Chinese Survival Guide: Getting Around Beijing
The Chinese capital spans 750 square kilometers, so it can be difficult to find your way around Beijing, especially if you don’t speak Putonghua (Mandarin). That’s why having a map and your destination written in Chinese is essential, particularly when you’re seeking hidden gems in the capital’s hutongs (alleyways) that are tucked in the shadows of towering skyscrapers.
While the city’s grid pattern established in the Yuan Dynasty and enhanced by the Ming Dynasty is still apparent and straightforward to use as a guide to orient yourself to the city, those who have limited time in Beijing are advised to take the subway or taxis rather than attempt an on-foot foray into the vast city’s streets.
Advice for Taking the Beijing Subway
By 2020, Beijing will have the largest metro system in the world with nine lines totaling 200 kilometers. While the intricate system may seem intimidating at first glance, all metro stops are in Pinyin (the system used to Romanize Chinese words into English) and Chinese. Getting about town is quite easy, as the metro continually expands, but rush hour is best avoided as the trains get packed with commuters.
Advice for Taking Taxis
It is essential to bring the address of the place you are going in Chinese. It is rare to find a taxi driver who speaks English and even rarer for him or her to read Pinyin. Visitors will literally not get anywhere without an address written in Chinese.
Ask the hotel concierge to write the address of the place you want to go in Chinese. You can also print off the Chinese addresses provided on The Daily Meal’s web site or take the business card from the restaurant, bar, or shop you want to visit. A bundle of "taxi cards," laminated business-sized cards with the English and Chinese addresses to Beijing’s most popular spots, are sold at the English-language bookstore The Bookworm. Simply show the cab driver the "taxi card" and you will be set.
As Beijing continues to rapidly expand, some taxi drivers may not readily recognize the destination. Even if you have a map in Chinese, some drivers may still be puzzled. Having the phone number of the place you want to go, along with the address in simplified characters (Taiwan uses the more complicated-looking traditional characters) allows the driver to easily call the venue and get directions from the staff.
The Daily Meal also provides, when possible, the Chinese for Chinese dish recommendations. While many restaurants offer picture menus and English menus, sometimes you will need the Chinese name to get exactly what you want from street vendors, markets, or restaurants that do not have Chinese menus. Simply point to the Chinese characters or point at what other diners have ordered to get what you want.