Beijing (北京) is the capital of the most populous country in the world, the People's Republic of China. It was also the seat of the Qing dynasty emperor until the formation of a republic in 1911, so it has rich historical sites, and important government institutions.
The city is well known for its flatness and regular construction. There is only one hill to be found in the city limits (in Jingshan Park to the north of the famous Forbidden City), and like the configuration of the Forbidden City, it has concentric "ring roads", which are actually rectangular, that go around the metropolis.
The International Olympic Committee has decided that Beijing will serve as the host city for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, the Summer Olympic Games of 2008.
Beijing has a total of 16 districts and 2 counties.
8 districts are close to the city centre:
The other 8 districts are further afield:
Except for Mentougou, all of these eight districts switched from being counties to districts from 1988 to 2001.
The two counties lie very far from central Beijing:
Most people use taxicabs to reach town from the airport. Get your travel agent to get you the Chinese name of your hotel so that you can let your taxi driver read where you want to go. A taxi from the airport should cost between 70 - 120 RMB. You will have to pay the fee shown on the meter (make sure the driver uses it) plus 10 RMB toll for the airport expressway.
A bus also runs from the airport to the city centre, stopping in such places as the central train stations. The cost of the bus is much more moderate than that of taxis.
The Jingcheng, Jingtong/Jingha, Jingshen, Jingjintang, Jingkai, Jingshi and Badaling (Jingchang) Expressways (高速公路), as well as 11 China National Highways (国道), link into Beijing.
Long-distance buses from areas as far as Tianjin connect to Beijing.
The bus system is one of the hidden treasures of Beijing. It is cheap, convenient and has a huge offering. Unfortunately it is hidden because of the lack of information about it. The staff often understand no English. The buses range from beautiful tourist buses with a wonderful wooden interior from which you can view the lake to overpacked buses with broken seats and bad suspension.
Bus lines are numbered from 1-1000. Most Beijing buses have routes between the two red points that have the bus number written in a small box, and you can often see them going in both directions. The buses will take you almost anywhere if you can master their complexity. Unless you are a native speaker, or have a good ability to remember the Chinese letters, you will find yourself often frustrated not being able to quickly write down or remember the names in Chinese.
Bus stops have signs stating the lines that pass by and their destinations, but many times you cannot read the signs, because they are damaged. Bus signs are often helpless victims of advertising material pasted over it, the signs can be very flimsy and are often destroyed or vandalised. Then you need to be able to look up the name you have just written down of the stop you just saw. This can be referenced against the map. Alas, full maps of the system are available only in Chinese.
City public buses run from 5:30 till 23:00 daily, and can get very crowded during rush hours (6:30-9:00 and 17:00-19:00). Normal buses charge starting from only 1 yuan, but those equipped with air-conditioning or running on express lines are charged according to the distance. Aircon buses at the airport will charge around 16 yuan.
Minibuses are very common in outside the core city, they are private drivers and cost often only 1-10 RMB longer distances. Often you will get picked up on the highway bus stops for 1 RMB.
by train / subway
Beijing now has four subway lines:
More are under construction in preparation for the 2008 Olympics.
The subway station entrances are identified by a large blue stylized letter B wrapped around a smaller letter D.
The subway is an excellent way to quickly get around the city and a traveller can easily figure it out through the station maps and English signs and language. The subway fare is now 3 yuan and you have to buy the ticket at a window. Just push the equivalent of 3 yuan (or a 5 yuan bill) through, and hold up your index finger, signaling that you want just one ticket. Then take it to the ticket tearer opposite the booth, and go downstairs to your platform.
Extension or transfer tickets are available for Line 13 and the Batong Line. The newest Beijing light rail line, the Line 1 Extension or the Ba Tong Line, is the simplest of the two. The Line 1 Ext. ticket can be bought as a single entity (pictured right) for 2 RMB from any station on the Line 1 Ext., or can be bought from any station on line 1 as a combination transfer ticket.
The transfer ticket for the Batong Line costs 4 yuan, and is used in a similar way except that on the first use the ticket checker will tear off one of the colored ends. Each end represents a different line. The blue end will be collected when you enter the Line 1 or 2 platform, the red end will be collected when you enter the Line 1 Extension (Ba Tong) platform.
Line 13 in the north is a little more complicated. Beijing, in preparation for the future Olympics in 2008 is modernizing many of its infrastructure systems. To this end, new magnetic tickets and automatic barriers are being tested out on the 13 line. The 13 line can also be utilized using a single use ticket (3 yuan) or transfer ticket from Lines 1 and 2 (5 yuan). The single use ticket can be bought from any station on the 13 line. The transfer ticket can be bought from any station on lines 1, 2 or 13.
You use the transfer ticket in the same way as described above, except for the fact that when you have the orange end to the ticket collector, they will exchange this for a single use magnetic ticket. You need this in order to pass through the automatic barriers. When you transfer from lines 1 or 2 you will be first met by people who will exchange your ticket, and then you proceed through the barriers.
Taxis are the preferred choice for moving around, and are fairly inexpensive. Taxis charge standard rates per km in three bands. The cheap and nasty ones cost 1.20 Yuan per km (in 2004). These are generally in pretty poor condition and often not clean at all. Check they have a working seatbelt before you go for it. The next band of taxis cost 1.60 Yuan per km. These are usually slightly nicer, often with seatbelts. The third band are luxurious executive cars and cost 2.00 Yuan per km.,which is still very reasonable for a western budget. They usually waiting outside hotels.
If the taxi driver "forgets" to switch the taximeter on, remind him by politely saying "qing da biao" 请打表 (pronunciation: qing slightly like "ching", da like "Dalai Lama", biao= b(b in "blue") -i(y in "yen") -ao(au in "Austria") (means "Run the meter, please"). Get your receipt (in case you want to make a complaint later or for business reimbursement purposes) by saying "Fa Piao" or gesturing at the meter and making a writing motion.
The red "Xiali"s (CNY 1.20/km taxicabs) are being gradually taken off the roads. Replacing them are the somewhat more elegant Hyundai Sonata, Citeron and VW Jetta (CNY 1.60/km). The newer cars come in a variety of colors (including blue, green, white, and black) usually with a yellow stripe across the middle.
Taxis are also relatively cheap, but communicating with the drivers can be a problem, since most do not speak English. You can ask that your hotel write your destination on a card for you to give to the driver. Make sure also to take a card from the hotel (and a map) which lists the hotel's address in Chinese. This can be a 'get out of jail free' card if you get lost in the city and need to get back to the hotel via taxi.
Taximeters keep running when the speed is slower than 12km/h or waiting for green lights, 5 minutes waiting equal to 1 km running.
In some places like Summer Palace or Great Wall, there are some fake taxis which have meters too. It's easy to identify them: real taxis have license plates started with a letter "B", like "京B - *****", and those fake ones' started with other letters, usually "E", "F", "G" or "J". It might charge you high amount of extra money and sometimes they drop foreign tourists in wrong places. If you find you hired a fake taxi and be overcharged, don't argue if you are alone, pay the driver and remember the car's license plate number, then call police later.
To avoid being taken advantage of, it is a good idea to know the rough direction, cost, and distance of your destination. You can easily find this out from asking locals before calling a cab. Verify these values with the taxicab driver to show them that you are in the know, and are probably too much trouble to cheat. Keep track of the direction of travel with a compass and/or the sun. If the cab goes in the wrong direction for a long distance, verify the location with the taxi driver. For scamming drivers, that is usually enough for them to go back on the right track (without ever acknowledging that they were trying to cheat you). For honest drivers, they will explain why they are going that way. Keep in mind that central Beijing can be off limits at certain times, forcing cabs to reroute.
Most of the commercial areas are in the following areas:
Wherever you see the acronym CBD, it means it is located near the China Business District. It can be both residential or commercial area.
Like all of China, finding a job teaching English in Beijing is relatively easy for native speakers. In fact, if you are of European descent some employers may assume that you are already qualified enough to teach English to Chinese students. However, more prestigious employers (especially universities and language schools) will generally require an English teaching qualification or a Bachelor's degree (normally in any discipline, although sometimes specifically in English/linguistics).
Check out www.eslcafe.com for jobs and teaching materials for almost anywhere. Caution: there has been something of an "explosion" in English teaching in recent years, but this has brought some attendant problems with unregulated schools who fail to deliver on their contracts with teaching staff. You are advised to check with existing teachers before signing a teaching contract with an unknown school.
For job postings, check out www.thatsbj.com, a local English language publication.
Bargaining As a tourist, every vendor is going to try to make you overpay. To get a good idea of accurate pricing, pick an item that you want, and is common to many stalls. Call an absurdly low price (like 1-5% of the calling price) for it. When they say "No. Are you crazy?", look at the item a bit longer, and start to leave. They will call out progressively lower and lower prices for the item, the farther you get from them. Remember the lowest price they call out (they may even accept your "absurdly low" price). Go to the next stall, and repeat, with a price that is about 50-75% of the previous lowest. Eventually, you will find a fair price. You can obtain obsenely low prices this way, but don't abuse your bargaining power! Many people depend on making decent margins off of tourists to survive. It never hurts to pay a little more than the lowest price, and it might make all the difference to a poor merchant.
Antiques and Speciality Items
Almost on every street you can buy (almost real) fake items. Do be careful when you buy these products, since not all countries allow them to be imported. This is especially the case with DVD's. These copied DVD's should be sold at about 5 or 15 yuan. But most often the sellers charge you a 'Tourists price' for 60 yuan. If you really want to buy it, look for '英文' (ying wen) which means English language.
The best way to eat good & cheap in Beijing - just enter one of the true Chinese restaurant, where the locals eats, and pick randomly a few different dishes from the menu. Beijing Roast Duck is the speciality in Beijing. Be sure not to miss it. There are some very famous restaurant that cater for the hordes of western tourists willing to spend a lot of money to get this famous dish. One of them is Quanjude Roast duck, which is located right at the Hepingmen subway station (One duck 160 Yuan, calculate around 220 Yuan per person). But backpackers and people able to speak a little Mandarin, or at least willing to order a bit longer, should try one of the more local restaurant. For example, when you walk just to the south from the Hepingmen subway stop, after around 500-800m you will see some restaurants on the left side of the street. There are nice ones, one even has relaxing classical Chinese live music and comes at one fourth of the Quanjude restaurant (one duck 38 Yuan, around 50 Yuan per person).
Mongolian hot pot is a kind of fondue, except they use a clear soup broth that is boiling hot. You use your chopsticks to plunge a paper-thin piece of meat or vegetable into the hot, boiling soup. The trays of meat (chicken, pork, beef, lamb, etc.) are stacked high. The meat is rolled into thin rolls. It cooks within just a few seconds.
Bakeries are in general quite good, though the Chinese variety of cakes is just a farce: behind the many different cakes there are only a few kinds of dough, and the variation is not so much in taste as it is in appearance. "Real cakes" are not available, cakes consist out of cream and very soft biscuit. Special Chinese cookies you should try is the Laopobing ("Wife cookie") and Laogongbing ("Husband cookie").
Vegetable flavor ice creams. This is considered normal (and tasty!) in Beijing. Purple Yam is good. Also, you can try green pea flavor. The ice creams are only slightly sweet, so it takes some adjustment. Chinese cuisine often uses red beans and green beans (not like Western greenbeans) to flavor dessert items.
McDonald's has over 100 restaurants in Beijing, followed closely by KFC. As a rule of thumb, whenever there is a McDonalds, a KFC is no more far away than 100m. There are also a fair number of Pizza Huts in Beijing; one of the newest stores opened, in Chaowai, is uncongested and service is very good. Visitors to Pizza Huts should be prepared to take a number and wait in line if they dine around 12:00-13:00 and again from 18:30-19:30 (peak hours).
If you're homesick, head for the John Bull Pub near the Jianguomen tube station. They'll happily provide you with your favourite English food and drink.
For your stay in Beijing, you should have at least once tried the Lamb meat sticks (Yangrouchuan), which are delicious barbecued sticks of lamb meat. They are sold starting from the late afternoon to the early morning all around Beijing on the street out of small street grills by local chefs. Often, the worst looking grills offer the best taste, so be brave and try them all.
Korean restaurants are also very common in Beijing. A frequent meal is the grill-it-yourself barbeque, including beef, chicken, and seafood items as well as some vegetables including greens and potatoes.
Tea, tea, and more tea! It's the best in the world. They have a different ceremony for every type of tea. You should go to a good tea house. Some are in malls, but first ask the price before ordering or else brace yourself for the most expensive egg-sized cup of tea in the world. Very, very relaxing. The tea masters's movements are hypnotic.
Chinese beer can be quite good. The most preferred beer in China is Qingdao beer (normally 10 yuan) which can also be found in the States. It has a distinctive taste due to its mineral water content. Try Yanjing beer (normally 2 yuan), which is main beer brand of Beijing. It comes in very large bottles and has 11% alcohol content. (Yanjing is an antiquated name for Beijing.). Both Yanjing and Qingdao now come in "standard" and various "deluxe" varieties, some of which are significantly better tasting than the regular stuff.
Great Wall is one type of Chinese wine (there are several others). Chinese wines are just acceptable, and it is still not common to drink wine. Giving wine as a gift is not a common custom in most places in China and most people will not be accustomed to wine etiquette or appreciation. Foreign red wines are usually of a much better quality, such as those from California and Oregon, France, Australia, and Chile.
The most common hard liquor to get drunk from is Bai jiu (white liquor). It comes in a large variety everywhere for very cheap prices and should be avoided if you want to have a clear mind for your travels on the next day. Mao Tai is a Chinese hard liquor made from sorghum. A large selection of imported liquor can be found at all bars ranging from tequila to whiskey.
Foreign visitors often are "restricted" to staying in hotels, that restriction being less and less obvious as a great majority of accommodation now takes place in the form of hotels. Zhaodaisuos (招待所) are more difficult, and may be fully inaccessible altogether to the foreign community.
A number of mid-range hotels are located east of the 东直门 Dongzhimen subway station. From the subway stop, walk around 800m eastwards to the next big intersection. On the northern side of the street, half a dozen large hotels can be found. A double costs 150 to 250 Yuan a night depending on the season. Its worth to haggle and compare with the other hotels around before you book. Although its already placed at the outer ring road, the subway provides for a convenient and quick access to the inner city. Right next to the subway station there is a McDonalds, and - more interestingly - a large shopping center with a food court hidden in the lowest floor.
Some rather (although not very) expensive hotels are in the city centre and on the eastern 3rd Ring Road. These include:
Beijing is a very safe city. However, tourists are often preyed upon by cheats and touts. Be especially cautious in the inner city, around Tiananmen Square, and on the tourist-crowded routes to the Great Wall.
Be wary of fake money. You may observe Chinese people inspecting their money carefully, and with a reason: there are a lot of counterfeit bills in circulation. The most common are 100's and 50's. A few tips for identifying counterfeit bills:
Traffic-wise: Legally, pedestrians have the right of way on zebra crossing, although just a few drivers will actually go the mile and stop for them. It is better to cross via an underpass or an overpass. There are now several self-service traffic lights; pedestrians wishing to cross the road push a green button, wait for the words 等待 (please wait) to appear on the traffic light (for pedestrians), and cross when the lights turn green. However, it is not rare to see a few drunkards or reckless drivers drive through when vehicles get a red light, especially at night and on roads with relatively sparse traffic. Care must still be taken.
Bring a corkscrew for opening your wine.
Swiss Army knives are a big help too (but remember to put it in your checked luggage).
Air pollution is a BIG problem. Car exhaust, coal burning, and dust storms from the Gobi desert combine to make some of the worst city air on the planet. You may want to bring extra Vitamin C and other antioxidants (grape seed extract, etc.). A white surgical face mask may help with the occasional dust storms...the dust is very fine. Don't be surprised if your throat and nose ache soon after arriving.
Drinking lots of the local green tea (hot) will help you resist sickness from the bad air. Green tea has antioxidants, some vitamin C, and the hot water helps to moisturize your throat. Winter is the worst time...cold air creates an inversion layer and traps the pollution in the city.
Diet tips. Bring fiber supplements (such as Metamucil). Beijing food can be constipating due to high meat/low vegetable content. Chinese don't usually eat salads, but boil their vegetables for sanitary and cultural reasons. Also, an Acidophilus (yogurt bacteria) supplemental capsule taken daily can prevent G.I. distress from the local bacteria. Bring the type that don't have to be refrigerated, or drink the local yogurt beverages (which must be drunken on the spot as you have to return the glass jars immediately afterwards). The local bacteria can cause vomiting or diarrhea (or both) if you don't take precautions beforehand. Remember the 3 P's for food: Peeled, par-boiled, or piping-hot. The good news is that the Chinese preference for fresh food, cooked in a wok at searing hot temperatures means that stomach problems are rare. If you are eating "local" you tip the odds in your favor if you stick to traditional, local food, since the chances are that the chef will know what he/she is doing with this type of food, which is not necessarily the case with (eg) a western-style salad.
Bring a pack of your own tissues (or toilet paper) and small bar soap. Many public bathrooms do not have wiping paper, especially if you venture out to the countryside. Alternately, you may wish to purchase an alcohol-based hand santizer for quick clean-ups. Also, pre-packaged wet hand wipes are indispensable.
Try to use the bathroom before you leave for your destinations. Some establishments (even large grocery/department stores) will not have Western style toilets, and many a lady has been shocked and dismayed to find she doesn't know how to use non-elevated (sunken) toilets.
If you do have to use a squat toilet, you may want to remove your trousers or dress first to avoid accidentally defecating on your clothing. Wipe with tissues that you have brought with you and put them in the bin; do not flush the paper because it can clog the toilet. Some toilets are pay toilets.
In dryer months (especially winter), be sure to bring or purchase a heavy moisturizer. Although most hotels will offer some generic brand, the quality varies greatly and you would do well to supply your own. It is advisable to purchase and drink several bottles of purified water a day.
Most Internet news is not censored, but BBC News usually is. The New York Times is sometimes blocked too. Reuters.com is usually not blocked.
Email access through an Internet based email service is very helpful to have. Examples (free) include Yahoo, Google, Hotmail, etc.
Postcard postage costs 4.5 yuan (as of May 7th, 2005).