China’s city life

China’s city life

Late in the evening on Thursday the 8th of march we arrived in Beijing. After picking up our luggage, getting some cash out of the ATM and almost causing a scene because we forgot our bag with food and left it unattended, we made our way to the taxi line. Of course, we stand out like a sore thumb between all the asians, thus we are immediately picked out of the line and shown to another taxi desk. We probably paid way to much, but on our first night in China I was just happy that we managed to get to the hotel. Even though we prepared ourselves pretty well I was still in shock about how little English people spoke and I’m very happy I’d printed out our hotel’s address in Chinese.

A good night sleep later it was time to really start exploring Beijing. When we turned the corner after exiting our hotel we were stunned to find a very beautiful, extravagant and western feeling shopping street. It was like 5th avenue, but Chinese. In this moment I immediately realised how modern China actually is and I have to say it was kind of comforting to find some familiar stores at that moment. As we walked on we stumbled upon the Donghuamen food street and this was when I realised, something else; Chinese people eat everything!!

On our first day we decided to go to the forbidden city, because that’s kind of a must when visiting Beijing. We stood in line for about two hours surrounded by only Chinese people, most trying to push and slide in front of us and others (typically Chinese I guess?). Our passports were checked about 10 times and of course we had to go through a thorough security check. During the weekend we were visiting there was a big meeting in Beijing with about 3000 legislators, so I think there was even more security than normally. I’ve never had to show my passport as often as in Beijing and the amount of policemen on the streets was insane. By the way at every metro station in China (not only in Beijing) you have to put your bags through security every time you enter. Anyways, back to the forbidden city! It was really really impressive, it’s absolutely ginormous and I think you need several days to explore the whole thing, so we just stuck to the main sights. Luckily we were there quite late in the day, so it was pretty quiet for the most part! Afterwards we climbed up the hill in the Jingshanpark to watch the sunset and enjoy a great view of the forbidden city.

For day 2 we’d arranged a tour to the Great Wall! The tour also included a visit to a silk factory and the Ming Thombs, but honestly for me those were just some insignificant stops on the way. We went to the Mutianyu part of the Wall, which is a little further away from Beijing and therefore not as touristy as some other parts. We went up with a chairlift and then we got to spend some time walking up and down the Wall (and taking thousands of pictures, of course). This was definitely something on my bucket list and I think if at all possible anyone should visit this enormous creation at least once in its lifetime. I can’t believe that what we saw is only a tiny tiny part of it, it’s impossible to wrap your head around the fact that it’s more than 21.000 km long. (Apparently it’s the only human build structure you can see from space.) After this amazing experience, we went back down on a giant slide, so fun!!

Our third and last day in Beijing we spent exploring the city, mostly on foot. We walked to the CBD, to look at some of the super modern skyscrapers they are building and have built in recent years. And then we went on to visit the Hutongs, which is one of the oldest parts of the city. These are narrow street with some small houses, or sometimes more like huts. In the old days this is were the important people lived and nowadays the only way to have a house there is if you inherit it. When we walked past one block of these houses on our first day we thought it would just be a matter of time before they would demolish it all to build some new fancy building, but it turns out it’s actually cultural heritage. So they maintain these building and way of life right in the centre of this enormous metropolis. Pretty cool if you ask me! In the afternoon we also went to the train station to pick up the train tickets I’d booked online. Men oh men, this was crazy, so many people and everything was in Chinese. When we finally found the ticket hall there was one sentence on the wall that seriously saved our lives: ‘English spoken at window 16’. So, window 16 is where we went and luckily we only needed to show our confirmation number and passports (of course) and received all our train tickets for the coming weeks!

The next day it was time to embark upon our first train journey, towards Shanghai. Beijing and Shanghai are over 1200 km apart, but it only took us about 4 hours. The trains station honestly felt more like an airport, it was all organised really really well and so different from what I’d experienced using the train in Southeast Asia. On our first night in Shanghai we visited the Bund, this is a promenade from where you can see Shanghai’s iconic skyline. I loved it and I immediately knew I was gonna fall in love with this city.

Shanghai is really different from Beijing if you ask me. To me it felt like Beijing was more about Chinese history and governmental buildings, where as Shanghai is really modern and feels way more international. On our first morning we went back to the Bund, to enjoy the skyline in the morning sun and watch all the locals go about their morning exercise. There were some Ti Chi classes going on and a lot of people were running or walking. I always love watching locals going about their day and the view was even better now that all the other tourists weren’t standing in the way ;p. Afterwards, we visited the Urban Planning Museum. In this museum they have a giant model of the whole city and they talk about their development plans for the upcoming years. It’s really cool to see that they have such a vision and are really trying to make this one of the most livable cities in the world, even though it’s one of the biggest. Something that really stuck out to us is that they aim to make sure that every inhabitant has all the facilities he or she could need within 15 minute walking distance of where they live, for example a subway station, gym, grocery store, playground, school, park, etc. I think it really shows in the city that they are making an effort in creating a beautiful well balanced city. In the afternoon, we did some more people watching at People’s Square, before we decided to go to the Yuyuan gardens. We were expecting to find a relaxed park, where we could maybe lay on the grass and enjoy the sun. However, what we found was the completely opposite! Turns out the Yuyuan gardens is not actually a garden, but a neighbourhood with traditional houses all converted into tourist shops. It was completely packed with Chinese tourists and definitely not a place to relax, so we walked through it as quickly as possible to get back to a more normal part of the city.

On day 2 in Shanghai we had a really early start. The previous morning had been so nice at the Bund, so we decided to go again, this time actually in time to see the sunrise. We set our alarms at 5.30 and of course it was completely cloudy and there was no sunrise to be seen. We went anyways and again found some people doing Ti Chi or jogging and this time there were also some old men flying kites. It was so fun to watch and luckily the sun eventually did come out. After some time we took the the ferry to the other side of the river to explore the area called Pudong, which is the business district and the neighbourhood with all the skyscrapers we’d been admiring from the Bund. I loved it there and we sat on a bench near one of the apartment building as we watched all the businessmen and -women go out for lunch or picking up their food from one of the delivery guys by the entrance. Can you tell what our favourite activity is yet? People watching for sure! We ended the day by visiting all the cute shops at the Tianzifang district and getting a take away from Marzano, my absolute favourite Italian restaurant in China.

There is way more I could tell you about these two amazing cities and the things we did, but for the sake of this post not getting way too long I’ll stop right here. Overall my experience in China, so far is super positive. I think it’s one of the most interesting countries I’ve ever visited. They really are working towards the future and it’s cool to see how far ahead they are of the rest of the world in some areas of technology. Also, I think it’s really interesting to observe the level of control the government has and what implications come with that. Beijing and Shanghai were only the beginning of our trip, so there are many more stories left to tell, but I’ll leave those for my next post in which I’ll tell you all about some of the more rural areas we visited!

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