Because not everyone likes an unprepared journey, I collect what surprises me. Keeping in mind all the cliches, wild stories and warning I get beforehand. How much of it is true, how much is crazy talk? First in de series ‘x things you should know about’: Beijing.
Expect little to no sun in Beijing during the summer. The 5 days I stayed there I literally saw nothing but smog. While it being 30-40 degrees each and every day. All you can see is brown-grey smog. Not really pleasant to watch or to walk through. Do you need a mouth mask? I’d say no. I’ve seen more Chinese tourists in Europe wearing one than here in Beijing. Side note: many wear it to prevent themselves of catching others diseases. Makes sense. The amount of smog does clutter people’s noses which makes them spit on the street quite often. Yup, you have to get used to it. I’m even less into them sneezing out in the open. No hiding their face just straight projecting sneeze. Funzies!
OK, first the good news: there are public toilets all over the city. I still don’t get how they manage to have free, public toilets every 500m. So far the good part. I mean if you really really need to go then you have options. Which is good. All you need to do is hold your breath and be a bit of an acrobat. You see they only have the holes in the ground toilets. Which they don’t clean regularly. So squat and enjoy breathless minutes. Don’t forget your toilet paper. They sometimes provide it at the entrance, sometimes they don’t. If you manage to wait a bit longer you can use restaurants, bars or hotels. Most have European styled toilets but not all. And not all have toilet paper. So stuff some napkins in your backpack or your pockets. Don’t bring an entire roll of toilet paper. Takes up too much space. Oh, and never throw your paper in the toilet. It clutters the pipes. Fold it and put it in the trash can next to the toilet.
I’ve heard many horror stories before I came to China of people peeing in the streets. Well, some if it is true. Small children almost always pee in the street. They actually wear pants with an hole inside to make it easier or no pants at all. I mean many of these people are too poor to buy diapers and the public toilets aren’t easy to put a child on. It would just fall in. I’ve seen parents holding up their child above a trash can or a plant tray. Funny site. Most adults keep it clean. No peeing or pooping in the street. So don’t worry, Beijing isn’t one big human waste place.
Before I came to China many people asked if I could speak Chinese. I couldn’t. I did download some podcasts to learn while flying but I still can’t say more than Thank You, Hello, Sorry and I want this. Which is nice. It’s a good way to show that I invested some of my time and that I try to be polite. More Chinese would be helpful, but you’d need way more to be able to have a conversation. Do you need it? If you only do the touristy parts no. You’ll always find someone that speaks a small bit of English. If you go a bit further then it’s just a bit more challenging. You’ll need to be more patient, use more hand signals and more rudimental English. If you use the bus or metro, check the stops. Some names are long and hard to pronounce so they might not understand you.
You can easily play safe in Beijing and opt for international chains or you could go for local delicacies. Depending on how adventurous you have different options. You can go to a restaurant that has a picture menu with English translation. These are used to getting tourists. So no worries there. You could go to one with the picture menu and only Chinese. That’s a one up. Or you can be extra crazy and just pick a restaurant that only has Chinese. And pick something random of the menu. If you do that maybe try some speciality places. Like a dumpling place, or a fish place. That way you’re half sure of what you will be getting.
No worries, not all restaurants serve donkey or dog. There are restaurants if you’d like to try these types of meat but they advertise it. If you’re allergic to something: write it down in Chinese. Explaining that you’re allergic to peanuts is quite difficult if they don’t know the word. Oh, and try Peking Duck. I mean. It’s Peking.
Say bye bye to your social networks. No Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Google in China. You can’t just look up something about your hostel through Google because that is blocked. Be creative, select bing.com, for example, or put up a VPN network. VPN redirects your IP address so that they don’t know that you’re in China. You can buy a VPN monthly subscription or pick one for free. Keep in mind that most VPN networks only do their job when using decent internet. So if the hostel’s wifi sucks you’re fucked.
- Traffic and people
Yes, Beijing is big and busy but it is not unpleasant or claustrophobic. I was expecting seas of people and piled-up people in the subway but that was actually not the case. I was always able to breathe. In traffic, you need some extra attention, but they drive quite disciplined. In the sense that most drivers are still applying the traffic rules and checking the road lights. Plus, cars and mopeds are separated. And mopeds drive electric so no noise. Tip: try when crossing to go along with a group of locals. Step in the middle of the group. So you are sure you don’t get the first hit. Each on their own when crossing! Touristy places can be crowded. But so is Disneyland. Have patience, look around and remember that you have plenty of time. Please notice when you’re in a row. Chinese people don’t queue.
In Thailand to go to a religious place your shoulders and knees need to be covered. In doing so, the Thai went so far that you could borrow a shirt just to be sure that all body parts were covered. In Beijing that’s not the case. I visited the Forbidden City and the main Tibetan temple with a thin sweater out of respect while next to me were Chinese in mini-shorts and bared shoulders. In general the locals dress quite fashionable and often even sexy. Think of see-through dresses and skirts, colourful sneakers and trendy snapbacks and sunglasses.