I left last post in Manila, 4 weeks ago, I definitely need to write more.
The trip Manila-Shanghai-Beijing involved 7 hours in the Pu Dong (Shanghai) airport, I was greatly surprised to see a Citibank ATM right after Immigration, even before baggage claim, there are some good things about globalization. For those interested there’s free wifi in the bars in the 2nd floor outside the boarding area, but in China forget about getting to places like Flickr (the web works, but pictures are unavailable) although amazingly YouTube is not censored. First lost in translation experience at the Beijing airport waiting for the baggage with other four “westeners” just to see that it didn’t arrive. Then it all made sense, why the two buses from the plane to the terminal went on different directions and what was being said after leaving the plane, basically we ended in the international hall with the other people in the plane coming from Australia. That was just the first notice of how the week was going to be regarding the language barrier.
One thing that must be clear about China is that barely anybody speaks English (or any other language), so going around involved either taxi or underground. Taxi instructions based on pointing to the place to go on the travel guide in chinese characters, this went fine most of the time, but sometimes it just derives in a taxi driver monologue at which you try to put your best “I don’t understand anything at all” face, followed by getting out of the taxi and getting another one. It’s interesting to see that they try to repeat the same thing louder and louder, thinking that you may understand, ha! good luck with that! The underground is great for rush hours if you don’t mind sweating, pushing and getting pushed, but sitting in completely stopped traffic is bad too.
Beijing is characterized by all the imperial Chinese buildings and places. The forbidden city, the gardens, lakes, walls, towers,… The Great Wall is something amazing to see, but don’t go to the most touristic section, MuTianYu is a much better one, less crowded and more impressive, with a toboggan that you can use to go down the hill, and close to the Hongluo Temple in the forest with mountains you can go up to. I may talk about some of the places in later posts. If you want to explore the present day culture you can get into the hutongs, or small streets between the big avenues that compose the perfectly squared and organized main streets. In the hutongs you can find the more typical chinese houses (or something like that) and places like Li Qun where you can have the typical Peking Roasted Duck, just make sure you don’t go during storms as it gets flooded, just see the video.
Bargaining is the biggest sport, and can be addictive. The rule is offer one third of what they ask for, going slowly up to one half while they go fast down. Make sure you compare in several places as some people try to rip off foreigners, saying that the paintings are from great artists and things like that (they tried with me).
Food is definitely something to try, and better if you don’t ask before if you are picky, unless you go without locals. I found a place where they served delicatessen like dog or bull penis and testicles, that not even I would dare to try. Other things that I did try were camel feet (thanks to the Iona guys), jellyfish, the already mentioned Peking Duck and many others that don’t know yet what they were. If you want a menu in English prepare to go to more touristic places were everything is going to be more expensive, although still cheap. One of the best meals was in a somehow crappy place where I went with some Chinese people and a lot of food plus beer was 2$. The week in Beijing ended with a party in the Mexican embassy having some Coronas, they are everywhere!
From Beijing to Shanghai we used the night train, cheap and comfortable, although the station is a pita, completely packed. Shanghai is completely different to Beijing, modern, and more western style, with a big influence from the times it was managed by British, French, Germans,… So far I think it’s the best skyline I’ve ever seen, better than New York, best seen at night with the lights with all those skyscrapers and the Oriental Pearl Tower. From Shanghai to the Pu Dong airport you can use the magnetic levitation train, that speeds up to 430 km/h, and a sign of the modernization of the country.
Photos to come, as soon as I geotag and upload them…