Following on from my previous post, once the OTN APAC event was over I managed to see some of the sights of Beijing and the surrounding area, including the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall and Ming Tombs. I’ve uploaded some photos here, but it seems my photography skills are getting worse, not better. I’m ashamed to say these are the better photos. Let’s not discuss the ones I’ve not bothered to upload.
I have a few suggestions for any travellers to China:
- Do not consider driving yourself. The traffic is crazy! I’ve never seen anything like it before. I experienced several “we’re all going to die” moments in every trip I took. Probably the worst was when two lorries moved together with our minibus between them. If our driver had not sped up in time, I’m quite convinced the ACE program would have lost several members. As you may have already read, some of the ACEs were in a crash, but came out of it unharmed. I was only able to wear a seat belt on one journey because all but one of the vehicles either had no belts, or belts but nowhere to plug them in. This takes a lot of getting used to.
- If you have any sort of respiratory issues, it’s probably best to avoid Beijing completely. The pollution is very bad. It quickly makes you feel like you’ve smoked 40 cigarettes for breakfast. Even at the Great Wall (50+km from the city) it is still really bad.
- Make sure you have printed copies of the Chinese names for any locations you want to visit. Having an English address is pretty much useless. Even with the Chinese addresses, it was often very difficult, especially if the print was small.
- Don’t rely on any cloud services for your journey. You need local copies of everything and any apps you want to work with should have full offline functionality. Why? The Great Firewall of China is very effective at blocking a variety of services. Most Google services were trashed. Gmail was intermittently offline and I was never able to access attachments. Google Docs essentially doesn’t exist. Google Reader would work for about 5 minutes at a time, then fail bigtime. Most annoyingly, I was unable to use Google to search for anything. I was able to search with Bing, but I could only see results in Chinese. Even when I switched to English, I still got results in Chinese. Like I said, be very well prepared because searching for information is not easy. I’m sure there are ways to cope if you are clued up, but I was a little naive and went with very little preparation as far as logistics were concerned.
- Take money with you. I was able to get cash advances from my credit cards, but the ATM failed to get cash from any of my bank accounts.
I’m now stationed at my friends house about 40 minutes from Auckland. There are cows in the garden, including 6 new calves which are pretty funny, and two pre-school children who are pretty funny too. Although I’m very much a towny at heart, I must admit the change in pace and air quality is very welcome. Last week I was talking about Oracle and this week I’ve chopping down some trees, cleared some scrub and pretended (very badly) to be a farmer. I’ve nearly mastered saying, “Get off my land!”, or as the Kiwi’s say it, “Gt ff my lnd aye!” I’m trying to introduce vowels to the natives, but with the exception of the word “aye” that is added to the end of every sentence, vowels seem to be lost forever.
In a few days I will transplant to Auckland and start the NZOUG conference.