Observations as a Beijing newbie
The typical Beijing (or Chinese big city) alley is like this
3 car lanes per direction, then 2 lanes for bicycles and scooters per direction and then a 3 metre wide pedestrian walk lane per direction. So sometimes when you stroll around on foot – which is hard anyway given the big dimensions of Beijing – you feel lost when you are confronted with a road like that. There are of course side roads smaller than these typical big alleys.
How do they construct them? I saw this in Datong once. Before there were two small lanes and in-between a row of old houses. They demolish all this and replace it with these big alleys and skyscrapers on each side.
Is very easy and convenient to use. Everything is explained with Western signs. A lot of personnel is there to assist you. No tourist needs to be afraid to get lost.
Eating in Beijing
The restaurants in big shopping centres and in touristy areas like Sanlitun have menus in English. At many other places you need a menu with pictures because reading Chinese is a little difficult. Or you just point with your finger and hope for the best.
If you have a Chinese friend or enough travel courage go to a street kitchen or a „garage restaurant“ (those are everywhere in Asia: it is a room open to the street like a garage) you can eat delicious stuff for almost nothing (e.g. delicious noodles and lots of beer for 8 persons for around 30 dollars)
Smog unfortunately belongs to Beijing. Sometimes it can be foggy with a sight of just 150 metres.
Example of a tourist trap
If you are a man and a lovely young lady wants to drink a tea with you – preferably this happens on Tiananmen square – the bill will be very expensive and she will get a nice commission from the tea-house, which explains, why she does it. Those ladies also like to approach couples.
China – and with it Beijing too – is close to total traffic collapse and this despite the fact, that the government really does a lot to master it. But the economy just grows too quickly – so the current slowdown might not be the worst that can happen to China.
Most overnight trains to all destinations are sold out almost immediately once the tickets are available (which is about 10 days before – don't remember it exactly). But if you have your train ticket you can rely on a perfect and punctual service of the trains!
On motorways there are regular traffic jams in front of paystations.
During the Beijing rush hour traffic can be stuck for hours. Sometimes nothing moves for half an hour. One factor in this mess is that most rich Chinese people like to bring and fetch their kids to school personally with their own car. And now imagine that Chinese people, having their own car, are still a minority of the population!
Air traffic and express trains usually run smoothly, probably because it's still unaffordable to many.
A special thing is the northbound traffic jam to the Inner Mongolia province. Endless rows of lorries transporting coal and noble earths mining materials block the highway to the north and back to the south. In summer 2010 a railway, that will probably transport the coal and the metals in the future, was under construction. In 2010 this motorway made a world record. Longest traffic jam ever with a length of 100 kilometres!
Public toilets (NOT FOR THE FAINT HEARTED!!) are not recommended for a visit except for touristy areas where they are usually clean. I used to call them blind friendly because you can smell them from a distance of 20 metres already and no, I am not joking. I was once jogging in a north-western Beijing suburb (I changed to a racetrack quite soon after) and I could really smell the toilet before I saw the Chinese signs for it.
I was curious and had a look. The floor was wet and dirty – luckily I never slipped out on it. The cabins are walls, just one metre high, with a curtain in front. The toilet is of the type „hole in the ground“ so you have to crouch to use it, so why build a 2 metre wall on the sides?
Toilets in restaurants (NOT FOR THE FAINT HEARTED EITHER!!) are not that clean either. More than once I saw the business of my antecessor still there, because either the flush was damaged or that person didn't flush. Also funny are toilets that only flush once but then don't reload, because they are (almost) broken.
I once asked a Chinese why it is like that and I got the answer: Are you going to the restaurant to eat or to use the toilet? Well, I must admit, it has a point.
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