Having been here just two weeks I’m already in a routine of learning Mandarin in the morning, going out for lunch, wandering round Beijing in the afternoon and exercising in the evening.
The first few days here were quite mundane, doing things like looking at kitchens in the largest shop I’ve ever seen and trying to get a Pay-As-You-Go 3G card for my iPhone so I can get the GPS and mapping working to figure out quite where I am most of the time.
The only touristy day out so far has been a trip to the 2008 Olympic Park, situated in the north of Beijing. The centre point is the Bird’s Nest stadium, a jumble of steel and cables surrounding the track and field events. Just outside is the Water Cube, the Velodrome and the Ling Long Pagoda, used to house all the foreign press. After the Olympics were over the stadium was barely used yet still draws crowds of 20-30,000 a day, all paying ¥50(£5) to look around the inside. The rest of the Olympic Park is equally beautiful but all seemed closed up on the day I was there. At night the whole area is colourfully lit and
should be was worth another visit.
From the Olympic Park I decided to walk directly south to Tiananmen Square, but soon realised the scale on my 20p tourist map was way off and got a taxi which took around 20 minutes to drive there. Arriving at dusk I was in time for the flag lowering ceremony where soldiers march rapidly round the square for a bit before lowering the flag and running it into the Forbidden City barracks. There’s probably more to it than that but I was being distracted constantly by pairs of girls inviting me to tea or coffee, to practice their English.
Unfortunately this is a common scam, where they lead you to the restaurant they’re working for and quickly run up a huge bill which they expect you to pay. It’s possible that one or two might be genuine, but usually a couple of minutes into the conversation they inquire about your plans for the rest of the day and suggest going for a coffee/tea/etc.
The crowd to watch the ceremony grew to three deep, predominantly of Chinese people visiting their capital. This didn’t really pose a problem as I could still easily see over all their heads and in the end far too many people were taking photos of me towering over their families rather than the ongoing ceremony.