I had a great time in Beijing. Beijing is a gorgeous city filled with beautiful architecture and fascinating culture, but my experience was not the best because I made A LOT of mistakes. Here are the lessons I learned:
1. Transport from the airport
There were four of us. Since we had large suitcases because we were coming from a conference, we looked for a minivan to go to our hostel. We went outside the airport and instead of doing the line for official cabs, a lady called us from the distance. In the rush, we went straight to her, like hypnotized idiots, because we saw she had a van.
We gave her the address, she gave us the price (CNY 450 – around USD 69), seemed fine, so we hoped in. Once in the taxi, while still having in my phone the airport wifi, I saw a text from a local friend: go inside a taxi with a taximeter, otherwise, they will overcharge you. Indeed, that is what happened. Our car didn’t have a taximeter and the ride should have cost CNY 200.
Our arrival to Beijing was hilarious. We arrived from Seoul but almost didn’t make it. The following video narrates our story, in the van that overcharged us. Have a laugh.
2. Don’t let yourself be hypnotized by people’s persistence
I’m Peruvian, I proud myself in knowing when people what to take advantage of a situation by asking for more money. Apparently, in Beijing, I forgot what I grew up learning and was deceived at least three times. The lady from the airport transport told us the van cost was CNY400. When arriving at our hostel, the driver charged us CNY450. Guess how much I paid? Of course CNY450. Why? I have no fucking idea.
At the silk market, I felt I could’ve bargained more. A friend that traveled with me bargained the hell out of everything, for some reason I couldn’t.
3. Be mentally prepared for pollution. A LOT of pollution.
At the front desk of our hostel, we saw a sign saying: DRINK HOT WATER, THE WEATHER IS DRY. I figured: I’m from Arequipa which is the driest city I’ve visited. Clearly, I made a mistake. The first night I woke up at 3 am. Coughing, not being able to breathe. The same thing happened to my friends and every night. I had read before about how contaminated some cities are, like L.A. or Santiago, but once you are there you can’t really feel it. I actually felt the pollution going through my lungs in Beijing. Trust me, it’s awful not being able to sleep because you can’t breathe properly.
4. Exchange as much as you can and use your card whenever you can
Since we spent the little CNY (yuan) cash we exchanged at the airport on the expensive minivan. We left early the first morning to exchange money. So we set on an adventure to find an exchange house. NONE. ZERO. Then we learned that in China if you want to exchange money, you have to go to an “official bank” (couldn’t find random exchange houses like the ones you see almost everywhere), which opens at 9 am and closes at around 4 pm (if I’m not mistaken). Terrible timing because people take early tours!
5. Have patience with security, lack of social media and people’s behavior
Besides those incidents, to enter Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City you must go through what I called airport security. Safety guards checking everything you have in your bag pack. I felt watched ALL THE TIME in Beijing, not to mention every website is blocked. No Facebook, Twitter, anything from Google, YouTube. None. I actually thought people say that as an exaggeration, but it is real.
Since it was cold I went to buy a jacket. I wanted to pay with credit card (obviously because I did not want to run out of cash) but the guy asked me for my credit card password, which is weird because you know you debit card password but not your credit card one. So I told him I did not have it so he threw my credit card at my face and told me to go away. It was not a regular local store it was an H&M. My experience with other locals was no different. Taxi drivers (if found because taking a taxi is SO HARD) did not want to take us, and one time when arriving at the Great Wall, this guy sort of hugged me and started pulling me away because we wanted to help a car move.
It is very hard to communicate because almost no one speaks another language other than Chinese. I recommend learning a few words of writing them down on your cell phone or downloading an app.
6. Have your Chinese address in Chinese on your phone (or camera or a piece of paper)
I got lost, and I didn’t have internet. It was hard for me to communicate and I was, of course, pronouncing terribly the name of my street so the taxi drivers couldn’t understand me. I was cold and exhausted and it was dark. By a miracle, I found in my backpack the card of the hostel so someone took me right away! But you don’t want that to happen to you, so always be prepared.
I’m positive that if you avoid those mistakes, you will have an amazing time.