Thursday, 12 February 2015

How Beijing beat me

Beijing, you win.

I knew I wasn't choosing an easy city. I began in Beijing for a Trans-Siberian trip all the way to Moscow (and beyond) by rail. I figured starting with the biggest culture shock (I'm a newbie to travel in China) made the most sense. And crawling back overland towards home – currently London – felt intuitive. And like it might be something to shoot for when the long train journeys began to drag.

Beijing in winter. Dress appropriately. Image by Anita Isalska
But Beijing packs a punch for a first timer. It's fabulously rich in things to do, with countless places to eat and labyrinthine alleys to explore. Its must-see sights alone would take a solid few days, nevermind ambitions for Great Wall day trips and idling in the hutong.

Beijing is a city that eats time. Despite a zippy – and fantastically easy to navigate – subway system, getting around always seemed to take longer than expected. It's the little things, like long winding line transfers in subway stations, baggage scans every time you enter a station, and things being just a little further on the map than you anticipated...


Little-known fact, cartoon characters in Beijing mock jetlagged travellers.
Image by Anita Isalska

 Then there's the queuing. A meek and mild Brit like me doesn't stand a chance in a culture where the sharpest elbows get to the front of the line. The same applied to crossing roads. By the end of my stay, my technique involved ploughing forward in spite of the honking cars, murmuring “oh shiiiiii—t”.

That square. Not pictured - queues and security checkpoints to access said square.
Image by Anita Isalska
The city is exhausting and energising at the same time. My eyes were on stalks in Tiananmen Square, brain thoroughly boggled by Mao's Mausoleum, and the Summer Palace was a feast of wacky boats and even wackier homemade sledges skidding across the frozen ponds. But jetlag and the Chinese capital are a feisty pair, so somewhere in between temple-ogling and taxi negotiations, simmering hotpots and the umpteenth stone lion, my eyelids were starting to droop.

Lantern-strewn roads to surprise and delight. And be stared at in.
Image by Anita Isalska

I could fill another whole week, fortnight, month with what I didn't manage to see this time around in Beijing. It'll take me a while to drum up the energy for round #2 but Beijing, I'll be back...

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