Random China Ramblings

  • For a communist country, Beijing sure has a lot of SUVs, Audis, BMWs, and other luxury vehicles. The official federal vehicles seems to be black Audi A6s. New shiny luxury condominiums rise directly next to concrete slums. There are also a large number of (often aggressive) beggars on the streets. Interesting contrasts.
  • How this – my tour guide owns his own condo (actually “leases for 70 years”) and also owns a commercial storefront (bought with cash) and leases that out. Mortgages only run to 20 years, but many people use much shorter lengths. Capitalism!
  • Haggling is a pain in the butt, but makes a huge difference in the price you pay for stuff if you’re a tourist. It’s like picking a fight every time you want to buy a gift for somebody. In the end the vendor looks like you just said his mother was ugly, but you know in the end his profit margin was still astronomical.

  • Smog. Beijing is way too smoggy. Even though they actually shut down entire factories to improve the air quality before the 2008 Olympics, everything is still a haze. Even on a perfectly clear day you can’t see a blue sky. I couldn’t live here.

  • Street food is pretty tasty and cheap, but I’m pretty sure I got ripped off a couple times since I can’t read the signs. Ripped off is a bit harsh since at most I paid 50 cents more than a local would have.

    I’ve come to realize Fear Factor is simply taking food that are delicacies in other countries and feeding them to the contestants. Examples I’ve seen skewered on a stick ready for some BBQ action are scorpions, huge beetles, testicles, and snakes. I’m sorry to report that I did not test my intestinal fortitude with such yummy foods. The Immodium-AD remains tucked away in my pack.

  • Internet access in a hotel is a rip-off. Internet cafes are really cheap. Young Chinese males play way too many networked computer games.
  • The internet is pretty awesome. I can virtually run everything as long as I have an internet connection. With Skype I can even receive and make calls. Google.com seems to be blocked, but Google.cn works.


  1. Haggling? You must LOVE it there.

    I love the comment on Fear Factor. Think if there’s ever a Fear Factor China that they’ll make them eat pizza (how gross, they’ll say!)? 🙂

  2. I didn’t know you were travelling to China! How about some pictures! I remember seeing those skewered insects while I was in Beijing, not very appetizing.

  3. Thanks for the clear and very informational post on Beijing! I plan on going someday soon and “unbiased” info like this is very useful…

  4. Hey,

    I was in Beijing this year, and yes Smog is a huge problem, and this city is way too overrated.

    Streets are in horrid shape, people spit everywhere, i cant’ imagine anyone would want to visit there unless he/she has to.

  5. It’s good to know you are experiencing the first-hand how the Chinese capital city looks like. The smog in Beijing has long been known. Sure you need to travel far away from Beijing to see the blue sky.

  6. Chow Yung Fat says:

    ni hao ma? have you visited the barbershops?
    great wall? temple of heaven?

  7. I don’t know about Beijing, but in Shenzhen, if you give money to one beggar, the whole gang of beggars will come after you.

  8. pauline says:

    Jonathan: Enjoy your trip. I remember going to Hong Kong for Christmas 1999 and having the same frustrations about getting ripped off esp. with taxis, but then again, it is generally a once in a life time trip. By the end of the week, my friends and were so tired of Chinese food, we broke down and ate at McDonalds, and it was glorious. We liked eating at the noodle shops, too. Even if you are paying a premium at a noodle shop, it’s still cheap. By the way, I’m chinese american (100%!), and that didn’t help me at all. I didn’t even have to open my mouth, and everyone knew I wasn’t a local.

  9. Hope you are having fun!!

    I am from China and haven’t been home for 10 years. Love to read your comments.

    That is exactly what we were saying when we saw Fear Factor made people eat pork tongue, etc. These are delicacies in China!!

    Why did you pick China to travel?

  10. sillycat says:

    Hey! I came from Beijing to Philly. I love Beijing except for its pollution. There is nothing to complain since it is not Beijing’s fault….
    I would recommend you several places to go if you have time 🙂

  11. sillycat says:

    I would have to say if you want to buy something on the street, cut the price direct to at most a quarter of his offer. This would be a decent price to start. Don’t pay over 1/3 of his initial offer.

  12. Actually, haggling in another language is tough and painful! 25%? I know I should, but I’m usually happy at half. After a while you’re haggling over $1 and it’s just not worth it. =)

    I totally want to share pics, but I forgot my USB cable and I can’t find an internet cafe with a memory card reader. I’ll definitely show some when I do.

    Great Wall – check!

    Temple of Heaven – check!

    Forbidden City – check!

    Why China? Never been there!

  13. You’re lucky you didn’t go during the spring, that’s when the dust storms hit. My mom went to Beijing twice this spring to do some business and the dust storms were really bad. She said that you’d go to sleep with a clean car parked outside and wake up with half a foot of dust on it. She was there for a week and had breathing problems even after she came back.

    Honestly I don’t think any business is worth that kind of damage to your health.

  14. Mathieu says:

    I’m from Southern California. I’ve been telling people who complain about the smog here in SoCal to wait until they visit Hong Kong, Taipei, Mexico City, Bangkok, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and BEIJING. Thank goodness I live in California.

  15. you try the bai jiu yet?
    did you see the xing ba ke inside the forbidden city?
    have fun.

  16. can’t wait for pics!

  17. Are you going to Shanghai? If you are, be prepared to be awed! That place is amazing!

  18. I went to Beijing last year too. As someone said, it’s overrated. Great Wall, Forbidden city, whatever …and the city itself are all dull, not as impressive as what I’ve seen in the documentary. Shanghai is better in terms of city (not comparing historic attractions).

    You have to bargain a lot when you buy stuff. This is valid to most Asian countries, but more severe in China.

    And I don’t understand why people smoke a lot. No fresh air anywhere anytime.

  19. pauline:

    Hong Kong taxis have fixed fares, so I’m curious how you got ripped off by them? I’ve never heard of anyone paying a price other than the meter fare.

  20. To contrast your experience: I remember reading somewhere about 80 and 100 year mortgages available in China.

  21. I couldn’t find any scorpions on a stick in Beijing. I was looking for them since I had seen them on TV.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Re: just another blogger’s question about how my friends and I got ripped off by the taxi companies in Hong Kong during our 1999 trip, the answer is: the cabbies took us around and around to get to the requested destinations, so they could run up the meter. The time and distance spent in the cab just didn’t look right when you compared it to a map. It’s probably the same anywhere you go, when the taxi drivers know you are a tourist, but I recall that that was the most painful memory of the trip (aside from the 24 hour flight from LAX to Hong Kong with 3 stops, resulting from a late booking).

  23. spanglishinvestor says:

    google is not blocked…google is set up to read your proxy…recognize the location and feed you the local google…in your case google china.

  24. Google.com is blocked, at least in parts

  25. i have been to Beijing 10+ years ago, it’s not so smoggy as u said
    i live in hangzhou, you may come over here to have look, although it’s either not very clean, but lots of visitors like the views here.

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