Travelling isn’t what it used to be. Nowadays, all you need is a smartphone with sporadic wifi connectivity in cafes (like the “hammock café” I’m at now), a 16 digit bin (ie. a Visa card), and your passport. That is it. And a city’s wonders expose themselves to you – just google tripadvisor recommendations. Need some information on train timetables – just google and hit up seat61. Need to pull up maps – that’s right, just google map it!
Our journey all the way to China had been really smooth and easy. We didn’t even need to ask people for directions, or recommendation for restaurants. Everything was ‘at the tip of our fingertips.’ And then, came China.
China’s great internet firewall, to the casual internet user, is nothing short of smartphone crippling. We couldn’t use any of our google services – Google, google maps, blogger. No facebook. No twitter. It’s almost like there’s no point to having wifi! Eventually, we subscribed to a VPN, but the first few days without our smartphone showed us just how reliant we were on our little hunks of plastic (not talking about credit cards!).
Worse still, we were forced to use other search services, like “bing” and “yahoo.” Words can’t describe the irrelevance of first page of search results. It was like trying to communicate with a kid that doesn’t speak the same language.
“Hey bing – could you pull up some information on the forbidden city”
Bing: “Here’s the definition of city. And since I’m so amazing, here’s a link to Joe Biden’s biography. See what I did there? FOR BIDEN. Heheheh”
Bing is useless. Moral of the story, get a VPN before you travel to China (as the firewall blocks most VPN sites as well!)
We had heard a lot about Beijing’s polluted skies, but the day we reached Beijing, we were pleasantly surprised to see clear blue skies. Luckily for us, the 70th World War II celebrations were on in a couple of days, and apparently half the registered cars in Beijing were banned from operating in Beijing during the period.
PROs: Blue skies, clean streets, smooth traffic
CONs: Tourists not allowed at Tiananmen square!
So while we had beautiful skies during our visit, we weren’t allowed to visit certain areas. Pictures of the areas we could visit, below.
Arrival at the Beijing central train station
Ah yes, Asia proper. The first thing you realize is just how many people there are! We probably saw more people in 5 mins at Beijing central than in two weeks in Mongolia/Russia.
Walking down Beijing’s main street. Back in a big city again, with super-size government buildings
Random art installations in the city
We enjoyed the translations of Chinese menus. Apparently, according to friends we visited, this isn’t a typo, it is the correct, exact translation of a popular Chinese dish!
Back to delicious Chinese food. Pictured above: Szechuan cuisine – Kung Pao chicken, tofu and beans
Incredible flower art. Each of those big flowers you see is comprised of many little flowers
N tried “salted cheese with green tea” here. I have no idea why. But it was alright – it was basically a liquidy/cheese like substance floating atop regular green tea.
The streets of Beijing
More “streets of Beijing”
The Chinatown of Beijing?
This man’s job involves skewering live scorpions and starfish, frying them, and serving them to hapless tourists in search of ‘authenticity’
All goods here – Made in China. Just like everywhere else!
Suspiciously Indian/Tibetan looking lanterns
We reached the station, but couldn’t visit the square…
…as the area was blocked off
Exploring the area around the forbidden city
We visited Beijing 798, the art district of the city. Some very interesting shops selling art, pottery, musical instruments etc.
Statues and sculptures around Beijing 798
This one shop specialized in GI Joe art – pictures of action figures sold as art, greeting cards, prints, etc. Why didn’t I ever think of that!
Edgy Mao-Tiananmen art
We visited some of the hutongs in Beijing. Really cool food and snacks – like these rose shaped ice creams! Delish.
Oh and the Chinese tea was incredible – in China, it’s just tea 😉
Light, refreshing, crisp.
At the Beijing South railway station, getting my connecting train to Shanghai.
The train stations, and speed trains that we took were ultramodern, and very quick, travelling at 300kmph. Very convenient to zip around!
New, neat and clean interiors!
Travel factsCumulative cost of travel so far
GBP: 2,755 plus EUR: 1,308 plus RUB: 43,765 plus USD: 454
2 nights in a 4 star hotel: 104 GBP
Beijing to Shanghai speed train, 1100 Yuan for 2 pax* (120 GBP)
booked the day before travel, in person at the English speaking counter at Beijing Central station. The process was quick, but note that VISA and Mastercards are not accepted, so be prepared to pay in cash, or with a Chinese credit card.
*N did not travel with me on this leg of the journey. For symmetry’s sake, we have continued to calculate costs for 2 pax.
Beijing Spending: 310 GBP