An oppressive government is more to be feared than a tiger. – Confucius
Let’s face it, I had many preconceived notions about China, one of the few remaining world’s communist regimes. I expected to see much poverty and difficulty my parents experienced in communist Poland in the 1980’s. The reality seemed quite different when we arrived here on our around the world stopover. When we first arrived in mainland China in Shenzhen, Natasza and I had opposing first impressions. Natasza noticed people who looked far poorer than in Hong Kong, while I was impressed with the well-developed infrastructure and presence of western brands including some reserved for the ultra rich. Perhaps, with a country of 1.3 billion people and over 100 billionaires my notion of modern communism was completely wrong.
Isn’t China one big contradiction with its political authoritarianism on one hand and a global capitalistic power on the other?
As much as you can feel the capitalistic play in motion here, much is still in question: Personal Freedom.
Beside the street hustlers who took only a few seconds to approach us at the train station selling the latest ‘brand’ goods and services, we saw empty Gucci stores, overpriced Starbucks cafés (coffee costs more in China than a full meal at a decent restaurant) and deliciously unhealthy KFC’s with more workers than they know what to do with.
We found taxi drivers who preferred to play cards than take our money.
We couldn’t call a taxi from our hotel, the hotel clerk had to run out to the main street with us to hail one.
We also had lamps in our hotel rooms that served as decoration only producing no light.
At first we thought we had poor weather with a haze and cloud cover for the entirety of our stay. It turned out, it was heavy smog hovering a few hundred meters above the city.
These are just a few reminders that somethings are just OFF in China.
1. What we enjoyed the most or the least:
The city is home to over 19 million people with its most-deserving name meaning ‘capital of the north’. Beijing is the historical and cultural centre of China. We have never felt so much history and culture passing through other Asian cities, as we did here.
Top attractions of Beijing we were able to explore on our trip around the world:
we loved these narrow alleys in the old part of the city with local shops, best local cuisine, cafés and street vendors selling handmade goods including the famous Beijing buttermilk or deep-fried scorpions.
was amazingly huge and brilliant with its imperial architecture. This World Heritage Site consists of over 9,000 rooms of an area of 720,000 m2. For almost 500 years this large palace complex, built in 1400’s, was home to emperors and served as a centre of major political ceremonies and events. It took us a full day to see it. It’s a must-see.
this enormous square serves as the symbol of the mixture of traditional values, historical greatness and ‘success’ of new People’s Republic of China (PRC). The prominent placement of Chairman Mao’s picture on the north gates
of the Forbidden City is proof of that. To me, it served as a reminder of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and possibly hope for a fully democratic China. Ironically, Tiananmen Gate also means the Gate of Heavenly Peace…
Temple of Confucius
you may be unable to find this cultural gem on many of the tourist maps handed out in tourist centres. The reason? Confucius was the great thinker 500 B.C. and his philosophy, Confucianism, for centuries has defined the core of the Chinese society. The main dogma behind its teachings? Humanism, communal endeavour including self-cultivation and self-creation. As you can imagine at most times it is at odds with the existing regime. Hence, the quote in the heading.
This is a very complex issue but nonetheless worth exploring if you wish to know more about the Chinese inner psyche.
Great Wall of China
is enormous and makes an amazing impression. This grand project started in 500 BC to defend against enemies from the north (it didn’t work by the way) and may have cost 1 million lives to complete. Nonetheless, it’s an amazing symbol of human ingenuity. Another must-see.
Niko was treated like a superstar or maybe an alien in China. Many locals would just stare at him, want to take pictures with/of him or even touch his hair. The truth is there are many Chinese tourists here from rural China who most likely haven’t seen a Caucasian child before in person.
Beijing Roast Duck
I had it and to be honest, it wasn’t any better than the one I tasted in Chinatown in Toronto. If you haven’t tried, it’s a must.
2. Activities our toddler Niko enjoyed the most:
Beijing Zoo and its Giant Pandas
This Zoo is just massive with 450 animal species, 14,500 animals and the main attraction Giant Pandas. Niko loved to see the Pandas as they fooled around on the trees.
3. Our average expenses: China is very affordable but not as cheap as you may think
Accommodations: $70-100 for a 3 star-type hotel
Restaurants: 10 – 30 dollars/visit for 3 of us
Food, transportation (car rental) and entertainment: $30 /day
Note: $ refers universally to US/CA/AU that trade all within 5-10% of each other
4. Our first impressions of locals, their culture and customs:
Social Etiquette and Customs in China
Chinese follow many etiquette rules that include avoidance of; direct eye contact, sneezing in public or public affection. Yet some of the Western conventions of good etiquette (as we know it) are not observed here and often include loud speaking, spitting in public, loud eating, disregard for public property, no respect in lineups and even loud public flatulence. It was frustrating at times trying to get through the door with the stroller, so don’t expect anyone to let you through. Shove or be shoved.
Here is an interesting post about social norms in China
General tips for travelling in Beijing
Taxis at the airport should not cost more than 100 yuan. We received quotes up to 400, so ask the driver to turn the meter on (they may refuse)!
The cheapest way to get from Beijing to the Balding Great Wall of China is to take the 919 bus from east of the Deshengmen Arrow Tower bus station. There are people who look like bus terminal employees discouraging you from taking a bus instead of taking a cab. Not sure why, but we felt a stake in it for them to have tourists take cabs and not public buses.
Great Firewall of China – it does exist, forget about being able to use any social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Tripadvisor or other review related sites that may review China. I fully expect our BLOG will become censored after this post!
Crossing the street is an art in China. Cars will never stop for pedestrians regardless if you are an official crossing or not. Driving style is very aggressive and I would recommend against driving here!
That being said, we found all places worth visiting, for their rich cultural heritage and social customs.
How do you perceive world’s cultural differences, do you welcome them in open arms or not? Is it about acceptance or about tolerance? Let us know in the comments section below. Thanks!
Here are some of our photos from our Beijing visit: