Beijing, China- The Experience was Nice, But I Became the Tourist Attraction
This was a very interesting trip, it was an experience, to say the least. I had never been one to want to go to China, as I wasn't enticed to go like I was with other countries on my bucket list. I did, however, know I wanted to go to the countries in Southeast Asia but tickets were really expensive. I always try to fly as cheap as possible and Southeast Asia stayed out of my price range. I will fully sit in my ignorance as when I saw a cheap ticket to Beijing and bought it I thought Southeast Asia wasn't that far- man was I really wrong. As we know, globes are not drawn to scale, because if they were then I would have known Beijing is really far from Southeast Asia, heck it is far from other Chinese cities. Once I bought my Beijing ticket I wanted to take in some of the key sites because who knows when or if I would be back in China.
Of course, this flight was bought without any thoughts about visas (haha)! What, visas? Who needs those old things. Ya, I do it turns out. I do want to give a quick shout out to Chisom and Angel for coming to my rescue to give me information on visas and especially the 144 hour transient visa. It is great to have friends like this who travel the world! They saved me a lot of stress.
Once in China, I was truly astounded by how homogenous the city and country are. Looking at the data found in the CIA Worldbook, China is 91% Han Chinese 91.6%, Zhuang 1.3%, other (includes Hui, Manchu, Uighur, Miao, Yi, Tujia, Tibetan, Mongol, Dong, Buyei, Yao, Bai, Korean, Hani, Li, Kazakh, Dai, and other nationalities) 7.1% other ethnicities. This means that it is very likely I am the first black person some of them have seen in person. You ask how I can assume this, well I can assume it by the experiences my black friends and myself had while there. To be honest, two days there was enough. Please check out my article on The Circus Show of Being Black in Beijing which goes into more detail of how I felt during my time there.
The experience gives reason why it is important that we have A. people of color representation in the media, B. representation that doesn’t cast us as robbers, rapists, drug users, or drug dealers, and C. an end to the blackface of characters that show us in a derogatory way which then allows them to think that is who we are and how we act. All those reasons and more are why people felt it was acceptable to attempt to force me into a picture with them or continue to try to pictures after I have repeatedly said no and got visibly angry. It made me feel as though black people in Beijing, China are circus acts and not deserving of respect, boundaries, or have the ability to say we say no. Anywho, please go to my article and read more in-depth about my thoughts on The Circus Act of Being Black in Beijing.
While in Beijing there was a lot more to see and do than I first realized. I was there for two days, and even though I feel like I missed some good places like the Great Wall of China, I feel like I used my two days there quite well.
Now, let's get to the visa stuff to make your trip easier!
I have traveled all over the world, and luckily never needed a visa... Until China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. I hadn't even thought about it ya'll when I booked the ticket. Literally did not cross my mind, which was a tad bit scary considering I was traveling to China in less than one month. A friend of mine mentioned the visa and how strict it was to get into China. Cue the panic attack of just buying a $600 nonrefundable plane ticket and potentially not being able to get into the country because I would not be able to get a visa in time. I knew I wasn't going to spend a lot of time in China, but now I had to figure out how to expedite a visa.
That was until my friend told me about the "144-hour visa-free transit for foreign visitors with third-country visas and transit at Beijing." This visa will allow you to spend 144 hours (6 days) in China without having to get a real visa. It was really easy, be it a little scary because you don't do anything until checking in! Here are the steps from the website above and know that it is very easy to do:
6 Steps to Apply for 144-Hour Visa-Free Transit:
1. Inform the carrier when boarding
2. Fill an Arrival/Departure Card
3. Apply for the 144-hour visa-free stay permit upon arrival
4. Claim the luggage
5. Go through the customs
6. Leave the airport
Be aware that if you have a round trip to China, but plan on leaving the country after a few days and coming back to depart back home, you will need to get a 24 hour visa and show your plane ticket out of China. The 24 hour visa is easy and you will get at their airport after you arrive at customs.
Ok NOW let's get on to the fun stuff! I only was able to spend two days in Beijing and I wanted to make the most of the short amount of time because my flight to Kuala Lumpur left at 230am two days later. I wanted to see, do, and eat as much as possible!
When you arrive at the airport immediately get cash because you cannot use the subway system without it- credit cards are not accepted. Luckily, there are ATMs throughout the airport when you get in.
In the airport, you will go to level B2 and this will start your forage into security checks because Beijing has a check for every subway entrance. Once at the subway you will take the Beijing Airport Express (Lilac colored line on right side of the map) which costs 25 yen. This train only has two stops with the last stop being Dongzhimen and takes around 30 minutes. Dongzhimen will connect you to many of the other trains. Once you get off the Airport Express you will have to exit that train and the Airport Express line and buy a new train card for a one-way ride to your destination which is around 3-5 yen-really cheap. The Beijing subway will take you where ever you need around Beijing and are pretty modern, with an NYC subway train feel. Below is a map of the subway system in Beijig. Take a picture of it so you know how all the lines connect and where they do.
The food in China is food and very different compared to what Americans think of as "Chinese Food." Many people ask for restaurant options, but the best food is the street food which is very cheap and amazing. Don’t spend so much time in the restaurants, stay on the streets to eat. I did both restaurants and street food, and here is information on places and things I found great and worthy of writing about.
Café Alba: Great American breakfast. If you are like me, you need a breakfast to start your day. This place was a little difficult to find, but the omelet was worth it. I had the spinach, feta, black olives, and pepper omelet which was delicious.
Churros: They have churro places all over, but it wasn’t the sugary sweet churros I like. Instead, they could come with ice cream, chocolate, strawberry, and some other toppings. They were still delicious when I tried them but I like the plain sugary churros with only cinnamon sugar.
Fruit on a stick: You will see these places all over, they have candied fruit on the stick. I finally tried the one that is rice and sesame seeds between strawberry pieces and it was sweet but delicious. There was no way I could eat them all but they great. It was a nice trifecta of crunchy, candied, and weirdly rice. There is a variety of candied fruit at every shoppe. They range between 10-15 yen and worth trying.
Modernista: One of my former students is in Beijing on a fellowship and wanted to take me to this lounge. It is tough to find, almost like a speakeasy, you have to know what to look for. We get in and it is dead. It is deader than dead. There was a bartender and her friend at the bar- that is it. I told him we obviously were the party because walking through led us further into an empty bar until..... we came upon the speakeasy portion of the place. I won't say more, you just have to go to experience.
Mr. Shi’s Dumplings: This is a tourist favorite and I can see why. First, they have an overwhelming amount of pages of dumplings and entrees. I felt like this was the Chinese version of the Cheesecake Factory where the menu just makes you want to curl up in a ball under the table because you are not equipped to handle making the decision of picking something to eat. I finally gave up and asked the waitress what the best seller was and chose that one. There is a variety of options and combinations you can get. If you go with friends everyone should get two different kinds so that you have a nice variety to try because an order allows you to get two you different types within your order of 12.
Noodle Bar: This place is right around the corner from Bodhi Massage which I mention below in touristy things. Once you leave go grab a bit to eat here. The portions are huge and the price very cheap. My meal was 30 yen= $5. I just had the man pick something for me and it turned out pretty good.
South Luogo Alley: This alley is a great place to walk around to see shops and restaurants. The alley will have your tourist type shops and costs. There were also a few hostels down this road which are a great location. It is also close to the Nanluoguxiang subway stop.
Wiggly Jiggly Café/Bar/Food: I got in around 9pm and by the time I checked into my hostel it was 1030pm and the South Luogo Alley was closed down, literally seemed like a ghost town with just enough fog to give it a eery look and feel. It would have been a great time to film an international verison of Scooby-Do. Wigglys was the only place open and they have a large drink menu and a smaller food menu but the food was good . It is very small, only seating maybe 10-15 people. This is one of the few places I found that accepts credit cards.
Beijing has an awesome amount of touristy things to do, and I could have taken another two days to hit many more sites. The sites are all over the city, but in little clumps and if you plan it right you can take out unnecessary travel time by looking at the subway lines. For instance, the green line (line 8) will take you to the Olympic Sports Center Venues, Huoying Station (Great Wall train connector), Shichahai (where the Hutongs are), and put you back at Nanluoguxiang.
Birds Nest/Water Cube: 80 yen/40 yen (with student ID). You can’t be in Beijing and not see the Olympic venues. For a person like myself who loves the Olympics (U-S-A, U-S-A), this was exciting. The Birds Nest is all that it was on TV and more. It was an amazing structure that would have been better to see in the dark lit up. The Water Cube was just as impressive and I could imagine watching the swimmers compete for medals. Both facilities were in the middle of event changes but you could see how amazing it was a decade ago (wow, the Beijing Olympics were a decade ago!)
Bodhi Massage: AN AMAZING MASSAGE PLACE! This place was clean, smelled good, and gave the best massages for a great price. If you go before 4/5 pm you can get an 80-minute foot reflexology massage for 168 yen= $27, hell of a deal. After 4/5 pm it goes up to 228 yen= $38. Still a great deal. I enjoyed it so much I went both days I was in Beijing because I was walking 12-15 miles a day. The guy I had, #181, did a great job on my feet. It is a little out of the way but so worth it.
Circular Mound Altar/Hundred Flower Garden: A gorgeous garden that will take you a few hours to get around because of the size. It has walking paths throughout it.
Forbidden City: (YOU MUST BRING YOUR PASSPORT WITH YOU FOR THE TICKET). (80 yen/40 with student ID). When you walk over the bridge and into the area before the Forbidden City you will see signs for an electronic ticket purchased online. Ignore those as the WIFI might be wonky and make it frustrating for you to get the ticket. Instead, walk up towards ticketing and on your right, there is an area for people with international passports to buy tickets. The line won’t be that long and you will show them your passport to buy your ticket. Your passport is your ticket, as they look you up by your passport number. It is worth the cost to walk around. This is the city where the emperor, his wives, and his kids lived. It is a city within a city and is spectacular if you consider the size and how many centuries it has been standing. It is very well preserved and once you add water and electricity it is move-in ready!! It leaves you awestruck due to the artistry, the detailed work, the colors, and the size of the buildings. I enjoyed it.
Great Wall: I will admit I was also ignorant about the Great Wall. I usually only saw a pictures friends posted and thought there was only one location to enter. Wrong again. The Great Wall has a few entrance points, and it depends on what you want your experience to look like. Do you want to hike, do you want to go to a tourist entrance point where there are a lot of people, do you want to be walked around getting historical information from a tour guide, or are you like me who wants to find your own way and go at your own pace? Well, lucky you those options are all available. There are 1/2 day and full day Great Wall tours, depending on what you want. Most include pickup/dropoff, lunch, entrance fee, and a tour guide.
However, if you are like me and want to do it yourself there are a few ways. You can take the train or the bus and it will cost you very little. Probably round trip about $10 for transportation. How to Visit Great Wall of China by Train has great information on transportation, my only suggestion is to TAKE HEED OF THE TRAIN SCHEDULE. I did not pay attention and because of that got there around 115pm on a Tuesday which was right after the 1pm train left and a few hours before the 334pm train. There is absolutely nothing to do around the train station, I mean nothing. It is a residential area. If you get there after the train and do not want to pay for a taxi to get to the Great Wall just turn around, get back on that train, and get a new gameplan. Also, schedule a few hours at the Great Wall. You won't get there, see it, and leave within an hour, so be prepared.
Jingshan Park aka Temple on the Hill: (2 yen/1 yen with student ID). Once you exit the Forbidden City you will see this temple on this hill directly in front of you and it looks beautiful. To get to the temple, you have to cross the street which is done by an underground walkway to the left of the road barricade. The temple gives you a 360-degree view of Beijing and a view of the whole Forbidden City. This is worth the walk up the stairs as the views are gorgeous. Take a look at these pictures.
Lama Temple: (25 yen) This was an interesting temple. To get to Lama Temple you will go to the Lama Temple subway station off the Blue Line (Line 2) and walk all the way down the block to the entrance on your left. You can tell it is the correct entrance because of the cars and people trying to enter. Here is more information on the temple its self. You can buy incense to light to pray
Qianmen Historic Street: This was one of my favorite surprises. I decided to go the Qianmen street, which is directly behind Tianamen Square because it said on my map that there was a tram and I am a sucker for different modes of transportation. There is a tram, but it didn’t go very often and seemed to be pointless. However, it allowed me to walk this really interesting area. If you like to buy trinkets for people, this is place to get them for cheap. The street has such a varied personality. You can go to a Zara or H&M on oneside and on the other side is the trinket wholesale store.
Silk Street: I am not sure what I thought this place would be, but it was not what I thought. I had pictured a market like setting with loud vendors haggling the prices. That was not it. It was almost like a wholesale mall with each floor having different topics. You could buy anything really there from shoes, furs, jade, trinkets, pots/pans, electronics, kitchen items and so on. I was disappointed with the pricing of items because they do not want you to haggle and it seemed to be a little expensive. If you want some good trinkets, then go to Qian'men Street.
Summer Palace: The summer palace is about 11 miles out from the center of Beijing so if you go you should plan on a long taxi or train ride out a few hours walking around, and a long taxi or train ride back into the center of Beijing. The Summer Palace was the emperor’s summer place to get away from the city. Here is more information on the Summer Palace.
Tiananmen Square: This is where that thing no one in China talks about happened. Unfortunately, because of meetings in some location near the square, it was off limits and security was tight. I mean like wait in a security check line for two hours long. You will be in many security lines so I suggest you have a book with you because they do not move quickly as they are doing a quick body search and sending your bag through x-ray machines.
Wangfujing Street: (Night Market). I wasn’t able to make it to this market but I was told this is where you can get all the street food you can handle. If you go please send me pictures and tell me about it.
Here are a few tidbits of information to help your trip go smoothly!
1. Credit cards are the rarity. Get cash or stay connected to the internet so you can use ApplePay or ALIPAY to pay for purchases on your phone.
2. Voltage: China uses 220V which means if you use your American/Canadian hair dryer or straightener at 110V you will blow your stuff up and probably blow a fuse in the house
3. You will hear a lot of people spitting loogies, get used to it because they do it wherever they are, both in and outside buildings.
4. You will not have access to Facebook, IG, Twitter, Snapchat, or any of the social media forms you like.
5. You will need to figure out a communication method with friends as family as social media isn't available.
6. China uses WeChat to conversate with people in and outside of the country. This will be your best and easiest method for contacting friends and family who also have the app, so you download it and make them download it.
7. You will not have access to anything Google, that includes your email, google drive, google pictures, or the search engine. I had to start using Yahoo.com and Aol.com because I couldn’t think of another search engine. I guess Bing is still available. Is it a thing?
8. Get a mask. Ugh. I know, I know. You don’t want to have a mask when on vacation. But sometimes the air quality will be so bad that you will have to have a mask if you want to stay healthy. There were times when I felt like I had to wear it and there were times when I felt fine. It is better to have it than to have to buy one that is more expensive. On the blog David's Been Here, David does a great job of detailing the different masks and the reasons why they need to be considered. I bought a decent mask on Amazon for $12.99- here is hoping I don't get sick!!!! yaaa!!! I wore it for the first day when the smog seemed bad, but after that, the sky was clear as heck. You will see some people wearing masks and some not wearing them.
9. People can get VPNs for China. Here is a list of VPNs to help you out.
Welcome to a militarized state ya’ll. Every time you go into the subway you will go through a security check. When you go to Tian’men Square you will sit and wait in a security check, length determined if Jinping is in the area. If he is, like when I was there, Tiananmen Square will be blocked off and the wait to go through security to get to the Forbidden City will be long. Security Checks are the norm so get used to them. This is a highly militarized and watched society. There are police on all corners and security standing at every subway entrance. There are cameras with infer-red lights that can see you in the dark. Your movements are being watched all the time. I am not saying you will do anything dumb. But don’t do anything dumb. Don’t litter, don’t think you can get away with anything. I proceeded with a lot caution, especially because I stuck out worse than a sore thumb, I stuck out like the bunion in “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka”.
I hope my insight will help ease your worries and make your trip easier!
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