Beijing was the largest city I’ve ever visited with a population around 12.2 million (including the suburban areas which sprawl quite far it is probably as much as 20 million). It was truly fascinating to be there, knowing that it was where many historic events have taken place and where decisions are made today that affect China’s burgeoning populace of over 1.3 billion, which accounts for more than a sixth of our global population. The task to rule a country this large and maintain its unity is certainly no easy task. While it was the Qing dynasty that united China for the first time, it was Chairman Mao who truly unified China and paved the way for the modern development of the country.
As a Canadian, having been raised in a democratic and capitalist society, I was expecting shocking changes. The truth is that, nowadays, the big cities of China really aren’t all that different from the rest of the world. The only noticeable change is that everything is a lot cheaper. On the whole, Beijing is a very clean city, cleaner in fact than most European cities I have visited. Beijing is also a lot safer than most other cities I’ve visited. There was never a moment that I felt threatened, and aside from curious glances from the locals (partly because I’m white, and partly because my companion was a stunningly beautiful chinese girl), I never once felt uncomfortable. This was a pleasant contrast to say, Paris, which was not as clean as Beijing and a place where I often felt uncomfortable and tense due to the incredible racial tension that exists there (see me previous post about this). Aside from not being able to use Facebook and Twitter (which are currently blocked by the Great Firewall of China), I felt right at home.
Also, Chinese food in China is about 10x better than eating it abroad because all the ingredients used are fresh, whereas many restaurants in other places of the world use imported goods that are pumped with preservatives to give them a longer shelf life. It is well worth a visit to Beijing, even if just to experience the food!
I thank the many Chinese friends I made while I was there for their hospitality, and I truly hope to visit again soon!
It’s about time I made a post about my recent trip to Vancouver from July 24-26. In a following post, you can look for my experiences at the Enlightened Warrior Training Camp in Squamish, BC. Now, this was my first solo trip ever. I usually always travel with friends or family, so I wasn’t quite sure how things would work out…
First off, the flight there was amazing! It was my very first flight with WestJet and I was very impressed. The efficiency of their scheduling and on-time performance is incredible. About 10 minutes before the first boarding call, the ground crews assembled ready to load luggage, clean the plane, and stock it with food. 5 minutes before the boarding call, the plane rolled into the gate, unloaded and was ready to accept my flight’s passengers on-time. The crew was very friendly and were happy to be there! In-flight service was amazing: the crew came by twice to offer free drinks and snacks, and they had no problem providing multiple drinks and snacks each time, if asked. To cap it all off, our flight departed the gate 5 minutes early and landed 10 minutes early. I am very proud, as a Canadian, to have such an incredible national airline.
Amazingly, both flights (there and back), I sat beside someone really nice and we talked for the whole flight! Since I was on my own, I found I was far more open to new friendships, so I ended up talking to just about everyone I met!
While I was in Vancouver, I stayed at the University of British Columbia. During the summer months they run the Pacific Spirit Hostel out of one of their residences. It has super-cheap rates ($30/night with an ISIC card, $33/night otherwise), is fairly clean, offers private and secure rooms, and is surrounded by natural beauty. It is outside of the city, however, so you have to take a 20 minute bus ride into the city, which really is not that bad at all.
Public Transit in Vancouver was really efficient, and will be greatly improved once the Canada Line opens in September. It will offer a direct SkyTrain link from the airport and Richmond to downtown Vancouver. The public transit system, operated by TransLink, consists of SkyTrain (light rail), the B-Lines (express bus routes), an extesnive bus network (both diesel and electric trolley buses), and the SeaBus (a catamaran ferry connecting downtown Vancouver to North Vancouver). Furthermore, if you have internet-enabled mobile, you can access on-demand transit routing via the Google Maps Mobile application, or you can download a TransLink application for your iPhone.
I started my day by taking an hour jog along the coast. It was a sunny Saturday morning, and the streets and paths were teeming with cyclists, dog-walkers, and fellow runners. It seems like a morning ride or run along the beach is the thing to do in Vancouver! Thanks to my handy Frommer’s Vancouver & Victoria 2009 travel guide, I found a great place to stop for breakfast close to Jericho Beach where I had the best Eggs Benedict of my life. After exploring the beaches a bit, I walked down to Granville Island (a public market similar to St. Jacobs and St. Lawrence Market for those of you from Toronto). It was sunny, and the Fraser River was sparkling when I arrived. The market was very busy, and was host to a number of some of the most colourful and talented buskers I’ve ever seen. The food inside the market was far too tempting, so I stopped and bought an apple cinnamon crepe for snack.
After leaving Granville Island, I decided to catch the next SeaBus to North Vancouver and visit Grouse Mountain. I had heard about a particular trail that most Vancouverites fondly know as the “Grouse Grind”. The grind is a 3km trail that consists of essentially climbing stairs and steep slopes for an hour straight. Some people call it the natural StairMaster 😉 I had the pleasure of meeting Pat Akey on the bus there, a recent finance grad from McGill, and we kept each other going as we journeyed upwards. He was nice enough to invite me to drinks that night with some other friends he met at a conference.
Next, I visited the Capilano suspension bridge, which is one of the most advertised attractions in Vancouver. It was pretty neat to cross a man-made suspension bridge (like the ones you often see in movies), but felt the admission was too high and would classify it as more of a tourist trap. I would recommend visiting Grouse Mountain instead.
Although I wanted to rent a bike and ride around Stanley Park, which everyone told me I should do, it had started to rain by the time I got there, so I decided to search for a place to eat instead. After consulting my travel guide, I discovered a fairly new and hip seafood restaurant called Coast. I called the restaurant, made a reservation and hopped on the next bus to take me over there. Unfortunately, I had their old address as they had just moved a few weeks before, so I had to hop on another bus and find the new place. When I got there, It was totally worth the long journey. The atmosphere was amazing, the staff were friendly, and the restaurant was buzzing with life. I sat at the bar which was a round island in the middle of the restaurant and was served by the bartender. There was fresh fish, shrip, and oysters on ice in the centre of the bar, as well as an extensive collection of vodka, whisky, and other spirits.
I ordered the Haddock Fish and Chips and a cool Rickards Red Beer. It was one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had. The fish was so tender I swear it must have been caught that same day. On my right were two thirty-year old women celebrating a birthday. Just past them were two men who were knocking back Vodka Red Bulls, and trying to pick up the women. To my left was a couple who were making bets on whether or not the men would succeed. All in all, a really great time 😉 After dinner, I ordered a shot of the restaurant’s finest Vodka, which turned out to be Exquisite, a premium Wyborowa Vodka from Poland. The restaurant even called me the next morning to ask how my meal was!
I was about to head home when I got a call from Pat Akey telling me that he and his friends were heading out to a night club. I gladly accepted and joined them as we danced the night away (thanks for the drinks, guys!).
My experience in Vancouver was incredible. I could not believe that I was still in Canada. The people are so different there. They are all very active, very friendly, and very laid-back, which was a pleasant change to the people I’m used to in Toronto. I think this Bud-Light advertisement put it the best:
I will definitely have to visit Vancouver again. It is an absolutely beautiful city, and is located in the most beautiful part of Canada. If you have never been, I recommend you buy yourself a round-trip ticket when you visit, because you might be tempted to never come back!