China, Part 1

Getting there: d2 was already in China for work, so flew to Beijing to meet dpr who came on Air Canada from Toronto via Vancouver.

Where we stayed: Days Inn Forbidden City! Can you believe dpr found a Days Inn in China – and as a bonus, right beside the Forbidden City??!! The price was a steal – about $35/night, but the hotel was new and the smell of carpet glue and other bad things was overwhelming initially. Luckily it had a window that opened, and because it was new, was nicely appointed. If you stay at this hotel, be warned that they have WINDOWLESS rooms in the basement level – dpr made sure to request one above grade. The front desk staff were friendly and spoke enough English to get by, and there was also a bank machine in the lobby. There’s a restaurant on site, but the 2ds never ate here.

Tips: 1. If you’re traveling on a Canadian passport to China, you will need a visa to enter. Make sure you do this *before* you go. In Toronto, it’s fairly easy having a Chinese Consulate office in the city, but it may be more complex if you live outside of a big city. 2. There is not much English in Beijing – but don’t worry – you’ll find a way to communicate! At restaurants there are often pictures so you can always point to what you want. 3. Bring the name of your hotel in English and Chinese if you can to provide to your taxi driver at the airport. Our hotel was hidden in an alleyway so actually caused some confusion when we got there. 4. As soon as you get to your hotel, grab a card that has the name and address in Chinese. Also, ask the hotel staff to write any destinations you’re going to in Chinese so you can just show the cab driver. 5. At stores or markets, and especially when you’re bargaining, a calculator often comes out to help you haggle. In some of the markets the sales people were especially aggressive which was slightly disturbing at times. 6. The subway is very easy to navigate and very cheap. We visited the spring before the Olympics and they were gearing up for tourists, so we can only imagine it’s gotten easier. 7. Be prepared for pollution – we visited in the spring and everything was pretty brown and grey air-wise. Now I know why my Chinese friends at university were so enamoured with the blue skies of the Canadian prairies! 8. Taxis are very cheap here. We usually took the subway, but for some places a cab was easier but the cab drivers speak/understand very little English.

Email diary:

March 9, 2008: Hello from Beijing….slightly less jetlagged

Hey Guys:
I hope you are having a good Saturday night, just settling down to watch some hockey in TO! It’s Sunday morning here and I just woke up. I am feeling a little less jetlagged- wow is it ever hard to convince your body that it’s 12 hours ahead of where you started!

Yesterday we had a very fun day exploring Beijing and getting used to a lot of stares in our direction- I guess it’s a mixture of me being white and d2’s spiky hair – yes, they really like his hair a lot it seems. We got up in the morning and ran past Tianammen Square- it’s very heavily guarded and while we’ve been here, we haven’t seen anyone actually allowed in the Square. So we just ran all around it. You should’ve seen how jammed the sidewalks were with people at 7 am. It was really crazy. After we got ready for the day, we walked over to the Forbidden City- it was built in 1420 and was offlimits to all but the Emperors and their courts for 500 years, hence the name. The entrance to this is what you see in pictures, with the gigantic portrait of Mao on it- it is directly across the street from Tianammen. It cost us 40 RMB each, or about $6 to enter. We are loving the prices here- we ate soup and dumplings yesterday for $3 for both of us! So the Forbidden City is huge- lots of temples after temples and lots of open space, but not much greenery. So my favourite part was actually the garden at the very north end of the city. We left the City and then went across the street to a part that is situated on a big hill and we walked to the top of the hill for a view of Beijing…or a limited view. The city is very polluted. When the sun is coming up or setting, it’s a big red ball in the sky, and there’s a huge brown haze over the city. We could barely see Tianammen Square from the top of the hill- it is probably 1 km south or so.

After a snack and rest at the hotel, we decided to take the subway to an area d2 had read about. The subway was not a fun experience! It cost about 25 cents each to ride, or rather be jammed in the subway car, for me, with my nose against my nearest neighbour’s back because of my height. Lots of pushing and shoving to get in and out, which seems to be a very normal thing! We had our cheap lunch in this district called Soho, and wandered around some shops. Then we walked back to the hotel via a placed called Silk Street Market. This market is 6 floors of everything from suitcases to all kinds of knockoff brand clothes, to knock off wallets and purses, shoes, and jewellery. There were lots and lots of pearls- maybe some were real. There’s also lots of bargaining there- that’s standard. It was a very strange place- all of the stalls had the same things, but you could bargain to get different deals. Everyone was flashing me the Vuiton catalogues! I guess they thought I needed a new bag. So then we continued on back to the hotel via  shopping district nearby and we went to a Japanese restaurant that d2 has been to previously here. tasty good food, and then back to the hotel via a bunch of outdoor food vendors. They were selling starfish on a stick to eat, as well as lots of other things on a stick- seahorses, scorpions, and some more normal looking food, too. Only the dumplings looked very tasty to me. The smell of the street there was horrible.

And that was the end of our first full day here. I was so tired, I was in bed by 9.30 and I think asleep by 9.31. Today we’re off to the Great Wall, in about an hour. I will let you know how that goes and send you some pictures, too.

I hope you’re all having a good weekend

love,

dpr

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