The Chinese people were warm and sweet, smiling beguilingly at Westerners, offering quick assistance, showing deep respect, bowing slightly, and always using “you first” gestures.
A Chinese acquaintance told me that the government is very strict that the people make Westerners feel welcome, but I sensed, especially outside of Beijing and the tourist places, that people felt flattered and privileged to know, talk to, or have a picture taken with a Westerner. It seemed as if one gained status to have some personal contact with a Westerner. Several times I was invited to stand affectionately close to a Chinese woman or gentleman for a picture, while giggles of delight ensued.
Chinese women dress elegantly – a simple feminine elegance, with long slit skirts, matching cap-sleeve blouses, sheers, pretty flower prints, high-heeled shoes, hair tidily pinned up with hair pins, or hair neatly down, and they walk with a slow smooth gait.
Men wear loose pants and short-sleeved shirts in the daytime (it’s too hot and humid for long sleeves), and suits and ties for business.
A good hotel near downtown Beijing, and close to the Silk Market, is the Jianguo Hotel, 755 yuan ($132C). The staff speak some English, the service is excellent, the atmosphere elegant, and the dining room food superb.
This is important. If you set off to some part of Beijing, make sure you write down your home/hotel address in Chinese. That is, if you want to get back home.
You will also need the address of where you want to go – in Chinese.
Read how I learned this the hard way with my Chinese driver:
You can also pick up Destination Cards at various places that say Please Take Me to, with a list of the ten most common tourist sites in Beijing written in Chinese and English for you to give to the non-English speaking Taxi drivers.
A ten kilometer taxi ride is about 34 yuan (C$6), so if you are going across the city or into the country, it might be wise to try to get an English-speaking Chinese person at the hotel to negotiate a taxi for you for the day at about 600 yuan (C$120). But, don’t forget to write down your hotel address in Chinese to give to the taxi driver, or you’ll never get home.
If you tire of Chinese food, try JJ Bean’s near the China World Centre for down home western food. Try Mongolian Food too – it is much different from the Chinese food and is meaty and delicious.
Even though the water in Beijing is relatively safe, it is not in other provinces, so always drink sealed, bottled water. We found the Chinese beer (Tsingdaio), and Chinese wine (Dynasty), light and good.
Which brings me to the Toilets of China! They are dirty and they stink – I mean really stink – a foul, urine-drenched, gagging, hold-your-breath kind of stench, especially in restaurants, and are squalid even in good restaurants. Most are a porcelain toilet bowl flush with the ground that you must squat over, and often the cubicle dividers – when there is more than one cubicle – are half height. Look for good hotels or a McDonald’s (yes, they’re in Beijing too) to find a North American style toilet.
Beijing is a shop-till-you-drop kind of place, and a bargainer’s paradise as said before. Check http://travellittleknownplaces.com/calculator-game-china/ .
Though there are many up-scale department stores and hotels where bargaining is not done, highly recommended for ardent hagglers are: Silk Alley, The Pearl Market (Hong Qiao Market), and The Dirt Market (Pan Jia Yuan Market).
You’ll find stall after stall of items such as silk skirts, dresses, blouses, sweaters, boxer shorts, cotton shirts, leather shoes (men’s, women’s, children’s, sports), Rolex watches (imitation), cashmere sweaters, jackets, suits, down-filled coats, socks, children’s clothes, lace, stuffed panda bears, tea sets, Chinese paintings, Chinese souvenirs, music CDs, DVDs of the latest movies, and last, but most important, suitcases to pack all that stuff you buy, and take home in.
I found the quality generally good, but beware of cashmere sweaters labelled cashmere that are not. Cashmere is thin and very very soft.
Check the inside seams of silk garments to be sure they are well finished and won’t fall apart or fray out. Good silk is also extremely soft and thin.
I seldom paid more than 115 yuan (C$20) for any one item – silk dresses, cashmere sweater sets, shoes, small wheeled suitcases. I paid about 10-25 yuan (C$2-5) for CDs and DVDs, and don’t tell any of my relatives, but the Rolex watches worked out to about C$5 each because I bought five.
The Silk Market and the Dirt Alley are outdoors, so the first thing to buy is an umbrella to keep off the scorching hot sun.
The Dirt Alley has a focus on antiques, semi-precious stones (jade), and original art.
The Pearl Market, which is a department store, has clothing, antiques, hair jewelry, leather shoes, and a whole floor of pearl jewelry.
Be sure to buy the little round deep-fried treats that look a little like exploding donut holes on the main floor of the Pearl Market (a bag of 20 or so for 6 yuan – C$1). They are addictive.
Kylin Plaza is a great department store – no bargaining but prices are almost as low as the markets, the quality is good, and it’s air-conditioned. You’ll find the latest fashions here. The coats and jackets I bought there were just coming into style in North America 5 years later.
Don’t expect to find silk carpets at low prices in Beijing, but a friend found extremely good bargains in the remote northwestern provinces, and I am now the proud owner of a beautiful hand-made pink silk carpet.
There is a romantic beauty about Beijing… within a curious blend of ancient and ultra-modern. Still, uniformed guards were everywhere, at apartment buildings, offices, even standing on the edge of freeways in the countryside going out of the city.
On my last day in Beijing I found a flower market where for 7 yuan (C$1) one could buy a large bouquet of fresh flowers, suitable as a thank you gift for my kind hosts.
China is a huge country, similar in size to Canada, so there are hundreds of other places to see in China: a traditional tea house like the Lao She Teahouse, theBeijing Zoo, Shichahai (The Rear Lakes) when the lotus blossoms are in full bloom, the Shaolin Temple where Martial Arts originate, The Heavenly Mountains and the Heavenly Pool, a traditional village and farms, the Taihu Fairy Island on Taihu Lake near Yuantou Zhu, the Yangtse River and the Three Gorges, before they begin their plan to dam and flood part of it, and many others.
The sky was clear and blue on many days in Beijing – I was told it often is in Autumn – and on those nights with a full moon, as I stood on the high walkway looking over Beijing, I couldn’t help singing to myself, “Full Moon over Beijing, Nothing but Blue Skies for Beijing……”.
Initially, I wasn’t expecting to be enthralled by China, but slowly and sweetly, China flirted with me until it gained my undying affection. I returned home as if waking from a dream, of a place of long ago, and far away…