We have left the land of a million backpackers (aka Southeast Asia) and have arrived in China! We will miss the backpacker culture and some of the things that come with a well-traveled route, but we’re excited for a new challenge. And China can definitely be challenging. We recently spent a week in Shanghai, and between the internet connectivity issues and our taxi driver dropping us off in the middle of a highway, we had some mixed feelings coming back to China. But to our delight, Beijing has been incredible.
We planned to be here for Chinese New Year, the biggest holiday of the year, and we are so excited to celebrate here! There are fireworks, and dragon dances, and temple fairs, and we can’t wait to report back on all of it! Even though this is our first time celebrating Chinese New Year, we have already felt a surge of holiday spirit.
It’s winter time in Beijing and a good 50°F colder than when we left Bangkok. The crisp chill in the air immediately put us into nostalgia mode. When we arrived in the evening, it felt like that quiet hush on Christmas Eve. The Chinese lantern-lined streets were mostly quiet and the people who were out seemed to be hustling to make it home to their families.
On New Year’s Eve morning, it was cold but sunny as we made our way around a frozen lake near our Airbnb. We watched as people ice skated on the lake, and we passed families enjoying skewers of candied strawberries and playing Go (a traditional Chinese board game) on outdoor boards. Even though it’s New Year’s, to us it felt like the holiday spirit we didn’t feel when we were in Thailand for Christmas.
In addition to being here for the Chinese New Year festivities, we’re also excited to see everything else in Beijing! This city has so much history it’s almost intimidating! We’ve already ventured to the Great Wall of China and it was just incredible, but we’re excited to see all of the historical sites of this city.
First Impressions on Beijing
- We are definitely the minority. We are nearly always the only white English speakers everywhere we go. We’re such a novelty that people ask to take pictures with us, toddlers stare at us, and children will say Hello, proud to try out their English. We had a similar experience in Shanghai, and even in Hong Kong.
- It is beautiful and feels so authentic. I don’t know if that’s the right way to describe it, but it is not just another urban city. It’s not at all a tall, modern city like Shanghai. Instead, many of the buildings around the city are still built in the beautifully ornate traditional Chinese architecture. There are colorful sloped roofs, guardian stone lions and grand archways (known as paifangs) all over the city.
- Hutongs make you feel like you’re in on a secret. Hutungs are traditional neighborhoods in Beijing made up of small, winding, interlocking alleyways. Woven into the small streets are homes, shops, restaurants, and even public restrooms! Beijing is known for it’s Hutong culture, and before arriving, I really had no idea what that meant. Our Airbnb is tucked inside one of these Hutongs (like nearly all the homes the residential areas), and it feels like we have our own secret passageway.
What you need to know — Beijing:
- Population: 21.5 million
- Altitude: 43 meters
- Exchange Rate: 6.34 Chinese Yuan to $1 USD
- Primary Language: Mandarin
- Walking Tour: Nope
- Time Zone: China Standard Time, UTC +8 (14 hours ahead of US Central Time)
- Taxi: Yes
- Uber: No
- Public Transit: Yes, they have a great transit system including many buses and trains
- Emergency Number: For foreigners: 6525 5486
- Running: One day we’ll run again …
- American Football: No longer in season.
- Starbucks: Yes!
- Local Starbucks Specialty: Yes! We tried an Apricot White Mocha and Walnut Cookie Latte today, and they also had a peach green tea latte.
- McDonald’s Veggie Burger: TBD
- Coffee Price: A grande specialty latte at Starbucks was 38 CY (~$6 USD)
- Beer Price: You can get a Chinese Bear (Tsing Tao) for about 25 CY (~$4 USD).