Have not you been to China yet? That is unfortunate. This country is worth a visit, if only for one thing: the Great Wall. We visited China two times with a break of ten years, but we were still shocked by some things.
The country is unique. Think paper, gunpowder, compass, porcelain—all these things were invented here. Ten years ago, I would not have imagined it, but now, I write this blog post on a tablet PC made in China, and drink coffee brewed in a coffee machine also made there. The citizens of Beijing joke that new electronic devices appear in their home more often than in Bill Gates’ home and become obsolete in two weeks. That may be, but many things in China are immutable. The country of liars is waiting for you.
If you are like me, you expect a scam most of all in the eastern countries. It seems that to deceive a foreigner is their national hobby. Well, Beijingers outdo them all. Any Arabic liar looks like a paragon of virtue against the background of guides or taxi drivers of Beijing, and Scheherazade with her fairy tales of 1001 nights seems a lady devoid of imagination. However, this fact did not deter me from visiting China twice, and I think I will return once more.
The real China starts from the moment of leaving the airport. Of course, since the time of our first visit to China, the generation of young, successful Chinese has grown. They speak English and know what a rich life is. We even felt it in the plane. But usually, tourists meet a completely different type of Chinese, the type which tries to deceive you at every opportunity. In this sense, China has not changed, but Beijing has changed significantly.
While we were surprised by modern buildings that appeared in the Chinese capital, locals, just like ten years ago, were surprised at me. Tall stature and blue eyes still plunged the local population into a stupor. Unknown people can just ask you to pose in a photo with their children. But do not be proud of it. For most locals, you are a regular laowai. The Chinese call all the foreigners by this word, and it has very derogatory overtones. However, there is another word. One man from our group did understand Chinese a little, and he said that our guide, speaking with the Chinese, called us “these pigs.”
But we flew such an enormous distance not for flirting with the Chinese, but for sightseeing, so our plan did not include a prolonged stay in Beijing and was very simple: the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven and the Old Summer Palace, the Beijing Zoo and certainly the Great Wall of China.
The main “danger” of Beijing is taxi drivers. Their colleagues, tuk tuk drivers, are more humane, but also tricky. All taxis have meters, but it does not mean they will be turn on. It is normal for the driver to announce the five-fold price for the ride, and sometimes, you are forced to agree because it is better to go than stay and wait for an honest taxi driver.
From the Forbidden City, we returned by tuk tuk. This transport “miracle” had no suspension (none of them do). This circumstance delivers to passengers such discomfort that it seems as if every pothole threatens you with a spinal fracture. The price of the trip was agreed in advance with the help of a calculator, but we relaxed too soon. Our driver “got lost.” While he asked bystanders where our hotel was, I found it myself with the help of GPS. The hotel was not so far, around the corner.
When our driver also understood it, we heard the interesting news: due to the unexpected increase of the trip duration, the price has risen tenfold. I did not expect such impudence. The negotiations, in the awful mix of English and Chinese, ended unresolved, and we left our transport, after paying the driver the precise amount agreed in advance, to go the rest way to the hotel by foot.
Such strange things happen here even in decent hotels. Our group was about to leave a hotel in Beijing to fly to Hainan Island. We were waiting for our bus and witnessed the following scene. One couple received a twofold bill from the reception and did not agree. They asked our Chinese guide for help. He tried, but after five minutes of active negotiations, he returned to them and very calmly said, “More money or less, what’s the difference? After a few hours, you will find yourself on the paradise island [the Hainan island is a paradise indeed] and forget all the problems. Pay!” Now, I understood that he was not intended to help. All his negotiations with a girl at the reception deck was just for show. In China, you can rely only on yourself. Even a policeman is ready to deceive you.
To be honest, Beijing never was a city of my dreams. If not for the Great Wall of China, I would leave this capital to more tolerant travelers, but only here, you have several sites of this architectural miracle open to the public: Badaling, Jiankou, Mutianyu, Jinshanling, Simatai, and others.
There are few breathtaking places in Beijing. Maybe the only funny thing is the Chinese love of hugeness. The huge palace complex in the Forbidden City, the huge Tiananmen Square, the huge Temple of Heaven, and the huge Olympic stadium. As in any big city, a completely different life flows in suburbs, poor quarters, and night markets. Although I would not be surprised, if after another ten years, Beijing Hutong (medieval districts of the city) are only a memory.
Probably, no metropolis is created for recreation, but Beijing has some places were you feel a real harmony. We had great pleasure walking through the big imperial garden, Beihai Park. It seems like all the citizens work out here every morning: youth jog, the mature practice Tai Chi. The same scene is in the Temple of Heaven Park which surrounds the Altar of Heaven or Tiantan. At noon, you can watch dancing for adults here, and that will not be the national dances. Elderly couples will dance waltzes and foxtrots.
A very important part of visiting every country is the enjoyment of local cuisine, but not in China. Their food looks very suspicious. Therefore, in the first days, we chose cafes where we saw other Europeans. Usually, we took shiitake mushrooms baked in a banana leaf, some warm salad, and noodles with meat. But we unanimously decided to postpone fried grasshoppers and larvae of silkworm for another ten years. Incidentally, we haven’t seen any Chinese eating those insects, although markets offer numerous kinds of beetles and spiders strung on wands.
The next scammer tried to deceive us in the night market, Wangfujing. Having lost our way in the center of the city, we came out to the market and decided to have dinner in a typical Chinese cafe with dozens of kinds of noodles. All of them looked and smelled very appetizing. We placed the order, paid the bill advance, and a boy brought the green tea and two portions of hot noodles. At this moment, an old man at the cash desk shouted, “This is a fake! They gave false money!” (When necessary, the Chinese immediately start to understand and speak English.)
We were warned about this trick, so I said calmly, “This is real money. Call the police!” and began to eat my noodles. The old man grumbled a little under his breath and has lost interest in us.
Our next goal was Beijing Zoo, but it was so dirty and miserable that you can safely forget about this “attraction” of the Chinese capital. Seems like we should go to Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding to see funny pandas. It is just 1,828 km from Beijing.
With this, our uncomplicated plan of acquaintance with Beijing was nearly completed. It remained only to see The Great Wall of China, but that is another story.