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Olympic Fever: Here’s’s Sprinter-Quick Guide to China

City of Xi An, ChinaWe’re all familiar with Olympic Brits such as Andy Murray and Zara Phillips, but just how much do you know about Beijing or even China? If you’re travelling to China or just supporting our athletes from your armchair, read on to extend your knowledge of the 2008 Olympics host nation.

Beijing attractions and activities 

  • Tiananmen Square: unfortunately most famous to outsiders for the student demonstration in 1989, the square acts as the gateway to the ancient Forbidden City. It is surrounded by impressive architecture and also includes the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, which contains a wax replica of his body (unlike, say, our Madame Tussauds, where you’ll find the equally historically important Ant and Dec).
  • The Summer Palace: used as a place of relaxation for emperors in ancient times, this has now become a beautiful public park which incorporates the stunning Kunming Lake.
  • The Great Wall of China: several sections of this historic structure are within a day-trip of Beijing. Climbing the wall can be strenuous, so remember to dress appropriately and take plenty of water.
  • Wangfujing Street: fans of traditional China may despair at the flashing neon signs and global brand names, but this has been the place to shop in China for over seven hundred years – so they must be doing something right.
  • Bike riding: car ownership is rapidly increasing, but there are still over four million bicycles frightening pedestrians around Beijing alone. An efficient, and environmentally friendly, way to see the city is to join one of the many bicycle tours, which range in length from half a day to fifteen days for budding Chris Hoys.
  • Wedding photography: bizarrely, most Chinese wedding photos are not taken on the day of the actual ceremony. Instead, they are snapped in photographic studios on an entirely different date, and the happy couple dress up in a variety of outfits. So whether you got married ten years ago, or have yet to tie the knot, you only need a willing partner to create your very own wedding album.

Chopsticks at the ready

  • Sample more authentic versions of take-away favourites, such as Peking Duck or Kung Pao Chicken.
  • Reap the benefits of Chinese medicinal cuisine, which includes mung bean soup to counter the effects of heat-stroke, and grilled sheep’s heart, which aids recovery from illness.
  • Try more unusual dishes such as scorpion skewers (apparently these taste like prawns, although can’t personally vouch for this), starfish (which has been compared to lobster) and even rat kebabs (we don’t even want to know what these taste like!).
  • Homesick eaters can dine at one of the country’s 2,000 branches of KFC. And don’t forget that ice-cream was actually invented in China over a thousand years ago!

What not to do

  • Give bad-luck gifts: although present giving is an important Chinese custom, try really hard to resist giving somebody scissors, handkerchiefs, straw sandals or red pens – all perceived as bad luck omens. A more likely gift for a westerner to give would be flowers, but these are frowned upon because of their association with funerals.
  • Offend the locals: whilst you can talk with a mouthful of food and belch loudly at the table without being considered rude, whistling and biting your nails are both serious breaches of Chinese etiquette. Important details to remember if you feel a Lauren Bacall moment coming on, or if the 100 metres final proves to be a little tense.

Tempted to experience China in person?

  • Expedia currently has a seven night holiday in Beijing from 06/09/08 (just in time for the Paralympics), including return flights from Heathrow, which starts at £475 per person*. With such a good deal on flights and accommodation, you should have plenty of renminbi (the local currency) left to spend. And don’t forget to take out travel insurance for the trip; you don’t want to foot the bill if you end up in hospital after trying to demonstrate the perfect triple-jump to your mates. Check out our tips on how to save money on your travel insurance premium.
  • Check that you have adequate home insurance for peace of mind whilst off on your Chinese adventure.

*Price correct as at 22nd July 2008, and is based on two people sharing on a room only basis.

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Carl Chambers

Carl Chambers

Carl Chambers worked as a consumer interest writer at between 2007 and 2010. We miss his terrible puns!

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