By RUTH LOR MALLOY
BEIJING — Many people are intimidated by the thought of visiting China for the first
time. But it is actually very easy to get around Beijing on your own even if you don't speak any Chinese.
And it's a lot easier if you arrange a tour package in a four- or five-star
hotel, which is not as expensive as you think.
The first challenge is getting
from the airport to your hotel without help. If you don't have anyone
meeting you, learn how to pronounce the name of your hotel in Chinese — only a few taxi drivers
If you don't know this, look for an
"information booth" or a hotel representative outside the Customs Hall. Staff there will write out the
Chinese name for you. Banks at the airport can change money until you
can find an ATM.
Once in your hotel, a concierge can provide detailed maps in Eng-
lish, write down your destinations in Chinese and give directions to taxi drivers. Taking taxis in
Beijing's downtown area will cost about the same as taking the TTC. Beijing's subway system is also an easy
bet. It costs about 500 and the signs
are in our alphabet.
Help is at hand
Concierges can give you free literature with addresses and
telephone numbers of restaurants,
tourist attractions and shopping malls. Taxi drivers can then use
their mobile phones to get directions - if a policeman is not around.
Drivers are not supposed
to drive and talk on the phone at the
LIONESS stands guard in the
Forbidden City, above. Artists based its design on second hand
descriptions. An actor dressed as a Ming dynasty magistrate, right,
at a Ming tomb - Photos by Ruth Lor
Tourist periodicals like City Weekend, That's Beijing and Metropolis
also list exhibitions, concerts, hiking clubs,
Chinese painting and cooking lessons, and
enough activities in English to keep visitors
busy for years.
Streets, many shops and all tourist hotels have signs you can read. Many restaurants
offer menus in both languages but you can
also point to appetizing dishes at other tables.
Most universities have English-comers, usually on weekends, where students
If you don't want to join a package tour, you might be able to convince a student to
show you around in return for an opportunity to speak English.
Shopping is not a problem, even in the
outdoor Panjiayuan "dirt" market with its hundreds of
interesting stalls. Most merchants have calculators to indicate their
prices and you can use these yourself to counter with a quarter of their
first asking price. At this point, the merchant will decrease his offer
and you might increase
Your final ploy is to walk away with a laugh. If the merchant agrees with
price, he or she will chase you with an, "Okay, okay!" or motion
for you to be a bit more generous.
As for finding clean toilet facilities, it's best to aim for a hotel. Just
walk in as if you were staying there, look for the picture of a
man and a woman, or ask for a "W.C." or
"toilet." The better the hotel, the better the
English. You can always count on international brands like Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and Peninsula.
Beijing has been trying to revive its tourism industry after being hit hard this
by SARS. It has been wooing North Americans tourists back with an incredible day, four-night $123 US tour package
until March 31,2004. This includes a transfers, two days of sightseeing with
English-speaking guide and five-star accommodations with meals. Sights includes a trip to the fabulous
Forbidden City and the Great Wall.
If you want to stay longer, the charge is an additional $20 US a night for a
night for the hotel.
Booking this partial tour will save money and alleviate most language
Beijing's winter is much like Toronto but with less snow. In mid-March
the average temperature of 5.9 degrees C.
China International Travel Head Office is offering the same package April
1 through March 31, 2005 starting at $139 US with extra nights at $50 US a
A bonus any time is shopping in Beijing's markets where a
"GORE-TEX" jacket with zip-in fleece lining can be found for
$33. These are seconds, factory overruns or fakes, but they will keep
Ruth Lor Malloy is the author of China
GETTING THERE: Air Canada and other airlines have service daily from
Vancouver. Flights in March from Toronto can cost from $1,290 to $1,450 through agents like Tian Bao Travel
(416-977-7711) and Jade Travel (416-599-2828). Royal Scenic Holidays (905-946-2228) charges $1,161
including surcharges. The price
depends on when you book.
SPECIALS: The $123 US price is per person for double hotel occupancy
and includes surcharges. The special is based on a minimum two people, on a Wednesday or Sunday.
ACCOMMODATIONS: When choosing hotels, keep in mind Jing Guang New World, which is centrally located.
TOURS: CITS HO is China's biggest agency for foreigners and is based in
Beijing. For tour reservations and more information, contact its North America Department, fax ++86-10-6603-9327 or e-mail
email@example.com You can pay with a credit
card and a guide will meet you, with transportation, at the airport..