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Sunday, July 20, 2008

WHAT: Mobil Travel Guide Beijing ($17.95, Mobil Travel Guide)

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TARGET AUDIENCE: Anyone visiting Beijing.

Mobil has been in the travel guide business for 50 years, but this 5-by-8-inch paperback is its first international city guide, just in time for the 2008 Summer Olympics. It provides synopses of sights in six city districts, including Tiananmen Square in Dongcheng and the formerly seedy Sanlitun Bar Street in Chaoyang. Most of the 48 dining recommendations are for meals less than $15.

First-timers might appreciate practical information on tipping, which is not customary ("For some workers, it offends their sense of pride"); scams, such as invitations to art shows or tea ceremonies; and public restrooms with "squatter" toilets (bring your own tissue). The subway (directions in Mandarin and English) and city maps will prove invaluable, as will the nine useful Pinyin phrases, but invest in a supplementary phrase book or menu reader.

If you love knockoffs of Prada and other designers, you'll learn how to haggle at 11 shopping areas, including the six-story Silk Street Market and the Panjiayuan Antique Market, which has an overwhelming 3,000-plus stalls. After shopping for pearls or jade or after a day trip to the Great Wall, splurge for a spa massage (a dozen choices are given). Although this book includes street and many Web addresses, price information is missing for admissions (a range is given for hotels and restaurants), as are on-the-ground travel or tour guide services. Overall, though, it's an indispensable primer for quick-trippers.

-- Sue Kovach Shuman


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