Greatest Photos

January 22, 2012

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen square is a huge square in the middle of Beijing, just south of the Tiananmen Gate and the Forbidden city. With its 440 000 square meters it is the third largest city square in the world. It is most famous of the protests in 1989 and that it is host to the mausoleum of chairman Mao.

Just to get into the square you will have to pass a security control with x-ray machines. If you want to take a glimpse of the late leader, you will have to undergo further inspections. No cameras, video cameras, bags, backpacks are allowed inside the mausoleum. You will have to leave these in a storage room. Normally you can trust these facilities, but make sure you get a token for your deposit. You have to wear closed shoes, long trousers, and generally respectful clothing. Once you deposited your bag/camera, queue up for the entrance. You will easily find the queue that goes around the building several hundred meters on an average day. Near the entrance there is one more control, smokers usually say good bye to their favorite lighter here. Once inside the building, turn off mobile phones, remove hands from pockets, stay silent, and if you still have a chewing gum in your mouth, freeze your jaws. Proceed in a slow, but steady manner, take a look of the prepared body of the chairman, notice that it is made of wax anyway, and head for the exit. Seriously, any talk, any laughter, any disrespectful move and the guards will speed up your way out. Once outside, smokers can get themselves new lighters, but not the same ones that they left behind. It gets a bit funny here, as people fight for the best lighters and kids tend to take them with two hands for future economic benefits.

If you absolved the 1 hour waiting, 50 second visit, you can recollect your camera and continue to discover the square. The square has around one police officer and 4 security cameras per visitor. The latest police gadgets and vehicles are also on display.


If you are like me, and you do not look Chinese, you will definitely find yourself in the situation I did. Upon entering and walking around the square, a group of 2 men and a woman approached me. They struck up a conversation with surprisingly good English. They told me they were from the countryside and came for the 1st of May celebrations to Beijing. They asked me where I was from, what did I do in the city, how long I stayed, etc. After the small talk they proposed to have a beer in a nearby bar, so we can celebrate our newly born friendship. Well, if you are not straight out of kindergarten, you know that something is fishy here. I politely declined saying that I am Muslim and can not drink beer and moved on two take more photos of the square. Five minutes and 25 photos later another two guys found me with similar good English and similar interest in my visit. At this time I started to bend the truth and started to give shorter answers. To test my new “friends”, I asked them to take a photo with me. One of them flatly refused saying that he was Buddhist (sounds like a BS), but the other one caught the bait.

I am not joking, the same pattern happened at least 8 times while I was on the square. After the second or third I was convinced that they were government agents who were monitoring the intents of tourists. To test my limits, I started to really bend the truth. In one of my stories I was a photo reporter from New York creating a report about the freedom of Tibet. I was counting the seconds how much longer it will take until they arrest me, but nothing happened.

After my escape from the square, I rushed back to my hostel to turn to Lonely Planet that could explain me what the hell was going on. And it did: they were no government agents at all, they were simple scammers who were trying to get people to a “tea ceremony” and then make them pay the hefty bill. Phew. Nevertheless here is a photo of two of the scammers for educational purposes:


Of course, there are also some legitimate visitors, who ask you to take a pic with them, especially if you look like David Beckham …well, in their eyes:)


January 19, 2012

Beijing: capital of the capitalist communism

Beijing, literally meaning “northern capital” is the capital of China with around 19 million inhabitants. I happened to arrive here by a high speed train from Qingdao, which was an achievement itself regarding the pure Chinese information board hanging at the train station.


Beijing itself is much more modern than a lot of us would imagine. I heard a couple of stories from my father who was there 20 years ago, when cars were scarce and everyone used the bike to get around. Well today, the city has millions of cars, but scooters and bikes and all kind of funky vehicles are still plenty. The public transportation is one of the most modern you can find in Asia.



If food is your main concern, fear not. Many places offer English menu, but even if not, with very little vocabulary you can manage quite well. I managed to get along with only one word/symbol I learned (and the translation is not accurate):

beef –

If you are veggie, you must do your own homework:)
Nevertheless a couple of times I had no idea what I was eating, but simply by avoiding food sold on the street and greasier pork dishes, I had decent meals every day.

The two most important sights to see in Beijing are the Tiananmen square and the Forbidden CIty. Tiananmen is worth a separate blog entry so I will discuss it later.
The Forbidden City is basically the palace of former Chinese emperors. As in Beijing generally, do not believe the small scale of the maps. The place is huge! You can easily spend a whole day here without seeing it in total. Apart from the vast amount of domestic “let’s photograph everything” tourists, the funniest thing in the place is the name of the palaces and sites. Just to name a few: Hall of Military Eminence, Hall of Literary Glory, Palace of Heavenly Purity, Hall of Mental Cultivation, Palace of Tranquil Longevity, Hill of Accumulated Elegance, etc.


As I mentioned in my earlier article about Qingdao, when visiting less frequented sites, make sure you get enough information before. Guidebooks, even Lonely Planet can be painfully outdated in just a few years. That’s how we found out the underground city has been closed…after having a hard time finding it at all:)


Beijing is also the capital of counterfeit goods. There are huge malls selling only fake stuff: first floor for Luis Vuitton bags, second floor for Rolex watches, third floor for pearls, etc. The demand is so high that there are organized buses bringing and taking groups of tourists and hotels are built up next to the malls. Remember: the quality of the counterfeit items also varies a lot. The cheaper the crappier, Fake or not, make sure you bargain a lot, even if you feel you are way undershooting the real price. My personal experience is that nothing costs more than 10 yuan (around 1.5 USD) in China!


Another word you might want to learn in China is for internet cafes: 网吧

Internet cafes are not difficult to find. The audience mostly consists of local kids playing some online games. Do not expect to see a lot of foreigners, and at check-in you have to leave your passport at the operator’s desk. Some places might even refuse to provide the service to foreigners. Internet explorer 6 browsers are considered extinct everywhere else in the world, but here they are the favorites, thus in order to actually use any websites, your first thing will be to download a normal browser. Lots of services, like facebook are blocked, nevertheless everyone knows what to download to bypass the block. Other services, like twitter, have Chinese copy-cats that are not blocked, thus more widely used. Weibo, the twitter clone is the same as twitter, but can actually be censored by the state.

And to close this post, let’s talk about the naked baby bums you can see quite a lot in Beijing:)
In order to save on diapers, thus directly contributing to preserve our fragile environment, a lot of parents opt for baby panties that are split in the middle. When nature calls, they simply hold the baby above a trash bin, or grassy area, and the job is done. And in winter? Babies have cold bottoms.

(photo by Kendra Ferrell)