Monday, May 29, 2006

Beijing Travel Notes

Beijing, the capital city of China is buzzing with activity. With the upcoming 2008 Olympics and ever increasing manufacturing base, this city is growing at a breakneck speed. I went their recently after two years the pace seem to have only picked up. Construction activity is evident everywhere and they by some accounts 35% of ALL construction equipments are now in Beijing and Shanghai.

Construction Activity

Very common scence in Beijing

Commuting in Beijing
Use Taxis, they are cheap and are available everywhere. In fact, Taxis seem to be cheaper than Chennai. But they are decent and all of them are air conditioned and ply by the meter. However, there is one major problem though and that is the language. Most of the Taxi Drivers don’t speak or understand English. Before you board a Taxi, it is important to carry a card containing the destination name written in Chinese.

Taxis are Ubiquitous

Taxis lined at the Airport

I had a frustrating experience on this front in the wee hours of the night as I tried to catch a Taxi to my Hotel. I had printed copy of my reservation and showed it to the Police Officer regulating the Taxis. He along with several other officers and the driver drew blank but kept discussing animatedly. All along, I was sitting their confused and very tired inside the car. After about 15 minutes of this, my driver decides to venture on his own without uttering a word to me. He stopped the car at several places to ask for direction. My attempts to talk to the driver proved futile as we couldn’t understand each other. I started to get worried as it was late in the night and we kept going. I thought I was going to be mugged. But the driver was good and he ultimately took me to my Hotel.

Access to Internet
No problems on this front. Most of the places tend to be Wi-Fi enabled. However, it is closely monitored and several sites like Blogspot, Wikipedia, BBCnews and several hundred other sites are blocked out.

Vegetarian Food
Not a problem if one is flexible. I had my lunches in my office cafeteria and lots of vegetarian options were available there, so lunch was OK. As for as the breakfast and dinner, I managed with Salad, fruits, Schlotzky’s and Subway.

Indian Restaurant with Live Performance

Indian Restaurants are there, but one has to look hard for them

Roads
Beijing has lot of roads, freeways and stuff and are building lot more. But they were all crowed grid locked during office hours. There is this constant haze that makes the air highly polluted. In fact, there continuous announcements about the pollution level in TV & Radio and most of the locals walk around with a mask.

A view of the ring road from my office building

A ring road from my work place. Beijing has 6 ring roads and 2 more are underway for Olympics

There are lots of places to see in Beijing. Here are some of the places I visited

Silk Market
This is a shopper’s paradise. Tourists mainly flock this place, where one can get pirated DVDs to knockoff DKNYs. Most of the shoppers know the stuff sold in this market is knockoff, yet they throng this place for the Chinese experience. The shop keepers are pushy and sometimes annoying. But they tolerate and expect heavy negotiation.

Famous Silk Market
Silk Market in 2004 now in a new multi-storyed building

When I visited this place in 2004, it was just a street market, but there is huge multistoried gleaming center in its place. I found the new mall little easier to navigate and browse.

Tiananmen Square
This is the Mall of Washington or the Rajpath of New Delhi for Beijing. It is large plaze in the center of Beijing and is always buzzing with people and tourists. This place is also swarming with uniformed and plain clothes police men who keep constant vigil on the gathering. Chinese authorities don’t want the repeat of 1989 student protests which happened in this square.

Picture 054

Just across for Tiananmen Square is the Mausoleum for the Mao Zedong and behind that is the Forbidden City.

Forbidden City has over 800 buildings and 8000 rooms and is known as the Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The construction of the city started in 1406 and took over 14 years to complete the city. Several buildings are under renovation now possibly for the upcoming 2008 Olympics.

Forbidden City

Massive Steps Leading to the Palace

Forbidden City

Inside Forbidden City

Great Wall of China
Some portions are this wonder is close to Beijing. There are lots of conducted tours available to Great Wall is available from the most of the Hotels. This is a must see site in Beijing.

Even though portions of the wall are dilapidated, the site of the Great Wall is awe inspiring. There is even a Marathon on the Great Wall.

More photos in flickr

PS: I missed to take my camera with me this time around, so the photos you see are from my earlier trip.