Difficulties of Independent travel
I am sure there are several difficulties with independent travel. When I refer to independent travel I am talking about travel without the use of a guide or tour company. Travel in China this way is more difficult, especially when you don't speak or read Chinese. My last visit to Beijing in late 2013 I relied heavily on using Google Map to get around. I would use this on my phone in conjunction with a tourist map so I new exactly where I was at all times.
In late 2014, China banned all Google products again (I believe there was a brief ban in 2012). This made my independent travel virtually impossible! While I can use a tourist map, I had no reference point of where I was on the map, most of which is in Chinese. A friend recommended "Baidu" which is China's version of Google and Google Map. The problem with this is that everything is in Chinese characters and I found it to be very inaccurate. But this is the only option I could find and all the Chinese locals use it. Here is a link: http://map.baidu.com/
Fortunately, I was prepared without even knowing it. Before I left for China, I tool quite a few screen shots of Google Map where I flagged the locations/restaurants/Tea Houses, I wanted to visit. So at least I was able to compare my screen shot to Baidu and it was a big help. I would highly recommend this if you plan any independent travel.Related to:
- Museum Visits
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
"Poverty" in the Forbidden City
One thing that disappointed me in the Forbidden City, was the emptiness of most of the visited rooms.
I don't know if it is consequence of the cultural revolution, or if the furniture is hidden in the closed areas, preserved from the crowds, but the only rooms where we could observe something (from the door, never entering them!) had always so many people discussing each centimeter of door, that we could only have a glimpse of them.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
Although Beijing has a magnificent terminal 1, their terminal two and 3 are some 12 km from term 1 and this has to be done by airport bus which can take 15 minutes to cover the distance plus waiting time outside the terminals, so don't leave your flight to the last minute if changing flights in Beijing.
Although term 1 appears to be mainly International currently, (June 2104) Delta Air to America depart from Term 2 just to confuse matters.
RE DUTY FREE
The other thing to be aware, especially if like us, should your destination be the US, that Delta will not allow you to bring on a bottle of any form of drink which is purchased from Beijing duty free onto the aircraft. Even after all the extensive security and X ray checks on your baggage, your bags are checked yet again at the gate, presumably to ensure you have not hidden your booze in the hand luggage after buying from Duty Free.
15 Taboos for the First Day of the Lunar New Year
1. The daughters who have married are forbidden to come back to their parents’ homes:
On the first day if the married daughter comes back to her parents’ home, it just means that she will eat so much that the family will become poor. Therefore, the daughter can only come back to her parents’ home on the second or third day. But the meaning behind it is that the married daughter has already become the daughter-in-law of another family. On the first day there must be many people coming to the family to say New Year’s greetings, and she should help serve tea on site. Therefore, she cannot go back to her parents’ home.
2. No porridge, meat or medicine in the breakfast:
In ancient China, only the poor families ate porridge. Therefore, on the first day the breakfast should be rice, which means that the family will be rich all year round. The morning of the first day is called Grand Meeting of Gods, which means that all kinds of gods will come to say New Year’s greetings during this time (according to traditional Chinese culture, gods prefer vegetarian food to meat, for they don’t kill). Therefore, don’t eat meat but vegetarian. Apart from those in very serious diseases who have to take medicines, common people had better not take any medicine.
3. It is forbidden to awaken somebody by calling his or her name:
On the morning of the first day don’t awaken anybody by calling his or her name. But if do this, it means that this person will be urged to work during the whole year.
4. It is forbidden to say New Year’s greetings to those still in sleep:
Don’t say New Year’s greetings to any person still in sleep and say them when he or get gets up. If do this, it means this person will have to spend his or her whole year sick in bed.
5. No medicine:
This taboo suggests that you will take medicine all year round and none of your disease will be cured if you take medicine on the first day. So, even those having serious diseases shall not take medicine this day.
6. Don’t even touch knives or scissors:
This means if you use knives or scissors this day, you cannot avoid quarrelling with others.
7. Don’t begin needlework.
This means that if you do the needlework this day, you will break the dragon’s strings (a new born baby’s eyes are as small as a pair of needle eyes).
8. Don’t chop firewood:
It means that if you chop the firewood this day, your wealth will never come back again. (Note: Firewood shares the similar sound with the word wealth in Chinese)
9. Don’t lend anybody money:
It means that if you lend money to others this day, you will be lent all seasons of this year or you will lose your fortune all year round.
10. Don’t smash tableware and other stuff (plate, bowl, wine set and other fragile objects):
It means that it will be inauspicious all year round if you smash tableware and other stuff. But today it is not a big deal when children smash tableware or other stuff unintentionally as long as adults come and quickly say, “New Year’s (the homonym of smash in Chinese) fortune is coming, New Year’s fortune is coming and we will have peace every year.” Then, the bad luck vanishes.
11. No sleeping at noon:
During the Spring Festival, you shall not sleep at noon. If you do this, it means you will become lazy the whole year. Also, it means many guests will come to your home to say New Year’s greetings during this time, and it is discourteous if you sleep at noon.
12. Don’t pour polluted water and rubbish or sweep:
During the festival, don’t sweep or water your floor, for this will sweep away the wealth of your family.
13. Don’t allow others to pick anything from your pockets:
During the festival, don’t allow anybody to pick anything from your pockets, for this means others will take away the whole year’s wealth from you.
14. Don’t ask for payment of debt:
During the festival, those who are asked for payment of debt by others or ask for payment of debt from others will have bad luck the whole year. Therefore, don’t ask for payment of debt.
15. No washing clothes:
In China there is a water god, whose birthday is on the first and second days of the Lunar New Year. Therefore, don’t wash clothes during the two days.
More photos from: http://english.visitbeijing.com.cn/play/culture/n214960727.shtmlRelated to:
Steep, Steep Stairs!
When visiting the Drum and Bell Towers, please know the stair to access the top are extremely steep. The Drum Tower stairs are steeper than the Bell Tower. This is because the height of each step is higher. There are warnings in English all along the railing. Please take your time going up and more so when coming back done.Related to:
- Family Travel
- Arts and Culture
CARRY ENOUGH FRESH BOTTLED WATER WITH YOU
Beijing is one city that you are going to have to walk for miles every day you are out and about exploring the city. I found when I was in Beijing that it was neccesary to ALWAYS carry with me sufficient fresh bottled drinking water (and a face mask)for my day out. Of course it depends on when you are visiting Beijing but summer months can get extremely hot. The pollution here in Beijing is horrendous and it is a must to have plenty of water AND also a face mask to try and alleviate some of the pollution from the dirty air.
When purchasing bottled water ALWAYS make sure that the seal on the screw cap bottle top has NOT been broken and the bottle is a refill with bad tap water. This has happened to me once unfortunately and created many stomach problems for me for days.. BE AWARE..Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
You want Rolex?!
Be wary. No matter what time of year you visit Beijing, like any city capital with years of history, you'll find pushy vendors. Chinese vendors are really pushy around the famous tourist sites in the city. True, they gotta make a living. But they impose it on you like no one's business! I hadn't seen it this bad since my visits to the Caribbean. If you buy one item, be expected for them to try and sell you an additional item. If you wanna bargain endlessly go ahead. It's ALWAYS best to just ignore them and don't give them eye contact. If you even look at it, immediately it shows the vendor you have interest! Just pass and if you really like something, get it. If not, ignore them and move on. At the Forbidden City, this guy selling stuff even went out of his way to nudge me. Luckily I didn't loose my cool. Try not to loose yours.Related to:
- Family Travel
Warning: foreign currency scams take place in legitimate banks. While we were waiting to see a teller, to make a foreign exchange transaction we encountered this currency scam. A woman approaches with calculator in hand and asks what currency transaction we want. She offers a rate by indicating what she has punched into the calculator. The rate appears very favourable. An english speaking customer warned us not to deal with her. We were told that she was probably switching fake notes (hers) for legal notes (ours)
The general rule in China is don't transact with anyone that approaches you.
Powerpoints in Hotels
I was unclear as to what adaptor to take from Australia, so I took two. The one with 2 round prongs and one with 2 flat prongs. All Hotels we stayed at took the one with 2 round prongs, but not the other one. Also, at our last Hotel in Shanghai, The Metropole, it also had a power point in the room that you could plug Australian plugs straight into, without an adaptor.
So, just do your research, cover all possibilities and you will be ok. Someone here on vt will tell you exactly which adaptor to take to any country in the world!
No "Facebook" in China!
I was quite devastated the first time I got on a pc in China to learn that they have banned Facebook!!! I dont really know why, but a quick warning - that if you are hoping to keep in contact with friends and family via Facebook while holidaying in China - IT AINT HAPPENING!!!
The Traffic - what can I say???
Chinese traffic is more chaotic than any other country Ive been to. But the main difference we noticed was the blatent disregard for laws, stop lights and walk signs!! Just because you have a walk sign, dont take that for granted!! There will still be cars going through red lights right in front of you. There seem to be no road rules either. Traffic just weaves its way through itself, definitely no giving way to the right or left - its survival of the fittest - and its usually the biggest object that wins!!! Basically, busses and trucks have right of way, followed by large vans or cars, then smaller cars, then motorbikes, then pushbikes and then, coming last along the line is YOU ... little old pedestrian YOU!!!
Beijing taxis are very cheap, probably the easiest way to get around. They are two-toned in colour and their number plate always starts with the letter B. We did not use the subway in Beijing.
DO NOT BE ALARMED if your taxi does not have seatbelts, if the taxi driver speaks on his mobile times 10 times during your short trip, if the taxi beeps his horn every 2 seconds (that simply means "Im coming through whether you like it or not!"), if the taxi is absolutely filthy dirty, or if the taxi appears to be heading towards oncoming traffic at a high speed!!! THIS IS ALL NORMAL!!! Oh, and also do not be alarmed if your taxi driver stops, gets out of the taxi, runs over to stir his pot of soup, grabs a bag of eggs then gets back into the taxi, babbling on in chinese about what he has just done!!! This exact scenario did indeed happen to us and we were like WTF!!! Tracy started bipping his horn when he was gone - it was very funny. Oh, and lastly, Taxi drivers do NOT speak any english, or at the least, very very little, so it is imperative that you get your destination written in chinese by your Hotel staff, and also have the name of your Hotel written in chinese for your return - OR YOU WILL NOT GET BACK!
Our worst taxi ride by far was on our way to Guilin airport bound for Shanghai. Tracy was sitting in the front seat, which is not such an intelligent thing to do when you see how crazily they drive! All of a sudden the taxi driver just stops by the side of the road. He gets out and walks over to a big pot of soup, gives it a few stirs then comes back to the car. He then mutters something in Chinese to us and off he goes again. This time he is gone for a good 5 minutes. I told Tracy to beep his horn and she did! Hey, they beep their horns enough, so I figured it was ok for us to beep it! He comes back with a bag of eggs, we presumed this was morning tea! And then, we are on the road again, bound hopefully for the airport.
You see, that is the big disadvantage we have in China when not speaking or reading their language. We get into a taxi, usually with our destination written in Chinese. The driver nods his head and we just presume that he is taking us to our intended destination, when really, he could be taking us absolutely anywhere! When we were in a taxi, bound for somewhere, and we finally saw a road sign in english saying our destination was ahead, we were always like "phew - at least he is going to the right place!"
Taxi drivers never wear seat belts, nor are there seat belts in the back seats. They will always answer their mobile phones at least 10 times during a short trip. They NEVER obey road rules, actually, come to think of it, Im not entirely sure there are any road rules in China! They usually dont speak a word of english and thee taxis are usually pretty filthy dirty. Oh, one taxi driver in Shanghai spoke some english, he just kept repeating "I am a communist - long live Chairman Mao!!!" I was not about to tell him Chairman Mao was dead and the body at his Mausoleum in Beijing is just a wax statue!!! No way, I was not gonna tell him that!
ALWAYS ask your Hotel staff to give you a Hotel card with your destination written in Chinese, and always ask them for a rough idea on the cost to get where you are going, and roughly how long it will take.
Chinese toilets are not much fun!
Im sure many people have done warnings about Chinese toilets before, so this will be not unlike the warnings! I will say that the toilets we encountered were not quite as bad as I was expecting, although I will also say that it is an added travel problem to have your periods whilst travelling in China!!!!! (sorry guys - had to be blunt here!)
The majority of toilets we came across were squat toilets, and I guess you kinda get used to them, although I did miss a few times, and its also sometimes difficult to keep the bottom of your pants or skirt from dragging on the floor which is covered in urine!!! We did only come across a few toilets that were so putrid we had to refuse to use them.
This pic is of a typical squat toilet, this one slightly cleaner than most!
IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR WESTERNERS - in most public toilets you will usually find one western sit-down toilet, and it will usually be marked with "disabled/wheelchair access" on the door. It was always either the first or last toilet, so remember that when you enter a toilet block, look first for the disabled toilet. Rather funnily, if there was a line-up for the toilets (and there usually was!) the Chinese ladies will usually opt NOT to use the western toilet, but to wait in fact for a chinese squat toilet to become available!!! We found this quite amusing, as we were always waiting for the sit-down toilet to be free!
China scarcities - toilet paper and Lipton Tea!
Even at Hotels, they were stingy in providing toilet paper, mostly only giving us half a roll per day! And most if not all toilets provided toilet paper, so you MUST bring your own, or even better are the small tissue packs, fitting easily into handbags or bumbags.
Also something we found difficult to source was Lipton Black Tea, it took us 4 days to finally track some down! None of the Hotels we stayed at provided it free in the room, so it took us days of searching in Beijing to finally find some to buy. We bought 3 packets and kept it in our room safe, along with our toilet paper, passports and cash!!!
The other thing we found impossible to find at the shops was the liquid hand wash you use, like Dettol or other brands. I did bring 2 small bottles from home, but ran out and couldnt find it anywhere, luckily I also brought some anti-bacterial wipes from home also. So, make sure you take a huge stash of handwash stuff.
Oh, and another thing we found hard to come by (and had to steal them from shops!) was sugar for our cups of tea. We usually went to Starbucks or King Coffee (the chinese equivalent of Starbucks but cheaper) and had a cup of tea or coffee and then stole about 10 sachets of sugar each! Also, something not given in our rooms was teaspoons to stir our cuppas, so had to steal these also, from Starbucks or KFC! So, if you like a cup of tea or coffee, it might be wise to bring your own sugar, teabags, coffee and teaspoons. The milk we just bought on the street, guessing it was low fat milk and getting it right every time!
If you dont speak some or fluent Mandarin, then your holiday in China is indeed going to be an adventure! Ours certainly was, and thats an understatement. Most taxi drivers, shop owners, and even Hotel Staff speak little or no english. But, we seemed to get by with knowing only a few words in Chinese, ordering food from only pictures, and if all else failed, then just by using body language! Most Chinese dont know the meaning of "toilet" so we struggled with that one, trying to actually find a toilet. We learned very near the end of our trip that "WC" sometimes works and the word "pee" sometimes works, and also pretending to rub your hands together sometimes works, as Chinese quite often refer to going to the toilet as washing your hands. When we were at the Great Wall with Alvin, he kept asking us if we wanted to wash our hands, and we kept replying that we were fine, that our hands were clean, then later we worked out he was asking us if we needed to go to the toilet!
I can tell you the few Chinese words we did learn that came in very handy.
xie xie (pronounced she she) meaning thankyou
ni hao (pr. nee how) meaning hello
bu yao (pr. boo yow) meaning dont want
bu yao la (pr. boo yow la) meaning dont want chilli - this one worked great!
duo shao (pr. door shou) meaning how much?
bu (pr. boo) meaning no
far peow (thats how its pronounced) meaning ticket or receipt, this worked both in taxis and an shops.
Walking Chinese blocks
Because our Hotel was central, we decided to walk to most attractions. Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City and Wangfujing Street were only about a 10 minute walk.
HOWEVER ... be aware that when looking at a Chinese maps, the size of their blocks does NOT equate with the size of a street block back in Oz, or probably in most countries. We decided it was a reasonable feat to walk from our Hotel to Behai Park one day. From the map it didnt look too far, maybe 10-20 minutes walk. BUT .... I dont know if we went the wrong way, got lost or whatever, it took us about 60 minutes to get there, and we had walked about 6 kilometres!!! Take the safer option, and get a taxi there!!!
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