The Real Beijing Experience – An Insight Into The Capital Of China
Any travel website or guide will give you a lot of information about Beijing, the capital of China, the most populous country in the world. However, to really get a feel of what a city has to offer, you need to be there, breathe in the air, get a feel of the atmosphere, taste the food and observe the local people and their life. This is possible only with a firsthand account, and this is what you are going to get here.
Beijing has a lot to offer to a visitor. Like most capital cities, it is the center of political, cultural, economic and trade activities in the country. You will be able to see many historical attractions giving you a glimpse into the ancient past. You will also understand why it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world with more than 4 million international tourists and 140 million domestic tourists coming in every year.
The atmosphere and feel of Beijing:
Summer (June to August) is a tough time to visit Beijing with high temperatures and frequent unpredictable rains which can throw the chaotic traffic conditions into disarray. More on that later. Coming back to the atmosphere, the city wears a gloomy post apocalyptic feel with dark cloudy skies blocking the sunlight. Hot and humid conditions make you feel even more miserable. Steam rises from the underground tunnels as the rainwater evaporates.
Even though the rains come without warning and can make life difficult, people in Beijing pray for rains and are glad when it rains well. A good rain is the only hope for clearing up the dust and smog of the city. It also clears up the sky allowing for a few sunny days which can cheer everyone up.
Only a trip through South Asian cities can prepare you for the traffic conditions in Beijing. There are no rewards for following rules, if at all there are anything like rules. The traffic can be described as a chaotic movement of vehicles and people. All types of road-users including bikes, rickshaws and pedestrians seem free to go where they want. It all seems like one big game of wizard chess where everyone moves into every available space until they choke up the roads.
Bikers don’t wear helmets even in these difficult conditions. Despite the chaos very few accidents occur. I am not sure if it is the slow speed at which traffic moves under the circumstances or the amazing level of skill these people have attained in negotiating the traffic conditions here that is contributing to the low accident rates.
The best mode of transport in Beijing:
Considering the traffic situation, only the most maneuverable vehicles can really get you somewhere fast and rickshaws fit the bill perfectly. They have this knack of making progress on chocked roads by driving on the footpaths, going the wrong way on one way streets and in general disregarding all road rules.
Lights and indicators probably don’t come as part of standard equipment for rickshaws as many are without these essential devices. However, that doesn’t prevent them from operating at night. A rickshaw ride through Beijing can be as exciting as the ride of an adventure theme park, the only difference is that in this case there is real danger. If you want to know what it is like, take a look at James Bond’s rickshaw ride in Octopussy. You will have your heart in your throat during the ride and will thank your stars when you get off alive.
Other modes of transport:
Rickshaws are best for getting around, as they operate from door to door, but the bus is the cheapest mode of transport in the city. The typical fare is one yuan per trip, but you should know which one to get into and where to get off. It is definitely not the best transport method for someone who is not familiar with the place.
Hiring a cheap taxi is a better option, but they are in short supply especially near places frequented by tourists. A more comfortable option is to hire a car with a driver for a few days, but at close to 600 yuan a day they are relatively more expensive.
The city and the crowds:
Beijing can seem like a huge concrete jungle with never ending rows of high-rise apartments. This is understandable as the only way to accommodate more people in a given area of land is to build taller buildings. This leaves the city with no suburban feel and you will find that most places are crowded.
There are many interesting modern buildings with interesting architecture. One is the CCTV tower which stands 1268 feet tall. It is a tower shaped building with a revolving restaurant on the eighteenth floor which takes about an hour and a half to complete one full rotation. It is a nice place to get a bird’s eye view of the city while you enjoy a nice meal.
IBM tower is another example of daring architecture. It is a 25 floor commercial building and as the name suggests, the Beijing office of IBM is located in it.
Food is fresh, delicious and cheap. If you are in Beijing, you should not miss the famous Peking duck. Also called the Beijing duck, this roast duck is one of the most famous foods of China. There are many famous Peking duck restaurants in the city like the Quanjude Beijing Roast Duck restaurant and the Dadong Peking Duck restaurant. Pecking duck is usually served with pancakes, sweet noodle sauce and spring onions.
If you are looking for something exotic, the Wangfujing Snack Street is the place to go. It is packed with food stalls offering a wide variety of local street delicacies. You can either settle for the less exotic Chuanr (meat kebabs, commonly made of lamb) or for fried scorpions and insects which can give you an Indiana Jones experience.
You can be sure that the fried insects are fresh as some of them are still alive when they are on the skewers. I didn’t see any locals eating it, so it could just be a tourist only delicacy.
If you are looking for something simpler, I recommend you try baked sweet potatoes from a local farmer. At five yuan for three pieces, it is definitely worth it. You have to be careful about what you drink, especially on the streets. Water borne diseases like diarrhea are common. When you are in doubt, it is better to stick to hot beverages like tea or coffee.
A good massage is very relaxing after a tough day in Beijing. Massage parlors offering cheap massage for about nine dollars an hour are available round the clock. Another thing that deserves mention are the toilet facilities. Be prepared to use the hole in the ground Asian style toilets which may be your only option in some places.