A City Cleaned up
Posted by Heliocentrism on July 9, 2009
June 5-10, 2008
Once in Beijing, I met my Mom, whom I hadn’t seen in almost a year, and my brother, whom I hadn’t seen in a year and a half. It wasn’t until my plane landed in Beijing that I wondered how I would find my mom and brother. I knew they would be flying in from LAX, but I didn’t know the flight number or what time the flight would get into Beijing. I didn’t even know if it was a morning or afternoon flight.
I thought that the best thing for me to do was to find a computer somewhere in the airport, email them telling them to meet me at the gate 12 or something, then just wait for them for however long it took. I had just gotten through the passport check and was fishing around in my purse for internet money when I heard my name. I looked up and saw my mom.
me: How did you know where to find me!?
mom: I didn’t. Malcolm and I just got off our plane and were standing in line at passport control when we saw your afro.
My brother was still in line and came walking over about 5 minutes later. We took a bus from the airport to the Qianmen subway station. We stayed at the Qian Men Hostel, the same place I stayed when I was in Beijing a month ago.
The Qianmen Subway station is very near to many main attractions for which Beijing is famous. I recommend finding accommodations in this area of Beijing when sightseeing.
Buying Tickets on the Trans Mongolian Express
Normally, to buy a ticket on the Trans Mongolian Express, you just call up an agent. They would run down to the ticket office, purchase the ticket or tickets for you, and then mail it to your hotel in China. But because of the Olympics, all international train tickets had to be purchased first hand by at least one of the passengers and within two weeks of the departure date.
For directions click here.
So this was one of the first things we did on our first full day in China. I was a little nervous that something would go wrong and we wouldn’t be able to get train tickets, but I didn’t let my mom or brother know. Ninety percent of the time, something will go wrong when travelling through China. But for the first few hours at the start of this day, everything went fine.
SCAMS: Stay away from the art students
There are many scams that are run on tourists. Tourists are often identified by the clothes they wear, their cameras, and they’re standing around tourist attractions instead of going to work. Here is an example of one of the many scams that we encountered while in China. I call it “The Art Student Scam.”
After buying our tickets to Mongolia, we headed towards the Forbidden City. Along the way, we met a young man who said he was an art student. We had a long conversation with him and he taught us some Mandarin. His story was that he was going to Europe to sell his paintings and he just wanted to show some of them to us.
We were flattered. Obviously this guy could see that we knew art, so we followed him to his teacher’s studio where his paintings were on display. They were nice. His teacher, the great salesman, tried to get us to buy some paintings. The teacher told us that the student needed to sell some paintings here, so he can afford the plane ticket to sell more paintings in Europe.
I have no money; neither do I want to carry a fragile painting around Mongolia and Europe so, I didn’t buy one. My soft-hearted brother bought one to help the “poor” student get to Europe. But the teacher wanted him to buy four for better “feng shui“. If I remember right, my brother ended up buying two. (He says his feng shui has not suffered for lack of symmetry.)
Later, when we were in the Forbidden City another “student” wanted to show us her art. She too was going to Europe to sell her paintings and needed to raise some money by selling paintings. When we saw the art, it looked suspiciously just like the art the first “student” had “painted”. Those sneaky “students”!!!
It’s a great deal they have there, at the Mausoleum. It is free to get in, but if you want, you can buy a flower for comrade Mao at the Mao Mausoleum (Maosoleum?). Then, you place it at the foot of the statue of Mao. I’m sure, they put these same flowers back for sale when no one is looking. You also have to pay to put your stuff in lockers, because Mao hates bags.
Mao looked just as creepy as Ho Chi Minh did, but maybe a little more bloated. Then again, Ho Chi Minh was a scrawny guy and Mao was fat.
The Great Wall: Scams and all
The Lonely Planet was only somewhat helpful in getting tourists to the Great Wall of China. The directions are above. Watch out for scams.
We walked up and along the Great Wall. I was hoping that it would be more spiritual, walking along this very old wall with so much history beneath my feet. But it was way too crowded for me to get into any mood of tranquility or oneness with anything.
On our way down we passed a bear garden. There were some poor pathetic looking bears on display. Their owners were selling corn and fruit to tourists so that they, the tourist, could toss some food at the bears. By the looks of the scrawny bears, that might be the only food they get.
The Underground City: closed
Reading through my Lonely Planet book, that great source of half-information, I saw an entry about an underground city. Mao had it built because he feared the Russians and their nuclear weapons. It was a secret when it was built and it apparently is still a secret because nobody could give us directions to it. No one had any idea what we were talking about.
Later I looked up the information on Wikipedia and there were several addresses for it; each for one of the many entrances.
The Lonely Planet book for China didn’t mention anything about it having more than one entrance. It had one location for an entrance given in map form and another location given in address form. But the book gave the impression that they were both the same place. It confused us.
Eventually, we decided to look for the street address and found it quickly. Of course, first we followed some old lady on a bike who claimed to know where it was. She actually wanted us to buy Mao’s little red book from her and took us on a wild goose chase.
Unfortunately, it was closed and under reconstruction for safety reasons. We were told to come back in a few months. We were all quite disappointed. But if you go to Beijing after September 2009, be sure to check it out and tell me how great it is.
Update: I read somewhere that the Underground City is closed for good and will never be opened to the public. Or maybe the Russians are still a bit of a threat…
After that, we went to The Lama Temple. As I have said before, to me, ALL temples look the same. The Lama temple is no exception. Same, Same. But it did come with a little CD of nice “Lama” music.
The Heavenly Temple Park
We went to the Heavenly Temple Park, but we didn’t see the Heavenly Temple. We were tired of temples. They all look alike anyway. We were more interested in the people at the park. This park is where the happy people go to hang out, play games, dance, show off what they can do, or learn to do something new. It was wonderful watching folks teaching each other how to dance, do tai chi, or fight. Happy city people warm my heart!
The Summer Palace
After the park, we took a public bus to the Summer Palace. It was a really hot day and going to where the kings of ancient China went to cool off seemed like a great idea. It was a little cooler there and very beautiful… so beautiful that it didn’t look real. It was a great place to spend our last day in China.
How to get there:
- You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
- Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
- Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
- Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.
There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook and parts of Wikipedia are just two of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.
My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.
- A Bite of China (Playlist)
- Anthony Bourdain – No Reservations – Harbin, China
- China: A Century of Revolution (Playlist)
- China Uncensored (Playlist)
- Crash Course:
- Engineering an Empire: China
- The Bonesetter’s Daughter
- Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
- Dreams of Joy (Part 2 of Shanghai Girls)
- Empress Dowager Cixi
- The Joy Luck Club
- The Kitchen God’s Wife
- Lost on Planet China
- Mao’s Last Dancer
- Mao: The Unknown Story*
- The Private Life of Chairman Mao
- Sex Lives of the Great Dictators
- Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
- The Red Chamber
- Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China*
*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.
- If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.
The Mao Mausoleum
Máo Zhǔxí Jìniàntáng
The Forbidden City
- The Mao Mausoleum 39°54’09.2″N 116°23’51.0″E
- The Forbidden City 39°54’58.9″N 116°23’49.8″E
- Tiananmen Square 39°54’19.8″N 116°23’51.4″E
All of these things are close together. Well, close if you’re used to walking a lot. They are all right next to each other. But because they are really big, it might be a 20 minute walk to go from the Mao Mausoleum to The Forbidden city. You will have to walk though.
Go to Qianmen Subway station. The nearest attraction will be the mausoleum. You can’t bring anything in the mausoleum with you, so you’ll have to walk to the baggage check area first.
Behind the mausoleum is Tienanmen Square and behind that is The Forbidden City.
- It’s free to see Mao. But if you have stuff, it will cost you to put it in a locker. You pay based on how many bags you have, how big the bags are, and how many electronic devices you have in the bags. The lines at the baggage check can get long, so it might be better, if you are in a group, to have only half of your group go see Mao while the rest watch the bags.
- It’s also free to see Tiananmen Square. But if you pay 15Yuan you can walk to the top of the gate and look out on the square.
- Entrance to the Forbidden City is 60Yuan.
- Mao Mausoleum Tu – Su 8:00-12:00
- Tiananmen Square is an open area and therefore always available. **Update: The last time I was in Beijing there was a security check that people needed to pass through to get to the grassy area. This security check does shut down in the late evening and opens back up early in the morning before the mausoleum does. You can still walk around the area when the security check is closed, just not in the main part. **
- The Forbidden City 8:30 – ??
The Great Wall of China (长城)
Badaling Entrance (八達嶺)
- 40°21’35.3″N 116°01’11.7″E
There are many ways to get to the Great Wall since the wall is so… great. These are directions to get to the Badaling Entrance, where most tourists go. (Most tourists go to this entrance because it is the most accessible entrance.)
1. Go to the Deshengmen gate (德胜门).
Take the subway to Jishuitan station (积水潭站) on the circle line. I don’t remember what exit we took, but the place to get the bus was right next to the Deshengmen gate (德胜门). So ask someone how to get to the gate when you are at the subway station. Don’t get on any of the buses until you get to Deshengmen gate; the gate is a walkable distance from the subway station.
You can also get the Deshengman gate by taking Public Bus 5, 305, 315, 344, 345, 380, 670, 914, or 919. For these buses, Deshengman gate is the last stop.
2. Take the 919 bus.
The bus is 919, but be careful. You want a green one like in the picture below, not the public/ city bus.
SCAM: There are local 919 buses, that do not go all the way to the Great Wall and there are fake 919 buses that give tours and cost 400 Yuan. If you find someone who tells you that there are no public or non-tour buses to the Great Wall they are liars! We found one such man.
Ignore anyone who points out the local 919 buses as an example of the non-existence of a 919 to the Great Wall.
The buses at the Deshengmen gate are big, green, and costs 12 Yuan, at the time this post was written, to get to the Badaling entrance and they leave as soon as they are full. The next one is right behind it. So you’ll always be right on time for a bus.
Use the picture of the bus in this blog as a reference.
You can also take the route given by google maps which takes you to the Badaling Railway station.
- Adult – 45 Yuan
- Over 60 and Students with ID – 25 Yuan
- Seniors bring your passport. My mom got the discount.
- Kids under 1.2m and the disabled – Free
- National Geographic: Great Wall of China
- NEVER pay to take a cab to the entrance after taking the bus to Badaling. The small climb to the wall is nothing compare to the climb along the wall.
- If you don’t feel like walking up the hill to the wall, it’s better to take the coaster up. You buy the ticket where the 919 drops you off. It’s 30 Yuan one way and 60 Yuan round trip. Then you walk straight pass the bear garden. Yes BEAR; not Beer.
The Underground City
- 39°53’55.6″N 116°24’06.9″E
First get a map and go to Qianmen station, then head East, as if you are going to Chongwenmen subway station. Use one of the addresses below and try not to get lost. Do not buy anything, take any offers for a ride, or follow any little old ladies riding on a bicycle.
According to Wikipedia.com, there are many entrances to the Underground City. It gives three addresses as follows:
#1. 62 West Damochang Street in Qianmen
#2. Beijing Qianmen Carpet Factory at 44 Xingfu Dajie in Chongwen District
#3. 18 Dazhalan Jie in Qianmen
Unfortunately I do not have anymore information about it because when I was in China last, it was closed for repairs.
Update: The Underground City might be closed for good.
- 39°56’51.6″N 116°25’02.2″E
It is a short walk from the Yonghegong Lama Temple Station.
Or you can take the following buses:
13, 116, 117 to Yonghegong (Lama Temple, 雍和宫) or 18, 44, 62, 684, 858, 909 to Yonghegong Qiaodong (雍和宫桥东)
12 Yonghegong Dajie, Beixinqiao, Dongcheng District, Beijing
Hours: everyday 9:00 – 17:00
The Heavenly Temple Park
- 39°53’01.3″N 116°24’46.2″E
The nearest subway station is Tiantandongmen Station ( 天坛东门站).
N39 50 44 E116 26 41
Tiantan Park, Beijing
Nov. 1 – Mar. 31 ~ 30Yuan
Apr. 1 – Oct. 31 ~ 35 Yuan
Hours: 6:00 – 20:00
- I don’t remember if the park is free, but it costs more to see the temple in the park than to just go to the Temple of Heaven park.
- If the park is free then the prices above are for the temple. If the park is not free, then the prices above are just to enter the park and you will have to pay extra to see the temple.
- 39°59’60.0″N 116°16’31.7″E
Take any of these buses heading to the palace:
331, 346, 394, 469, 704, 718, 732, 737, 808, 817
No. 19, Xin-jian-gong-men Road, Haidian Dist., Beijing
Cost: 60 Yuan
- Apr 1 – Oct 31 ~ 6:30-18:00
- Nov 1 – Mar 31 ~ 7:00-17:00