AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Beijing: A Nice Surprise

We arrived in Beijing yesterday afternoon at the main railway station. We exited the station and went to find out how to buy tickets and navigate the Beijing metro. We were a little apprehensive about the task and what lay ahead. But, the sign was in English and the task which we had feared was suddenly easy and hardly worth a moment’s thought. A mere 2 yuan (20p) gave us entrance to the metro (once you’re in it’s unlimited, go to any stop and change as often as you want). The underground is fantastic, the stations are logical and well signposted and in English. All the stations look brand new, big, spacious and bright. On the train the network maps are easy to read and announcements in English make it easy.

The streets are clean with almost no litter – huge globs of spit are the only blemish on the street. People often step out of your way of they are walking toward you.

Last night we went to buy rail tickets to Kunming (south China). The customer service was great. The woman spoke very little English but made every effort to understand what I wanted and was able to sell me the exact train ticket/time/bed location combination that I wanted. This would never have happened in Russia!

Today we went to a bank which we had seen last night. We had some Euro notes and quite a lot of Russian Roubles left over which we wanted changed into Chinese Yuan. We entered the bank and looked around for the best cashier. Whilst looking the deputy manager came and asked us what service we required. She then printed us a ticket with a number and told us to sit and wait for our number to be called. The signs had English text, the forms had English text and all the staff we interacted with spoke English. Our leftover notes were quickly converted to Chinese Yuan. We left the bank surprised at just how easy that task was too.

We were both surprised at just how Western China now looks. Everyone is wearing Western branded clothing and generally very fashionable. The latest mobile phones, tablets and other gadgets are in the hands of everyone under the age of 30. In the street Mercedes and Audis are everywhere. Even advertising is to Western standards and everywhere. In fact, in the underground it is even on the walls of the tunnels; as the train travels the images ‘move’ with the train.

Up to this point we were loving Beijing, if it wasn’t for the Chinese text on signs and a few habits of the Chinese we would have difficult identifying which city we were in. There were only a few reminds that this is basically a police state. I had to prove ID at the hotel (to register my stay in China), ID again to buy train tickets and then ID to exchange money (we do this in the UK). I have no access to Facebook or Twitter. BBC news is accessible but many links (all those which are about China) don’t work. When entering the Forbidden City bags were searched but it appeared to be for printed material (I saw the security were more interested in sheets of paper) and police quickly pounced and arrested a number of people after a short impromptu protest in front of the forbidden city.

But, what really brought it home was when we entered Tiananmen Square. Police searches are essential to enter the area. Bottles of Coke opened and checked, bags scanned and searched, bodies patted down very thoroughly and ID cards checked. And in the square, police and army, everywhere! So many that there were lines of coaches to move them around. I counted 8 coaches in the square itself and another 10 on the edges. The security presence was huge.

This is a huge downside. China is not a free country, news is filtered, propaganda spread and dissent quickly crushed. This makes liking this place a tricky dilemma, I really like it what the Chinese have achieved here, but without basic freedoms (and an independent judiciary) it just isn’t right.

Posted from Beijing, Beijing, China.

5 Comments

  1. Sounds friendlier than Moscow!

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    • Glad that it was all so easy but I
      remember reading White Swan and
      I understand that not a lot has changec
      With the way the poorest people are treated.
      Fine for all the dignitaries and politicians.
      Have a great time

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  2. Well done, certainly not your package holiday. Enjoying reading.

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  3. Interesting blog mate and finally I read more positives. Looking forward to read from India. Have a nice time mate…

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  4. Very interesting. Hong Kong didn’t feel like that. No presence of police or restrictions

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