A few people have noticed that I did not post anything about my short visit to Beijing in March that was sandwiched in between Tokyo and Hong Kong. There's a definite reason for that. Sure, I posted some photos to my flickr pages but have been basically mum on the subject other than in person (when you will be sorry that it ever came up – just ask @geokitten78 and @Lora – sorry guys!) However, after hearing that a few people that I know and/or their parents are going to be making the trip there for the first time in order to attend the Olympics in a couple of weeks, I thought a few tips may be helpful.
The Hotel Card - If you are going to be traveling by taxi (and you should because it is usually cheap and quick during non-rush hours) you really need to pick up a business/translation card from your hotel concierge. It will have the hotel name as well as the names of the most visited sites in English and in Chinese as many taxi drivers (very understandably) do not understand English. A good hotel card will also have a small map on it depicting the hotel location as some drivers can’t read Chinese either (as I personally experienced). I also carried a good map of the city with me to point out locations.
Speaking of Taxis… - Taxi meters should be used. Outside some of the more popular tourist spots, you may find that the taxi drivers ALL want to quote you a fixed price to get from point A to point B. I went down an entire queue of waiting taxis outside the Temple of Heaven compound and not one of them would use the meter to get me to Tiananmen Square. They all wanted 90 CNY for a ride that shouldn’t even be 30 CNY on a meter. Similar thing happened outside of the Forbidden City. In both cases, walking a block and waving down a passing taxi got me a ride with a meter in use. (And these weren’t the black cars you’re not supposed to use either. They were legitimate metered taxis). Granted, what’s another $10 for the convenience of a taxi right there? But I really didn’t want to get into a cab with someone who wanted to scam me. Those kinds of folks don’t deserve my business. If everyone demanded the meter be used, they would quit their little operation and just use the meters. Clearly, somebody is paying up.
Lines Can Be Optional & They Push - Don’t be surprised when people rush to the front of what looks to be a queue and talk to the attendant to pay admission, etc. Where in the U.S. the attendant will usually point to the line of other people and not wait on a line-jumper, pushing to the front seems to pay in Beijing. If you notice that this is going on in a line in which you are standing, you probably should do the same, lest you be in that line much longer than you should. Don’t be surprised when you are at the front of what should be a queue and someone rudely pushes you to get to speak to the attendant. This happened to me almost everywhere I went and most notably at Beijing International Airport while the airline representative was holding my passport and checking me in for my flight to Hong Kong. Just be patient.
Yes, They’re Really All Spitting in Public - That sound you will hear constantly? That is indeed what it sounds like. Get used to it. You'd probably do the same if you breathed their air all year long too.
I could go on – but I will stop here and just suggest that you pack your patience and a couple of candy bars for emergencies. Oh - and remember to bring "clean" computers and electronics as your data may be at risk while you are there. Let's not forget, the People's Republic of China is a Communist country. Good luck.