After roughly 19 hours in the capital of the People’s Republic of China, the early stages of second guessing our plans began to kick in. Attributing our change of heart to ‘culture shock’ is putting it mildly. All garbage in the street and unidentifiable meat-on-a-stick aside, going to China isn’t about reliving experiences from home. Half way around the world, we were
nudged shoved out of our comfort zone into a land far, far away with customs and nuances that we simply were not prepared for.
- Perhaps this goes without saying, but The Great Wall is really what makes the trip worth it (see more details on our journey to the ancient structure here). It’s just what you’d imagine — only better. Layers of mountains lay the foundation for the wall, snaking and writhing its way into the distance… It’s pretty breathtaking; literally and figuratively. 10 minutes in and we were feelin’ the burn. My increasingly toned derriere and legs thank the wall for the workout.
- Jingshan Park (Coal Hill Park) has a peak with a nice pavilion set hundreds of steps above ground level, with an absolutely amazing view of the forbidden city and surround. Down below is a really lovely green space where locals gather to play games, enjoy tai chi, and get down with their bad selves. Don’t believe me? Check out this foxy thang.
- Dirt cheap street food (not to be confused with street meat, see The WTF below). Our first morning in Beijing, we noticed a queue for a window selling hot and ready-to-eat food just steps from our hotel. We got in line and pointed to the fried doughy thing that looked tasty, but not too interesting, handed our 2¥ ($0.33) over and went on our merry way. Bites in, we knew we’d found our go-to breakfast spot (it turned out to be a savory dough, similar to pizza, stuffed with chopped peppers and ham). We also tried a fried crepe/egg thing with scallions, bean paste, and fried dough in the center, all rolled together in this great little package. It’s called a Jian Bing, and it was just 6¥.
- The subway is easy to follow, cheap at just 2¥ per ride with unlimited transfers, and quite clean. We’ve heard Shanghai’s got a pretty good setup, but from what we’ve seen this rivals many a subway we’ve been to in terms of overall niceness. ::cough:: New York ::cough::
- Beijing BBQ is the shiznit. Grill for the table (uh, awesome) and really tasty, marinated beef that isn’t unidentifiably scary? Sign me up. Wish we had gotten it sooner because frankly, we had no idea how good it would be and we probably would have made it a staple, but it was a nice way to finish out our last night there.
- The air is heavily polluted and often smells of burning something or other. I read that coal is often used for heat and energy, so… that explains that. After just a few days I caught a pretty decent head cold, and I blame the rotten air for that.
- Even when you think you’ve escaped the smog of city air by stepping inside, you’re pretty much guaranteed the person next to you will light up a cigarette. In a non-smoking area. Next to a “No Smoking” sign. While you are eating.
- Toilets, for a number of reasons, are to be feared. I shall spare the details, but know that balance is involved and you will likely need to provide your own TP. The same goes for napkins. None. Nada. They don’t exist.
- The push for tourism within China is huge. The only travel ads you see are to get the Chinese to travel around more of China. Because of this, major attractions, such as the Forbidden City, are spotless. Why is this under The Bad? Well, even though there are countless workers at all hours of the day keeping these Chinese treasures picture perfect, turn the corner and you’re likely to find a heap of rubble or trash piled sky high and no one really seems to care.
- No more swishing water around from the sink. Tap water = bad = liquid garbage… so brushing your teeth is more of an ‘experience’ using boiled or bottled water.
- Restricted internet access means no Facebook, Twitter, many “.com” sites, and painfully slow loading time for just about anything that’s not created in and monitored by the Chinese government.
- Watch your step and beware of flying loogies! People of all ages and genders are known to spit any and everywhere. I’m pretty sure my facial expression could be described as ‘utter disgust’ for 97.325% of the time.
- Back to the meat! The Chinese will eat up pretty much every part of any animal. I know this is a cultural thing, but as an American I have to put this under The WTF. Just be careful what you order. Simply ordering “chicken” does not necessarily (or usually) mean breast/leg/thigh/etc. There’s a good chance you’re ordering a part you’d never find on a menu in the western world.
- It seems children under the age of 4 don’t wear real pants. By that I mean, the crotch is either completely open, zippered, or flap style for potty ease. But that’s not all, folks! We have seen on several occasions a mother assisting her child so that they can, ehm, relieve themselves on the sidewalk.
- Both in and outside restaurants, waiting patrons pass the time by eating away at sunflower seeds. Like parrots snacking away, the ground becomes littered with mounds of shells and debris.
- Scooters, cyclists, and small cars, are no strangers to the sidewalk. Incessant honks over my shoulder kept me on my toes and ready to dive out of the way at a moment’s notice. Being a pedestrian is not exactly a passive role.
- Chinese people WILL cut you in line, or try to at all cost. And no, they won’t be discrete or slick about it. Prepare to be shoved, pushed, and basically moved out of the way.
Somehow, we managed to make it through fairly unscathed. Seeing The Great Wall firsthand, something we’re still in awe of, was truly spectacular. If we had to do it all again though, perhaps we’d make it a 2 or 3 day stop in Beijing rather than a full 6 days: a day to see Beijing’s highlights, a day to visit the wall, and a day to wander.