was hypnotizing, and we were duly awed by the skill and patience required to obtain a mastery of both interpreting the written language, as well as in the art of calligraphy.

 

WEIGHTS & MEASURES:

AVERAGE PETROL COST: N/A

AVERAGE EXCHANGE RATE: 6.6 Yuan (¥) to $1.00 USD

 

4 Responses

  • Interesting postings regarding China. Back in 2007, I spent ~ 2weeks on a business trip to Shanghai, Beijing and Qingdao. I immediately became sick, likely from the flight, although the smog exacerbated the situation. Individually I found the people genuine but intense. A cab ride through Beijing was best taken blindfolded with earplugs due to speed, aggression and blasting of horns. I also experienced the crowds and the constant jockeying for advantage was hard to take. I have not had lobster since a dinner in Qingdao where a whole (still moving) lobster was served as a “sushi” course a long with sea worms and other local specialties. Outside of the metropolitan areas the sights are spectacular and I too was not disappointed by the Great Wall. All in all still a great experience.

    • It’s funny, you’re the second person to mention being terrifying driving to me in Beijing. I’m not sure if we had an abnormal experience, but after a few months in SE Asia, the driving in Beijing seemed positively sedate. There were actual traffic laws, people usually stopped at red lights, and didn’t use their horn as a general announcement that their vehicle was moving in a forward direction.

      We didn’t explore the food scene too much, unfortunately. China has started using last-resort antibiotics in their livestock feed, so resistant microbes are starting to crop up, which is pretty bad news for global health. I stuck mostly to vegetarian fare. I have related your live lobster story to a number of people though!

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