- Crossing the street is not a task to be undertaken lightly. Drivers pretty much have right of way here at all times.
- In some cities, it is not necessary to know your way around a city in order to drive a taxi. It is, however, of utmost importance to be able to talk on the phone while driving in rush-hour traffic without stopping, or even looking at the road.
- During the 2008 Olympics, the government restricted car traffic by 50% in order to reduce traffic and air pollution. They did this based on the last number on a given car’s license plate: on Mondays, only cars with an even numbered plate could drive, and on Tuesday only odd numbers. Apparently the law had a noticeable effect on pollution, so they continued after the Olympics, albeit restricting only 2 numbers, or 20% of cars, each day. This has a less noticeable effect.
- Peking Duck, aka Beijing Roast Duck, is the official fancy-pants meal of the city. It’s actually pretty complicated – you get little carved up pieces of duck with a thick, crispy skin on it, and you have to fold it into little burritos with onions, sugar, and a bunch of other optional sauces and veggies. The whole thing is fairly challenging to do with chopsticks.
- Sea Cucumber intestines are weird, but not as disgusting as one might imagine. Sea urchin is still pretty nasty, though. I didn’t get a chance to try deep-fried scorpions on sticks. There’s always next time.
- Sausages can be considered vegetarian food if you chop them into small enough pieces.
- The recently constructed headquarters of the national TV station in Beijing is sometimes known as the Pants building, because it is shaped like a giant pair of pants.
- Architecture in general is all over the place in this city. Buildings are constructed in shapes and clashing colours that wouldn’t be considered in many other countries. You have flying saucers, giant Ls, bright pink and yellow apartment towers and the fancy, avant-garde olympic venues bumping up against imperial warehouses and temples. Sometimes literally.
- The 16 emperors of the Ming dynasty were responsible for such cultural wonders as the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and the final pieces of the Great Wall. And they put dragons on pretty much everything. Also dragon-turtles and dragon-lions and dragon-unicorns. These dudes were really, REALLY into dragons. Seriously, what a bunch of nerds, right?
- In a lot of ways, Beijing’s spirit seems more in line with New York than, say, Tokyo or Seoul. People can be pushy and in-your-face, but in an outgoing way that might be a kind of friendliness. The streets are crowded and dirty, but the parks are full of all kinds of people gathering spontaneously to dance together, practice Tai Chi, or play shuttlecock-hackysack. There’s a definite sense of large-scale community and pride that go beyond nationalist propaganda.
Photo, Fish eggs and Sea Urchin: Cam Switzer / flickr
Pants Building photo: oceanyamaha / flickr