Posts Tagged ‘Beijing’

Some China gotchas

Friday, September 16th, 2011

The Chinese net nannies do a much better job of blocking Facebook than do their Vietnamese counterparts. In Vietnam a simple proxy or even just a change of name server is enough to get you back on Facebook. Here the only thing that’s likely to work is a subscription VPN. And even they get blocked in the game of catch up played between the dodgers and the censors. I don’t use a VPN so there has been no Facebook for me since I got here. It’s frustrating because it’s the only way I have of keeping in touch with some people. I’ll have some catching up to do when I get to Australia. The authorities aren’t too keen on Google either. Search works, but slowly. Reader works but blogger doesn’t. I was able to keep up with the blogger hosted tango (and other) blogs I like to read through RSS feeds but couldn’t comment on any of them.

Where are all the bicycles? An enduring image I have of Beijing since seeing it on TV about 30 years ago is a city full of bicycles. Maybe I was in the wrong places at the wrong times but I saw very few bikes in use. Google puts the number of bicycles in Beijing as about 9-10 million as recently as 2009. I assume they’re mostly gathering dust in stairwells since they’re not out on the roads. I’ve seen more in Xi’an and Chengdu. I’ve probably seen more electric bicycles in Beijing than good old fashioned pedal ones.

The night I arrived in Guilin I was almost run over at least twice. Not by cars or buses but by electric scooters. These contraptions are totally silent in operation. They rush up behind you noiselessly like ghosts. At night the drivers often ride around with no lights on so you don’t see them coming either. At the last possible second the driver alerts you to their presence with a blast of their horn or by shouting at you. Like conventional petrol scooters they are much more massive than a bicycle or electric bicycle and getting run over is likely to result in damage.

The Chinese people are generally very shouty. Even more so when they’re “talking” on mobile phones. Dom Joly could have had them in mind when he created his shouty mobile phone user. Individually there are exceptions but collectively they’re rude, inconsiderate and unhelpful to my Western eyes. Maybe that’s a consequence of there being 1.3 billion of them. If they don’t shout, push and shove then they’ll lose out to the rest of the crowd. I guess the “rudeness” is a cultural thing but stop shouting please!

In probably every other country I’ve ever been in, if you’re out and about and find yourself in need of a toilet, McDonalds is a good place to find one. They’re always clean and functional and it’s easy to nip in, use the toilet and out again without having to buy anything. Not so in China. It’s hardly an exhaustive survey, but of the three McDonalds I visited not one of them had customer toilets. Actually finding a McDonalds is hard work in most places. There are very few of them in China. KFC however is just about everywhere. The couple I checked also didn’t have customer toilets.

Long term readers may remember that the price of a McNuggets meal was one of my inflation benchmarks in Buenos Aires last year. Well just so you know, they don’t have a McNuggets meal on the menu here, but 10 nuggets, large fries and large coke cost 34 yuan (about £3.40) compared with 28 pesos (one year ago and about £4.30).

Call the police! The fashion police that is. One of the ways the population here seem to express their new found individuality is through their wardrobe. I’m no fashion victim and probably have a few citations of my own, but the fashion police would have a field day here. Some of the clothes combinations are almost indescribably bad. Luckily I have a short attention span and poor memory so I won’t be permanently scarred by some of the wardrobe abominations I’ve seen. Women are the majority and worst offenders. Guys seem to specialise in bad hair styles.

Beijing is rubbish for electronics/phone/camera shopping. At least the big shopping mall areas are rubbish for techie stuff. I needed to buy a new phone, a battery charger and eyecup for my camera while here in China. I struggled to find them in Beijing. Xian and Chengdu offered many more possibilities. Especially in relative terms since they’re both much smaller places than Beijing. The charger is not a Canon one so it’s likely to cook my batteries eventually, and the eyecup is not exactly the right one but it does the job.

Another day another city

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

On Saturday I boarded the Z53 overnight sleeper train from Beijing to Xi’an. My berth was a soft sleeper. There are four classes of train tickets in China

  • hard seat – cheapest, nastiest, least comfortable.
  • soft seat – more comfortable, recline a bit.
  • hard sleeper – six bunks in a cabin, bedding provided. Supposedly better than it sounds but I’ve yet to find out.
  • soft sleeper – four bunks in a cabin with a lockable door, thicker mattress. Hot water provided so you can make your own tea or coffee.

You can only buy tickets in person at the station you’ll be travelling from and only a few days in advance. They sell out fast so getting the class you want on the day you want is unlikely. You pretty much have to take what’s available for the day you want, or buy a ticket for further into the future or for a higher class than you want.

I couldn’t get a hard sleeper for any day from Beijing to Xi’an and could only get a soft sleeper for two days later than I wanted. Anyway, I made it to Xi’an and the journey was easy and comfortable. The train was punctual and left Beijing at precisely 20:03. My cabin companions who spoke no English at all were OK.

Xi’an was grey and much cooler than Beijing when I arrived at just after 08:10 on Sunday morning. I deposited my backpack in the left luggage facility and took a bus straight to the Terracotta Army. The museum comprises three halls constructed over the excavation sites. None of them are fully excavated. Of the much fabled 6000 warriors only a little over 1000 have actually been excavated. So it was interesting but overrated in my opinion.

By the time I got back to the city the rain had started and two days later it is still raining. My sightseeing has been seriously curtailed. Yesterday I visited some of the city centre sights but gave up on the idea of walking the city walls. Today I’m catching a sleeper to Chengdu. Tomorrow morning I’ll visit the giant pandas and in the evening catch a plane to Guilin. Unlike train tickets, plane tickets can be booked and bought in advance and remotely. So rather than hang around in Chengdu for an unknown number of days waiting for a train I’ve decided to fly one leg of my itinerary. And I’ve cut a few places out because it’s just not practical to see as many as I wanted given the restrictions imposed by train travel.

The weather hasn’t been conducive to taking many photos but you can find those from Beijing and Xi’an at Flickr.

More Beijing tango

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

After Tuesday night’s successful foray into Beijing tango I decided to have another outing. It’s not like Buenos Aires with a choice of half a dozen or more milongas on a weeknight, but there actually is some tango somewhere most nights of the week. On Thursday night it was the “Tango at it’s core” milonga organised by Beijing Tango and held above the Sino-Chu wine bar. Their website hadn’t been updated for a while but a phone call confirmed it was on.

I went with Dawn and Phillip. We got there for the last hour. There were only four couples and a couple of spare leaders when we arrived, dancing to traditional music organised in tandas. The standard of dancing was a little higher than on Tuesday, not that it mattered much to me. I’m so out of practice that I brought the average well down. Another couple and a single follower arrived after us. Amazingly Dawn knew the lone follower. It’s a small world!  Unlike on Tuesday night, most of the dancers there were foreigners, although all seemed to be resident in Beijing.

It was another fun night and I was tempted to go to a third milonga on Friday night. Instead I ended up at a couchsurfing meeting/meal and afterwards a jazz/swing club. The music was good and there were dancers there, but they were doing lindy hop or east coast swing so I just watched and listened. Nevertheless it was a good night out.