Despite various formal definitions of year seasons, I personally stick to following events denoting season turnovers:

  • winter–spring: trees start growing leaves,
  • spring–summer: this one is fuzzy, no clear definition yet,
  • summer–fall: trees start having orange/yellow/red leaves,
  • fall-winter: first snow or day temperature below zero.

Similar to this year’s winter–spring transition, I had left Prague in late (already cold) summer and returned when trees turned orange. Thanks to my employer I was visiting my colleagues located in Beijing offices.

Spending most of my life in Europe, I experienced many novel things that are worth recording in this post.

Before travel

I had planned to run a 10 km race the day before my departure, however, I was so stressed from the travel that I gave up due to symptoms of commencing cold. The nervousness stemmed from: no cash (juans), no understanding of Chinese language nor script (I knew just emergency phrases), unknown environment, no control (I had to rely on pre-arranged taxi service) and probably travelling alone that far. However, after I arrived, I suddenly felt healthy (and just tired) – this way I learnt the travel fever is a real thing and there is no reason to worry about that.


  • Very poor knowledge of English
    • I couldn’t chat even about weather with a taxi assistant.
  • Despite I couldn’t understand a word, I heard radio advertisement is same both in Europe and Asia.
    • Ear-drilling melodies, repetitions, creepy tone of voice
  • hukou similar to visa, however, for for cities.
    • You have to obtain that to be a full citizen of Beijing.
    • Business reasons/work for government/education (PhD.) helps.
  • Output/input corridors with arrows in metro.
  • Pointless security checks in metro (they cause queues).


  • I had forgotten to be scared of chopsticks before the travel. Thanks to that nothing prevented me from learning to use them quite quickly (despite my clumsy style).
  • Sharing food is common, you don’t have your dish on your plate.
    • Somewhere assisted with rotating tables.
  • No explicit courses, you just randomly pick food to match your taste.
  • Sipping is OK, spoiling the tablecloth as well (they account for that).
  • Hot water is often served as the basic beverage.
  • I got used to spicy food (I may have a cough afterwards).
  • Meals:
    • hot pot
    • fried noodles
    • noodle soup
    • noodles in sauce with meat
    • dumplings (yeast, “ears”)
    • shrimps
    • cabbage
    • Beijing duck
    • little soft desserts
    • fermented soya milk (similar to butter milk)
    • pumpkin soup

Chinese style, people, culture

  • Long queues at customs (not used to that in Schengen area), alleviated when more people shift began.
  • Elevators are missing (not always) floors with digit 4 and also number 13.
  • Heavy use of smartphones (booking, maps, transport, payments) and many “phone zombies”.
  • Women often walk in pairs holding each other.
  • No hipsters.
  • Tourist buses transporting people to the Olympic Park used highway as parking lot. (Two of four lanes were completely blocked and there was a bottleneck where buses were turning.)
  • Evening dancing lessons on playgrounds in hutongs (mostly for older women).
    • Tai chi is exercised in parks in the morning.
  • Chinese people are very good at queueing (hard to beat them).

Sites, environment

  • Beijing appears to be a modern city, well organized by system of rings (the first ring encompasses the Forbidden City, 7th ring is being built and it’s a highway 150 km far away from the center).
  • Hutongs are traditional streets with flat houses and yards (siheyuan).
    • Now they’re only inside the second ring, many were destroyed to make place for modern buildings.


  • My first impression was relative mess on the desktops, some people even had gym equipment besides their tables. (I got used to that in few days.)
  • Apart from that offices appeared similar to Europe.
  • Public toilets are often squat toilets and the western restrooms are missing a brush.


  • I was afraid of publicly blowing my nose after readings on the internets. It turned out it’s just normal.
  • Cars are like trams in Prague (they’d run over you if you don’t watch out).
    • Especially watch out for bicycles and rikshaws who usually ride the places where people tend to wait for a green light.
    • Green light is not a guarantee of safe road crossing.
  • Individual car transport is fast thanks to street grid between 10 PM and 6 AM (sic). Otherwise it’s paralyzed by continuous rush hour.
    • 5 million cars, registration plates restrictions (based on last digit), you have to win an official lottery to be entitled for own plate.
  • I bought a bottled water in local supermarket. Despite the cap looked like it had a valve, it was just that shape, no valve inside.
  • Because of language barrier I had to use non-verbal communication more/more intensively, which was exhausting (forced smiles).

Jet lag

  • I flew 6 hours eastwards, it took me ~3 days until I could sleep at night and not be sleepy during 10 AM to 3 PM.


  • Smog is to various extent plague of Eastern parts of China.
    • You can smell it outdoors.
  • People are used to that, they just watch particulates reports and wear respiration masks (they are almost a fashion item).
    • 500 ppm (~0.5 g in cubic meter) is maximum range of official instruments.
    • My guess is that 1 in 30 people wear the mask. (They don’t wear it not to be contagious.)
  • It limits visibility and sunlight.


  • Hotel limo vs Airport express, 20 times more expensive.
  • Narrow, crooked streets adjacent to the Central Banking District.

Kanji characters I learnt

It is easier to learn reading Chinese than to speak/understand it.

meaning character sound
boil box three lines  
exit (outside direction)  
north bei
east dong
south nan
capital city jing
king wang
of (possessive suffix) de
sky tian
gate men
big do
small xiao
forest lín
cycle/time hui
middle/center zhong
thread/line 线  
city/market shi
ultra/super/really chao