Sunday, December 10, 2006

Beijing, China: Country like Life, City like Contamination

When you cross the street in Beijing, you have to watch out for cars, specially the black ones, which usually belong to public officials who pay little respect to traffic rules. You also have to be careful with the large number of cyclists who cover the roads and don’t respect the rules either.

Despite the chaotic traffic, I must admit that I was impressed by the city´s planning. The main streets have wide bike lanes, an essential detail that I have only seen in very few cities, for example.

Even though most people from Beijing have a country like lifestyle, the strong contamination and the imminent presence of skyscrapers, modern buildings and numerous construction sites, quickly remind you that you are visiting a large city.

Although you are aware that you are in a city, you are not always sure of where you are. All the street corners look alike, and the signs are only written in Chinese. Under these conditions, Having a map is useless!

If you dare, you can ask someone to give you a hand using the basic Chinese that you learned to survive in this foreign land. However, miscommunications are probable, since the other person probably won’t understand you if you mispronounce a word, or you might not understand what the person responds.

Therefore, the best way to get around is by taxi or metro, so you can go directly to the desired destination. If you prefer to walk, you can also choose to get lost in a city where everything is new and different. Whichever way you choose, you’ll hardly have a bad time. However, before you leave the hotel, I would recommend you to ask someone to use Chinese characters to write down the name of the places you want to visit and the hotel address, so you can show the taxi driver where you want to go. This will prevent you from getting lost with no return home.

Beijing is a city with plenty to offer: from its varied cooking, to its temples and its people. On top of that it is extremely safe for tourists, especially around this time, when the Chinese government is getting everything ready for the 2008 Olympics and they want to give “long noses” (that is, western tourists) a good impression.

After traveling around the city for a week, Beijing, China, continues to be a mystery sprinkled with unique flavors, smiling faces and intense colors.

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