This week, a business trip gave me the opportunity to visit Asia for the first time. I added a personal day to the trip to be able to walk around the city and take pictures.
My first encounter with the cultural differences was the crossing of the large intersection right next to the hotel on the way from the airport. It seemed like a green light for pedestrians only slightly reduced the probability of getting run over by a vehicle compared to when it was red. Regardless of a red light, vehicles would turn right or sometimes just cross straight even when there was crossing pedestrian traffic. Scooter drivers and cyclists cared even less, weaving through stopped traffic or coming to a stop in the middle of the intersection. Navigating all this took quite a while to get used to.
On one of the evenings, a colleague took me to the Silk Market to find some souvenirs to take home. I bought a tea set and not being good at haggling probably still paid way too much with 30% of the original asking price. Nevertheless, it was cheap and a fun experience.
On my day off, I started early and took the subway across the city to the Niujie district where I walked around in the residential area and found a less westernized environment. The subway certainly is the best way to navigate the city. Using it was easier than in Germany with detailed information on the lines and next stops printed and announced (also in English) everywhere. Additionally, it is dirt cheap with my trips costing from 3 to 5 RMB¥ (0.4 to 0.7 €).
In a park near the Fayuan Temple, I saw seniors doing their morning gymnastics.
I then walked to the Niujie Mosque which is the oldest mosque in Beijing. I was surprised to find buildings that - to me - didn’t look like a mosque at all.
Below is mosque’s minaret tower in a seemingly traditional Chinese design:
In a park near the mosque, I found these three kicking around a feathered ball (and being very good at it). It seemed like joint outdoor activities in the parks and other public spaces are very common.
Afterwards, I walked to Tiananmen Square and was surprised by the size of the site and the buildings.
I had not planned to go into the Forbidden City but at this point, I could not find a way around it. It seemed like for crowd control reasons, everything was fenced off and heavily guarded and people should walk in a stream in the same direction.
Therefore, I entered the Zhongshan Park and made my way towards the Forbidden City.
In the park, there were plenty of tulip patches and beautiful buildings.
Arrived at the entrance to the Forbidden City, I had another look at the map to see if there was any way around it. At that point, I almost got a heart attack since the group of guards below had quietly marched up to me only to begin shouting right behind my back. Had I stood only two meters further back, they would’ve probably trampled me to death.
In the Forbidden City, I entered a couple of buildings and looked at the exhibits. Most of them unfortunately were overcrowded with people so that without fighting for a spot, you couldn’t see anything. It was good to have experienced its size but I think the (relatively) expensive visit inside the city (60 RMB¥) can absolutely be skipped.
Below are views over maybe a sixth of the city and the enormous moat surrounding it.
I then continued my walk through some of the city’s residential neighborhoods and Hutongs.
At a few locations, construction work was going on which seemed to remove the old Hutong buildings and make room for more high-rise. An unfortunate trend that is taking away more of the unique character of the city. I read that at least some areas are under protection, though.
For my last evening before the flight, I wanted to get some Ramen and had the hopes to find a great Japanese restaurant with authentic food. Due to no internet on my phone, all I could find was a fast food chain restaurant called Ajisen Ramen. To my surprise, though, the Ramen was very tasty and cheap. If only they would bring these to Germany as well…