This was rather a spontaneous decision to go for the New Year’s Eve to Beijing, China. I know it is very unpopular destination. However, I had several very good reasons to choose this place. Firstly, I have been wanting to meet my friend there for a long time, and secondly, I was planning to visit China anyway at some point in my life. And, probably, you should not plan NYE at the end of November, I guess tickets for popular destinations are sold out in September already. This is a good thing about Beijing, I guess nobody thinks that he or she has to be there for the countdown. So the destination was not very popular and I could manage to get tickets from Helsinki to Beijing at the cost of getting to any European capital. Finnair has very convenient direct night flights to Beijing. I am not sure if it is because I just was lucky or because I had signed up for Finnair plus, I had my seat in the business class, although, I bought economy tickets. The beginning of my journey started from a very nice surprise! When we were approaching Beijing, I looked at the window and was wondering was that a mist or a smog covering the landscape…
I arrived in the morning, checked out the smoggy sky of Beijing (it was’t that bad) and had few tasks before heading to the hotel: withdraw some cash (cash is important to have, most of the time you will be dealing with cash) and buy a sim card. There was no unlimited data option in the store for the sim cards, and top ups could be done only using WeChat, which is imho an epic Chinese app, which can substitute Facebook, Instagram, all the wallets, skype, whatsapp etc. But this is another story. So I had to buy the maximum amount of data available and hoped that it would be enough for 4 days. I am that kind of person who wants to be connected all the time, and to be able to find out things or at least have a map, especially when I am travelling, and especially for the first time. Anyway, I got to next step of the quest, finding a yellow cab. My fiend told me that I should take only yellow cabs, and as I found out in the airport, a ride to the city would cost me three times higher in so-called “official airport taxi”. Yellow cab cost me around 30 euro to the hotel, which is fine. But the ride from airport to the hotel took 2 hours! As my friend told me later: “traffic jam is another icon of Beijing…”
After two hours in the cab and realisation that smog was really an issue, I had finally arrived to the contemporary 5-star hotel. For this trip I have planned to stay in the 5 star-hotels, but from the affordable price range considering the timing (between 150-200 euro/night). I have chosen New World Hotel for the 2016. The hotel was amazing! Very spacious rooms (50-60 m2), sound system with dock for iPhone(!), Spa&Gym, and very very diverse breakfasts, offering from my beloved English breakfast to sometimes strange (for me) dishes like greenish eggs (?). The only downside was the view to the endless smog, but I think little could be done there by the hotel staff.
Some tips: (1) Install mobile VPN before arriving to China if you want to use Instagram, Facebook or other usual apps we take for granted 🙂 I have installed ExpressVPN, they have 7 days free trial option which was enough for my trip. (2) Do not take cash in your currency hoping that you will exchange it in China, it turned out, you can do it in a bank only if you have an account in this bank. There is an exchange spot in the airport, but the exchange rate is painful. So better to withdraw from your card from the ATM or to change money before flying to China. (3) Print out your hotel address and the name in Chinese to show it to the driver, because taxi drivers do not speak any English.
Saying “BYE, 2016”
I met my friend later that day after her work. As all Chinese people, she works a lot, and she had only three days off that she could spend with me. We agreed in our pre-NYE plans. First things first: Peking duck dinner! We took a taxi to the city centre closer to the Tiananmen Square, more precisely to the pedestrian Qianmen Street. The air quality was very questionable, so we had used masks to go out.The oldest roast duck restaurant, Quanjude, is also situated on this street and has been serving Peking or roast ducks since 1864. Undoubtedly, it is a must-visit restaurant in Beijing with a wide selection of the most traditional Chinese courses and in the most traditional Chinese decor. We ordered a half of roast duck, dumplings and something tasty with walnuts. Traditionally, duck is cut into thin slices and served with steamed pancakes, so you wrap it up and eat with spring onions and sweet bean sauce. The best part of the roast duck is believed to be its skin, too much fat at my taste. In general, I had an impression that Chinese cuisine is too greasy, but it is very tasty! What I can’t say about duck soup, but you should try to make your own judgement. Funny fact is that each duck has its id/certificate, which is given to you as a souvenir after your dinner.
Some tips: if you are in Quanjude restaurant, ask for the second floor tables, they are more comfortable and stylish, but you would have to pay extra 10 euros for service, while the first floor operates more like fast food restaurant.
As we were quite constrained in our time, we decided to hit the Beijing night life on the first day. My friend was excited about our night out the same way as me, because, in China, it is inappropriate for unmarried girls to go to the bars or night clubs (not sure if married ones go out though). So she also hadn’t been anywhere in Beijing, because she had nobody to keep her company. Well, I guess, I am a bad influence in this case. I did my research on night life, and one of my favourite DJs recommended to visit DADA Bar. The place serves beers and cocktails (6 euro/cocktail), DJs play mainly techno music, which I love! We were quite early, had a small talks with the DJs who were from UK. I guess they were the only people I could talk to, because the rest of people coming were all Chinese, and they did not speak English. The music becomes more aggressive by midnight and it becomes hard to find each other in the crowd. The most annoying and, at the same time, convenient for me is that smoking is allowed inside of the bars and night clubs in China, so you have to be careful, someone could burn your clothes. Overall atmosphere was very nice, very underground feeling… If you like techno this is a place for you! 🙂
The next day we started from a trip to the most touristic attraction in Beijing, the Forbidden city, home of the emperors from 1400s to 1900s, from Ming to Qing dynasties. Impressive palace-island, where access was granted only by the emperor and the entrance was forbidden for common people. After 1925 it has opened its doors to the visitors and become world’s most visited museum (more than 14 million visitors per year). Truly a Chinese historic heritage with Mao Zedong welcoming guests at the main gates. I think smog had added more dramatic feeling to the experience (always being positive).
NYE 2017: Beijing style celebration
China, as you know, has its own New Year. So NYE is celebrated in a different way than in the rest of the world. People gather for dinner with friends or with family, some of them just go home afterwards and wait for midnight, some go to the night clubs and bars for the countdown parties. So, following the Chinese style, we agreed for dinner at 7 pm at the BBQ place, then me and my friend planed to go to the countdown party, the Yen Celebration, which was famous for its nice music and famous (locally) DJs. Well, I still underestimated how casual was NYE in China. Let’s start from the beginning. Taxi dropped me at 8 pm (it took longer to dress up) at some strange location. Thanks to the couple on the street who could speak a little English I managed to find a BBQ restaurant for our dinner. Well, the restaurant was way more casual than I imagined, I was too overdressed for that place and felt a bit uncomfortable. In my perception, people should dress up and eat or cook something special for the NYE. Anyway, the food was still delicious, how can BBQ be not delicious, right? Surprising thing happened at the end, one of the girls paid the whole bill. This is all about Chinese hospitality, they always want to pay for your food, its their way to show hospitality, which felt a bit awkward at first, but then you kinda let them pay because otherwise you would make them uncomfortable. But remember to pay the bill next time 😉
We got to the party, where the music was, indeed, AMAZING! (it is a pity I cannot attach video here). But a few people were dancing at the beginning, most of them were coming close to 11 pm. And to my surprise I was, again, overdressed! Everyone was wearing casual outfit and only me wearing strapless midi dress… Well, I decided to skip being uncomfortable and hit the bar. Drinks options in the bar were limited to beer and cocktails, no champagne or sparkling wine, which are usually associated with the NYE. Plus, you had to buy drink tickets then exchange those to actual drinks. I am not sure what was behind this system. Anyway, I met my New Year with vodka cocktail as a “true” Russian 🙂 which ended up spilled out to my dress, because at the countdown the party started to become heated and gold confetti was everywhere! And actually I did not care that much anymore because everyone was in high spirit and the music became more energetic and I thought Chinese people knew how to make a great parties.
We managed to get ourself glasses of cava! Our search for sparkling wine took us back to the hotel’s Sky Bar, to the latino party. I was dancing kizomba (and I do not know how to actually dance it), having a lot of fun talking to people around through my friend (language issue again), and congratulating in advance my friends around the world, most of them were still in 2016.