Beijing is, of course, the capital of China and if you thought the rest of China was populated then arriving in Beijing is like the proverbial jumping out of the people infested frying pan into the crowded fire. We stayed a little away from the main tourist areas at the Nostalgia Hotel and paid AUD$73 per night, which did not include breakfast. The Nostalgia Hotel lived up to its name by being decorated with old clocks, movie posters, cameras, lamps, etc, it was all tastefully done.
The two big drawbacks for the Nostalgia Hotel was that it was about one and a half kilometre walk from the subway station and the room had NO fridge. Oh and whilst we were there the façade of the hotel was ripped down and we were serenaded by jack hammers and hammers for a day or two!!
The subway is the only way to get around Beijing but it does have some, shall we say, squashy moments. On our first morning in Beijing we caught our one and only taxi and literally drove around the corner and then stopped, then for the next twenty minutes we nudged forward inch by inch, until we reached the next intersection. We paid the driver the 30 Yuan (AUD$6) fare for the 100 or so metres we had travelled, got out of the taxi and ran down to the nearest subway. We then paid 3 Yuan each to reach our destination in a few minutes – it just is not worth the hassle of sitting in traffic.
The subway does have its perils though. Luckily, buying tickets for the metro can be done by ticket machine which is in English. The cost is cheap. You will be confronted by a maze of metro lines but with calm patience and logic (something Di and I never possess when surrounded by millions of pushing Chinese) it is easy to establish the route to your destination by searching for your destination on the ticket machine, which then guides you as the stations to get off at and which lines to change to – once you get the hang of it, it is easy.
If you are travelling on the subway before 10am (peak period) and after 4pm, you will be squashed. Getting to the platform to catch your train is like being in Pamplona for the running of the bulls only with a million Chinese people surrounding you trying to run you down and trample you – do not stop once you are on the march to the subway platform or you will be swallowed by the human tsunami following you and will NEVER be seen again.
Once on the platform you queue – but once the train arrives all queueing rules and etiquette are a fantasy and everyone surges forward – please bear in mind that the surge forward starts before the surge off the train starts, so you get two great Tolkien like armies clashing in the middle – I felt like Aragorn as I fought my way through marauding Chinese business men and ladies trying to escape the confines of the train.
The train we entered was crammed packed so tight a sardine would have felt claustrophobic; I stupidly thought I would be the last person on the train as there simply was no more space. Wrong, from behind me came a push any All Black scrum would be proud of and another twenty people piled in. Seriously, I simply could not move let alone breathe. The amazing thing was that not a person in that train carriage (other than Di) made a sound and just accepted this as a daily routine.
My hand was wedged in tight somewhere – I tried to wiggle my fingers to get the circulation going again – but then a man near to where I think my hand was looked at me with ill intent so I stopped wiggling my fingers.
We only went two stops and then we had to battle to get off the train, the people by the train doors did not move, you have to push and shove to exit the train. I formed my fingers into a wedge and made like a snow plow effect and charged forward – Di hung on to me and she popped out of the human suction behind me – Mr Plow rules!! We took a minute on the platform to put ourselves back together and let the mass of people go. However, trains are very frequent and literally are only a few minutes apart and we had no choice but join the never ending procession of humanity up the escalators.
To get to another line can be a long walk underground and seriously it could be a kilometre, just keep following the signs that say Brown Line or Blue Line, whichever you need, and keep walking, be assured to know they are not fables and they do exist.
The Beijing subway is an experience. Do not be afraid and give it a go and, if you ever come out of the subway alive, you will feel a great sense of achievement and a love of life! Thus the benefits of taking the subway; it is in English, it is cheap and it is very fast. The down side your personal space will be traumatised and traumatised often!!!
We hate going to major tourist spots on weekends and forgetting it was a Sunday we went to the main tourist location within Beijing, the Forbidden City. Without boring you, the place was packed with people. You would think that after all these years the population of China would have been to the Forbidden City and it would have been free of the tourist crush – but alas no. It was so crowded that all the tickets to enter the Forbidden City for the day had already been sold by 10.30am.
Across the road from The Forbidden City is the infamous Tiananmen Square where the Chinese student uprising occurred in 1989. We were making our way from the Forbidden City entrance when the rain started and it turned into a torrential downpour. All who did not have tickets for the Forbidden City ran for the underground thoroughfare to Tiananmen Square – they ran down the steps and STOPPED as soon as they were undercover and refused to budge. This meant those coming behind had to squash through this human wall to get shelter and of course once they had shelter they stopped. I formed my Mr Plow fingers and yelled ‘EXCUSE ME’ and ploughed on through.
I believe the average Chinese are just so intrinsic on their thoughts they lack perspective to think of others. They are poor critical thinkers and do not comprehend the need to fix a problem and make things easier for others – for example move out of the way so others can get past. Then like any good Chinese person who has stopped still for more than a minute the people taking shelter began to sit down and go to sleep – yes the rain was torrential and we would be there for an hour or so …. but sleep!!!!!
We could not get into the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square was awash and we were crammed in tight underground with thousands of wet Chinese – it was a great day! Please do not get me wrong, I am very culturally aware and try very hard to accept all cultures and abide by the expected culture where ever I am – but, the Chinese are such a unique eccentric breed and tax your patience to the limit.
If you cannot get into the Forbidden City then you can do as we did and take the thirty minute walk around the Forbidden City to the back of it and go to Jingshan Park. At the back of the Forbidden City there is a moat and some good photo opportunities.
You walk along the side of the moat and you come to Jingshan Park which is a small hill. On top of the hill is a pagoda, Wanchuan Pavilion, with very good views looking into the Forbidden City and across Beijing, you are though at the mercy of the weather and pollution levels as to whether you have a clear view or not. It costs a few Yuan to get in and then you climb the steps, the hundred or so steps, and then jostle for the best view with everyone else who were either too late to get into the Forbidden City or simply were too cheap to buy a ticket!!!
If you visit Beijing, then the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and Jingshan Park are a good day out and easy walking distance to each other. Di and I had been to the Forbidden City on our previous visit hence we weren’t too fussed we missed out this time.
Another must visit for Beijing is the Temple of Heaven. To get to the Temple of Heaven catch a subway train to Tiantandongmen station. The Temple of Heaven is a located in a huge park and it gets a little confusing buying a ticket to get in. You queue for a 15 Yuan ticket to enter the park. However, once in the park you cannot see any of the main attractions as they are behind huge walls or enter any buildings, to do that you must pay an additional 20 Yuan to enter each of them. The Temple of Heaven is surrounded by a high wall, hence once in the park you simply have to pay the extra 20 Yuan to see what you came to see.
The park itself is large and simply full of Chinese local people dancing, playing music and exercising. The park itself is worth the entrance fee as it is a pleasure to wander around.
The Temple of Heaven was constructed in 1406 and consists of three buildings; The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, The Imperial Vault of Heaven and The Circular Mound Altar. The whole complex is designed around the connection between Heaven and Earth. Anything made in a circular manner represents Heaven and a square represents Earth, for example the outer wall of the park is circular and the inner wall of the temple is square.
Unfortunately, you can only see inside the Hall of Prayer from four very small doorways and me being taller than the average Chinese person I was sure I would be decapitated by a selfie stick if I attempted to view inside the Hall – self-preservation reigns, I am sure many other Westerners are braver than me and will attempt it though.
You would also have a reasonable view here over Beijing if the weather was okay, it rained again when we went and the view was poor.
I enjoyed the Temple of Heaven and in particular wandering around the vast park grounds and it is a worthwhile half day visit.
If you are game for a walk after leaving the Temple of Heaven then go back to Tiantandongmen Station and you will find Longtan Road. You walk about a kilometre down Longtan Road to Longtan Park and Longtan Lake. This park is not crowded and has a lovely walkway through the park and around the lake. It costs 5 Yuan to enter the park and is a perfect way to relax after the hustle and bustle of the Temple of Heaven.
These were the basic touristy things we did in Beijing – please bear in mind we had been to Beijing before. This trip we had two objectives for our visit to Beijing; catch the train to Mongolia and for Diane to finally walk on the Great Wall of China – we will cover these next time.
The adventure continues …. In a crowded sort of way!!!!!!