En route to New York I had a quick stopover in 北京市 (Beijing) because I had recently found out that it is possible to enter China without a visa if it is part of transit travel under 72 hours.
Well I went through customs rather naively, being that I’m 19/19 now on smooth transitions between countries. It turned out that I had accidentally gone into the airport-only line and when I tried to get back to the right line the woman stubbornly refused to talk to me until I more stubbornly sat there for 15-20 minutes on the other side of the door. Eventually she was nice enough to let me through. Lesson learned: make sure you’re in the right line when trying to get into China.
So I got through all the nonsense and was on my way to city center on a speedy train. Beijing had some obvious differences coming from Seoul. It was dirtier, busier, and people cut in line hard. I was caught completely off guard given where I had just been, but I spent enough time in India that this was no challenge. Riding the train into the city, seeing the condition of the subway stops, it felt a lot like a New York City dirtiness. A man sitting across from me, wearing a short sleeve button down, had not a single button fixed, revealing to the world what would typically be concealed: a bare chest, long necklace and a big round gut. Some of the older women took to a fashion that could be summarized as an amalgamation of tacky attire, particularly lace, all seemingly dating back at least 70 years.
I arrived at Tiananman Square and stepped out of the subway. I saw that I was on the wrong side of the street, however, there were rails lining every street such that I couldn’t cross anywhere. I thought maybe I could go through the subway and out on the other side, until I realized there was a security check and a huge line to get into the subway. After some confusion, I found the underground tunnel and after crossing three streets and going through a security screen I had made it into the square.
I may have been biased, given that the security is particularly high in the Tiananman Square area, but in my time in China I went through five security screenings in under twelve hours, and passed by countless guards, standing, walking, occupying police vans that acted as mobile stations…there was a noteworthy police and security presence.
Next stop was the Forbidden City. This is the central palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties that ruled from the 15th to 20th centuries. I walked under Mao Zedong’s portrait to enter the palace grounds and just then began to grasp the scale of this place.
The palace opened to courtyard after courtyard with massive buildings in every direction. Stepping past the central structure, the palace would reveal yet another massive stone square.
Eventually the next square was smaller and I was instead greeted with a sea of quintessentially Chinese rooves of glazed yellow tile.
I stepped out of the palace alone as others without rain jackets huddled in the gate. The overcast made for a beautifully serene view of the surrounding moat.
Before leaving the moat I hung out for a minute to watch a man use a very interesting bicycle mounted fishing contraption. He used a collapsable rod that must have had at least eight inserts tucked in there. The rod was extended out to 25ft or so and then the lure was gently plopped in the water. I then made my way to Wangfujing Street to grab some Chinese street food!
I’m still to this day confused about Wangfujing street. There was supposedly a closing of a night market due to sanitation problems, but that was in 2016 and I’ve read tons of posts since then raving about the food on this street. Well…I wasn’t able to find much for street food. That being said, I was able to find quite a few shops selling cheap food.
30¢ for a bean baozi, which is a kind of larger bread dumpling. Delicious green tea ice cream. And my favorite: Jianbing. Jianbing is hard to describe in a word; it’s a crepe that has egg thinly spread over one side. Then inside it is stuffed with cilantro, lettuce, sauces and baocui which is a crispy fried cracker that gives it that delicious crunch. The Chinese typically eat it for breakfast but it felt like a kinda sandwich / brunch hybrid thing. All I know is I had mine served piping hot at 5pm and it hit the spot!
Clockwise from top left: Kung pow chicken, Jianbing, Meat dumplings
Unfortunately, the kung pow chicken looks a lot better than it was. The sauce wasn’t all that flavorful and the chicken was mostly gelatinous bits of fat. I’ll stick to american chinese thank you.
I finished off the short adventure by walking around some back streets of Beijing. There is some kinda cool but plain architecture throughout. The colors are awfully bland, but the roofing has a neat chinese vibe.
Eye contact is acceptable in Beijing. It’s crazy how noticeable this is after being in Seoul.
Public toilets are all over. I can’t say that communism has been a good thing for China, but if you are caught in a situation where you’re desperately trying to find a bathroom, maybe you could consider reading some Karl Marx once you finally sit down.
I got on the airplane, making my way back to New York and finally closing the loop, and I noticed something odd. I can’t be certain, because I wasn’t focusing on what was being said, but during the standard safety briefing, I’m pretty sure it was mentioned that the airplane was still considered Chinese territory and as such, anything we say on the plane may be recorded and monitored by the Chinese government.
The Chinese already have cameras monitoring roads and public spaces. The government now plans to expand this system to public residences and use it in combination with the advancing machine learning and facial recognition software to enable mass surveillance of its citizens. A bit terrifying to read, I took this from a Washington Post article:
The name of the video project is taken from the Communist slogan “the masses have sharp eyes,” and is a throwback to Mao Zedong’s attempt to get every citizen spying on one another. The goal, according to tech industry executives working on the project, is to shine a light into every dark corner of China, to eliminate the shadows where crime thrives.
Sounds just a liiiiiiittle 1984ish.
Well, I’m out of here anyway. Time to fly over the arctic circle and head on home!