Beijing: 5 Things I Love & Hate

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Thinking about visiting Beijing? Before you go, heed these insider tips.

The Magical Land of China

Beijing – you’ve heard about it. Great Walls, roast duck, and air pollution. A great place to visit, no doubt. But traveler, before you go: a warning: this place is jacked up. It’s all the good and all the bad wrapped up into one humongous package.

But still, you want it. You need it.

The food and the history…. the temptations are many and great. After eating a record amount of duck wraps on my last visit, I’m happy to say it was WAY worth it. Just be sure you are ready for security checkpoints, subway mazes and throngs of people everywhere.

I got hitched recently, and since my lady is a Beijing local, I had an excellent tour guide at my disposal. So we went, now we’re back, and after a brief rumination period, I have some thoughts.

For me, traveling in China requires a lot of Zen. So in hopes that it may boost your Chi, I’ve put together my list of 5 loves and hates in the city of Beijing.

 

Love: The Food


Very often, people think of Chinese Food as one thing. A style of food coming from the singular China.  You’d never consider German and French food together as European Food, would you? Anyways, what I’m trying to say is that Beijing has some food that is unique to the area.

Beijing (Peking) Duck

Roast duck that will make you scoff at chicken for the rest of your life. Chicken might as well be bushmeat compared to this stuff. Why doesn’t this deliciousness pop-off in the West? Can’t one of those reality show cooks get a decent Beijing duck place in every western city? I’m gonna do it. McRoast Duck coming to a town near you.

Lamb Hot Pot

I hate hot pot. Too much water, too much work. The Brains knows this, but she was still talking up Lamb Hot Pot a lot before our trip. All I can say is that this woman knows the shit out of me. Don’t skip this one unless you’re a vegetarian.

Bean Soup (Douzhi)

There’s this soup in Beijing called Douzhi. It’s a by-product of mung bean processing. Wikipedia says this soup is usually “slightly sour, with an egg-like smell”. I can’t edit on Wikipedia, but if I could, I would adjust that to read, “it tastes and smells like cat vomit”. Avoid, unless you have an adventurous pallet.

 

Hate – The Relentless Throngs

You know when you go to Disneyland and there are huge lineups and suddenly you start hating Mickey Mouse? Beijing is like that all the time. It’s a city of 22 million people, so you can expect some congestion. To make matters worse, there are security checkpoints everywhere. Take the subway and you’re forced through a metal detector. They even scan your bag and any water bottles you are carrying. Unlike airports, they give the water back to you after. Here are a couple more things to consider:

Avoid Traveling During Chinese Holidays

We went to Beijing around the time of the National Holiday (October 1st to 7th). We had the plan to spend time with family, so this was intentional. But if you are traveling there to see the sights, avoid holiday periods because it gets busy. We passed on the Great Wall because we feared the hordes.

Plan Ahead and Go Early

As in, actually plan and actually go early. We went to the Beijing Zoo one day, leaving the house at around 8:00 am. Should have gone at 7:00 am because simply exiting the subway station took 30 minutes. Not such great fun. The zoo was so busy that we decided to skip the panda exhibit. Go early, or miss the panda – lesson learned.

 

Love – The People

Every time I say “your parents” to my wife, she gets a bit annoyed. That’s because we are married now, and in Chinese families, when you’re in, you’re super in. So I refer to everyone the same way my wife does, and they treat me the same way they treat her. In my case, that meant being force-fed as much roast duck as I could stomach and having to fend off gifts at every turn. Once you’re welcomed into the fold, you can expect a whole new level of warmth and access.

 

Hate – The Firewall

Yep. It’s real. And it sucks. So you had better come prepared with a VPN, or all the websites and apps you use every day will stop working. Some people think that you should ditch the phone when you are traveling – those people are known as “olds”. If you want life to continue whilst in China, get yourself ready with a service like Express VPN. By the way, click that link and you’ll get 30 days free. There’s a little more to it than downloading the app, so I might write an entire article about it later. Until then, put this on your radar if a trip to China is on the horizon.

 

Love – The History

When I was a kid, I loved reading books on ancient mythology – you know, when religion was still fun. Give me some dragons, a few magic temples, and some Confucian proverbs and I’ll be straight. Ancient China is drenched in myth and legend, so I was eager to dive in. Boy-oh-boy does it deliver. Parks, museums, monuments – the works. Turns out the Chinese have been cranking the hits out for a long while (5000-year history, yeah, yeah – we get it). I’ll let the photos do the talking:

The Forbidden City

Parks Galore

Those Lovely Old Streets

 

 

Hate – Lawlessness and Xenophobia

You know what I’ll never get used to? I’m glad you asked, here’s a list:

  • Scooters speeding on the sidewalk
  • Roads where ambiguity creates a hazard
  • Streets where nobody obeys traffic laws
  • People pushing to get to the front of a lineup
  • Being referred to as a “foreigner” every 5 minutes
  • Zero police intervention, except at security checkpoints
  • Bike-sharing programs that result in piles of discarded bikes

The list would continue, but I’m walking the line between being useful and being a curmudgeon, so I’ll just leave it there… Suffice to say, there is a lot going on that may ruffle the feathers. Mental preparation helps. So does complete submission. Communism is making a lot more sense now.

 

 

Love – The Culture

Beijingers all have only one thing in common: they live in Beijing. After that, there are a lot of different groups doing a lot of different things. When you consider the groups that have risen to prominence in Beijing alone, there’s a lot. Add the influence of other Chinese populations embedded in the city, there’s more. Sprinkle in some interesting takes on Western stuff, and you’ve got a melting pot. Even though there’s a lot going on, there’s still a heavy premium on cohesion in Beijing. It’s diverse, yet still Chinese. Hard to describe, but an unexpected pleasure to experience.

 

 

Hate – The Disrepair

China is sitting on a treasure trove of cash. They have so much money, they are in the middle of the ocean building islands. Still, Beijing is pinching pennies with enough stinginess to rival Scrooge himself. Most sidewalks are in disrepair. Public areas are dirty. Streets are disorganized and in need of paving. In Beijing, you often feel as though you’re stumbling upon someone else’s mess.

It would be all good if Beijing was poor. But it’s not. It’s loaded to the gills. So the disrepair is inexcusable. By the way, I’ll be running for mayor of Beijing in the coming election. Be sure to get out and vote!


? Love – The Convenience

Hey – you want to have everything you want with the push of a button without having to move any muscle except in the muscles of your finger? In China, you can do that. You pay for everything through WeChat. You order everything online. And it all works. Now, the price paid is pretty large depending on your point of view. For starters, delivery drivers are everywhere. They are tired and in a hurry, so don’t mind them as they cut off traffic, burn down sidewalks and generally render themselves much hated overall. Unless, of course, it’s your stuff they are delivering.


? Hate – The Convenience

Remember that movie with the robot where the people turn into immobile eating machines? There’s a voice in my head that says if we keep going in this direction, our future looks like that. The automation is convenient, but I can’t help but wonder where this all leads. What happens when life is purely about acquiring more stuff? We aren’t safe from this reality in the West, but it seems a little closer over in China.


? Bonus! Love/Hate – The Engrish

I lived in Taiwan for several years. This training has transformed me into one of the world’s foremost Engrish authorities. When I stumble upon some “A-grade” Engrish, a few thoughts come to mind:

  • What the hell are they trying to say? ?
  • Do they not, at least, have a spellchecker…? ??
  • Couldn’t they ask somebody to check it over? ???

I mean, sure, I’m not going to win any Chinese writing awards in this lifetime. But if I were to put something out there, I would have somebody check it over before printing it. Across the board, this kind of quality check never comes to mind in China. The resulting English comes out garbled more often than not.

Want to match my Engrish ability? The best place to assess your current level is to take this quiz that I put together on my Instagram here.


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