There's a whole lot of weighty myths that come in the way of considering China as a holiday destination. Some common threats loom large casting shows of doubt that stretch longer than the Great Wall.
Are insects and lizards the staple for breakfast lunch and dinner, whenever dogs are not main course? Some other perplexing perceptions are: language barrier makes communication impossible and lack of access to popular social media sites destroy Instagram lifestyle.
Our perception of China needs a relook, more and more people need to know what really is in store. How aware are prospective travellers and tourists about China’s real face, how coloured are their expectations?
The overwhelming thought after a week well spent in one of the most populous, mega cities of the world was to share with everyone the first-hand experience of Beijing or Peking – where the ducks do quack like anywhere else in the world! Here are some observations from my recent trip to Beijing:
BIG ON BABIES
Beijingers are neither aloof nor rude, as some would imagine. People of the busy city will stop, play and admire your baby or toddler, instantly making any stranger feel welcome. Despite the hustle and bustle that’s expected of a mega city, Beijingers are some of the biggest baby fans I have ever seen. Their inner child easily springs out at the sight of babies as they giggle, chatter happily, pull funny faces at and take selfies with your baby.
THERE’S LIFE OUTSIDE FACEBOOK
Perhaps one of the most common sights in Beijing are transactions taking place across smartphone screens – be it a high street fashion boutique or the noodle boy dishing out hot soupy favourites in a street corner. Life runs smoothly when Beijing is on WeChat. Pay your bills, find places, do-it-all on WeChat, one of the most popular social apps in China. Did we miss updates and poking friends on Facebook, or following the latest cat video on YouTube? (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google are among some of the popular services that are banned in China). No, Beijing offered enough real inspirations to keep the heart and mind preoccupied.
NO DOGS BUT DUCKS
We dined in dozens of places, at modern districts like the Sohos, five-star restaurants in the central business district and from the stalls of street food mavericks in traditional neighbourhoods called ‘hutongs’. Nowhere did we come across ‘dog’ or ‘cat’ on the menu. There was hot dogs though! Beijing is big on ducks, and you’ll have plenty of temptations to savour the regal Beijing duck roast. Have dogs have lost out on popularity? Truth is, it’s not mainstream at all and activists in China are protesting the consumption of dog meat.
Beijing offers a lip-smacking variety of food, its gastronomic scene in hutongs and modern office parks are certainly one big part of the capital experience. There are halal-only restaurants at every major shopping plaza.
LANGUAGE IS NOT A BARRIER
Beijingers may not be all English speakers, few speak English, but almost everyone is eager to help. Our concierge at China World Hotel, Beijing (a Shangri-La property) would ensure a smooth day out in the city by taking printouts of maps of all the places we wanted to visit, writing instructions in Mandarin and briefing the taxi driver. Often we explored the city on our own using the city’s extensive metro service, by showing the instructions written in Mandarin. Don’t underestimate the power of sign language, we got along pretty well. Also there are so many online resources that can help one find maps, translations and tips.
CROWD, WHAT CROWD?
The capital city is pretty much a historical and cultural treasure trove. The Great Wall, imperial parks, hutongs, palaces, squares, you name it. It is wise, therefore to have a smart plan to enjoy these places without having to deal with large crowds. Staying away from these places on weekends and public holidays is one idea. People from China enjoy their national treasures in big groups and you will always see them throng the above-mentioned, however there are ways to get around. For example, the Beihai park may be more celebrated and therefore a big crowd puller than the less-known but equally beautiful (if not more) Jingshan park. The former pulls tourists, the latter is more popular among Beijingers. Likewise, a visit to the Mutianyu stretch of the Great Wall (90km from Beijing’s CBD) will mean you have less crowds to elbow, in fact the setting is way more relaxed than the Badaling stretch of the wall, which is a big crowd magnet.
Bottomline: smart planning is the key.
Have you been to China? We’d love to hear from you. Share your travel experiences with us on [email protected]
By Rashi Sen
TTN is the most established trade publication in the Middle East distributed on a controlled circulation basis to members of the travel and tourism industry.
Published monthly by Al Hilal Publishing and Marketing Group, the region’s foremost trade publisher, TTN is aimed at professionals in the industry, from travel agents to airline and hotel personnel.
TTN provides in-depth and extensive coverage of relevant issues in the Middle East and North Africa as well as in other parts of the world. Travel related news, analysis, and new appointments together with information on up-coming exhibitions, marketing and promotional campaigns are presented in an innovative and striking colour tabloid.
Every issue also contains a collation of international and regional news and topical features of interest to readers.