Going ahead in time always messes with my conception of time. For me, yesterday would be the night before my flight, but it isn’t because technically it was while I was in the air.
It also doesn’t help that I arrived at 5:10 in the morning Beijing time, which was late night European time.
However, I managed to sleep a lot on the plane and was pretty energized.
By the time I got through passport control and baggage it was about 7:30.
A friend of mine, F, that I met while traveling the Balkans, basically a year before, is living in Beijing and was kind enough to pick me up this early.
He paid for a taxi to my hostel, or what we thought was my hostel.
It was soon learned that we were at the wrong one and we proceeded to go by metro to the right one.
I was able to check in early and we started to tour around.
I was told that it takes about 4 days to see all the major points in Beijing and that’s pretty accurate.
Since we started about 8:30, we saw a lot of stuff by the end of the day.
This day and the next were super cold and the wind chill was biting.
But luckily it warmed up the last few days of my stay.
I was very surprised and grateful that F took so much time to show me around and treated me to lunch, which comprised of Beijing duck.
I was super excited for authentic Chinese food! Yes, I had known prior that orange chicken and fortune cookies are American. As the old joke goes- Chinese food in China is just regular food.
I felt that he went above and beyond the call of duty and was also surprised he suggested we could meet the following evening…..which turned into Tuesday night…..which turned into no response. Which, actually, didn’t surprise me and didn’t bother me only in the sense that I was doing my thing, but that was why it bothered me because I needed to plan my day and needed an exact answer.
I couldn’t believe, and at the time of writing this, still can’t believe I’m in China. The first couple of days of being in Europe was the same. (Side note: I had to publish once I was out of China/in Hong Kong due to internet restrictions as WordPress isn’t allowed).
“Yeah, it takes a couple of days.” He said. I understand he is a bit tired of China after living here 6 years (he’s from Spain) and I was feeling a bit tired of the Czech Republic at the end so I tried not letting his mood effect my enjoyment.
We walked around most of the center, seeing Tianamen square, the outside of the Forbidden city, some huntongs (old small streets that all the buildings are one level), and Houhai park and lake, which was frozen so there were a lot of people on the ice.
Around Tian’amen square there is security. The Chinese are required to scan their ID cards and everyone is required to x-ray their bags. Only once was I asked to show a passport, but F talked our way out of it.
However, when I went to the Forbidden City, I took my passport just in case they asked again- I’m not very good at talking my way out of things haha. They didn’t, but to get into the city you need your passport as that is your ticket since they don’t have paper tickets. So I was really lucky!
I normally leave my passport at my hostel due to pick pockets and carry the copy around.
Speaking of security, all the metro stations have security measures. I’m not really sure they do anything besides just show there is some type of control because I could have easily hid something inside my winter jacket, but anyways.
During the warmer months you can take a boat around the Houhai lake. The ice seemed a bit thin and in places it wasn’t ice anymore, which made me nervous for those skating.
We had a coffee and tea near there at a place called 4corners. My guide book also suggested this place. Coffee in China or even tea for that matter is not the cheapest. It is actually a bit expensive. However, due to the tap water being terrible, bottled water is super cheap and there is free boiled water everywhere. For coffee, I did find a bottled ice coffee at a convenience store for about one US dollar, which was super good, so you can find it, but not in cafes and restaurants.
We then got dinner at this small hole in the wall place for dumplings, which was delicious.
China can be pretty cheap for eating if you go to the right places.
Upon returning to my hostel and seeing the exchange rate, the places F took me to weren’t exactly the cheapest and I was a bit worried for my time in Beijing because my hostel didn’t have a kitchen and I didn’t want to be spending so much money.
However, I met a lovely young woman, A, who is teaching English in Southern China and she told me that those prices were high and showed me some prices that were better for my wallet.
For our dinners we were paying on average 3-4 dollars for a lot of food, sometimes we couldn’t finish. This isn’t so bad. F told me it is custom to order more than you can eat, which seems a bit strange to me. I also heard its considered a great meal if food is still left on the table.
However, I do prefer to make my own lunches and maybe dinners as well. Walking around, I saw no grocery stores. Many convenience stores like 7 Eleven, but no actual supermarkets. I believed this was due to being in city center.
I did come across a Walmart, like I saw the sign outside, but upon entering the building, I couldn’t actually find it. I was curious what they would sell. I suppose the same things.
I also realized during one of my meals that the only cutlery they give are chopsticks. Which was fine with me, but it never occurred to me to look for a fork or knife.
Though I took a tour of the Great Wall from my hostel and ate the provided lunch, one of the women in my group asked for a fork and they had some.
Another realization I had while walking around was about the diversity. In Europe, I noticed there was a lack of diversity. However, in China, I was surprised to see someone not Asian- like I realized that also China was not diverse. I think it wasn’t so noticeable to me like Europe is because I grew up with a lot of Asians and so seeing them everywhere is normal.
This being said, in my Beijing hostel, I was listening to a very posh blonde American complain that she was a minority, which was infuriating. She said she couldn’t wait to get to Europe so she wouldn’t stick out.
I know China has a reputation of people staring and kids coming up to touch you or ask for photos (but more often just take the photo “sneakily” or not), but that’s their culture. You can’t get too upset because you look different and they aren’t familiar with people who look like you. Least they don’t spit on you, but rather take your photo like a celebrity.
Also, Chinese and Asians in general find being white and pale beautiful. It’s westerners that find being tan beautiful.
Apparently, in their make-up are bleaching components.
I studied marketing in university and I find the marketing in different countries fascinating. All the advertisements in China have been with Westerners or very white looking Asians. Coming from the “West” where body image and loving who you are is a big deal/push, it is hard not to feel saddened by this social trend.
The Forbidden City is 40 yuan and there is an audio guide, but I read that the Roger Moore version is the best and people said that it was more inside the city (also called the palace museum). I was looking for it, but I had already seen most of the city and decided to forgo it. There were enough information panels for me and my guide book offered some extra insight.
I got there at about 9 and I left about 14/2 pm. So it takes the whole day. There are plenty of food stores if you get hungry, but I brought food with me.
Within the city, there are 2 additional pay sections. The treasure section and the clock section. According to the free map (go to the visitor center near the entrance), the treasure section was pretty big while the clock section was just a building. So I decided to just do the treasure section (called this due to the jewels and such from the emperors).
I admit that I don’t know much about Chinese history…..granted its history is pretty long, putting the history of America to shame, but still. It was until 1908/1911 that China had an emperor and from the information panels, it appears that the mother of the emperor (Empress Dowager) had the real power especially one called Cixi (one of the last). We looked up what Cixi means and the app told us it means empress haha.
Since it was super cold when I went to the city, I would hide in an exhibition room for a few minutes to warm up. And actually, it was only my hands and cheeks that were cold. I layered enough that my body and feet were ok.
A common route is the Forbidden City and then going across the street to Jingshan Park, which offers some small temples and a great view of the Forbidden City and Beijing city.
Inside the Forbidden City, one can forget the bustling capital city surrounding it. But on top of that park, you get a greater understanding of its position in the bigger city. It is really cool and a bit trippy.
After this park, I went to Beihai Park. I walked around the lake and onto the island. It was beautiful and peaceful.
The next day, I took the hostel tour to Mitunyao section of the Great Wall. It’s a bit further from the city and therefore not as crowded. We got there pretty early and there was barely anyone there.
We were a small group, 7 people in total, from different hostels.
There was a friend pair from England and they were completely decked out. They looked lovely, but the wall is a bit of a hike and they weren’t exactly in dress appropriate clothes.
There was also another friend pair teaching English in China and a guy traveling the world for a bit. He was in China for 2 months and he was ready to leave and go to Europe. He sounded a lot like F.
The wall is split into the parts that the government has restored and the “wild” ones. I preferred the wild ones because it seemed more authentic and offered better views.
To get to this section was more hiking and climbing than the restored parts, but like I said, definitely worth it.
Our guide made it sound like we would be walking around trees and roots etc, but it was just uneven stones and the walls were a bit broken.
There are several ways to get to the top. You can hike up, take the cable car (100 one way/120 round), or the toboggan (100 one way).
I decided to do the cable car because I wanted as much time on the wall as possible. It also offered a short view of the wall from the sky, which was nice.
The guy from my tour’s bag got caught in the door of the car and it took several workers to get it undone before the car started going back down.
The view was spectacular and I really liked being early to avoid the crowds. Yes, the scenery is probably nicer in the summer, but I can’t imagine how crowded it is. I much prefer the “crowds” of winter.
Upon returning to Beijing, the sun was so bright that A and I continued to tour around, going to the Temple of Heaven.
Many of these parks have a ticket to enter the park and another ticket which is a through ticket, so entrance and entrance to the temples inside.
Due to it closing soon, we just got the park entrance.
Side note. Make sure to ask for student discount. You will need to show an ID and you might have to answer how old you are.
We were talking about steamed buns during the Great Wall and so I was craving some. We went to the shopping streets near Qianmen and found a place. We ordered steam buns with meat and a similar thing stuffed with rice. Both were delicious! We also ordered 2 soups, plenty of food. One soup wasn’t that great. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of it, but it was brown with meats and the liquid was like a gelatin consistency. I would recommend other soups.
The next day, A and I ventured to the Summer Palace. It’s about an hour metro ride from our hostel and I thought it wasn’t going to take that long, like an hour or two due to my experiences in Europe and their palaces. I was wrong. We were there the whole day.
It was beautiful and sunny. We made our way slowly. Taking everything in. Most of it was rebuilt in 1880s after the 2nd opium war in 1860. Many of the signs blame the western powers for the destruction.
We stopped at KFC to get some coffee/tea and then headed to a noodle place because I hadn’t had noodles yet.
I got a really spicy one and the woman at the counter was concerned for me haha. The next day lunch I ate here again and ordered another spicy one and again the woman (a different one) was concerned.
Noodle dishes range from 18 to 30 yuan or about 3 to 5 dollars.
It’s interesting to use dollars as the international currency again since in Europe it’s obviously the Euro.
My last full day in Beijing (this time as I will be back for 2 more nights before officially leaving China) I accompanied A to the train station as I also needed to pick up my train ticket.
I booked flights from Beijing to Shanghai and Shanghai to Xi’an only because many people and from what I read online said that the trains are pretty crazy especially during Chinese New Years (when I was visiting). China is a new territory for me and I didn’t want to be overwhelmed, but I figured by the time I got to Xi’an, I will know my way around China enough and the holiday will be over so I got a train from there to Beijing.
This being said, you can pick up all your train tickets at any train station in China before the departure.
Before separating, A gave me her transportation card for Beijing. You can either buy each ticket separately when riding the metro or you can get the rechargeable card (with a deposit that you get back). It depends how long you are in the city and how much you take the metro, but I was there for 5 nights and I think it is a bit worth it to get the card only because it saves from constantly buying tickets. From what I saw, I don’t think it saves anything in costs, but each ride is pretty cheap. The most expensive is like 7 yuan or a bit more than a dollar.
It goes by station. So the farther you go the more it is kind of like zones. If you take the airport express train/metro, that’s 30 yuan.
F told me it wasn’t necessary and so I kept buying tickets, but when A gave me hers and I was going around, the card is significantly easier/less hassle.
You have to tap in and out. We thought that if you tap in, but change your mind and leave the same station if won’t cost anything. That’s wrong. It will still charge 3 yuan.
I did this to avoid crossing the street because the Chinese in Beijing don’t stop even if it’s green for pedestrians.
After the train station I headed to 2 temples. The Lama Temple and Dongyue temple. The Lama temple was packed with people praying and incense were burning everywhere.
So, in 2018, Chinese New Years starts Feb 16th and on this day was Feb 14. So everything was decked out in red. Well, before was decorated as well, but I think that’s why so many people were here was due to it being close to the holiday. The next temple was completely empty.
I went to this temple because my guide book said they had these weird and interesting figures on the different “departments” of this religion. These departments are in charge if watching over good and bad deeds of different natures like cheating or abortion.
It’s all along the temple’s edges.
They were pretty interesting and again, I didn’t know much about Asian religions so it was cool to get some info.
“Are you interested in temples?” F asked me.
“Yes! I’m tired of Europe’s cathedrals and Catholic setting. I can’t wait to see new things!”
“Well, you will see a lot….” mumbled F.
It definitely met my expectations on being different from Europe.
Two more sites to see in Beijing are the Drum and Bell tower which are in the same square. Apparently one was to wake the people up and the other was to indicate the start of the work day.
My flight leaving Beijing to Shanghai was an interesting experience. I took the metro as early as possible for my 8 am flight.
I left around 5.30 and arrived at the airport about 6.50. I quickly did self-check in and stood in line to drop off my bag. I was watching as people were called behind the counter as their bag was flagged by the x-ray for something. I soon learned that China is very concerned with batteries in your checked bag. I was also noticing that the people being pulled over were not Chinese or not Asian.
I knew that batteries in your check in bag is not allowed previously and had all of them in my carry on. When it was my turn- wouldn’t you know it! I got pulled over to check. There was one security lady for 5 or 6 counters and she was running around between all of us.
“You have a battery.”
“No, I don’t.”
She went through my bag and looked at the screen and went through it again.
“Put your things back and do it again.”
I did as I was told and lord and behold! It didn’t beep again. I’m 99% positive the counter lady pushed a button to make the machine go off because if something was really in my bag then it would have triggered the machine again.
Now, it is about 7.20 and my flight boards at 7.30.
I get to security and they have lines for women only, which I found interesting as they do a pat down system. Once again, they checked every electronic. However, the signs only say laptop and camera. Later, when they pulled my stuff over, I came to realize they wanted every electronic cord and device out from my bag.
But they let water through and people could keep their shoes and sweaters on. I was even wearing 2 layers of pants and the woman didn’t flinch.
I made it to my gate right before it opened.
I flew with China Eastern and the plane itself was really nice. They even gave out a variety of free drinks and food! The food was not that great, but I was surprised because it was only a 2 hour flight.
I was sitting next to this creepy old Chinese man and he had a big camera. He would take photos outside the window, which I do all the time, BUT he also was taking close up photos of the flight attendants. They were pretty, but he would zoom in on their faces. I know this because he was using the view screen and not the view finder.
If we may skip forward to the end of my time in China…
So I originally made plans to be with my friend in Beijing and her hometown for Chinese New Year’s, but things happened and I couldn’t do that anymore, but I wasn’t going to stay in Beijing for basically 17 days so I made plans to travel around. However, I already had my flight out from Beijing.
So from Xi’an I went back to Beijing, but with train. It was a 5-6 hour journey. I got instant ramen noodles as boiling water was free on the train. I got lucky with a window seat and was able to see a little bit of the countryside- which isn’t that pretty. It was also a bit smoggy.
It was funny, because we would come through these cities and their skyscrapers and buildings looked like the little buildings in the game Monopoly. You have your small pieces and then your big pieces. They looked out of place like someone was playing Monopoly and was just dropping pieces big and small all over the place.
Beijing West Train Station was a bit of a mess. Because you have to also scan your ticket when you are leaving, everyone had to funnel through the gates, which took time and then everyone went into the metro, which we had to go through the fake security. There was so many people in line that they shut down the metro for a bit. Luckily, I made it through.
A journey that should have taken maybe 20-30 minutes took me about an hour and half to get to my hostel from the train.
China is not that efficient.
My last full day in Beijing and, therefore, China, I needed to get some souvenirs. So I met up with someone who I met in Shanghai for lunch and we walked around some huntongs near the metro station Nanluoguxiang (taking exit E). We had some noodles, these baguette filled with chocolate, and some delicious fruit juice.
Due to my early morning flight and to avoid the experience with my flight to Shanghai, I booked a place near the airport, but unfortunately, I needed to go all the way to the airport and then take a taxi. The taxi was about 13 yuan or a bit over 2 dollars, which was nothing.
At the hostel, I originally booked a dorm room, but I wasn’t feeling to social and just wanted to be by myself so I asked to be placed in a private room. They only had a room with 2 beds, which was fine. There was a hole in the ceiling funny enough and the bathroom had the shower head and toilet in the same place so water got everywhere and it was a bit dirty from past people, but for one night, it was perfect.
The walls were a bit thin so I could hear even the receptionist coughing, but the guy was super nice, helping me with my bags and trying to understand and speak English. However, in order to ask for toilet paper, I had to gesture wiping my bum for him to understand. They did provide disposable tooth brushes and shampoo in the bathroom.
I was super excited to go off to Hong Kong for full internet access and for Summer weather.
But, for now, please continue reading my time in China with the next chapter of Shanghai!
If you like, please stay tuned for my time in Hong Kong!
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