Peking – reloaded

Last time a substantial part of my daytime was devoted to culture.

Today I decided to have a look at everyday Beijing life, so to say.

The Beijing subway is with 460km (and more under construction) the second longest subway in the world (after Shanghai). The public transport infrastructure (including buses) is second to none. I would say on one level with Tokyo. Clean and efficient. And both far ahead of the rest of the world – even Munich :( Beijing has one drawback: not all stations and platforms are accessible by escalator or elevator. In Tokyo it’s also not always easy but there eventually and sometimes with a great detour you will find access. This rules out that I will go to the airport by public transport. In principle it would be easy but I have no desire to shifting my heavy luggage up and down long stairs.

The subway is a dream to discover the city. Even for foreigners. All stations are also written in Latin letters – on the train and the stations. On the train you have announcements of every station in Chinese and English. Very easy to navigate. You can also chose English on the ticket vending machines. But it is so simple that you don’t even need it. Every one way ticket is 2 Yuan (0.50 Leva). Regardless of the distance and how many times you switch lines. Only once you leave the subway system your ticket is collected by the exit gate. Brilliant. But I heard that soon they want to introduce fairs depending on the travel distance :(

Here a typical subway station:

Generally you see more “individuals” in Beijing. People seem to be more relaxed and with a healthy self-esteem. Women wear not always the trendiest stuff like in Tokio. Some do, but others go for comfortable wear. I like that. A bigger variety here.

Evereybody, however, on the subway uses his mobile phone. I mean: EVERYBODY! Any age group. This here was a lucky shot. Only 5 out of 6 use their phones (one guy to the left cannot be seen). But only because the sixth person is fast asleep…

I went to a part of town, near the university called Zhongguangcun. It is the high tech area of Peking. There are shopping malls for electronics. You would not believe it if you do not see it! Hundreds, no thousands of shops for computers, mobile phones and cameras. In various huge buildings I don’t know how many floors high.

This shows just a mini-fraction of one floor of a multi-story electronics building.

With all the latest gadgets and accessories that we have not even heard of yet in Europe. I am sure there were loads of bargains. Sadly, for the poor hustlers who attacked me every ten meters, I could not speak Chinese – and they were stopped in their tracks as they did not know how to handle me. As all the writing was in Chinese I could not get a grasp of the situation either. In the end it became an information overflow for me. Especially as I do not need to buy anything.

But there were also “regular” shopping malls and department stores. Spread out over acres and acres f selling space. I sure have not seen such vast shopping areas anywhere in the US! I believe the Chinese have now also outrun Bangkok. Tokyo is a dwarf in comparison. I do not use this word often but in this case it is legitimate: awesome! And about 90% of the goods for sale (my perception) are fashion items for women…Unfortunately, the last mall I was in, was so huge that it took me ages to find my way out :(

To relax I had a look at the food department of Carrefour (they are quite big in China – at least in Beijing). Interestingly they had only a very small section of imported foods. Nearly all was Chinese.

Like the dumpling kitchen:

You know, the Chinese adore their jiaozi (dumplings) since thousands of years – and somehow I believe that they were the grandparents of the Russian pelmeni :)

Or how about some dried duck?

Prices in general (clothes and food) would more reflect the price levels in the Japan, the UK and France. For someone living in Bulgaria – outright expensive!

Fortunatey, even poor Bansko farmers like me, can survive here. Everywhere were there are people living, just a few meters from the main streets in some small side alleys are cheap eateries, most of them specialising on only a few dishes.This is where I feel at home :) And where I get attention and excellent service because I usually am the first foreigner ever having set foot in their establishment…

Of course, no one there ever speaks any language you would understand…:(

As a conclusion: Peking is a very impressive place. Even “awesome” and “amazing”. Unlike everything else you have ever encountered. The Chinese from Beijing are different from all the other Asians. They are self-confident, relaxed and business-oriented and more individual. The only Asian people that do not pay court to me when they learn that I am German. :)   The city itself has such a wealth of culture that it would keep you busy for a long time to discover all the treasures.

And outside the Wangfujing area (near the emperor’s palace and the major sights) Peking is a touristic virgin! The centre is full with group travellers. But there are only few individual tourists to be found and they mainly come from other Asian countries like Singapore etc.) And they come for a few days to see the major sights. And the ladies see only the Wangfujing shopping area. Not the loads of others, bigger, better and cheaper.

Nothing outside the absolute centre is geared towards foreigners. Neither in shops, nor in restaurants, or even hotels. Nobody speaks English. Everything is written in Chinese only. That makes it, of course, difficult to discover the city without having local friends. But it’s manageable. Even by a moron like me!

Next time I am flying to Asia I must see Shanghai…


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