6 can’t miss attractions in Beijing

Beijing, the capital of China, is an essential stop for most visitors to China – it’s likely if you’re coming to China that you’ll fly into this mega city, or at the very least pass through it. There’s so much to see and do there, it can be over-whelming trying to decide how to spend your days. Should you stick to the ‘big ticket’ items, or try to find those more unique, ‘out of the way’ sights? Personally, I think a bit of both will serve you well, so here’s my list of 6 can’t miss attractions in Beijing.

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City is smack bang in the middle of Beijing, and an amazing part of Chinese history. Whilst some of it is still off-limits to the public, there is some spectacularly quintessential Chinese architecture and artifacts to see in this grandiose palace grounds. Some 24 emperors called this place home over the Ming and Qing Dynasties (mid 1300s – early 1900s), and it feels really special to wander around these once exclusive grounds. My personal favorite is the garden; after a few hours walking around this massive space, it’s lovely to relax in this green area. I can only imagine what it would have been like to sit here in the dynasty days.

My tip: try to find a quiet pocket of the garden to sit down and rest for a bit (and people watch!).

the forbidden city

Tiananmen Square

This is the largest public square in China, and apparently one of the largest in the world. The gate to the Forbidden City (the Tiananmen Gate, or the Gate of Heavenly Peace) lies to the north of the square and is where the square gets its name from. Here you can watch the flag raising ceremony at sunrise or sunset, walk through Mao’s Mausoleum (where the real Mao lies embalmed!), or visit the National Museum.

My tip: include Tiananmen Square in your Forbidden City outing; it’s easy to fit them both in one day.

The Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven is where emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties worshipped heaven, so it’s a very holy place for many Chinese people.This temple features some of the most stunning and unique Chinese architecture in the city. It takes several hours to walk the beautifully landscaped grounds, and every section is quite different from the last.

My tip: look out for the elderly locals playing cards, mahjong, or dancing near the main gate; it’s a feast for the eyes and ears!

Beijing (2).jpg

The Summer Palace

Whilst it’s a little bit out of the way, the Summer Palace is an easy subway ride from the city centre, and is definitely worth your trip. It’s the largest royal park in China and is UNESCO World Heritage listed. The grounds have a delightfully serene feel to them, with loads of gorgeous trees, a river that feeds into a massive lake, and of course beautiful architecture to marvel at, including temples, pagodas, and halls. It’s quite hilly and there are some steep stairs to climb and weave through, but the views from the top of this palace are simply breath-taking.

My tip: wear sturdy, comfortable shoes as some of the paths are uneven and can be challenging to navigate.

The Confucius Temple

This is the second largest Confucius temple in China. Many people whole-heartedly recommend the nearby Llama Temple, and whilst lovely, my pick in this area is most definitely the Confucius Temple. The Confucius Temple is not nearly as popular (so there are generally far less people there), and it has a much more tranquil feel to it. Here you can slowly weave around the grounds exploring courtyards, the beautiful stone and painted artworks, and admire the truly beautiful ancient trees.

My tip: this is a fairly small temple, so relax and take your time to really appreciate and absorb the vibe here; it’s a lovely little oasis from the hustle and bustle.

The Great Wall of China

You can’t come to China and not see the Great Wall! Set aside a full day for this to allow for transport to and from the wall, walking up and back from your transport, and of course photos, a lunch/snack break, and exploring. There’s a part of the wall to suit almost everyone’s fitness level and taste: some parts of the wall have been restored, some are super touristy, other parts are quite ‘rugged’, and are paths less travelled. You can choose to either walk all your way around, or grab a cable car up and back, and walk a little less.

My tip: for something a little different, try tobogganing down the hill from the wall at the end of your day.

Great Wall of China

One last tip for traveling in Beijing: of course, it pays to check the weather and smog levels before heading out for the day, but sometimes you don’t’ have the luxury of time. If that’s the case, I recommend investing in a good quality face mask to filter the air for you.

So there you have it, my 6 can’t miss attractions in Beijing. Of course, with a city as massive, and historically and culturally rich as Beijing, there are so many more things to do there, you could easily fill several weeks with amazing activities! Hopefully this list gives you some good ideas, and at the very least, a good starting point for you trip to Beijing! Enjoy!

What are your favorite attractions in Beijing? Let us know below.

Written by the Travelling Penster

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Living Like a Local: How Do I Get WeChat?

I arrived in China before WeChat had taken over everything. In fact, I still remember carrying cash around and routinely taking out money from the ATMs. But I also lived in Luoyang at the time, which isn’t as developed and modern as Beijing and Shanghai. But I remember relying on the desktop version of QQ to contact people (QQ was all the rage back then) but there was no English version for phones just yet, and naturally the phone version of QQ did not include a translator. Things have sure changed!

Launched in 2011, QQ’s owner, Tencent, launched Wechat. A new instant messaging app that has since then taken China, and some parts of the world even, by storm. Similar to WhatsApp, Line, and other messaging apps, on the surface, but WeChat has developed a very sophisticated network of mini-apps, games, payment options, taxi-hailing, and bike-sharing. You can access just about anything form WeChat these days, and it can seem daunting at first, but believe me, just like Alipay, WeChat is a must have for anyone living in China.

Stay Connected

The most critical function of WeChat is to connect with people. You can stay in touch with friends and relatives, inside China and out. I had my family back in Denmark get WeChat on their phones because I do not always have access to Facebook. So now I can chat and call my parents and my sister with ease. You can send text messages, voice messages, videos, share your location, send a location, do voice- and video calls. WeChat has it all.

You can also let the world around you know what you are up to, using your Moments. Moments are similar to Facebook posts, and allow you to post short video clips, up to 9 pictures or text messages that others can “like” and comment on. This is how my family knows what I am doing every day.

You can add users based on their WeChat username, their phone number, QQ number (if they initially had one) and a personal QR code.

In WeChat you can also create chat groups. Groups can easily hold up to 500 members, and with some upgrades, they can have up to 1000 members. Groups are great for a couple of friends organizing an event or activity, or just putting your whole family together or even your department at work.

Shopping

WeChat pay, a feature similar to Alipay, has also become one of the cornerstones of WeChat. Restaurants, shops, even street vendors now allow you to pay with WeChat. You can have money in your WeChat wallet, or you can link your WeChat wallet to your bank-card as you do in Alipay and then do payments via scanning their QR code and sending the specified amount of money, or you can open WeChat pay, and they will scan your payment code. It is simple, efficient and very safe.

So how do I get WeChat?

Well, I am glad you asked!

WeChat can be found in most APP stores today, either as WeChat or 微信 (weixin) it’s Chinese name. Don’t worry, if you download the Chinese version of the app, you can change the language to English later. Open the app on your phone, and you can change the language on the front screen at the top right corner, log in at the bottom left, and sign up for your account at the bottom right.

On the following screen, you should enter your name, select the region of your phone number (in my case, I am already in China), enter your phone number and select a password. The password should be between 8-16 characters long and contain a symbol as well as a number. For example WeChat?0005

Click the green Sign Up button, and you’ll be taken through a little security check where you have to drag the missing piece of the picture onto the correct spot.

Next you’ll have to agree to the Privacy Policy guidelines, and finally, you will be asked to do an SMS verification. Using your phone number, send the shown text message to their number (you can click the “Send SMS” button, and it will do it for you). Once you’ve sent the message, return to the WeChat app and click the SMS Sent. Go to Next Step button, and after a short verification, your WeChat account will be open and ready for use!

WeiQi – One of the Oldest Board-games in the World

It is possible that you’ve never heard of it, despite it being possibly the oldest known board-game in the word, still in existence, even played in its original form. You may have learned of the game and thought it came from somewhere else. Weiqi, an ancient board-game of strategy, is surprisingly simple, yet incredibly challenging to master. It is one of my new hobbies for the year 2018, and I thought I would share this cultural interest with you all today!

The first time I was introduced to WeiQi, was around 17 years ago, at a youth club organized by my primary school back in Denmark. I would have been in grade 7 or 8 at this time, around 14 or 15 years old. One of the organizers, Peter, told me about the game and taught me to play it, only then, we knew the game by its other name, Go. I played with Peter and few other classmates for a few months, and then someone stopped playing. It wasn’t until February 2017, when I bought a beautiful WeiQi set for my friend, Paul, that I got back into playing. When Paul moved back to the states last December, he asked me to hold the board for him, for when he comes back so we could play together. And I decided to make use of this beautiful board and to learn more of the history behind this fascinating game.

In ancient China, Weiqi was viewed as one of four essential Arts of the cultural elite; Qin (a classical musical instrument), Calligraphy (the writing of Chinese Characters), Painting and Weiqi. The origin of the game is unknown. However several stories have survived through the ages. One such story is about an ancient Chinese emperor, around 2357-2255 B.C. who wanted to prepare his son for taking the throne, used the game to teach warfare and balance.

One of the earliest written records of the game comes from an old text published around 559 B.C., where the phrase “Ju Qi Bu Ding” appears. The phrase is still popular in China today and translates roughly into “A person who picked up a stone and can’t decide where to make his move.” Stones are the pieces used to play WeiQi; white and black. The game was hugely popular in the Han Dynasty and was even criticised for being addictive. WeiQi eventually shed this lousy image and rose to even higher fame as a game of military strategy. Where the board was the battlefield and the stones the soldiers of the two armies fighting over control.

Chess is widely considered to be one of the more significant strategy games in the Western world. Chess is a lot like a single battle. You have your troops and units in different classes in front of you. The board is smaller than the WeiQi board, and because you can always see all of the pieces, you’re able to calculate your risks continually. Your chess pieces may move around on the board to capture other pieces, and chess is very confrontational. You’re going against the guys in front of you.

In WeiQi, you place your stones on the board, one piece at a time, meaning that with every stone set on the board, there is a shift in balance. In Chess, you take an opponents’ piece by eliminating them and taking their space, in WeiQi, you capture a stone by surrounding it on all four sides. In Weiqi, you can even capture an entire group by surrounding them. In Chess, you try to take the opponents’ King, but in Weiqi, you have to try and control the entire board, by capturing more territory than your opponent.

The Weiqi board size is traditionally 19×19 squares. Stones are placed on the intersections, and you gain points by controlling as many intersections as possible. In more recent times, newer players tend to start on 9×9 boards, still a little larger than Chess’ 8×8. With the grid size being 19×19, the board has a total of 361 intersections, at all of which, a stone can be placed or captured, but never taken away. Throughout the whole game, which usually lasts 20 minutes to 1 hour or more, you have to continually be aware of what is going on, on the entire board and how each stone changes the balance of power.

The rules of WeiQi are immensely simple. You can place one stone on the board anywhere you want, but if a stone or a group of stones are surrounded, they are captured. Your opponent may try to circle around you, to capture your precious stones, but in doing so, he might leave himself open for you to circle around him as well. So keep your eyes peeled, place your stones carefully and watch the game change with every turn.

If you’d like to know more about WeiQi, I will be writing more the game and my own experiences playing in the following weeks and months.

Founding of a Republic – China’s National Day Holiday

As October approaches, so does one the major holidays held every year in China, the National Day of the People’s Republic of China, also known as the National Day Holiday or Golden Week. There are in fact three holidays all called Golden Week, but the National Holiday is what I often hear associated with the Golden Week Holiday. The other two are the Spring Festival holiday and the Labor Day Holiday. In Chinese, the National Day Holiday is called 国庆节 (Guóqìng jié).

The holiday commemorates the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and the forming of the Central People’s Government. What many people do not know, is that The People’s Republic of China was actually founded on September 21st, 1949. The Central People’s Government was established on October 1st, and the Resolution on the National Day of the People’s Republic of China was passed on October 2nd, declaring the National day as October 1st.

All over China, you’ll find the Chinese flag hanging on almost every street corner, in malls, and on pedestrian streets. National Day is celebrated typically with fireworks, speeches, concerts and media coverage. In certain years, large, and often impressive, military parades take place at Tiananmen Square in Beijing across from the Forbidden City, an event attended by thousands and broadcast to millions. The military parade is typically followed by a parade of civilians showing their love for their country, with colorful costumes and displaying pictures of revered leaders since the founding of modern-day China.

The National Holiday is also marked by traveling and is one of the busiest travel periods in China from October 1st to October 7th. Popular tourist destinations like Beijing, The Great Wall, Shanghai, The Avatar Hallelujah Mountains, and others see thousands of visitors within these days. I traveled to Shanghai myself back in 2010 during the National Holiday, and while it’s exciting experiencing Shanghai like this, it was hard to enjoy the views and the beautiful scenery while also fighting to stay in place.

A lot of Foreigners tend to travel locally during these days or try to travel outside of the of the first and last two days of the holiday where the lines are the longest.

How I Stayed Sane While Experiencing Culture Shock in China. Part 6: Reverse Culture Shock

Now that we have looked at the different stages of culture shock that you go through in a new country, it is time to look at how some people experience a sort of Reverse Culture shock when they come back to home after years abroad. For me, coming from a small country like Denmark with considerably fewer people than China, it was the open spaces and emptiness that made me feel awkward being back in my once familiar surroundings.

Above, I have a photo I took in Shanghai on the pedestrian street known as Nanjing Lu. It is the main shopping street in Shanghai, and there are thousands of people walking here. I took this photo back in 2010 on my first trip to Shanghai, but the sight is the same today if you are there around the time of the Spring Festival like I was. The street is absolutely packed with people.

For contrast, try and look at the photo below, taken in Ringsted in Denmark, close to where I grew up. And then consider the next photo from the main shopping street in Copenhagen, the biggest city in Denmark.

Now, to be honest, the picture in Shanghai is taken around the most important Chinese festival of the year in China, the photo from Ringsted is taken during a weekday in the summer break and so is the one from Copenhagen. You cannot really compare the images, but still, the difference is striking.

Whenever I come back to Denmark, I am amazed at how much space I have, how few people I see and, how expensive everything suddenly is. I don’t have to worry so much about getting on the bus, there are plenty of seats, but unlike China, in many parts of Denmark, the bus only leaves once every hour. And where in China, taking the bus costs about 2 yuan, in Denmark a single bus fare is closer to 20 yuan, and don’t even get me started on the trains.

In China, everything is convenient. I live close to everything, I can have just about anything in the world delivered to me, and I haven’t actually considered getting a car, there is just no need. In Denmark, we spend a lot of time driving around to get to places, because not everything is within walking distance.

Speaking Danish again after two years abroad and only speaking it a few times a month is also an adjustment. I suddenly understand everything around me, even people who just walk past me on the street. I feel connected to other people even though I do not know them.

Reverse culture shock is real. It doesn’t happen to anyone in the same way, but many feel a sense of awkwardness when they return to their own country after spending a few years abroad, getting used to how their life is there. It isn’t usually as severe as culture shock you experience living abroad. When I go home on holiday, I a typically at home for about three or four weeks. It takes me, sometimes a week, to get adjusted to living in Denmark again, and then, when I travel back to China I need a few days to get back to normal life there again.

How I Stayed Sane While Experiencing Culture Shock in China. Part 5: The Adjustment

When the depression finally hit me in China, I made a conscious choice that I wasn’t going to let it ruin my time here. I decided not to give in to the homesickness, focus on my work and try to learn about the things I didn’t understand, instead of just complaining about them. I also knew that my time in Changsha was going to be limited. Once I would finish my internship, I would likely move somewhere else, and I’d have a chance to start over fresh.

This method isn’t necessarily the magic cure, just bite down and focus on work, but for me, it helped. Focusing myself on working and learning as much as I could about my surroundings, meant that I kept myself busy (too busy to think about other things), and I also accumulated a lot of knowledge about the local culture, customs and their way of life. For some, they’ll need to focus more on physical activities, or do sports or go to the gym like they’d do in their home country to feel more at home. We are all different, and we will need different ways of dealing with the depression phase, if and when it sets in.

Doing observation classes with teachers and the school principal at my school in Changsha.

After a while, things started to get better. Once you start to accept your new surroundings and how different everything is, you can focus on learning more about it, understanding it and take it in to make it part of your new life. You won’t be able to live in the same way as you did back home. Luckily for me, I didn’t want to. I moved to China to explore something different, to live differently and more independently than I had ever done before. But when I first arrived, I still had blinders on, expecting the Chinese people to behave like Danish people. It doesn’t work like that, and you have to embrace it, learn from it and make it part of your new life.

It isn’t quite as easy as it sounds, and it takes a bit of work finding a suitable compromise between being who you are and changing just enough to fit into your new surroundings. You learn to appreciate the 2-hour lunch break, the energy of the people around you, the funny little things you see every day that you’d never see back home. You also learn to be flexible. Danish people tend to love schedules and to have plans for weeks ahead. In China, things are sometimes more fluid, and you have to adjust your plans a lot. That used to bother me a lot at first, but now, it is just a way of life.

I have learned to embrace and love the life I live now. I still miss Denmark, and how quiet and calm everything is. As I am writing this, I am back in Denmark on holiday for three weeks, and I love everything about being back home. Being home makes me realize how much I am missing all the things I took for granted when I lived here more than seven years ago now. Which brings me to my next article, about Reverse Culture shock, which is what you experience when you have been away from home for a while and come back to what your life used to be, which is typically quite different from your life in China. It can sometimes feel like Culture Shock all over again, but in your own country and in your own home.

How I Stayed Sane While Experiencing Culture Shock in China. Part 4: The Depression

This article is part of a series on experiencing, and dealing with, culture shock in China. The articles are based on my own experiences moving to and living in China, looking back at how I overcame each phase of culture shock, making it through to the other side and having stayed in China for over seven years.

Previous (The Honeymoon Stage)

Have you ever had that feeling, when you wake up in the morning of just not wanting to go to work? We all have it occasionally, but it can be an indication that your depression stage is setting in. For the first few months at your new job, you’ve likely felt full of energy, excited and happy about where you are, so how come suddenly you no longer want to get up and do it?

This very feeling, was how I knew my mood was about to change and that harder times were coming. Having experienced it before, meant I could start to prepare for it mentally and already now start processing it. I began to notice a chance in my attitude and my energy towards work. I’d usually arrive smiling, greeting students and having my can-do attitude. But it was slowly changing into me rushing to the office and avoiding people as much as possible. Getting up in the morning got harder and rather than arriving 15-20 minutes early I started arriving more or less on time. I spent more time by myself than with others, often going straight home after work, not attending social events or going out to dinner with anyone.

Even though I had gone through this before in Australia, it is different in a country where people do not speak your language or behave the way you are used to. I wasn’t the only one, though, and some of my other foreign colleagues were also dealing with this stage to some degree, but handling it in different ways. There is no recipe for getting through this stage, everyone is different. But I remembered one of the things that helped me in Australia was not sitting around by myself. I had to force myself to go outside, meet people, and try to have fun. Who knows, if I tried, I might have a little fun by accident. But I also decided to give myself a purpose. I liked teaching but I always knew I wanted to do more than just being a teacher and the next day I decided to devote myself to my job, and let everything else come to me naturally. I was going to be one of the best teachers this school had ever had, and it was going to be my way out of this little bubble.

Over the past few weeks, since the onset of my more negative emotions, i had changed from this outgoing and welcoming person into someone who just wanted to be alone. I was going to change that, and become more sociable, more active and more appreciative of my new surroundings. I volunteered to every assignment I could get my hands on, participated in every activity I could and started making myself known for my work. I spent more time planning my lessons, stayed late at the office if I hadn’t finished my work and started to arrive early again.

Focusing on my work, gave me a purpose and a goal that I could work towards. It worked, but it will not necessarily work for you if you are facing this situation. The most important thing was that I kept myself busy. I spent time planning classes, I went out to dinner, participated in activities and helped do observations for the Chinese teachers giving them suggestion on how to improve their English. I did not leave a lot of time for sitting around and not doing anything. There more I was on the move, the better I felt and before I knew it, the depression was as good as gone.

From listening to others who have dealt with culture shock and the depression that sometimes follow, one of the most common things I hear is that isolating yourself only makes the depression worse. As hard as it can be, going out and being social really makes a significant difference. It can also be tough if you only have non-local friends. Having local friends means someone can explain you to the things you don’t understand. By understanding why people say or do what they do, life also becomes much easier. Everything is about balance and finding a mix that works for you.

Depression is a natural stage of culture shock, at some point we all have to go through it, but with a little preparation, the depression will not be as crippling as it can sometimes be. But you will need to make an effort and take control of your time and your feelings. The good news is, it is easier than it seems. Go out, meet people, learn about the culture and the things that are different and confusing. Focus on your work and become the best that you can be and before you know it you’ll be feeling much better!