Magnus’ guide to Beijing

I lived in Beijing for 5 months and never really did enjoy it. Sure, I found a lot of rather nice spots, especially a lot of really nice restaurants and pubs, but the city as a whole was not for me. I think that the main reason was that BeijingIMG_8203_small seems to hate pedestrians – walking around Beijing is such a chore! The distances are enormous, for long stretches you see nothing worthwhile and crossing streets is usually fraught with danger. There are a few gems, but they are far and few between. I thought I’d share the ones I did find in this post.

My number one tip is the 798 Art District. It’s a rather big, former factory district with a lot of really cool old brick factory buildings most of which are filled with art galleries. There is also lots of cool graffiti and art pieces strewn around the area and lots of nice design shops with all sorts of trinkets and knick-knacks. You can easily spend an entire day here and I especially recommend it if you have an interest in photography since there are just so many cool unexpected motifs just waiting to be discovered. To get there you either take a taxi or go to Jiangtai station on line 14 and walk north along Jiuxiangqiao road until you see the signs – a little over a kilometer.

Another favorite is the Panjiayuan market. It’s at the subway stop by the same name and it’s a very large market with tons and tons of art, clothes, books, souvenirs and jewelry. Just don’t think you’ll find any actual antiques here, it’s almost certainly all copies. A full day is stretching it, but you can easily spend an afternoon or a few hours here. Around this station they also have lot of stores selling eyewear, so if you’re looking for good and cheap sunglasses it’s worth a look.

In terms of eating, Beijing has a lot to offer! I’ve actually had one of the best pizzas I’ve ever tasted in Beijing. The chain is called Gung Ho! (make sure you get the whole-wheat dough) and has a handful of locations throughout town, where the most accessible one is next to the Hooters in Sanlitun. There is also one near Lido hotel in Wangjing where I lived (which is also fairly close to 798 Art District). Some of the best burgers I’ve had was at The Local, a pub in Sanlitun. They have an avocado burger that is really good, and their chicken filet burger is very IMG_8208_smallgood too! Make sure to try their drinks as well, especially the Mint Berry.

A spot that mixes both tourism and good grub is the Lama Temple. Get off at Yonghegong station (north part of the ring line) and first visit the temple. It has a bigass wooden Buddha statue and some nice architecture and is one of the more worthwhile temples in town in my opinion. Afterward you walk back toward the station but turn left into Wudaoying Hutong just before you reach KFC and the big crossing. Now you will find yourself in a cramped little street with lots of knick-knack stores, cafes, microbreweries and restaurants, even a vegetarian one called The Veggie Table (吃素的:东城区五道营胡同甲19号 – for more vegetarian options, see this blog post). If you walk almost to the end of it, there is a Mexican restaurant on your left that is very good (Pebbles Courtyard 卵石庭院). Looking at Google maps I also see that there apparently is a donkey meat restaurant there if you walk even further. My friend Tanhsin introduced me to this tasty treat after a hard day of snowboarding outside of town. BasIMG_8294_smallically you get gyros style donkey meat in what is more or less a pita bread and it actually even tastes a lot like gyros as well. You should absolutely try it if you get the chance (The Beijinger has a short article on the subject: The Best Ass in Town). If you want to make sure you find it you should show the characters 驴肉火烧 to a Chinese person and I’m sure they’ll be happy to help you.

Another part worth visiting is Houhai lake and the adjacent Hutongs. Lake Houhai is rather touristy but still very nice. In the summer you will see a lot of people flying kites and even people going for a swim. There are a lot of salesmen around the lake, along with souvenir shops and overpriced restaurants, but it’s still nice for a leisurely afternoon walk. A little bit to the east of the lake there is Di’anmen Outer Street which leads to the Drum and Bell towers, both popular tourist locations, and if you continue east (well, I actually suggest you get on the green line subway and go to Nanluoguxiang station and get out at exit E) you get to South Lougu Alley. This is another rather touristy site, but if you go there outside peak hours and peak season, it can be quite nice. There is a lot of knick-knack shops and little restaurants, and if you continue all the way up to Gulou East Street you can turn right and find even more cool little shops.

You can just walk around the hutongs on your own, but to get the best experience I suggest you book a walking tour with Nelly at She’s really well read and does an excellent job of showing you around all the nooks and crannies and telling you about the history of the place. They also do other themed tours at the Summer Palace and the Forbidden City for instance. Speaking of the Forbidden City; I suppose you kind of have to go there if you visit Beijing but I’m not a huge fan of it. The sheer scale of it is the most impressive part, but it very soon gets rather repetitive and dull. My favorite part is the little garden at northern end of it which has a lot of meticulously groomed trees and plants. Also, if you cross the street just outside the north gate you can go up to the temple on the hill for a nice view of the Forbidden City complex. You can also go down into the park on the other side of the temple and if it’s on a weekend, expect to find people doing all sorts of fun stuff in there. You might see people singing, dancing, working out (usually by kicking IMG_8774_smallsomething that looks like an oversized shuttlecock like a hacky-sack), flying kites, walking backwards (it’s some sort of crazy health thing). It’s all very entertaining and I highly recommend it. Another good park to wander in is Tiantan, which has the Temple of Heaven, touted as one of the must-sees of Beijing. Personally I’m not that fond of it. Sure, it’s big, old and generally impressive and you may see a wedding photoshoot if you’re lucky. It is good for people watching though, especially if you come in the early morning when all the Tai Chi practitioners are out.

Right next to Tiantan park you have the Pearl Market. How much you enjoy this place depends a lot on how good your tolerance is for insistent salesmen. Suddenly you find yourself in one of the few places of Beijing where everyone speaks English and even other languages as well. I’ve even had one try Swedish to get my attention! The Pearl Market is probably the worst one of the markets, I like Yashow better which is up close to Sanlitun (where the surrounding area is also much nicer to walk around in). There is a third one which is a bit of a hassle to get to; the Silk Street market. I was only there once, but found it to be the nicest of them by far. The store owners are far less pushy and there is fewer people there. You need to remember that haggling is mandatory here. The store owners will start out with different prices depending on what ethnicity they think you are. If you’re American you will get the highest price, northern Europeans the middle and southern Europeans the lowest price since they generally already come from a tradition of haggling and know what’s up. If you haggle well it’s not uncommon to pay something like 20-30% of the originally quoted price.

If you’re up for a bit of walking, the area west of the CCTV building is rather nice. (the CCTV building is the iconic one that reminds you of a man squatting to take a dump). You take the subway to Jintaixizhao station and get out at exit A, then go down to Jinghua Street and head west. There are a lot of cool buildings to look at and some small parks to break up the cityscape. Keep going until you hit ‘The Place’ which basically is a square with roof. The roof is a bit special though since it’s actually a giant screen and as soon as it gets dark they will play videos on it. At the time of writing it still holds the Guinness world record for largest screen at 7500 m2. If you continue past the place and then turn right onto Dongdaqiao Road you will find the pretty cool Parkview Green mall on your left. It’s a really big glass building, reminiscent of the Louvre pyramid, and much like its French counterpart, it’s also packed with art! You have Gundam robots, a Volkswagen Beetle rolled up into a ball, Stormtroopers, a giant dog eating the Road Runner and lots more. It’s well worth spending an evening just wandering around here and look at all the weird stuff. The architecture is also very cool with gangways all over the place.

I have a few recommendations that wouldn’t fit in with the rest that I’ll just dump here at the end:

Peking Duck – If you’re in Beijing, you should of course try the Peking Duck. I’m sure there are lots of terrific places, but a lot of them are huge impersonal restaurants with dining rooms that are 50 m across and the ceiling is 10 m high. One I really liked was the Peking Duck Private Kitchen. It has excellent duck and side dishes, but the main thing for me is the very cozy setting.

8-bit Bar (link) – A really cozy place for having a Nintendo themed drink and playing a round of Duck Hunt or Mortal Kombat. They also have a decent selection of beers if that’s your thing.

The Great Wall – Well, I suppose you really can’t go to Beijing without visiting the Great Wall. Easiest is to just hire a driver through your hotel that takes you all the way there and back. Expect to pay around 600 RMB for this. You can of course also take the bus and just get a driver for the last bit like I did and get away with just 150 RMB, but honestly the headache of figuring out from where the bus leaves and then where to get off makes it not worth it. Oh, also don’t go to the Badaling section of the wall, that’s by far the most touristy section! A far better choice would be the Mutianyu where you as a bonus have a quite fun toboggan run for the way down.

Melo Lounge (link) – Towards the end of my stay in Beijing I found the swanky Melo Lounge just around the corner from where I lived. The staff remember your name and what you like and the snacks are really great. It was really fun when my friends came to visit and I could just breeze in there and get treated like royalty. The decor is rather strange, but really nice and the drinks are expertly mixed. It’s on the expensive side, but if you want to treat yourself to a really nice evening, I’d be hard pressed to think of a nicer place.

Harbin Ice Festival

My first excursion in China goes to Harbin, which is famous for its annual ice festival. Any time you check into a hotel or hostel in China they need to report to the government that you’re staying there, so even if I’m travelling within the country, I still need to bring my passport.Beijing train station For that reason I wanted this trip “out of the way” as soon as possible, since I also need to turn in my passport to the immigration authorities, in order to get a residency permit. And before I have my residency permit, I can’t get the rest of my things from Sweden into the country. So right now I’m still living out of my vacation bag, which of course is packed for 30 degrees, and not the -20 which Harbin is expected to bring.

My colleague Tanhsin has helped me book a night train for the way up (Harbin is located way up northeast, due north of the Korean peninsula) and my first task is to get to the station.The Russian Church Turns out that it’s not as easy as I’d imagined to explain that to a cabbie that speaks no English.  I get waved off twice before I think to just give my ticket voucher to the driver and after studying it intently for almost a minute he says “Beijing cha4? (fourth tone, black finger down is the memory aid), which I assume means station. It turns out to indeed be that and I’m dropped off outside the impressive looking behemoth of a station, tastefully lit up in the February darkness.

I remember Tanhsin saying something about first having to get the real ticket, and that it’s off to the side of the station. So by just showing my voucher to random official-looking people I finally find my way over there and get my ticket. Then you need to go back to the real station house and show the ticket to a guard before being let in. After passing through a metal detector you get in to the actual station, which looks more like an airport terminal than a train station. Too bad, I had my hopes up for one of those impressive old-school station house ceilings. Instead the ceiling is really low and the place even manages to feel cramped.

At the marketBoarding starts as early as half an hour before departure and to my delight I actually recognize the character for car/wagon on my ticket, to mean the cart number I’m in. The interior is just like any other sleeper train, nor fancier or worse than a Swedish one and the ride is uneventful. We arrive in Harbin at seven in the morning, and as you might expect, it’s bitterly cold. I discover almost immediately that it’s very slippery, oddly enough I seem to be the only one having a problem though. The fucking joker who designed my so-called winter boots ought to be stripped, dipped in honey and buried in an anthill! They can’t possibly have tested them in real winter conditions, since the Vibram rubber in the sole seems to turn into almost hard plastic when subjected to lower temperatures. This means that I spend most of the weekend walking like a grandma, and even though I’m amazingly close to taking a spill roughly 44 times during the weekend, I never actually do it. If there is one super power I have, it has to be “getting around in low friction”.

Tunnel of love?My very nice colleague Frigg (awesome name, eh?) has prepared a vacation package for me, since she’s from a town very near to Harbin. She has equipped me with maps, a suggested list of sights and written them down in Chinese so that I can show taxi drivers. I start off by just walking around though, to get a feel for the place. The ground is littered with the remains of firecrackers since yesterday was Lantern Day, the finale of the Chinese New Year.

Crossing the street, I go for an underpass (most Chinese streets will have a hard-to-climb fence in the middle, making it not really worth crossing where there aren’t crosswalks). The underpass has doors, which seems a bit strange, but I enter and find myself in what could almost be called a mall! Right there, under the street, are rows upon rows of tiny shops, all selling clothes. Relishing the warmth, I walk around a good while, finding that the place is huge! It just goes on and on and it’s pretty fun to just browse. I come upon an area selling men’s dress pants, and I’ll have to admit that they look really nice. It’s hard to judge the fabric quality, but the workmanship is very good, and there are lots of cool details incorporated into the designs.

SwordfishEmerging back topside, I decide to turn on the GPS to see where I am. When it finally gets a reading I am somewhat shocked at seeing how far off I am, I’m usually pretty good at gauging where I am and where I should be going, so this discovery stings a bit. I’m in the northwestern part of town when I should be in the northeastern. Well okay, I start heading back, regularly checking in on the GPS to make sure I’m not veering off course. But the GPS behaves rather erratically and doesn’t seem to follow along as it should. Finally I hit a larger street and some street signs (which thankfully are both in Chinese and English) and is able to locate where I am. I can hardly believe what I’m seeing, the GPS is actually _wrong_! This goes against everything I know about the technology involved, but it aside from that, it all makes sense. It’s not off by a little either, it’s something like a kilometer! Not sure what to believe, I write it off as the cold doing a number with on tablet. I guess I will have to rely on plain old map reading from now on.

Huge doggieI find a café that has Internet and a waiter that speaks passable English and decide to sit down to defrost and come up with a plan. Frigg had suggested that I first go visit the Russian church and after some thinking I decide to swallow my navigational pride and take a taxi to the church. (it turned out that I’d taken the opposite direction right off the bat and was actually in the southeastern part of downtown)

The Russian church is indeed nice, and next to it is an indoor market, filled with all sorts of wonderful things. Everything from sausages, nuts and candy to sea cucumbers, river turtles and cakes. Now that I’ve gotten my bearings it’s not hard to find my way to the next location; the pedestrian precinct. From what I’ve gleaned so far, it is not very common to have streets exclusively for pedestrians in China, so this is very welcome to my European sensibilities. The street is really nice, and there are beautiful ice sculptures at regular intervals, giving me a first taste of what to come.

Near the end of the street is a park that Frigg suggested I visit, it’s a smaller version of the main exhibition, but still pretty large. Admission is a whopping 200 rmb, but since I’ll likely never come back here I fork up the cash. The sculptures are really beautiful, but are probably even better viewed in the evening, when it’s dark and they’re lit up from within. Even though it’s really nice, there isn’t much variety and there aren’t many people either, undoubtedly due to the steep price (normally it is 80, but since this weekend is Lantern Day and all, the price is higher).

Up on the castle wallMoving on to the nearby river I find the next stop on my itinerary; an activity area out on the river itself. It’s filled with people doing the most amazingly boring things, like renting a sledge with ski poles and then using those to get around. There are other kinds of sled rides, pulled by horses or some of the largest German sheperd I’ve ever seen (the poor dogs aren’t very well suited for that though, they can hardly get around without slipping even before being strapped in front of a sled). Over on the side is a really shifty looking fellow, it looks like he just stepped out of a Tintin comic!Buddha He has a table with two positively adorable arctic foxes and he charges a ridiculous amount of money for you to pick one up and get a photo with it. Even though they are amazingly cute, I resist the urge as they don’t seem to be treated very well and I don’t want to support that kind of behavior. Off to the side there is some kind of escalator filled with people, it turns out that they all have tractor inner tubes and up on the river bank they all line up before, on a given signal, go down the slope like a rubber avalanche.

The sun is finally setting now, so it’s time to head out to the big ice exhibition. The cabbies are reluctant to go out there, I guess because it’s a ways outside of town and it’s hard for them to get a fare back. So in the end I have to pay an exorbitant 40 rmb to get there. It’s now around seven in the evening and the exhibition area is bitingly cold. It’s another 300 rmb to get in and I actually have to start worrying if I have enough money to get back since scrounging up all that cash for the rent has made me run up against the withdrawal limit on both my debit cards. After some calculating it seems like I’ll be fine if I just steer clear of any more unforeseen expenses, but there’s this gnawing doubt at the back of my mind throughout that isn’t much fun.

Ice festivalThe exhibition is beautiful, but bitterly cold, and there is really nowhere to defrost. When I was downtown I could at least duck into stores every now and then, now I’ll just have to tough it out. The coolest things they have are the large snow Buddha and the really big Disney-esque ice castle that you can even go up on the wall and look out over the area. The exhibition area is of course packed and getting around is a hassle, especially with my shoes being in the state they’re in. The cold makes my camera battery drain super fast (I changed it just three hours earlier, and normally it lasts about a week). So when the battery finally give up, so do I. In the interest of saving money, I take the bus back to town (public transport is amazingly cheap in China, the bus is 3.50 rmb), hoping it will stop somewhere recognizable… Turns out I’m in luck and it stops at a bus station I passed earlier.

To get to the hostel I booked I have to take a taxi though, since it’s a bit off. I had the waiter back at the café earlier write down the address in Chinese so that I can show the cab driver. Despite this he drops me off totally wrong, and since I don’t really know how to argue with him I decide to walk the remaining ˜2 km. When I finally get to where the hostel is supposed to be according to the map, it simply isn’t there! There is a hotel there though and with some gesturing I’m able to communicate that I’m lost. They speak no English at all but seem to indicate that if I just walk over to the side road, it should be there.More Ice Festival So I head back over there, but find that it’s all stores, and all closed to boot. I go back and try the neighboring hotel this time. This time I show the lady the address instead of the map. The hostel is supposed to be at 63 Huashan Road and the lady tells me that this is number 8 Huashan Road. So yet again I’m screwed over by the map!

Grudgingly I start walking again. Ironically 63 Huashan Road is really close to where I was originally dropped off by the cab, making this whole misadventure even more infuriating. Checking in at the hostel I get a room that happens to be 11 degrees, I just can’t catch a break this weekend! It takes ten minutes to explain to the staff (again, no English whatsoever) that even though I’m running the AC full blast, nothing is happening to the temperature. Finally one of them gets it though, and they put a space heater in my room (which runs amazingly hot!). Finally things are looking up and I get all cozied in.

Dragon TowerAt 1 am, someone knocks on the door. Fortunately I’m still up and as I open the door, one of the staff hand me a note with the words “Bank card is not just money do you think you can brush card trouble can not pay cash you use” scribbled on it. After some back and forth I understand that the Visa I paid with is not coming through. They want me to pay cash instead and they’ll refund the money to the card. Problem is that the refund isn’t working either… The staff are getting really frustrated by not being able to communicate and finally they phone someone up (it’s now 1:30) that speaks a little English, problem is that the sound quality is awful so I can barely make out what the guy is saying. In the end I’m able to verify that the money has indeed been drawn from my account, even if it hasn’t reached them. So I grudgingly get my cash back (the poor kids probably have to make it up out of their own pocket, too bad I really can’t afford to be generous at this point).
The next morning I wake up with a sore throat, that, and seeing the thermometer is showing -23 makes it an easy decision to sleep in. When I finally get going it’s almost noon, but since I crammed almost everything I’d planned to do into yesterday, today is more ad hoc anyway. The hostel is right next to a pretty cool looking TV-tower, called Dragon Tower. It basically looks like a slightly more steam punky version of Tokyo Tower which is a look I really like.

With a ticket in my hand I naïvely assume I can just go up the elevator, but no, the elevator ladies just wave me away and points up to the second level. So I head up there and find that there are little exhibitions, each one worse than the former. There are terrible 3D paintings where the Chinese delight in pulling down the shorts of opponents to Yao Ming (the NBA basketball hero of China) or photographing themselves pulling off the sheets of a sleeping, nude, woman. There is a tiny science museum where you can lift yourself and all that usual stuff and a natural history room with plastic dinosaur skeletons.Yao Ming At each of these you get a little stamp and as I’d visited most of them I was finally let into the elevator.

From down below it had looked like a reasonably clear day, but up top you can’t really see far, the smog is still there. Not that there seems to be much to see anyway, the cityscape looks really drab, the building all alike in their dirty, off-white facades. They’ve made an effort to fence the platform up, but I cannot help but thinking that a determined BASE-jumper would have no trouble scaling it. There are a couple of additional levels above this one, but they are both indoors and doesn’t offer much of interest.

Optimus PrimeI grab a taxi back to city center and stop in at the café I found yesterday to try and find out how to get to the zoo northwest of town that has Siberian tigers. The waiter explains that there really isn’t any way to get there except for taxi, so I decide to give it a miss and instead ask him for suggestions. He tells me I should visit the convention center and a nearby place where I can eat all the regional foods of China in one place. Okay, fine, that doesn’t sound too bad, so I get him to write them down and he also gets me into a cab.

As I get to the convention center, I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to do there, it’s really just a mall like countless others. It’s focused on outdoors equipment so I browse a bit, only to find that if you get the brand stuff, it’s just as expensive as in Sweden. I come to another part of the mall and there it is gold, gold, gold as far as the eye can see. It seems that the Chinese really fancy gaudy golden figurines, much like the ones I saw in Hong Kong. I do find some adorable Doraemon earrings though. The mall doesn’t hold my interest for that long, but at least it’s warm, so I stay longer than I normally would have. I remember seeing a big Optimus Prime statue across the road when I rolled up with the taxi, much like the Gundam Wing statue in Tokyo. So I decide to make my way over there, remembering that the waiter had said something about “being able to play” over at the convention center. The statue is of the newer incarnation of Optimus Prime, the pointy one from the movies, which I’m not very fond of. Regardless, it’s still pretty cool. But when I get inside the building next to it I’m sorely disappointed since this is just another mall… At this point it has gotten dark and I realize that I won’t have time for the buffét restaurant, so instead I head to the airport to get back to Beijing.

Beijing – First week

Descending into Beijing, the ground looks funny, like the light is hitting it in a special way. It takes me a few seconds to realize that it’s not just a light phenomenon I’m seeing, it’s snow. Coming from three weeks of 30 degrees heat to Beijing’s -5 is not all that pleasant, but I finally get some use of my winter jacket that I’ve been lugging around Indonesia. I can’t be arsed to change into pants though, as it would entail having to fit all my luggage into one of the tiny airport restrooms.Lights! So I just wear the shorts, something that draws a lot of eyes and smiles from people.

Not wanting to attempt to navigate the streets to my hostel I set out to get a taxi from the subway station. But after being waved off twice in a row I get pissed and decide to walk anyway. It turns out that it wasn’t very far, and that there are surprisingly good street signs. In the end I have no trouble finding it, even though it’s up a back street among the hutongs (old Chinese quarters, which are not in any way built to be accessible by car, which likely is why I was waved off by the cabbies).

My first three days are not very pleasant; I’m coming down with a fever and Ericsson has lost my transfer details, so it will be a good while before I get a computer, phone, or even an ID card. The hostel is very cold, with the AC struggling at 31 degrees, I’m not used to the cold and I have to find an apartment to live in.My home I do manage to power through however, and after some haggling I manage to get a never-lived-in studio apartment, right next to Lido place – for those of you familiar with Beijing geography. For those not so familiar, it’s right outside the 4th (out of six) ring road, positioned at about 1:45 if you look at it as a clock face. The upsides of the place are that it’s brand new (no previous owner that has smoked in it), just the right size, has floor heating, is fairly close to work (around 45 minutes door to door when taking the bus), nice area, the owner speaks great English and that the real estate agent is operating out of the very same building, so it’s easy to get help when it’s needed. The downsides are that it’s fairly far to a subway station, the apartment is designed by a moron and that it’s pretty far from city centre.

The apartment design merits a bit more explanation I guess. The place is obviously built with the express purpose to be impressive rather than useful. There is for instance no place at all to put your shoes or hang your jacket. Additionally, the bathroom sink has no cabinet to put your toiletries in, only the one under the sink, which incidentally contains no actual shelves.Interior There is a big light fixture in the shower (five lamps) that is not controlled by any of the light switches in the apartment. And the entertainment center around the TV is apparently built to house large bronze busts of Mao or something, because anything else would just be dwarfed.

There are also several glaring building quality issues. The floor boards are not fitting flush together, but have almost centimeter-wide gaps between them at places. The aluminum skirting board between the two floors have just been glued down, and every 20 cm or so a large gob of glue is sticking out from under it. The floor itself exudes little puffs of fine wood dust when you step on certain boards, so the entire apartment gets covered by that fine dust when I run the AC.Smog lies thick over Ericsson There are also little things like the fact that they’ve only used two screws for the hinges on the bathroom door, when there are holes for four. But that lack of attention of detail is something I will have to get used to, the same thing is evident in the building where I work. It looks very nice and impressive at the first glance, but as soon as you look more closely, you spot all sorts of glaring mistakes and omissions. For instance; even at Ericsson there is a sign not to throw toilet paper in the toilet! That’s something I’d expect to see in really old building in places like Rome or Mexico, not in a modern office building in Beijing…

Some tidbits from my first week:
There are so many women working at Ericsson in Beijing, and not only in HR, which traditionally is heavily slanted towards women. My gut feeling would say that it’s easily around 50% women, if not more, in the building I’m working.

Mmm durian...Electricity and hot water you buy as a pot, like a prepaid cell phone card. You go down to property management (where no one speaks any English whatsoever), wave a couple of bills and point to your hot water card and eventually they charge it with the money. Incredibly convenient for everyone but the actual consumer…

The streets are often 30-40 m wide and pedestrians are clearly not a priority. Beijing seems to have the right-on-red rule, so even if you have a green man signal, there will always be cars trying to run you over when you cross. You need to continually be looking in all directions while crossing if you are to escape unscathed.

When I was a kid, I remember hearing that in Beijing everybody rode a bike. That certainly isn’t true anymore, these days the regular bikes are few and far between, instead you have the electric bikes and scooters. Silent and deadly, you can’t hear them coming, you have to be constantly looking around you and not make sudden course changes without looking over your shoulder first.

Mask on!There is surprisingly light traffic, but when I talk to my boss’ boss (who is Swedish) I get the explanation: The Chinese New Year isn’t properly over until Friday when it’s Lantern Day. Right now the city is missing about five million cars…

Every time you enter the subway you have to put your bag through an x-ray machine. I’m not sure what they’re afraid of, aside from that car crashing on Tianamen Square back in October last year, I haven’t heard of a single terror incident in China. But I guess that doesn’t mean anything since China has a habit of manipulating news and other shenanigans.

Apartment contracts run over a year and rent is paid quarterly in China, which meant that I had to come up with 3 x 6000 rmb, plus a deposit of an additional 6000 rmb (that I will lose if I terminate the contract early). Since the owner is a private individual, I couldn’t pay using my credit card either so I had to get the cash and make a bank deposit. Not all that easy when no one at the bank spoke any English either.

IMG_8205_smallI’ve never been to a country where English is less of an asset. Not even kids in their late teens, something that’s usually a safe bet, speak any English. That is mind-boggling to me. I thought Japan was bad in that respect, but Beijing is so much worse. If you find someone who speaks decent English, have them write stuff down for you, like the location of your apartment/hotel. Stuff you want to buy at a store, addresses. That’s not always a guarantee though, because not everyone can even read. The best solution is to have a Chinese friend you can call for an impromptu translation of course, but now everyone has that luxury. Also, showing a cabbie where you want to go on a map is surprisingly useless. In China people more or less don’t use maps, they go more by neighborhoods apparently. Even if you have everything written down in Chinese, chances are that your cabbie won’t know the address, Beijing is a really big city after all, so after a while I had a friend write down the closest well known landmark as part of the description, which helps a lot.

It’s really cool to be able to go out at nine in the evening and find a mall that is open for another hour! That’s when you really know you’re in the big city. The stores are usually hilariously overstaffed as well, an employee on every corner, engrossed in their smartphone and bored out of their minds.

The infamous Beijing smog was not very bad the first few days, I could even see stars at night the first two days. But on Thursday, when I had to go to the police station and register my new address, it really hit me. The rest of that afternoon my throat was burning and I was coughing constantly. It was extremely unpleasant and on my way home I bought my first breathing mask at a pharmacy. The clerk asked several times if I really wanted that color since it apparently was meant for ladies. The Chinese are really hung up on gender roles. The mask came with a separate filter that you’re supposed to change once a week.