Where to begin. I think I should start by apologising to the Polish. While at first the Polish car and road system seems rather shabby, compared to the Chinese (or at least Beijing’s) system it’s a pedestrian’s paradise. Apparently tens of thousands of people die on Chinese roads every year, and when you experience them for yourself, you’ll understand why. Trotsky’s theory of uneven and combined development is of clear pertinence when considering the Beijing car system: 15 years ago there were still very few cars in Beijing or China at all, with the majority of people getting around by bike. In the last 15 years there has been a massive boom in car production and use, which is in part directly linked to the growing middle-class. However, while Beijing now has more cars than any other city, they do not seem to have the regulations to go with them. Regardless of the colour of the light, cars speed by. All a green man means is that you might have an extra couple of seconds to get out the way before the car mows you down.

Instead of safety and regulations, they honk their horns – constantly. Not in any meaningful or useful way. They just do it almost out of boredom. No seems seems stressed when they do it, and they are certainly not alerting anyone to danger – in fact more danger is probably created by them honking. Some motorbikes seems to have the horn buttons glued down.

On top of the horns, there is also the pollution. You can see it everywhere. Or to be more precise, the pollution means you can’t see at all. The tops of buildings are hidden by the smog and at night, what appears to be a mist floating around the car headlights is actually smog. Then there’s the effect it has on you. Your eyes and lungs hurt and your skin feels horrible.

At least you can descend to the metro, which is amazing. Unfortunately everyone else seems to have also had this idea, as the two levels of busyness it has is ‘busy’ and ‘very busy’. At first we thought their rush-hour must be at a different time, then we went into the metro at what I would consider rush-hour and we realised that this was also their rush-hour… Apart from this, the metro is amazing though. Oh, other than the adverts on the tube. Not only do they have adverts in the tube, but as you are travelling along there are moving adverts outside of the tube – on the inside of tunnel walls as the tube is moving!

Queuing, or lack of it, is also something i had not realised would be like it is. I know that Britain has the label of somewhere where “everyone loves a queue”, but Beijing isn’t a place where no-one queues, instead you just get people all the time who jump in front of you. You will queue for 30mins and as you get to the front, some bastard will try and get to the ticket desk before you. Most people don’t seem to mind about this, which I find even more odd.

Attempting to communicate with people who don’t speak English is also proving more troublesome than anywhere else. Of course there is no reason why people should speak English and if anything I should speak one of the many Chinese languages, but there are other ways to communicate and there is also common-sense – both of which have been missing from most the people that we have attempting to get directions or information from. One such example. We were at the train station, which similarly to Poland is built in an amazingly stupid way, and we couldn’t find the ticket desk. We followed the signs to the ticket desk and when we got there were moved across the hall to another ticket desk. This wasn’t the place either. Our attempted signs as to where it was proved useless. All the women could say was “Bushi” (means No). So we walked down the stairs and were pointed to waiting room 7, which upon arriving there was simply a waiting room – no ticket desk or anything else other than being a room for waiting in. Eventually we found the ticket office outside of the station where we queued for 30 mins (see above). This was made even more exasperating by the people working in the ticket office all simultaneously going for a 10 minute break when there were several very long queues. Great idea! Another good example demonstrates how inclined many people are simply to say “Yes”. We were asking for directions from someone who worked in a hostel and spoke English. After a long chat we I pointed right and she replied “Yes”, Lucie then thinking it was in the other direction pointed left and she said…”Yes”. We repeated this farcical interaction a few times, before we worked it our for ourselves.

Then of course there are the scams. Locals generally don’t seem that inclined to talk to you or be helpful other than when they are trying to scam you or sell you something massively over-priced. The moment we arrived were greeted by a man asking where we were going and whether we needed a lift. We told him where and asked how much. “Y150,” came the reply. “Y150?!!” I replied, “Y25!”. “No, you joke.” Luckily, I already knew that the trip to the hostel should cost no more than Y30. We ended up getting in an official taxi which cost Y21. This twat not only wanted to scam us, but when I gave him a totally normal price he walked away. He wasn’t going to work unless he was scamming you. Funnier is how the hostels con you. Everywhere in the hostel are signs saying ‘Don’t be scammed’ which then explain how people might try and get extortionate amounts of money out of you. What they miss out, is how they will scam you. There signs ought to read ‘Don’t be scammed otherwise you will have less money for us to do it to you’. Their tours constitute the best way they wring the yuan from your pockets…

Right, I think that is the end of that rant. Beijing is not a place that I want to come back to, but there are many nice things as well as all that is rubbish about it – though right now I can’t think of what those things might be…

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