Being the capital of China, Beijing has so many awesome things to do and see. First things first is that you have to figure out how to get to these places!
There are some things that having a planned government is extremely good for – one of these things is infrastructure. The Beijing subway system BY FAR beats out any existing subway system in the United States and is expanding literally every day. No matter where you ride or how many transfers you make, each trip you take on the subway only costs 2 kuai, less than half of a dollar. After you have to pass through a mandatory “security check” (which is essentially just putting anything you’re carrying through an x-ray machine and walking past a probably bored-out-of-his-mind police officer and constitutes a total of the 30 seconds it takes your bag to pass through the machine), you’ll walk into what is the cleanest and most efficient subway system I’ve ever experienced.
If you foresee yourself riding the subway more than once (as any person who spends more than a week in Beijing usually does), I suggest you purchase a subway card, which comes with a deposit of 20 kuai but is literally a key to all public transport in Beijing. It can be used to ride the subway, the bus and even to pay the fare in some taxis. You can add money to your card at literally any subway stop.
No matter what, you will probably be doing a lot of this. All I can do is suggest that you bring or invest in some insanely comfortable and easily washable shoes because while Beijing’s subway may be the cleanest in the world, their streets definitely are not. Also, as much as you may be a lover of high heel shoes, I can say from experience that those heels will probably see much more of your closet than Beijing’s streets.
Talk to any middle aged person and one of the first things they’ll probably say or think about China are multitudes of bicycles. Although they are definitely not as common anymore, probably even less so than cars or motorcycles, bikes are cheap and easily accessible in the Middle Kingdom. The biggest drawback however, is safety. Helmets are not usually worn and disregard for the bike lane by cars and motorcycles is more common than not.
The bus is a great option as well and is also conveniently accessible with your subway card. Taking the bus is cheaper than riding the subway (only 0.40 kuai) but theres the challenge of figuring out what bus lines to take. It’s a bit more difficult to figure out than the subway routes, as you probably won’t know the bus stops around when you first arrive and the bus signs are all in Chinese. My advice if you want to ride the bus is ask your RAs or your roommates which lines to take to get where you need to go.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Alexis Cobau is a Junior at the University of Michigan, majoring in Chinese and International Studies with a concentration in International security, cooperation and norms. She is excited to be returning to China for the first time since her original foray into study abroad in Harbin, China on an NSLI-Y State Department scholarship as a rising senior in High School. This will be her sixth year studying Chinese and she can't wait to spend it exploring Beijing. When not practicing her Chinese characters and tones, Alexis enjoys reading, writing, drawing and cooking.</span></p>