On Saturday, August 15, 2015 we started the adventure that we have been preparing for six months; our trip to Hong Kong. We left for Hong Kong to live and study there for no less than five months. This series of travelogues from Hong Kong consists of no less than seven parts. After these months in Hong Kong, we decided to travel through Asia for five weeks. We visited, among others. Singapore, Thailand and China. This travelogue is about our four days in Beijing.
Arrival in Beijing
Cold. Cold. And super cold. After our flight arrived, we took a (in hindsight illegal) taxi, which took us over the frozen roads to our hotel. In just a few days from a wind chill of +40 degrees Celsius in Thailand to -25 degrees Celsius, we do not recommend it to anyone. But how incredible cool is Beijing.
On our first day we went to Tiananmen square, the largest square in the world, which is also called The Square of Heavenly Peace. We do not think the latter name is very appropriate, as it is best known outside China for the “Tiananmen Square Massacre”, in which in 1989 a peaceful protest of mainly students was bloodily ended by 300,000 troops of the state army. People have never been held responsible for this, and the death toll has never been determined exactly. Non-Chinese say thousands have been killed, China itself says two or three hundred have been killed. In the aftermath, hundreds more people were arrested and executed, and the international press was also under threat. Naturally, all national press was censored, making it seem like a relatively small uproar.
It was therefore striking that before entering this square, where there was nothing special to do, we had to go through various metal detectors and past army posts with dogs. Everyone, including the Chinese themselves, had to show their passport. The square itself was indeed peaceful. On the square is also the Mausoleum of Mao, after an even stricter check including a body search, we walked around the, historically speaking, impressive man. Strange when you consider what happened under his reign.
The Forbidden City
Another highlight in Beijing is of course The Forbidden City. With frozen canals, but no snow and a clear blue sky, it looked amazing. The only thing that hindered us somewhat was the severe cold that cut through everything with the lightest breeze. So we had an abnormally rancid chocolate milk somewhere, because that was the only warm beverage we could get. Unfortunately this was in a shop without heating, with only some cloths for the entrance, and hence no doors. After a visit to the winter palace of the president of China we planned to go to the Great Chinese Wall the next day!
Transportation to the Great Wall of China from Beijing
The day started a bit surprising, because when we arrived at the bus station from where the bus to the wall would leave, there were people everywhere in official vests saying that the bus was not running. This was a huge downer, because we had no further room in our planning to go to the wall. What we found suspicious was that the people, who were standing next to the other bus drivers, offered to bring us with their car themselves. For a lot of money of course!
When we walked on, we discovered that the bus was actually running. It is logical that there are opportunists who try to lure you into their expensive car in such a tourist place, what we found striking however, was that the people from the bus company just played along, while 4 meters behind them the buses with “TO THE CHINESE WALL ”were ready to depart. They likely get a cut of this scam as well.
The Chinese wall
Once we got to the wall, we were pretty much the only ones. Normally it is always very busy on the Great Wall, but the unrelenting cold made that we were almost alone. Once on the wall it became painfully clear why. When we exhaled, the moisture froze directly in the scarf in front of our mouths, and when inhaling we had to make an effort to suck air back through it. There was a lot of wind and we had to look away, as your eyes can freeze too.
The biggest challenge we had, at 25 degrees Celsius below zero with wind, was taking a nice photo. Our phones crashed almost instantly when we took them out of our pocket. The trick was to rub the phone until it was warm, turn it on, fire up the camera, breathe on the frozen lens, and immediately wipe the moisture off before it could freeze up again. Then we got ready, put our hands in front of our faces, counted down, quickly took our hands away, phone up, and click. Then we immediately put our hands in front of our faces again, because with that wind we felt our skin freezing. That way we took a number of photos and had a good look at the wall.
After about two hours we really had to go back down and into the nearest catering establishment. Result: Nadia’s skin on her thighs was frozen, and Goort’s ears were frozen. Goort was also unable to move his fingers properly, but fortunately they thawed again quickly. Still, we want to emphasize that it was worth every minute and all the pain. Because of the cold yet clear weather the view was amazing, the sky was blue, and how impressive that wall is! After an hour of acclimatization in the catering establishment with a hot drink, we went back to our hotel.
Other things in Beijing
Furthermore, we have of course still wandered for hours and many kilometers through the city and we traveled a lot by public transport. One of our challenges was asking for bus 6. After a ten minute game of hints with someone from an information booth of the bus company, it turned out that the Chinese form the number six very differently with their fingers as we do; they use a kind of Startrek alien greeting for the number 6. When the gentleman and we realized at the same time that this was our communication problem, we all started laughing.
Furthermore, we have often been disturbed by the manners, or well, the lack thereof, of some of the Chinese in general. Of course there are Dutch people with terrible manners as well, as in all countries, but the Chinese really surprised us there. Some anecdotes include a man in a restaurant in front of the checkout line spitting a green blob of snot on the floor, which was apparently normal according to everyone’s reaction. Parents laughing at their kids smearing mayonnaise on the windows in a shopping center, and so on. In short, real bad behavior, not something that can be attributed to cultural differences or the like.
Another thing we’ve noticed about China and Hong Kong in general is that garbage bags are not refreshed. No, rubbish bins with bags are literally emptied with pegs, and that rubbish is then put in a new bag which is then taken away. After thinking for a long time, we suspect that they do this because this way, bags are always completely full before they take a new one, but it is certainly not very efficient and hygienic. Certainly not with 40 degrees Celsius in the summer and a lot of stray animals such as dogs, cats and rats.
We thought Beijing was definitely worth a visit. The city has many beautiful sights, such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, which you will not find anywhere else. The capital of this gigantic country is, in our opinion, a must see!