Advice upon arriving in Beijing

Cleaning out some files in the garage, I came across this letter. I must have written it not long after arriving in Beijing via the trans-Siberian railway in June of 1989, expecting that my friends would be coming soon after. It appears here mildly edited.

Dear J & M –

Important Beijing things that Lonely Planet forgot:

  1. When you come out of train station, you are facing north.
  2. Bus 20 is impossible to find.
  3. Nobody speaks English.
  4. Go to the Jing Tai hotel. Business card is enclosed. Just give it to a taxi driver.
  5. If the Jing Tai is full, try the Yong Ding Men just down the street.
  6. Get the blue map they sell at the train station.
  7. Find the Friendship Store. It’s east of the Forbidden City. Directly across from the Friendship Store is a bike rental. It’s in a little street & has a sign that says “BUSINESS ITEMS.” 5 yuan per day, 200 yuan deposit.
  8. Best place to change money is at the green stalls 200 yards or so east of the Friendship Store. Face the Friendship Store. Turn right. Start walking. You’ll see them on your left.
  9. If you decide to go through Pakistan, get Pakistani and Indian visas both in Beijing. Here it takes two days; in Hong Kong, ten.
  10. Enclosed note in Chinese says:  “We would like to take a Chinese tour of the great wall. What time should we be here in the morning?” Go to the green shed outside the Chongwenmen Hotel.
  11. Hepatitis B & Japanese Encephalitis vaccinations can be gotten at the Sino-German co-op policlinic in Moscow. Ask at the U.S. Embassy for a map. Shanghai is rumored to have outbreak now.
  12. Tibet is closed.
  13. “Mee fan” means rice, “peetyo” means beer.
  14. Stay at the sun House in Tower B of Chngking Mansions in Hong Kong. The guy is really nice.
  15. Figure the rest out on your own.
  16. One more thing: Enclosed Chinese note B says, “How do I get to Bus 25” and “I want to go to the wharf to buy tickets to Hong Kong. PLEASE HELP ME.”

If I ever get back to China, I plan to take this list and see whether any of it is still true.



13 responses to “Advice upon arriving in Beijing”

  1. GF says:

    Pi jo! Or “pi jiu” in pinyin.

    Greatly envious of the Trans-Siberian experience. If Russia weren’t kind of the kingdom of darkness right now, I would love to go back and see how things had changed since my last trip. (The biggest change would be the collapse of the Soviet Union.)

  2. T-Mo says:

    This is so much fun. My favorite is #16. So, did you make a copy for yourself before sending it? Or did you never send it? J & M could still be looking for Bus 20!

  3. J-Man says:

    I’m very impressed that you figured all of that stuff out! Not surprised, but impressed. I imagine that there’s a lot more English spoken there now, at least in Beijng.

  4. LP says:

    The letter is in a notebook with non-removable pages, so I suspect (hope) I photocopied it and sent it to them. As I recall, they did finally take the train to Beijing, and ultimately they made their way to Taiwan, where they lived a few years with M’s brother, who was a diplomat there.

    A couple of years after I wrote this letter, the three of us met up in Hong Kong for a weekend, though we didn’t stay at the “Sun House in Tower B of the Chungking Mansions,” which I can’t quite believe I recommended to them, as the Chungking Mansions were fascinating but rather horrid, in my recollection.

    I’m hoping/planning to take the trans-Siberian again in 2015, though the “kingdom of darkness” aspect is very unsettling. Meanwhile, this happened yesterday. Urgh.

  5. T-Mo says:

    “The travel advisory urged Americans attending the Games to consider buying private medical evacuation insurance. . . . [T]he State Department said Americans should be mindful of the gay propaganda law. Foreigners convicted of violating the law face fines of up to $3,100 and 14 days in jail. ”


    Chungking Mansions may be a ghetto, but it’s Hong Kong’s “favourite” ghetto!

  6. Bryan says:

    Loved this. I think I’ll ask for something like this from friends I know have visited a place: send me your top 10, etc.

  7. Bryan says:

    But by top 10 I don’t mean sites — just useful tips.

  8. LP says:

    As I recall, traveling through China involved at least as much organizing as actual sightseeing each day. The Lonely Planet guidebook was good for figuring out where to go in general, but much of it was out of date or just not that useful.

    My favorite on the list is #10. We could have sprung for a “foreigners” tour of the Great Wall, but those were much more expensive, so we went for the Chinese tour, even though we wouldn’t understand a word of what was being said. At the time, I figured the main thing was just seeing the wall – we could read the guidebook for info. For the budget traveler, being able to pay Chinese prices and spend “the People’s money” – renminbi – as opposed to foreigners’ money (FEC) was an easy way to cut costs. I had $3,000 in a pouch I wore around my neck, and it had to last me three months, plus buying an airticket home from New Delhi. I think I still ended up with around $800 left over.

  9. GF says:

    Yipes. The other day I listened to Masha Gessen on Fresh Air and, yeah, that is a terrifying country. She asked an adoption lawyer friend for advice about her adopted son, and the advice was “teach him to run.” The other advice was to emigrate, which she did.

    I wrote my other comment half asleep and forgot to say this was very fun to read.

  10. LP says:

    Yes, she has written beautifully and heartbreakingly about all this, and her decision to leave Russia with her family was very sad. Weirdly, as I contemplate undertaking this 2015 Russia project, I often think, “I won’t be able to do this with the insight Masha Gessen has” and then I imagine her reading it disdainfully. It would not be the first time I disappointed Masha Gessen in print, but that is another story entirely.

  11. LP says:

    Of course, that assumes she looks at it at all, which is a stretch at the moment, but hopefully won’t be by 2015.

  12. LP says:

    Sorry, I realize now that this all may sound rather cryptic.