From guest blogger, Marie Minder, MMW International, www.mmwi.com
In November 2007, I had the opportunity to travel for the first time to Beijing, China, with a friend who was traveling on business. One afternoon, while Kim worked, I observed this exciting new culture up close. As I waited on the sidewalk, the school across the street let out for the day. All of a sudden, I found myself surrounded by a crowd of school age children with their backpacks and the adults who came to meet them. In front of me was an ancient man wearing the traditional nondescript gray Mao jacket with loose fitting trousers. He was riding a bicycle ever so slowly through the crowd of pedestrians. On the back of the bicycle with his arm’s around the man’s waist was a little boy of 8 or 10. On the right side of the grandfather and the little boy on the bicycle was a young woman in designer jeans, spiked high heel boots, a short coat with fur trimmed sleeves. She looked like a fashion model. She was maneuvering her motor scooter and her young son calmly through the crowd.
Welcome to Beijing, China, a world of contrasts. High rise luxury buildings, one room apartments with no plumbing, 8 lane highways, hutangs (maze-like alley ways ) with no cars, modern subways, bicycles and more. It is hard to get your bearings because so much of Beijing is in constant change. The roads change daily. It is not unusual for life-long Beijingers to find themselves a little lost.
If you are planning on visiting China, here are 5 recommendations:
- Carry small packs of toilet paper with you, you might find they come in handy.
- Practice with chop sticks before you go. I did not see many forks. Alternatively, pull out your guidebook and be prepared to ask for a fork.
- Hire an English speaking tour guide and driver. I know this one may be hard for rugged individualists or budget conscious folks but it was the best thing that I did on my trip. Tour guides and drivers are great deals and will cater to your specific needs. Talk with your hotel concierge for suggestions on local guides.
- Everything is negotiable, and the best negotiating tip is to just say “No”. Negotiating is a game and can be fun to play, if you are prepared. Don’t be afraid to talk with other tourists about their shopping experiences, to find the good deals. Have an idea of how much you are comfortable spending and stick to it. And have an idea of the value of an item before bargaining, it will help you keep to your budget. Do not be afraid of offering an amount too low. If it is indeed too low then, the merchant will simply shake his head and walk away. If the amount that you offered is in the acceptable range then the response will be something like “Are you serious? Give me a serious response.” This is where the game gets interesting! Prepare yourself for a unique shopping experience.
- Keep your eyes open. China is a beautiful country, full of contrasts, with many unexpected surprises. Even though the crowds may feel overwhelming and everything feels different, enjoy your visit and the experience.
Beijing, a world of contrasts. It is an exciting, chaotic place to be as it prepares for the big 2008 Summer Olympic unveiling. So buckle up my friends and jump right in. It will be an amazing trip.
Have you recently visited China? Do you have recommendations from your trip to share with other travelers? We would love to hear about them!