In our previous China article, we challenged you not to join a tour group. One of you guys sent us an email (Hi Johanna!) asking how we managed the transportation, choosing the restaurants, etc. So we're going to share some tips on how to explore and survive Beijing on your own:
1. Research ahead of time
Prior to our trip, we met up with our friends to fix our itinerary. We researched the places we wanted to visit and how to get there. This is important because it will save you from getting lost and wasting time.
2. Download the subway map
Say goodbye to riding a tour bus! Exploring Beijing on your own means commuting like a local.
After you’ve researched the directions, make sure to download the Beijing Subway MTRC map. It will make your life so much easier! It will guide you on how to commute from point A to point B (you’ll know the fastest route, which line to transfer to, etc.) Plus points 'cause the app is user friendly!
Pedestrians in China never have the right of way. The drivers will zoom without warning, and they don’t really care if they run you over. Be careful and remember what your parents taught you: look to your left and to your right before crossing the street.
Side story #1:
We’re not exaggerating when we say the drivers in China will NOT stop for pedestrians. During our last night in Beijing, we decided to eat out near our hotel. We had to cross this wideeeeeee road (like as wide as EDSA) to get to the restaurant. While we were crossing the street, the light turned green and the cars suddenly sped up, ignoring that we were still in the middle of the road! They really didn’t care! Some of us ran since we were almost at the end of the street, but the others were “stuck” in between cars shouting for their life. Our point is: BE ALERT. BE CAREFUL. I’ve never experienced this in the Philippines so that’s something to be grateful about!
3. Learn the basics
I am Chinese, but I don’t know how to speak in Chinese. So I asked my mom to teach me a few (important) words/phrases like water, chicken, pork, beef, rice, how much, where is the bathroom, etc. She also taught me how to say, “I don’t know how to speak in Chinese” which was useful because they approached me and tried to speak to me in Chinese. Unfortunately, they didn’t understand me when I said it… I think I pronounced the words incorrectly. Haha.
Well, even if my mom taught me words and phrases in Chinese… I couldn’t remember all of it. But thank God we live in the digital world now so we also downloaded a translator app.
We used this app during our trip
4. Trust your instincts (and the photos)
It’s inevitable to get lost in a country whose language you don’t speak or understand. We got lost several times and approached the locals for help. Unfortunately, most Chinese don’t speak English so we just prayed and trusted our instincts. Aaaand it worked! We’re alive and back in the Philippines. Haha!
On top of getting lost, dining out was a challenge too—it was like playing charades. We would say the dish we want in Chinese (e.g. Chicken) and the waiter would point at all the dishes that have chicken… and we would point at the photo and say “This. One order. Okay?” (With one finger pointed up).
Side story #2:
We were ordering our food and we told the waiter “pork” (in Chinese) so he pointed which dishes had pork. We just relied on the photos and ordered away. When the food was served, there was one dish that looked so good. We thought it was breaded pork BUT we saw candy sprinkles so we were confused. When we tried it… It was like breaded potato with some fruit and candy sprinkles. WORST. DISH. EVER. Lesson: sometimes you can’t trust your instincts and photos can be deceiving, but you have no choice so better luck next time. Hahaha!
It really looked like breaded pork in their menu! Lol.
Side story #3:
Our main transportation during our trip was the MTRC (aka Chinese MRT) but when we visited Fragrant Hills, we rode the bus. It was our first time to try riding the bus and we weren’t really sure where to go down, but we just trusted our instincts. Thankfully, we arrived safely at Fragrant Hills. On our way back, we had to ride the same bus number (331 or 696) so we asked a Chinese couple where the bus station was but they couldn’t understand us. Kudos to them because they really tried to communicate with us (using their smart phones). They ended up just speaking to us in Chinese, which sounded gibberish. While they were talking to us, I suddenly saw bus 696 in the same spot where they dropped us. Initially, I thought China was the same as the Philippines where you could ride anywhere as long as the bus stops. So I left the Chinese couple without saying thank you or goodbye, and ran towards the bus. BUT the bus driver wouldn’t open the door! He just kept shaking his head and crossing his arms (imagine April Boy Regino’s “Di Ko Kayang Tanggapin” hand gesture). We couldn’t understand why he won’t open the door for us. He drove away and I was hitting the bus like a madman while shouting, “Stop! Stop!” I felt like it was scene from a movie! We kept laughing after the incident because we found out that the reason why the driver didn’t open the door was because that area was just for drop off. We had to walk to the bus station, which was just a few minutes away from where we were (when we were talking to the Chinese couple). Good news is that we were able to catch the last bus!
5. Look for millennials (or other tourists)
As mentioned in our previous point, most Chinese don’t speak English. What we did was to look for millennials since most of them know how to speak English; another option is to look for other tourists.
Side story #4:
When we went to Forbidden Palace, the entire area was barricaded so we didn’t know where the entrance was. We asked what was going on but as usual, no one understood us. Good thing we came across a tour group and we just asked their tour guide what was happening. Unfortunately, the Forbidden Palace was closed during our visit to give way for an event.
So near yet so far, huhu.