I have a very difficult time loving Beijing. Part of that is almost certainly because the hotel I stayed in was in the heart of the tourist district surrounding the Forbidden City, etc, and that meant that I was surrounded by what seemed like an unlimited supply of aggressive street vendors and taxi scammers.
The pimps seem a little more subtle in Beijing, at least. In Shanghai, they would start with “Hello! You want lady massage?” and go straight to “You want sex?” if you didn’t look interested, but the ones in Beijing just asked if I wanted to “visit lady bar”
Really, I am of the opinion that Beijing is worth about two days, three tops, and that any time you have beyond that could be better spent by taking a flight to another nearby city.
Say, Tokyo, where they treat tourists as though they’re SLIGHTLY more than just a walking wallet to be emptied.
That said, once I broke away from the nightmare of the hustlers on the streets, I spent some time exploring the Beijing subway system, and this might just redeem the city in my eyes. There are two beautiful loop lines that will hit all of the important stops eventually, lots of crossing lines to make things faster if you don’t mind making a couple of transfers, and getting around is cheap. The biggest charge I had from point to point was 元4, rather less than a dollar. It also has a very Suica-like refillable metro card thing which makes the whole transferring around thing a breeze, even if refilling it meant going to a station attendant instead of using a ticket machine.
Seriously, this is one of the few things about China where I am going to give them full marks. Their public transit is amazing.
Some of the stations are also very cool looking inside. Not the newer lines, mind you – those are designed for efficiency and not much else, and the best thing you can say about the platforms is that there are glass walls and sliding doors that prevent you from being pushed on to the tracks during rush hour crunch. The older lines, though, the number 1 & 2 lines, have some really neat platforms, with 20+ foot ceilings and some really quite pretty lighting inserts.
Finally, and most importantly, it’s the only place in Beijing where I was approached by a stranger for anything that did not involve selling me something or someone – I was having trouble getting the metro card to read at a particular station, and a very helpful lady came over to me and pointed out that the readers at this station were in a different spot than normal and I was just slapping my card on a display.
So, random helpful subway woman, you – YOU – are the best ambassador Beijing has, and I would endorse you for the position in a heartbeat, were the opportunity to arise.
Sadly, the much more visible face of the city is comprised of the pimps, the panhandlers, the watch hawkers and the street vendors and the friendly little hands in my back pockets in a crowded train. But you did your best.