I have had the privilege of spending a total of around three months this year visiting China on different occasions, and in particular staying on the Peking University (Beida) campus. It has been amazing seeing the changing colours of the landscape through the seasons, and early on during my visits I decided to try to take regular photographs from the same spot near the centre of the campus to capture the different colours and senses of living there. I hope that the photographs below capture something of the differences I experienced. I definitely think I need to return in the midst of winter to see it in the snow. My favourite time has to be when Beijing was covered in blossom for an all too short period in early April!
When I was planning on visiting Peking University (also know as Beida, an abbreviation for Beijing Daxue the pinyin for Peking University 北京大學) I searched on the Internet for advice and guidance – and found really rather little of help.
So, having been here for five weeks, I thought it might be useful to offer some simple tips for visitors from abroad so that they can start to enjoy themselves as much as I have done:
- The campus is approximately rectangular with the main gates in the middle of the east, south and west sides. It is a haven of relative peace and quiet, amidst the noise and bustle of modern Beijing. Note that the pedestrian (northerly – illustrated) and vehicular (southerly) gates on the west side are separate, and there is a further pedestrian gate at the south-west corner. Remember to take your campus card with you when you go off campus, so that you can get back in past security without any problems! It takes about 15 minutes walk to cross the campus from west to east.
- Food: there are numerous different food outlets across the campus – for most of which you need a pre-charged card to purchase meals. The largest, with the widest diversity of food is situated at A on the map below – but it can be noisy, and is definitely not the place for a quiet chat. If you don’t speak much Chinese, there is a self-service counter on the ground floor, and so it is very simple to choose the food one wants, and pay with your charge-card. One of my favourite places to buy delicious take away bing (a combination of a pancake and an omlette) is at B (illustrated). ‘International-style’ breakfasts are available at C, as part of the Shao Yuan campus hotel complex.
- Weiming Lake (D) in the centre-north of the campus is a great place for an evening stroll – or somewhere to walk when one needs to think reflectively away from the office and the oppression of e-mails! The blossom was really beautiful in spring, but I imagine that the cool of the lake makes it an equally pleasant place to escape in the heat of the summer as well. Just to the west lies the university museum and art gallery, which are well worth a visit.
- There is a subway/metro/underground station just outside the East Gate – known as East Gate of Peking University (at E on the map). This is on Line 4 and provides ready access into the centre of the city, and all of the various tourist sites that can be visited. It is best to buy a transport card (blue in colour), which can then readily be topped up. Single journeys across the city cost a mere RMB 2, and the card must be swiped across the entrance/exit scanners when entering and leaving. There are also airport style bag checking devices for scanning all bags being taken into the stations. The underground system is excellent, safe and easy to use – with station names written in Chinese and English, and clear announcements warning in advance of the next station at which the train is due to arrive. It takes about an hour to get to the airport by underground (lines 4 and 10 costing RMB 2) and then the airport express (costing RMB 25) – and unless you have a lot of baggage this is the easiest way to get there.
- Cash: contrary to what I was told on arrival, the cashpoint/ATM machines on campus do work with foreign cards (at least they did with my Visa Debit card), and so getting cash is simple. I tended to use the ones by H on the map (next to the Post Office)
- Accommodation: I was fortunate enough to stay in the university’s Chiatai International Centre (illustrated; part of the Shao Yuan complex at F on the map), which provides perfectly comfortable, clean accommodation, with a refrigerator, shower/bath, kettle and TV (you soon get to enjoy CCTV’s English language broadcast). The hot water can be a bit hit and miss, but I generally found that it was fine at around 21.38 in the evenings. The Centre gets very booked up well in advance, so if you plan to stay here do make sure that your hosts get you booked in. It is by no means a modern 5* hotel, but I have really come to feel that it is home, and the staff are all incredibly kind and helpful. There is an expensive restaurant and café on the ground floor (remember that in China this is known as the first floor). The one drawback is that not all of the US students staying there have yet acquired their hosts’ respect for other people’s ears!
- Internet access is generally good across campus. The PKU wi-fi system works well (although you do need to get an appropriate username and password from the IT Services Department), and there is Ethernet connectivity at the Chiatai International Centre. Skype (even video) works fine, and is a great way of keeping in touch with family and friends.
- Supermarkets: there are two main supermarkets on campus, with the nearest to Shao Yuan being Wu-Mei (G on map – illustrated; the other, slightly more modern and cleaner looking is at H, which has several cashpoint machines nearby). Although quite small, Wu-Mei provides most things one might want, including: bread, sliced cheese, cashew nuts, dried fruit, yoghurt, water, beer, fruit juice and wine. So, when you cannot manage the same basic sorts of Chinese food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and just need to have a cheese sandwich or fruit yoghurt for breakfast, this is the place to go. You can also buy the ubiquitous large flasks there for filling with boiling water and using to top up your tea cup throughout the day. Just at the top of the stairs going down into Wu-Mei there is a small stall selling SIM cards and top-ups, and this is the best place to purchase your mobile connectivity.
- ‘Western’ food. Should you want a relatively quiet and peaceful place to eat, apart from the university canteens, try the Café of Luck (I on map – illustrated), which serves a range of dishes such as steak and rice, salads, and pizzas (and even if you don’t speak fluent Chinese you can always point to the pictures), as well as cold beer – I always opted for the Tsingtao (although when that was not available the Yanjing was also not bad). Hidden away under the Centennial Hall there is also a small café called Paradis (see J on map) where it is possible to find reasonable coffee and capuccino – remember that China is a tea drinking country, and this is about the only place on campus where reasonable coffee is to be found – for that moment, when you are desperate for that wonderful bitter flavour, and the kick to the body’s energy system.
- Remember to walk on the right! Traffic in Beijing travels on the right – and this is also true (generally) of pedestrians. So, when it gets crowded on campus, with thousands of people and hundreds of bicycles rushing to and from lectures, you will find it easier to ‘go with the flow’ if you walk on the right side. And, do watch out for the silent electric scooters – they travel much more quickly than bicycles, and I am not quite sure why I have seen so few accidents!
Colleagues and students at the campus have gone out of their way to show us immense hospitality. If ever in doubt, do ask your hosts for advice – be it restaurants, places to visit, the best bus to take to an obscure part of town – anything! Many will go out of their way to take you where you want to go themselves, despite their busy schedules. They will also relish the opportunity to practise their English! Enjoy Beida – it is a great place to teach, think and do research.