RtW Cities: Beijing

A small post this time for a big city: Beijing, which I was lucky to get the chance to visit on the trip back from Pyongyang, although only for a few days hence the brevity of this summary. I almost didn't post it, except it'd be worth it just to say: If you ever visit, don't get scammed! Whether it be Karaoke, or Tea/Art rooms, or Taxis, or...unless you look like a local, you'll be treated as a tourist, and a target for one of the many scams that are waiting for you. Even after making the mistake of not researching travel costs and falling for an un-metered taxi scam when first arriving, the second time we went from the airport to the city we asked the uniformed airport official at the front of the queue for an unmetered taxi, yet he still led us to a driver with the special 'laminated price', at which point we bailed, took our luggage back out from the boot and tried again.
Sorry, rant over. Just after a week in Pyongyang, entering a country where you'll be so openly ripped off took a bit of adjusting too. But the familiarity of capitalism was nice (or, at least, 'State capitalism') -  KFC! It doesn't exist in Pyongyang, nor Switzerland even. Plus dumplings / duck / bubble tea / lots of other things that are common/popular in Australia, but harder to find in Zurich, and naturally are done really well in Beijing.

For the actual city part, it was a bit of a mix for me. There's a very good subway system, which was extremely useful on the hot days we were there, and simple to use. It's certainly required, as words I'd use for Beijing (other than 'scammy') would for certain include 'big' and 'busy'. As I mentioned, if you look non-chinese then you're treated as a local, but I guess not surprisingly, there were also a considerable amount of Chinese tourists from further out making a visit to Beijing - so much so, that most tourist places recommend not going their on weekends as they're so crowded; after seeing the weekday traffic outside the Forbidden city on a 40°C day, I don't doubt it. The lake and park district just north of the forbidden city is worth a visit if you don't want to feel like you're in a big city, and I did visit the Olympic park at night - in theory the Bird's nest and water cube should be great for night photos, but sadly they seem to turn them off quite early; from memory it was just after 10pm, while walking towards them, suddenly the lights stopped, which seemed a bit unusual as there was a huge modern block of flats nearby with a screen attached that certainly didn't have any problems contributing to the light pollution.

So, in general, I don't think I'd want to live there - too big, too sprawly, and certainly not as well groomed as Zurich. Some of what seemed to be more the more modern developments seemed more interesting architecturally, and it didn't help that it was really hot and we hadn't planned the entire trip until arriving, but there's only so many concrete housing with garbage out the front or people urinating in road underpasses that I'd endure.

Last but not least, the Great Wall! We ended up at Mutianyu - it was a bit further away so in theory less packed, but mostly because I was keen to try the Toboggan on the way down. It was a bit non-trivial to find the bus to take there (867), but in the end probably a good way of travelling. Other than that, there's not much to describe the wall other than to repeat Nixon's: "It sure is a great wall". I do want to travel back in winter some time, I'm sure it'd look amazing and be a bit more comfortable than 40 degree haze.


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