My good friend, Mike travels all over the world for work. I have been trying to convince him to start a blog about his travels and he asked if he could post as a guest on my blog to try it out. Here is his first blog post about his latest trip to Beijing, China!
Beijing Breakfast Fish and Basement Bakeries
I got the email about 3 months ago that my next Asia adventure would be to Beijing, China. This would be my 2nd time in Beijing and 3rd to China with the other trips to Shanghai and Anqing. I travel constantly for my job and I’ve learned a few things along the way, like never wear shorts on a flight longer than 4 hours, never EVER exchange money at Travelex in the airport, and most importantly do NOT eat ANYTHING before you get on an overseas flight if you’ve been bumped to first class. If you are going cross country it’s an understandable mistake to make, there isn’t enough time for the crew to appropriately stuff your face with enough food to make it worthwhile not to eat beforehand. If you get upgraded for the first time you will be so excited that it is easy to forget what I have said.
Jet Lag Haiku
The first night I always unpack my stuff and go straight to bed no matter how early it is. Worst case scenario you are up all night bored to tears from the jet lag.
Use the time to do some Google prep for your sightseeing or write jet lag haiku’s on Facebook. (a tradition started with Janice Murphy a few years back) The first morning is breakfast fish in the hotel. China is great for hotel breakfast fish. You could never get that at the Atlanta airport Holiday Inn Express.
The subway is very user friendly and it is very difficult to screw it up. Every ticket kiosk that I have seen has an English option. Some kiosks take only 5 and 10 bills, others take 1, 5, 10, and 20. They all of course take coins and if you have a bill that is too big to use you can just buy it from the dude at the window. The kiosk will spit out a card and you will scan the card on the reader of the entrance gate. Once you get to where you’re going, there will be a slot in the exit gate that will suck in your card and let you out. If you screwed up and paid for the wrong station, there are booths were you can do a fare adjustment and pay the difference. If it is only one or two stations off, there is a good chance it will be the same price anyway.
But What Should We See?
The Silk Market is pretty amazing! It’s a multilevel, special purpose marketplace that sells fake merchandise. Don’t pay too much and never buy something from the first person who stops you. They will lower the price every time you make a lap. There are several of these markets around the city but, the Silk Market is the most popular.
The antique and thrift markets are always fun. Although you will start to notice a lot of the same products in different booths that are supposed to be unique and handmade. Go shopping on Wangfujing Street and try some deep fried bugs and a Big Mac within 100 ft. of each other. Get off the subway at South Luogu station and explore the hutongs for hours.
Make your way to the Drum Tower just to the north for some great pictures. Not too far of a walk to the east is the Temple of Confucius which, is good for an hour of exploring. Try to get to the Summer Palace during the…..summer(duh!). If you go in the winter time most of the garden-y type stuff will be dead. Check out the super giant LED roof screen at “The Place” mall. I didn’t get to go this time so it is on my list for a future trip.
There are so many things to see in Beijing that this list could go on forever. Google is your best friend when preparing a sightseeing list. 90% of these you can get to without the need of a taxi. Just make sure you get back on the subway by 11 or so to get the last train. Now, the elephant in the room is of course…. The Great Wall. Don’t bother. It takes all day on trains and buses to get there, you spend an hour taking the same picture, and you spend the rest of your day getting back. You can see it from space so why go to it? Look at it on Google Earth. Just lie and say you went. It’s not like people will not believe you I mean you were in Beijing.
What Should We Eat?
Ummm, EVERYTHING!!! I’m not one of these people that do hours of Google research before I go somewhere. I am not constantly looking for the best places to eat or the most highly recommended restaurants. I walk until I see a sign that looks tasty and then try it. If it’s a bust well then that’s an experience too. I have never gotten sick while in China. I have actually never gotten sick from food while I was anywhere away from home. I have quite the cast iron stomach as my grandma used to say. I drink the water in Mexico, eat the street food in India, not a scratch so far [fingers crossed].
By far the best thing about Asian culture are the bakeries. There are bakeries everywhere! On rooftops, hidden in hutongs, basements, and of course subway stations. They have bread pizza with hot dogs inside, cream puffs, cupcakes, donuts, rolls, muffins, and fruit cups with mayonnaise on top. All inside lit display cases which make them look more delicious!
A travel tradition of mine is to always try my hardest to find a Mexican restaurant in every country that I visit. Why? Because it’s ridiculous to be eating a burrito in South Korea. I made an exception in Brazil because I mean COME ON, burritos are great but…… Brazilian steakhouse!! Knowing this, a friend of mine in Beijing showed me a great Mexican place near her office by Tuanjiehu station. Unfortunately, it was way too busy to get a table, fortunately enough there was an amazing pizza place just upstairs called Kros Nest. Giant pizzas to make you feel like an even fatter westerner than you already felt like. (Thanks Jiayin. Who also introduced me to the wonders of the rum Popsicle!)
If you are looking for the Chinese fast food experience then stick to the malls. They will have everything that you would expect. McDonalds, Burger King, and KFC are the 3 big ones and they are exactly what you would expect them to be. Nothing much different from home here but, KFC does have a side salad that comes with the meal for a change.
If you absolutely have to have a burger while in Beijing do yourself a favor and have a donkey burger. I am not speaking from experience as I have not had one. I have seen the donkey burger signs several times and from this I can conclude beyond a scientific doubt that they are delicious.
Watch out for the needle bone river fish. The Chinese like to put the fish in their mouth and then sort it all out at that point. They somehow separate all of the killer bones and spit them out onto the plate one by one, like the tie a knot in a cherry stem trick. I try to avoid the river fish all together if I can help it. The cities along the coast tend to have a better selection of sea fish with less tiny bones.
I never eat as much food as when I come to China. And to fit in you have to learn how to shovel it down fast. The chopsticks are used more to scoop the food in like a flat spoon than to pick each piece of food up individually. I don’t care how fast you can put away a burger you’ll never be more impressed than watching a 140 pound dude put away a whole plate of tofu stir fry in a minute with just chopsticks
So Should We Go?
If you are a westerner you HAVE to visit Asia. Really, anywhere in Asia is good but, China will do just fine. It is the antithesis of the U.S. and Europe which is why we love it so much. It’s like if you were an Eskimo you would probably dream of visiting the Caribbean. Don’t let the stories you have heard turn you off to this experience. Go Now! And fly first class!