The DOs and DON’Ts of visiting Beijing
CHINA tops many a traveler’s bucket list for places in the world to visit, and a trip to China isn’t really complete without spending a few days in Beijing. After all, you don’t want to leave the country without being able to say you’ve been to the Great Wall and there’s lots to love about Beijing.
Whether you’re just passing through or considering spending an extended period of time in the capital of the Middle Kingdom, here are a few tips to bear in mind that will make your stay a little more pleasant.
- DO learn basic Mandarin phrases before arriving in China. Knowing how to ask prices or for certain foods can go a long way when you’re in Beijing. English is becoming increasingly common in China’s capital, but most shop-owners and taxi drivers speak only Mandarin.
- DO carry hand sanitizer and toilet paper or tissues with you at all times. This goes for everything from tourist visits to the Forbidden City to a night out at Beijing’s finest dive bars. Public bathrooms in Beijing are notorious for being fly-ridden cesspools that reek of feces and filth, and rarely come equipped with toilet paper and soap. You’ll get used to the routine of holding your breath and strategically squatting so no personal items touch the ground, but you’ll thank yourself for being prepared when nature calls. Bear in mind that most public toilets are squatters.
- DO buy a mask to combat the Beijing pollution. Occasionally Beijing sees some gorgeous, cloud-and-smog-free days, but in all likelihood, you will experience some heavily polluted skies while you’re here. Donning a mask may seem silly, but you’ll breathe easier if you block some of those heavy chemicals from getting into your lungs.
- DO buy or rent a bicyle while in town. In addition to making travel around the city significantly easier, you’ll get to see more of Beijing than you would otherwise. Join the throngs of locals who bike through the hutongs or just use the bike as a quick way to avoid sitting in traffic for forty minutes at a clip. Just remember to bike safely after a night in the Sanlitun bars.
- DO sample the street food. Stories of food poisoning abound in China, and rightly so, but chances are you’ll be fine if you nibble on some yangrou chuan’r (lamb kebabs) and veggie skewers from late-night vendors. Wash it all down with a cold pijiu(beer) for a quintessential Beijing snack.
- DON’T leave home without a copy of your passport and visa, especially if you’re in Beijing this summer. A 100-day crackdown campaign on illegal foreigners means there’s a chance you’ll be stopped by local police looking to see if your visa and registration are on the up-and-up.
- DON’T expect to get anything done in a timely fashion. Beijing is a massive city of 20 million people, which means that sometimes even the simplest tasks take double the time to complete. This includes making a deposit at the bank, dropping by a drug store for a bottle of shampoo, and getting across town on a bus or taxi. If you want to travel hassle-free, give yourself plenty of time to get anywhere, and bring a book or ipod to pass long waits and commutes.
- DON’T accept the given price for anything at Beijing’s clothing markets. Haggling is a way of life here, and vendors will often quote foreigners outrageously high prices on goods they can get for much cheaper. This is where learning a few Mandarin phrases comes in handy, as sellers are likely to be a bit more congenial if they think you live here.
- DON’T get involved in Chinese street brawls, or be surprised when they happen. It’s not uncommon to see liquored-up Chinese men wrestling each other on the sidewalk. Good-hearted passersby may find it tempting to break them up, but they’ll often shun you and you certainly do not want their rage turned on you.
- DON’T enter into any business agreement without having the specifics clearly outlined and securing some guarantee of your work and that you will get paid. This will be of most use to ex-pats, but go into any financial interaction with a plan of getting some protection for yourself. Too often you hear stories about foreigners getting ripped off or not being paid for work, so it’s important to do your research on everything from job prospects to tour companies to avoid being scammed.