On my way to Australia, I had a 13-hour stopover in Beijing, the capital of China. I always try to see as much as possible on my stopovers, and Beijing was not an exception. Unfortunately, things didn’t go completely as planned, but I did get to see some of the famous landmarks and get a small taste of China.
After what seemed like forever on the plane, I finally arrived at Capital International Airport at 11.30 AM (Chinese time). Apart from some turbulence, I had a pleasant flight with Air China. The landing was pretty insignificant though, as it was too foggy to see anything, but it was great to finally get land under my feet again.
I went through customs quickly and got the free 72-hour visa for China and caught the train to the city. Getting to the city from the airport was way easier than getting around the city though. I ended up spending more hours in the metros than I did sightseeing, trying (and failing) to figure out the system. When I finally got off, it was already 3.15 PM and I managed to somehow get off at the wrong station and ended up getting just a little bit lost (told you I would, mum!), but in the end – and just before dusk -, I finally made it to the famous Forbidden City and the Imperial Palace.
The Forbidden City used to be home to the emperors of China for 492 years and any commoner who would try to enter would be severely punished – and that’s how the place got its name. I spent quite a while in the Forbidden City, which I paid just 2 yuan (next to nothing) to enter. The area behind the Imperial Palace was really beautiful; I especially loved the reflections of the temples in the water!
Seperated from the Forbidden City by the Gate of Heavenly Peace is the Tiananmen Square, which is the largest square in the world. I didn’t go to the square, as there were too many people and it was getting dark, but I got to see it from the Imperial Palace, which was cool. Next time I come to Beijing, I want to explore it properly!
Even though I was short on time, as I only had two hours to explore before sunset, I got to see some of the sights that I had wanted to see the most. The Imperial Palace was especially stunning. With the enormous picture of former communist leader and the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong, it’s evident how much he meant and still means for the Chinese people. I loved how the palace was lit up when it turned dark, it made it feel really magical and was a great last thing for me to see before I headed back to the airport.
There are definitely some cultural differences that didn’t take me long to spot while in Beijing. The first thing that I noticed was how careless the Chinese people are. I saw locals picking their noses, three at once actually in an overfilled metro. Weird, because in the Western parts of the World that would be considered a very gross thing to do and not something that you would imagine happening in place full of people in daylight. Also, they don’t mind farting in front of people either. But I guess it’s a positive thing really, to not care about what other people think. But it was an amusing thing to see, that’s for sure!
The worst part was the language barrier. I met almost no one who spoke English, not even the taxi drivers or airport workers. How is that even possible? Thankfully, the air stewardesses did speak English, but when I needed directions on ground, it took a whole lot of effort to explain where I was going and then to understand the directions.
Also, crossing the road was a huge challenge every time. How I understand traffic lights, is that I’m allowed to walk when the green man shows himself – and the cars, busses and scooters are supposed to wait until I have walked across. Well… Not in Beijing! In Beijing, the vehicles just squeeze in front of you on the actual pedestrian crossing and I had to run back several times. It sometimes looked like they intended to hit people. So either Chinese drivers are crazy or their traffic rules are different to ours? I need to find out for next time I go!
While walking about in the city, I realized that something was missing. And then I noticed it – the sky! The sky was missing. Hidden by a thick smog cloud that covered the entire city including the outskirts. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Imagine living in a world with no blue sky, no sunlight, no moon or stars to light up your path in the dark. It’s situations like these where I’m really thankful for living in Denmark, where the air is always fresh and I don’t have to worry about getting sick from the pollution. It’s no wonder that so many Chinese people choose to wear a surgical mask to protect themselves.
During my time in Beijing, I wasn’t feeling my best, as I was tired from the flights and hungry, as I stupidly chose not to sit down and eat, as I felt like I should make the most of the two hours of “daylight” that I had left after getting out of the metro. I didn’t really allow myself to appreciate Beijing as much as I probably would’ve in any other situation, which is why I don’t feel like I can really judge the city yet.
But I’ve learned from my experiences in Beijing and now I know what to do and certainly what not to do next time I visit. Because there will be a next time – I feel like I owe it to the city to give it another chance. I have to go there anyways, as I plan on catching the train from Beijing to Mongolia and Russia in May next year. I want to spend a few more days in Beijing to really see all the sights and get to know the city, but I won’t be spending a week there either, as I’m too scared of the smog.
Right now, I’m sitting in my bed (the sofa) at Erik’s house in Ferntree Gully near Melbourne. Katrine, Annemie and I spent the evening at a cozy pub in Belgrave before going back to the house to chat with Erik and his roommate. For the next four days, we’ll be seeing all of Melbourne’s best sights and hopefully some hidden gems as well, but more about all of that later. I’m having a serious jetlag problem at the moment; in my mind, the time is 18.30, but in Australia it’s now 04.30. I’ll have to try to get some sleep now; it’s time to rid myself of this jetlag!