Sunday, July 24, 2011

Olympic City; Beijing!

The "Bird's Nest"
The city of the 2008 Olympic games: Beijing (北京). I didn't know what to expect when I first arrived but I have to say I was pretty impressed upon exiting the airport. The airport was very easy to navigate, it is connected by the city's subway system, but my luggage didn't make it as fast as I did but they delivered it to my hostel within twenty-four hours. This blog will be talking about the public transit system, the food, the people, and the places which I visited (major points of interest).  However, before I start, I want to note that what I'll be writing is based on my own experiences.

Subway at the airport
Let's start with the public transit, and transportation, since it is the first thing that I (and many others) experienced upon arriving in Beijing.  The public transit system in Beijing is very impressive.  With buses and subways covering just about every inch of central Beijing and it's outskirts, to the frequent service of those amazing air-conditioned subway cars, Beijing's transit system is absolutely awesome.  Navigating through them was very easy as signs were in both Chinese and English, and during the hot summer months it was very refreshing to be in a cold subway car after a long day of walking in the heat.  Now for the cost. Cheap.  A typical bus ride will cost 0.40元(Chinese Renminbi Yuan) to 0.80元, and the metro rides cost 2元 to enter, and 2元 to exit with unlimited transfers in between.  The downside about it is that the subway stops running at approximately 23:30 (11:30 p.m.) depending on the line, which means that if you find yourself out late you will have to get a taxi.  Taxi's are not very expensive.  They charge a minimum of 10元 plus 2元 for every additional kilometer, but like every city you have to make sure they aren't taking you for a joy ride!

Next up is the famous Chinese food.  In Beijing, I have had some of the weirdest things to eat, and have seen people eat even weirder things.  Beijing is riddled with restaurants; from trendy to traditional.  My favourite: the traditional ones, obviously.  Right around the corner of my hostel was a restaurant where I used to go every morning for breakfast for just 3元.  Yeah that's right, 3元.  The best advice I can give you is to trust those holes in the wall.  They might seem a little dirty, or sketchy, but they're great, and they're cheap, and they can be found in the hutongs (alleyways) throughout the city. My favourite area for restaurants was the Zhengyuanmen area near Tiananmen Square; it gave the feeling that you were in the "real China".  Water.  Since the tap water is unsafe to drink in China, bottled water is the way to go; and a bottle of water can cost between 1元 and 5元 depending where you are and if it is cold or not. Another thing worth noting is that people will set up BBQ's just about anywhere, and they're also pretty cheap at 5元 for two skewers of meat (usually pork).  The food was great in Beijing, and if you're not the type to like the sketchy places and prefer a nice sit down meal in an upscale restaurant, be ready to pay since the prices are comparable to those in North America.

The way most men cool down
Now comes my experience with the people in the city, and I am not speaking about all of them just the ones I've seen.  It would be nice and maybe predictable to say that the people in Beijing are nice, and they are, but they are also inconsiderate.  They don't care about their surroundings, they'll push and shove to get in buses, metros, stores, etc. They also litter a lot, which is a little disheartening.  Luckily, I was with a Chinese person who spoke Mandarin Chinese so getting around and asking for directions was easy, and the people we did ask were very approachable.  They are also very curious and I found them staring a lot at foreigners.  I didn't mind at all, I just waved and said "ni hao" to them, which left them wide-eyed. I was also asked to take pictures with kids and teenagers since at a young age they probably never see many foreigners.  All in all, the people were nice, and approachable, but they can be rude and inconsiderate.  Be wary of the aggressive street vendors who will try to hike their prices!
Here is a list of places I visited during my stay:  Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, Jingshan Park, Zhengyuanmen, Yuanmingyuan Ruins, The Great Wall, Old Summer Palace, The Lama Temple, Old Beijing, Wangfujing, Temple of Heaven, The art district 798, The Olympic Park, Sanlitun, and Beihai and Huhai.  There may be a few other spots that I forgot to write down, but each place offered a different and rewarding experience.  If you ever find yourself in Beijing, visit these places, you will not regret it! Tip: Try to stay away from tours!

All in all, Beijing was a great city with lots to offer. From the great nightlife of Huhai and Sanlitun, the preserved Chinese culture and tradition of the hutongs, and the legendary Great Wall, Beijing has everything you need.  Beijing truly is an Olympic city.

Next stop: South Korea!

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