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Business Travel Guide: Beijing, China

Nowhere in the world do the words "booming" and "economy" go together more fittingly than in Beijing. The city is in a furious bid to be the biggest, tallest, fastest and most modern metropolis in the world. This brings with it a myriad of business opportunities. You can find almost every multi-national here and a slew of wholly-owned foreign enterprises opening daily. While Shanghai may be the country's commercial capital, Beijing is doing its best to wrestle away the crown.

Every form of business — as long as it brings money, new technology or ideas — is in demand. Architecture, real estate and marketing firms are making it big, but as the city roars into the 21st century, there is a hunger for designers and artists; even Michelin-star chefs are sniffing out the Beijing kitchens. China is still a tricky place to do business — a murky legal system and cultural differences can rock the boat from time to time — but with the city bathed in an atmosphere of optimism, it's getting easier to negotiate a path through the maze. 


Facts to Know Before You Go


Currency:

The renminbi (shortened into RMB, it literally means "people's money" in Chinese) is the only accepted currency in Beijing. It's also known as the yuan or kuai. Loosely pegged to a basket of currencies, it's kept fairly stable, although it has been creeping up against the U.S. dollar for the past three years. While taxis only accept cash, hotels and mid- to high-end restaurants generally accept international credit cards. Anywhere else and particularly if you're traveling in the countryside, you'll have to use cash.

ATMs, which are plentiful and are open 24 hours, often take credit cards and debit cards on the Plus and Cirrus systems. The Bank of China is a safe bet if you need to change money, as many of the other banks cannot. Remember to keep your exchange receipts as you'll need these if you want to change renminbi into other currencies on your way out of China.

Because of problems with counterfeiting, the largest denomination of Chinese bills is the pink-colored RMB100 note (roughly U.S. $15).


Transportation:

Beijing Capital International Airport, whose newly-opened dragon-shaped Terminal Three is the world's biggest airport terminal, is about 24km from downtown Beijing. International flights use terminals Two and Three.

Metered taxis into Beijing are cheap and plentiful. With the new Airport Expressway the journey takes around 30 to 40 minutes and costs around RMB100. There is also a subway line that runs from the airport to Dongzhimen in the city center. The journey takes around 20 minutes. There are also efficient airport buses (RMB16) which run to most major hotels.

In the city, taxis are still the most convenient way to get from A to B. Most cabbies cannot speak English, so it's a good idea to have your destination written down in Chinese. There are more than 65,000 taxis in the city, and unless it's raining or rush hour, you should be able to hail one within minutes. The subway system is being rapidly expanded and may be useful if your destination is close to a station or if it's rush hour and raining. Station names are all written in pinyin (Romanized script) as well as characters, so it's hard to get lost. All tickets (except airport line) are RMB2.

Information
:

Foreign-published media can only legally be sold in five-star hotels. Most top-end hotels sell International Herald Tribune, Financial Times, Asian Wall Street Journal and major news magazines such as The Economist. Note they are often a day out of date. The national English-language China Daily is a propaganda publication of the government, but is useful for understanding the Chinese perspective on events.

There are several good free entertainment magazines in English, which you can pick up at hotels and Western-style restaurants and bars. There's Time Out Beijing, which has the best writers, The Beijinger and sister publication Agenda, which has the most comprehensive listings, and the fortnightly City Weekend.

Major hotels have satellite television carrying CNN, BBC World, HBO and ESPN. China’s English-language CCTV 9 is pretty dire.

Beijing is a thoroughly wired city. Most hotels have wireless or LAN cables in rooms, while cafes around the city also offer free wireless to customers including one of the many branches of Starbucks. China censors the Internet, blocking Web sites with content it deems sensitive. Financial news sites are largely unaffected by this but sometimes the BBC, say, or Wikipedia is blocked. Because of this filtering, the Internet is often much slower in China.



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Where to Stay

China World Hotel
1 Outer Jianguomen Avenue
Beijing 100004
+86 (0)10-6505-2266 
www.shangri-la.com

A room at China World Hotel

The brown horseshoe-shaped megalith that is the China World Trade Center is the seed that started Beijing's central business district. And the 716-room Shangri-La-run China World Hotel here is an established favorite with both businessmen and government officials. While the building is gradually being dwarfed by a forest of skyscrapers, for now at least the top floors (which include the business wing,) still provide pretty good views of the city. The marbled lobby, with its seemingly 24-hour piano player, is grandiose with sweeping staircases and chandeliers. Rooms are an inoffensive cream-brown and decorated in modern Asian art, while showers are huge with a good stack of products. Fitness facilities are top-notch, equipped with a sleek heated swimming pool and, according to the hotel, the city's only oxygen room, complete with oxygen tanks and masks. Guests can breathe in the concentrated oxygen, which aficionados swear promotes greater, restful sleep and health benefits, particularly after a long flight. Best of all, the scrumptious Aria, one of Beijing’s top continental restaurants, with the largest wine list in the city, is here.

Hotel G
7 Gongti West Road
Chaoyang Rd
Beijing 100020 
+86 (0)10-6552-3600
 www.hotel-g.com

A room at Hotel G in Beijing, China

Arguably Beijing's hippest boutique hotel, Hotel G is conveniently slotted into the restaurant and clubbing district of Sanlitun, a short cab ride from the central business district. Described as 1960s retro chic, guests stay in an Austin Powers-inspired wonderland colored in  "muted blues and grays," which was crafted by British architect/designer Mark Lintott.  The hotel has free broadband wireless throughout the property as well as in its business center. The 110 rooms all come with rainforest showers, ipod docking stations and satellite plasma televisions. The rooftop cocktail lounge offers bird’s-eye views of the construction jungle and the oddly-named Gilt, a Tibetan-themed nightclub with an open fireplace and tent. 

The Peninsula Beijing 
8 Goldfish Lane
Wangfujing
Beijing 100006,
+86 (0)10-8516-2888 
www.beijing.peninsula.com

A room at The Peninsula Beijing

There's a lot of competition out there, but The Peninsula Beijing would probably still nab the prize for classiest hotel: its lobby drips with chichi boutiques like Cartier, Chanel and Louis Vuitton. It's also a good choice if you want to combine your business trip with a bit of sightseeing: the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square are around the corner. Décor in the 525 rooms and suites is a pleasing mix of dark wood flooring, modern furnishings and Chinese touches like red lanterns and calligraphy scrolls. A 2006 renovation now means rooms come with 42-inch plasma TVs — some bathrooms have screens too — fax machines, generous work space and free wireless. Jing, their swanky fusion restaurant, is famous for its great buffet breakfast.

The Ritz-Carlton Beijing, Financial Street
1 Jincheng Street East
Financial Street
Xicheng District
Beijing 100032
+86 (0)10-6601-6666

www.ritzcarlton.com
A room at The Ritz-Carlton Beijing, Financial District

Guests at this Ritz Carlton in the Financial Street area in the west of the city are welcomed by a giant steel birdcage in the entrance court, a theme that is repeated throughout the hotel. The lobby is a jumble of comfy sofas, potted plants and the décor is a combination of earth-tones and pastels with slivers of Chinese style: cages, candles, decorative screens and lamps. The funky modern design gives this hotel a fresh feel, and is a welcome relief from the overbearing dark marbles and chandeliers favored by many of Beijing's more luxurious hotels. The hotel is hip and the service is slick — it has to be. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice stayed here in its opening week in 2006. With 253 rooms, the floor area for each room is on average pretty large, with the smallest room around 150 square feet. Rooms are business-friendly, with a good-sized work space, lots of light with floor-to-ceiling windows, and safes large enough to store laptops. The only downside is the lack of wireless: in-room broadband is rather pricey at RMB60 an hour. But the aquamarine pool has a giant movie screen, the spa is glam, and Cepe, the hotel's Italian restaurant, is fantastic.

St. Regis Beijing
21 Jianguomen Outer St.
Chaoyang District
Beijing 100020
+86 (0)10-6460-688
www.stregis.com/beijing

A room at the St. Regis Beijing

The St. Regis has always been a bit of an "old boys club" style hotel with 24-hour butler service, as well as journalists gathering in the Press Club Bar to drink gin and tonics and smoke cigars. Despite a recent renovation, the management has kept to the old-school look. There is much dark wood and creaky leather in the public areas, while rooms are a strange blend of 1970s staid with orange furnishings and paneled walls mixed with 21st century-tech flat screen TVs. There's pay-per-day wireless throughout the hotel, a sleepy-looking business center (open 6:30 a.m. to midnight) and interpreters on call. For the health conscious, there's a large gym, a golf driving range and squash practice rooms. Best of all, the hotel is located in the leafy confines of the Embassy District and just a five-minute drive from the Central Business District.


See our list of the Top 10 Hotels in China

Where to Dine

Alameda
Nali Mall, Sanlitun North Street
Chaoyang District
Beijing 100027
+86 (0)10-6417-8084

International/Brazilian
15/20
$$$$$

Alameda is famous for its business lunch (great value at 60RMB). The contemporary cuisine, with Brazilian roots — steaks aplenty — is stylishly presented, yet hearty in portion size. The fixed menu has more than a dozen appetizers and a dozen main courses, which span the globe in their influences. Grilled tuna belly with a funky aqua-colored spinach risotto in a Drambuie sauce is delectable, the wine list is pretty extensive, and the desserts — tarts and tiramisu — are orgasmic. Its reputation may have encouraged some of the staff to err on the haughty side of courteous yet the chefs — three hail from Brazil — are speedy. The funky, minimalist setting and the buzz from the other diners (it's always crowded) creates a vibe that is conducive to a smooth business lunch.

Beijing DaDong Roast Duck Restaurant
22 Dongsishitiao
Dongcheng District
Beijing
+86 (0)10-5169-0328

Chinese
15/20
$$$$$

Fast becoming one of Beijing's trendiest places to tuck into Beijing duck, DaDong's birds are noted for their crispiness, lean meat and plethora of dipping sauces. Waitresses kindly demonstrate the art of duck pancake construction for the uninitiated. The food is wildly popular with both locals and overseas visitors. Just make sure you reserve a table in advance. The massive menu has close-up photos of dishes and English translations and is a dream to navigate. There's much more than just duck:  the stewed cod fish in a pumpkin bowl is succulent and there's a whole host of imaginative seafood and vegetarian options. The décor is an offbeat mix of traditional and modern, with dragon-etched wood tables, as well as glowing wall panels seared with bamboo designs. If you want some privacy to discuss business, individual rooms are available upstairs.

Blu Lobster
Shangri-La Hotel Beijing
29 Zizhuyuan Road
Xizhimen District
Beijing 100089
+86-(0)10-6841-2211 Ext. 6727 or 6728
www.shangri-la.com

International/Contemporary
No rating
$$$$$

Inside Blu Lobster

Beijing's most innovative restaurant in terms of cuisine is the place to please clients. The wow factor doesn't come cheap: you’re looking at about RMB1,000 per head, but with an expense account, who's counting? Despite being a hotel restaurant, the atmosphere is chill, decked out in a blue theme with steel fish hints at an underwater effect, while the wait staff — the most attractive in Beijing by far — are charming. Dinner only.


Hatsune
A8 Guanghua East Road
Chaoyang District
Beijing 100026
+86 (0)10-6581-3939
Japanese/Sushi
13/20
$$$$$

This slick Japanese establishment, sitting squat in the middle of the central business district, is perfect for business lunches or dinners. Hatsune wins best Japanese restaurant every year as judged by local entertainment magazines, and it’s easy to see why. It's hip, smart, and they offer more sushi rolls than you can shake your chopsticks at. Order a plate of crab meat, avocado and cream cheese rolls, and try to stop yourself from eating them all. A word of warning: only go there if your clients are westerners or locals — they almost always love the funky fusion fare on offer. However, Japanese generally don't, so take them to Yotsuba instead.

Off the Clock

Dashanzi Art District (Factory 798)
4 Jiuxianqiao Road
Chaoyang district

Beijing's funky art precinct started more than a decade ago as a camp of largely abandoned military electronics factories out near the airport. Tempted by low rent rates, local artists began converting the factories into studios and lofts, and within a few years the design companies and upscale French bistros had also moved in. While rent prices have since risen, and many artists — bemoaning the commercialism — have decamped to new art districts further east, Dashanzi retains its charm for tourists and makes for a relaxing afternoon strolling around its leafy lanes, browsing the galleries and bookshops and enjoying a glass of wine. Beijing Commune and 798 Space are two of the more well-established studios.

Guanyuan Fish and Bird Market
West 2nd Ring Road (between Fuchengmen and Chegongzhuang subway stations), Xicheng District

If you've ever wanted a Che Guevara pet-cricket carrier, the Guanyuan Fish and Bird Market is the place to go. A ten-minute walk north from Financial Street, this messy jumble of lanes has scores of stalls, with vendors selling beasties and their accessories, It's a place that's just jamming on the weekend. Here, you can buy traditional wooden bird cages, singing crickets (from RMB30 to more than RMB1,000 each, feed them chopped-up carrot), and pairs of wrinkled walnut shells (used as exercise balls for the hands). There are goldfish, miniature yellow frogs, snakes, piglets and baby chicks. It's noisy, crowded and raucous but offers a great insight into the traditional and modern concepts of keeping pets in China. The more elaborate bird cages made with steel hooks and the patterned cricket gourds make curious gifts.

Houhai
It's hard to take the old Beijinger out of Houhai, and you wouldn't want to. This network of three interconnected lakes — Qianhai, Houhai and Xihai — in the center of Beijing is where the laobaixing (common folk) "do their thing," as well as being the new entertainment district. In the winter, men in tiny black briefs "polar bear" (a term used to refer to swimming in icy waters) in the frozen lake, while in summer you'll find them everywhere doing calisthenics on the lakeside still wet from their swim. Houhai is a fabulous area that's great for coffee (you'll find a Starbucks on the southwest bank); food (there are dozens of restaurants from Russian to Hunan, pizza to spring rolls), or just a stroll. The northern banks are sleepier and all around are a maze of hutong. Take a rickshaw tour and have tea with a family in their siheyuan (courtyard house). On the east bank there's pretty decent jazz at East Shore Live Jazz Café every night at 9 p.m.

The Legend of Kung Fu
The Red Theater
44 Xingfu Avenue, Chongwen district
+86 (0)10-6714-2473
www.beijing-theatre.cn

The Legend of Kung Fu

It's usually a night at the Beijing Opera that woos most tourists, but this nightly acrobatic ballet danced to the tune of Chinese martial arts is a thrilling extravaganza that's more certain to please a western audience than the shrill strains of local opera. Hollywood-esque in its vision, The Legend of Kung Fu uses dance and some simple English to tell the story of Chun Yi, an infant monk recruit. The kung fu stunts — stick smashing, head bouncing, and impossible leaps, summersaults and spins — are embellished with a sturdy soundtrack, excessive amounts of dry ice, and at one point, clouds of bubbles. Those who enjoy the sight of dozens of muscular male torsos flying about the stage beaded with sweat will undoubtedly love this show. Watch for the dragon dance at the end.

Red Capital Club
66 Dongsi Jiutiao
Dongcheng District
+86 (0)10-8401-6152

Inside the Red Capital Club
If you fancy relaxing in a leather armchair that was possibly graced by the buttocks of the Great Helmsman himself, sneak along to this hutong-hidden Communist kitsch courtyard restaurant. Avoid the food — service and quality get lackluster reviews — and head straight to the cigar lounge instead. All the furnishings, according to the club, were taken from Communist Party government offices and used in the 1950s. It's a perfect little fantasy. Pick up the phone and listen to recordings of Mao's 1949 declaration of the founding of the People's Republic of China. For extra kitsch factor you can order a novelty cocktail: try the Long March, a red concoction of gin, Campari, grenadine and Chinese cassia flower wine.


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PKR081208
(Updated: 02/22/12 CT)



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