Posts Tagged ‘Beijing’

北京 – Welcome to Beijing

Posted: July 24, 2011 in Travel
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Beijing is huge. Unabashedly, unrelentingly huge. With a population approaching 20 million people, it’s hard to imagine that this never ending sea of roads, buildings, and cars can even be qualified as a city. Technically, it’s a municipality, split into 14 different urban and suburban districts plus 2 rural counties. Under direct administration by the national government, Beijing acts as the political hub of everything that happens in China.

With the emergence of the Chinese middle-class, the economic buying power of the people is becoming massive. With such a large population, one can only imagine the number of cars in the city as people spend their new-found money to hit the streets. To solve the problem of overcrowding, the city has enacted a curious solution: depending on the last digit of your license plate, you are only permitted to drive on certain days of the month. Each car is guaranteed at least one day off per week; during the Olympics, each car was guaranteed to be off for at least three days. Yet with the constantly growing population, the streets are still crowded as ever. As such, there is an unending amount of construction going on, as roads are expanded and new highways are built. Look any which way and you will see evidence of this urban growth.

Qian Men Shopping District

With the help of former Chinese teacher (from when I lived in Beijing from ‘95-’97), I got the grand tour of the capital city. One of my main goals for my trip to China has been to practice my Chinese, and it’s definitely been getting a workout. Trying not to embarrass myself too much in front of my teacher, I would secretly pull out my dictionary when she wasn’t looking, and pretend to know the phrases that I simply couldn’t remember.

Western Gate, Tian An Men

All the sights in Beijing have grandiose names. 天安门 (Tian An Men Square) literally translates as “Gateway to Heavenly Peace”. The upscale hotel right across the street from the Birds Nest Olympic Stadium is called 七星酒店, translating to Seven Star Hotel, because it’s simply too good to be rated only five stars. And if you’re going to build it in China, you might as well build it huge. The city seems to be littered with huge concrete parade grounds, whether it be Tian An Men Square, or the grounds between the Birds Nest and The Bubble (Swimming Stadium). As big as a parking lot in Disneyland, these parade grounds were filled with tourists from outside the city; a few foreigners, but mostly Chinese.

Tian An Men Square

Bird's Nest

Beijing National Aquatics Center (Bubble Building)

Parade Field in front of Olympic Stadium

新疆 (Xinjiang) is an area in China that is currently undergoing political strife. Not originally part of the country, it was absorbed into China in 1949, though the governance of the area has been in dispute for centuries. However, the Chinese government has a handle on the issue, and demonstrated so by signs and banners in Tian An Men proclaiming that “Xinjiang is a wonderful place”. Not a whisper of any issue was to be found.

Western commercialization has also permeated itself into the very depths of Chinese culture. 故宫(Gu Gong), better known as the Forbidden City, still remains as a popular tourist attraction today. The former Imperial Palace during the Ming to Qing Dynasty, it exists as a symbol of Chinese imperial prowess. There’s a Starbucks inside; the walls now. Note: the location closed in 2007. McDonalds and a 24-hour KFC are right around the corner. I’ve even seen a Dairy Queen and Papa Murphy’s – you could easily live here and never eat a bite of Chinese food. Which is a dumb idea, since Chinese food is so obviously better.

Traditional restaurants still thrive in some places

Tradition is still steeped within the city, though. Walk into any park in the early mornings, and you’ll find scores of elderly folk practicing tai-chi, or even wushu with swords. I came across one lady with a large brush, writing calligraphy on the sidewalk with water.

Water Calligraphy

Beijing is a city too big to explore in just a single day. With its urban sprawl, most of its citizens probably haven’t seen all it has to offer, either. It’s massive, beautiful, and alive with the buzz of never ending excitement. It’s a testament to the Chinese work-ethic that such a city even exists. Beijing is a lovely place to visit, and everyone should. But as I stood within the city, I yearned for the clean air, green trees, and simple mountains of the Pacific Northwest. 95 Degrees and 50% humidity may have had something to do with it.

The appropriate way to cool off

Thanks to 迟老师 for the corrections.

Transit to Beijing

Posted: July 20, 2011 in Travel
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My first plane on my trip to China was not a Boeing 747, 777, Airbus A320, or any other plane that you’d expect to make the cross-Pacific journey. Instead, it was an EMB-125 Brasilia. A 30 seater.

EMB-125 Brasilia

Due to the wonders of frequent flyer miles (thanks, Dad), my ticket to Beijing was heavily discounted. However, instead of a direct flight, I was routed to China via Portland and San Francisco. I don’t really recall much of the first two flights, being that they were both around an hour each. The flight attendant was kind of cute, I suppose, though I’m sure she noticed the pool of drool on my shirt as I passed out the moment I sat down.

SEA - POR

Safety First!

The flight from San Francisco to Beijing was a much more appropriate 747-400, capable of making the 13 hour trip. Though airlines are packing their passengers like sardines to save money, I was pleasantly surprised to get onto a plane that was only about 60% full. In an aisle seat, the seat next to me was unoccupied, allowing me to stretch my legs a bit, as well as use the FULL arm rest.

SFO - PEK

I slept for most of that flight as well, waking up for meals and to watch a movie. My row-buddy occupying the window seat didn’t get up once the entire 13 hours, she slept through one of the meals as well. Airplane travel really can’t get much easier than that.

The airport in Beijing is arguably one of the most modern airports I have ever traveled to, even compared to Narita, Singapore, and O’Hare. In classic over-the-top fashion, the entire city of Beijing was retrofitted to accommodate the 2008 Olympics, with the airport making the first impression. Customs and immigration went smoothly, and finding my way to the taxi depot was no trouble at all.

Beijing International Airport

There, I was met by a friend and contact who helped me find my way to my hotel for the night. Once dropped off at the hotel, I hung out for about an hour, taking some time to settle in and wind down. Though missing amenities typically found in western hotels (such as a mini-fridge, and a telephone allowing me to make calls out of the hotel), things such as toothbrushes and slippers were greatly appreciated.

Ibis Hotel - Beijing

Already 7 pm, I meandered outside a bit trying to find some food to eat. My command of the Chinese language is reasonable, but I was still apprehensive about trying to do too much on my own. Too intimidated to walk into a sit-down restaurant, I went to a 7-11 for dinner, buying some buns and a soybean milk drink. I got some road-site skewers of meat too. The meal cost me 8.95 RMB, approximately $1.30 USD.

Here in China, cash is king. The 7-11 didn’t even have a credit card machine, so I would have been hard pressed to buy anything if I didn’t come prepared with some of the local currency. Even the hotel requested a 500 RMB cash deposit for incidentals. Banks are easy enough to find, so if you need to get some more paper money, don’t worry. I wonder if I will even take my debit/credit card out this entire trip.

So now, I have a day to explore Beijing. Hopefully I’ll be able to meet up with another long-ago friend to show me around town a little. Tonight, I’ll be headed to Xi’an, and the rest of my adventure.