Hello Sir, You like Massage?
This was a topic of conversation one evening over dinner with the female members of our tour group having a few laughs at our expense with some good natured teasing.
All of us men, when we stepped out of our hotel had this said to us by the time we got down to the footpath/sidewalk.
Now, silly me must have shown some interest on the first occasion because the next statement was "massage & sex for 600 Yuan. I call my girl friend for you?" Having a very sore neck & back with very tired leg muscles a straight massage would have been good, but not interested in the rest. Enough risks already in travelling where you don't speak the language & don't understand local people very well.
Now this happened to all of us guys in our group every single time we left the hotel in the evening. You literally could not avoid them.
Now having said that I must say that this is a warning not a danger as all you needed to do was smile & say no thanks & that was the end of the conversation. Very different to the DVD peddlars & other peddlars we encountered getting out of our bus to the big tourist sites who didn't listen to Bou Yao (Don't need it) & kept bothering you.
Getting off a crowded bus
In the Beijing public buses, ofteh there are three doors. Passengers alight on the middle door where you can swipe with a prepaid card or pay in cash, usually 1 yuan to the collector who usually sits near the middle door.
Announcements are made in Chinese to ask passengers who are disembarking to be ready as the doors at front and rear will only open.
So when you enter a crowded bus through the middle door, quickly move through the crowd toward the front or rear door before the bus reaches the stop of your destination. When you let the person in front of you know, they will give way to let you go towards the exit door.
You do know what to do in the event of an earthquake, don't you? You don't? Well it might be a good idea to check out the resources on the web.
Beijing lies at the edge of a seismically active area; the Tangshan (several hundred km east of Beijing) earthquake in 1976 killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Three major fault lines cross Beijing, including the Babaoshan fault running from Dahuichang in the west of Beijing to Shunyi in the north-east. Beijing Airport is at Shunyi.
While earthquakes are rare in Beijing, there have been earthquakes here, and you should know the basics of what to do.
1. Duck 2. Cover and 3. Hold.
Get as low as possible to the ground, get under cover (of a solid table or bed), and hold on to it. If outside, stay away from near buildings and power cables where falling objects could hit you.
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!
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.
Subway - lots of steps
Especially in the "older" subway stations, there are no escalators and one has to climb up and down the steps. So not advisable to take the subway if you cannot do the stairs.
I once tried a lift but it was not operating. Some lifts are only for wheel chair or handicap and "under lock".
Some of the subway interchange line is also a distance to walk. There are no walkathons. But like all subways in the world, do expect to walk up and down the stairs in a crowd for the convenience use of the subway. I
Generally safe but watch out for pickpockets
Throughout my stay in Beijing, whether day or night, I have found that Beijing is very safe compared with major cities around the world. Perhaps there was also extra security as Olympic Games was in town.
However only once, I heard a commotion after the end of the Basketball event as people were leaving and going home at night. Someone was chased down, pushed to the ground because he had pickpocketed someone.
So it is prudent to always watch out your pocket if you are in a crowded environment. Overall, thumbs up for Beijing city security and safety for tourist.
Air pollution - CNN reports
Prior to coming to the Beijing, I was constantly bombarded by daily CNN news of how bad the air is and whether one can see far or breathe safely not to say run a marathon.
Fortunately, it was not as bad as it reported. Not sure how much to do with the steps taken to reduce cars on the road and stopping of construction.
There were days of blue skies after the rains as well days of "hazy" skies and many days in return. For some locals, the "haze" is just combination of moisture, particles and stagnant wind conditions.
Anyway, I did not experience any bad days but I am sure they do occur like all major cities.
Toilets - Lack of privacy
Many public toilets have been transformed to meet international standard for cleanliness and comfort. There is constant cleaning.
For some of the older toilets like this picture of this small public toilet outside and near the street of the National Theatre of Performing Art, the small layout reflect the lack of privacy of the original toilet.
Not enough room for doors and space. So better to use the toilets at your hotels or major shopping malls unless it is an emergency.
Do not travel to Beijing during New Years without earplugs, or you will find it difficult to sleep.
The fireworks are everywhere around the clock for three days, but reach a climax at midnight of New Years Eve. I imagine Beirut sounds the same...
Definately an awe inspiring experience, to be surrounded by constant sound and light.
Pay Close Attention to Warning Signs
When I was visiting a major Muslim mosque in Beijing, there was a warning sign in both Chinese and English stating that room inside is out of bounce of non-Muslim.
Unfortunately two young Chinese toursts did not see the sign and walked into the room with prayer mats with their street shoes. It created a ruckus.
So beware of warning signs whether shoes off or no admission and respect holy places of worship.
Different electrical outlets
The electrical outlet is different everywhere. And so is the case in Beijing.
Note that Voltage is 220V (50 Hertz). So if your equipment is 110V, be careful.
Fortunately, there are easily available outlet adapters. Many of them made in China.
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!
Traffic Jam & Collision Under the Bridge
If you are renting boat rides at Qian Hai Lake and Hou Hai Lake , there is a only a narrow river way between the two lakes.
So it can be a traffic jam of boats at this bottleneck and be patient so that no is is bumped off the boat by collision.
Perhaps, a "traffic light" should be installed soon for the boats going under the bridge.
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