We finally made it to China! It all began with Angelina’s dad wanting to revisit China. After taking a few months to plan this intricate 13-day trip, we were able to make it a reality. There were 13 of us: parents, San Gu and San Gu Zhang, Yien Gu and Yien Gu Zhang, Eng Gu, Feng Gu, Shing, Jimmy, Tony and both of us. The idea was to meet them directly in Beijing. Since they arrived 16 hours earlier, they began the guided tour first before we joined them later. We honestly didn’t set any expectations for this trip because we had never done a full guided tour before. In the end, it turned out better than expected because we had our own tour guide, driver and transportation for the whole trip… and we covered most of the planned attractions.
During our first 5 days in Beijing, we visited 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Forbidden City, Great Wall of China (Juyongguan section), Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven. We also covered Tiananmen Square, Jingshan Park, Beijing Olympic Park, Silk Market, Wangfujing Pedestrian Street, Shichahai and Yandai Byway.
Beijing is famous for its hutongs. These hutongs showed us a glimpse of the old China where the traditional courtyard houses laid out along the narrow alleys hundreds of years ago during the Ming and Qing dynasty eras (1368-1912). We explored several hutongs by rickshaw and by foot, including Zhanzi Hutong, Daxiangfeng Hutong, Nanguanfang Hutong, Qiangan Hutong and Dashibei Hutong. We did not visit Nanluoguxiang because some of us were tired.
On our final day in Beijing, we took the G3 bullet train ride to Shanghai, which took 4.5 hours to cover a total distance of 800+ miles.
A couple of observations…
- This is a very special trip… our first ever trip with Angelina’s family members and relatives, let alone an international trip. Yes, we didn’t cover many places in detail. Yes, we spent more time looking out for one another to make sure everyone didn’t get lost in busy areas. Yes, we had to tolerate with 13 opinions every time we make any decisions. And yes, we didn’t get to try enough local cuisines because we ate at the same hotel restaurant too many times. In the end, was it worth it? Absolutely so… wholeheartedly. We honestly had a very memorable and priceless experience, spending quality time with the loved ones while exploring new places together, having meals together, sharing jokes and laughters… a genuine camaraderie that money simply cannot buy. Furthermore, it doesn’t hurt that all of them speak way more fluent Mandarin than me, which was a big plus during the trip since that is the most widely spoken language in China.
- I personally experienced a few stressful complications moving around in China. Upon arrival at Beijing Capital International Airport, I was stuck at the immigration area for nearly an hour but I was allowed to enter the country without any reasons given. My bullet train ticket to Shanghai couldn’t be issued because the tour agency mistyped my passport number when booking the ticket. It took the tour guide many phone calls with his supervisor and many more frantic discussions with several high-ranking officers at the railway station to allow me through the gate without a ticket.
- Our phone’s network, Google Fi, worked flawlessly with LTE speed in China. We were able to bypass the “Great Firewall of China” and access forbidden sites, such as Google, YouTube and Facebook, without the need to buy any local SIM card or sign up any VPN subscription since Google Fi provides seamless VPN by default.
- GPS doesn’t work well in China because China uses GCJ-02 coordinate system (oddly known as Mars Coordinates) while the rest of the world use WGS-84. So, anything plotted on the non-Chinese map apps such as Google Maps is always 300m to 600m off from the actual location.
- The electric vehicles (EV) are widely used here. China is truly decades ahead from the rest of the world in EV usage. The electric bikes are very quiet, stealthy and at times, very dangerous especially when the riders sneak up behind the pedestrians without any warnings because most of them didn’t turn on the lights to conserve the batteries.
- Digital payments is deeply integrated with all aspects of life in China. Most establishments will accept either Alipay or WeChat Pay, or both. Even in small grocery stores, the cashier will scan the barcode or QR code on the customer’s phone. The local folks rarely pay with cash. Credit card payment is almost non existence here.
- We were fully prepared to deal with the infamous misbehaviors by a few bad local apples. So, it didn’t surprise us to witness obnoxiously loud and rude people, or to see people shoving and pushing in attempt to cut the queues. Pedestrian walk signs and zebra crossings were not respected. Crossing the road is like playing Frogger… it always gave me these tingling sensations that one of us was about to get hit by the vehicles.
- Being a city with more than 3000 years of history, Beijing has many world class historical sites. The downside is, these attractions also attract a lot of local tourists. At times, it was very difficult to enjoy these attractions in peace due to sheer size of the crowds.