I have always loved travelling, and as the end of my time at university drew to a close I knew that settling straight into a job, sat behind a desk, wasn’t for me. Fast forward a few months and here I am, just a few weeks away from moving to Beijing to spend a year teaching English, whilst experiencing and exploring the fascinating culture and history that China has to offer.
Have you ever been asked what your favourite place in the world is? One of my favourite places is Beijing. I was 11 when I first visited the city and I was totally amazed by the architecture left behind by the Qing Imperial family. The awe that had impacted me as a child would continue to impact many of my life’s decisions after leaving the place: I chose to study History in junior high school because a large part of the syllabus would be on Asian history; I took on China Studies in high school because I could study about the politicking in Zhongnanhai; in University I chose to specialise in East Asian political affairs, even though I wanted to learn French. This year, I went back to the place that has somehow managed to shape much of my life. Continue reading
Now, it may be summer, but when I look out of the window all I can see is greyness, with maybe a hint of drizzle. Pretty standard stuff for a British summer. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the pollution levels, greyness is also a feature of summer in Beijing — summer is hot and humid there, but bright sunshine is something of a rarity. Combined with the cold, crisp winters, this means the food of Beijing has a comforting sweetness and warmth to it, which translates very well to the dubious weather we’re used to in this country! Continue reading
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
Whether or not you like this particular example of early Romanticism, and without wishing to be too school-teacherly about it, I bet you could recite at least the first two lines of the above poem. It is, of course, a famous dream-vision poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and it constitutes the most common ‘knowledge’ of the figure of Kublai Khan. For most people, that’s it. So was there an actual person called Kublai Khan? Who was he? When did he live, and what did he do? Continue reading
At its best, the subway in Beijing is a cheap and convenient way to travel around the city, at ¥2 (20p) a single ticket, no matter how far you travel on the network. It’s fairly extensive too, covering most of the major sights, including Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, the Military Museum, the Olympic Park, and all the shopping areas you could wish for. Travelling by an underground or metro system comes naturally to me. I’ve grown up using the Tube in London during the holidays, then spent four years happily traversing the Metro system in Newcastle. However, knowledge of either of these two transportation systems will never be enough to prepare you for what lies in store on the Beijing subway, even on its best day.
We all know London in rush hour is bad, on the roads and on the Tube. You are squashed into the smallest space possible, yet still people have enough room to read a book.
This is because we English like to pretend we’re civilised; we are prepared for the squash to get on, yet due to our innate “Britishness,” we allow our fellow passengers all the personal space we can possibly afford them. There’s also queuing because, again, that is an innately British phenomenon. In Beijing, however, you are afforded neither of these luxuries.