Friday, 25 October 2013

Guide to Beijing, China: Getting around, what has the city have to offer?



China – can it sustain growth? Getting around Beijing

I may have only spent time in Beijing, and took a train across the country, but the sheer size of its towns and cities, the growth of the skyline, and its modern look just exemplifies the place that China holds in the world.

Beijing has been flattened and rebuilt with many big block faceless buildings. History and culture seems to have been surrendered, even the Hutong area has been and is being rebuilt.

Speaking to a local, he tells me of the property bubble and how it is growing out of control. Rates and costs are rising, and this is unsustainable.

Sustainability is the theme here. So many people, so much growth and so many fighting to make sure they get the slice of the cake. I watch people as I travel and here in Beijing it’s no different, except there are so many more people here to watch.

I am first amazed by how everyone seems out for their own. People queue jump and push in line, they force their way onto the metro before people have disembarked. They seem to want to be there first before someone else gets there. And its easy to understand why, 1 billion people, if they are to have a chance they have to push up front. Natural selection and the fittest will survive seems to be very evident.

It’s also surprising how large the Beijing people seem to be, obesity is certainly a problem and growing by the day. Hundreds of fast-food outlets with McDonalds and KFC, to be honest this is a relief away from some of the very heavy Chinese food.

TAXIS
The roads are packed and it is likely you will not get anywhere fast, so use the metro if you can, only in the early hours of the morning are the roads quieter. Most of the taxi drivers I had seemed rude. In fact one evening I asked 3 taxi drivers to take me somewhere and they all Declined. I tried to show them somewhere on my map and they declined, this could be because they could not read. This either indicates their eyesight ability or their literacy levels.
In most cases it's quicker to take the metro and walk between locations, though expect a 10-15 minute walk to locations, plus only costs 2RMB

SHOPPING

Silk Market 
The home of replica branded clothes (shorts, tshirts, dresses, trousers etc) including Superdry, Armani, Abercrombie & Fitch etc, silk products, handcrafts, and tailored clothing. There’s a lot to feast your eyes on, and many ready to feast on your wallet:
- Expect to have to haggle hard, the buying process is more ridiculous than India and can often be much more offensive.
- Remain unbelievably calm
- When haggling don't speak just use their calculator
- They will try to charge you a ridiculous price for example a replica Superdry Tshirt is quoted as 700rmb. You should only pay what you feel the value is. Place a counter offer of 30Rmb, this will go back and forth until a final offer is agreed. It is likely you could get it for 50rmb but It's about being tough with negotiation.
- The experience left me bitter, angry and upset. They seem to be very much playing games with tourists, so it's important not to take it seriously (like I did) and play the game back. There's plenty of shops selling the same items so you can always move to another seller, at which point they are likely to say they will accept the offer. Thank god I was not alone on this trip…

EATING

The Den by Bar Street
4 Gongti Dong Lu, Gongti, Chaoyang District
·      Western food
·      Burger bacon and egg with fries and salad. Very good. 45rmb
·      Popular with westerners especially expats

CULTURE


798 - arts district 
Visit the arts district, it somewhat reminds me of East London and Shoreditch, or Brooklyn/ Williamsberg. It is very cool, and very Chinese new art. It feels like an escape from the busy surrounding city and is a certain must visit if you have 4 days in Beijing. It only takes 45 minutes to get there. Follow these directions.

909 bus (2rmb) from exit C at Dongzhmen subway (Line 2)
6km journey out of the city North East towards airport 

798 has many bars, coffee shops and restaurants, art houses, craft stores, galleries, so it is easy to while away a lot of time here.

HISTORY
Visit Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, Drum Tower, Bell Tower, and Hutong area while here, all this will take you just one day. You will find it incredibly busy, but it is pretty much all within walking distance. If the clouds look heavy and grey take an umbrella! Don’t be caught in the heavy rainstorms.

While we were in Hutong we grabbed a lunch and a massage, the area was once the old part of Beijing, rebuilt it still has many of the trademarks of former times, with smaller streets, one-storey buildings, many restaurants and shops and pretty much the back-packer tourist area. I felt little vibe here due to the fact it had been heavily rebuilt, but this is what I found from much of Beijing.

EXCURSIONS

The Great Wall, Ming Tombs
We took a day trip out to The Great Wall on an excursion that included shopping outlets and the Ming Tombs. To be honest, I wished I had opted only for The Great Wall and taken the hike of the Jinshanling part of the wall, instead we took the Mutuanyu, with a cable car up to the top and a toboggan down to the bottom (which is quite fun). The wall length is limited for walking, but provides a wonderful view of the Wall and the surrounding landscape.
The excursion cost us 180RMB

The Beach, BeDaihe
We were spending 5 days in Beijing, so I needed to escape. We were advised to visit the beach. On reading more details we found it is a popular tourist destination for Russians, and so to it is – with all signs being dual language Chinese and Russian where English is forgotten. We took a train in the morning (7.35am) arriving at 9.30am, we were on the beach by 11am and enjoying a fresh Crab and Fish lunch at 2.30pm. A train back at 4.40pm and we were in Beijing again by 7pm, ticket 180RMB return.
When booking a train ticket, look out for the Train Ticket office in the far right side of Beijing station as you look at it. There is an English Desk and you will need to look hard. Alternatively queue, speak English and they will find someone for you. This process could take about an hour, so give yourself plenty of time.

To/From Airport
Take the train, it’s only 25RM and only takes 30 minutes to get to the Metro, then it is very easy to figure out from there.

Safety
I felt safe in Beijing, no fear of pickpockets nor did I feel threatened, but it’s worth being aware of your surroundings

Currency
Working 10RMB to the £ helped me budget a bit, but it does seem like Beijing is an expensive city and not the cheap I was expecting. Just be aware of costs.

Technology
Download a VPN Direct Application, especially to access Facebook
WeChat – excellent for connecting with any local
Jack’d – connect with gay locals.

See my China Gay Travel post