Beijing, China

En route to Australia, I had a 10 hour layover in Beijing and took advantage of China’s 72 hour visa-free travel permission.

My first views going into Beijing weren’t of industrial zones or dense suburbs, but of a very snowy and rugged terrain.

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I expected some doublespeak type of language going in, and found some as soon as I got my train ticket to the city:

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Not that I saw any of the pollution the city has suffered from, but it was the dead of winter so there was nothing green, period. Also even the picture did not exactly show a blue sky either.

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“Free Internet” here referring to the fact that it does not cost to access the web, not that it is unrestricted and open to all sites…

I was blocked from Facebook and Google (as well as all US news sites), which made me realize just how much I depended on those two services alone. And even just to get wifi, I had to scan my passport to get this slip from a machine.

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Don’t steal the code! You’ll upset the Ministry of Public Order.

It was also interesting that despite the fact that they require emigration, Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan are not considered “international” by the airport.

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This one had to be one of my favorite signs. Ignoring the fact that someone had the guts to deface the sign in a video surveillance area, try to guess at first glance what it’s trying to tell you.

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Also, what’s an enterprise smoking violator?

Train operators had a funny habit of pointing at things as they were driving. I really don’t have a good explanation for it.

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A super cool subway innovation: advertising boards in the tunnels that project images to make it look like you’re watching a movie.

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As for crowds there, they really don’t have the same idea as we do of queuing to enter a train; it’s more a matter of pushing yourself forward at all costs.

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Entertainingly, the Air China website (which I became very familiar with, given that most other sites were blocked) has a by-country guide of the “unusual” western customs that Chinese people should be aware of, which for the US explicitly mentions that failure to stand in line “may lead to disputes”.

Here’s a picture of the main square at the central railway station in downtown Beijing.

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Air clearer than it is in the Bay Area!

If you zoom in, you’ll also notice two people towards the left side standing on a platform under a green canopy, holding machine guns.

These are the lines to get into the railway station.

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Very disappointingly, you need to have a valid ticket to enter. Also, security across Beijing is super tight–you can’t even enter the metro without going through a metal detector and getting your bag scanned.

People at the station were huddled inside a McDonald’s, which actually looks very similar to the ones we’re used to. Most of them aren’t actually eating; they’re just escaping the cold.

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Somewhat surprisingly, I skipped that to have a meal in a “real” Chinese restaurant after spending years listening to friends talk about how Panda Express doesn’t count.

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To be honest, I didn’t feel like it tasted too different from how I’d imagine Chinese food, although to be fair about 3/4 of the menu was “spicy” in the waitress’s opinion.

Outside the restaurant there was a public toilet with a digital display that confused me.

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That means it either uses surge pricing, or it gives you a friendly reminder of the stock market before you relieve yourself.

And in the same area was a strip of similar-looking stores, many of which sold the same, super colorful candy.

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Then it got dark and I headed back to the airport! As you can see, language-wise it’s actually easier to get around Beijing than it is in many European cities, since all of the important signs are bilingual. And from an overall feel, it seemed much more westernized than Istanbul, for example.

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