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Published: November 9th 2009
Needless to say I only got to the airport 30minutes before my flight was due to take off so the China Air booking lady promptly told me I wouldn’t be getting on the flight bound for Beijing at 1:05 seeing some distress in my face she immediately started to check up on the later flight and not 5 minutes, after telling me I has in fact missed my flight, proceeded to inform me that in actual fact I was never booked on the 1:05 flight in the first place (contrary to my e-ticket) and that I was in actual fact only booked on the 6:30 flight......and so the mad travels began. It seems that no adventure that I embark on will ever just be smooth sailing but hey let’s be honest I think I thrive on it, nothing like a little adrenalin rush when you are on the airport shuttle bus in the traffic and begin to realize that you are going to miss a flight! Fun and games in my world, be forewarned if you ever have a desire to join in .
Given that I now had some 5 hours to kill and all my money was still
sitting in my Korean bank account after the futile attempts to open an international bank account the previous day I headed back to Incheon to get my banking sorted out, made a new Korean friend in the process and managed to find my way back to the airport with plenty of time to spare and it was with a rush of mixed emotions that I boarded the plane for Beijing at 6:15pm.
The weather in South Korea was doing some mad things the weekend before I left, the Friday and Saturday night we were running about in shorts and skimpy Halloween costumes but on Sunday and Monday there was a seriously cold snap and as a result I woke up the Tuesday a little fluey. Ordinarily I wouldn’t even think twice about it but sadly the world and China, in particular, have gone a little OTT and while sitting in the airport preparing to board it suddenly dawned on me that I ran the risk of being quarantined by the Chinese for fear that I was carrying Swine flu, not exactly what I had in mind. Let me tell you sitting on an aeroplane as a blond westerner among
a sea of Asians when you are coughing and blowing your nose is a very unnerving experience, you feel like you are carrying a deadly plague.
To avoid quarantine I most certainly failed to check any of the symptoms blocks on the airline health form and ensured that all nose blowing and coughing was at bay before leaving the plane bathroom and with a cleared thought I made my way through the over the top quarantine check point in Beijing International airport and avoided a trip to the isolation room for three days, big sigh of relief.
Once I had made it through the swine flu check and customs I made my way to the airport info to try and get them to translate the address of my hostel into Chinese so that I could hail a cab. Sadly this was proving to be an impossible favour so the lady offered to phone the hostel for me but I’d stupidly forgotten to write down the hostel telephone number. Now in this day and age this is usually not a problem you just jump on your computer, connect to a WiFi connection and retrieve the number....except when you are
in China that is. Along with my hostel telephone number I had also forgotten about all the censorship laws and rules regarding internet and internet access and as a result I spent 2 hours in Beijing Airport trying to get the number of my hostel so that I could get the address translated from English into Chinese, what a mission to say the least! Luckily after much begging and pleading I got taken to one official’s office where I was allowed to use her internet, print out the Chinese address and directions and off I headed in the direction of airport transportation destined for Beijing city.
Now the debate began weather or not to pay around R100 to catch a taxi or to take your stab at the subway for 25 bucks.....urring on the side of adventure I opted for the latter and got myself onto the Beijing subway and as luck would have it the subway system is possibly the easiest subway to navigate and it’s super cheap too. In no time I was at the second transfer station but since I was quite exhausted after the days escapades and wasn’t really lus to haul my bags up
another flight of steps I hopped into a taxi who drove me 20minutes through the city, for somewhere around R12 and then proceeded to drop me at the top of a dark alley way unload my bags and drive off. And there I was finally in Beijing but it felt more like being in Maputo.
Once I’d taken a minute to take stock I realised that I had been dropped at the top of one of XiSi bays Houtong streets down which I needed to walk if I was going to find the China Box hostel. With a little interpretation after confirming with a couple of ladies on the corner that I was in fact headed in the right direction I began lugging my bag down the dark ally.
Beijing is a massive grid made up of interconnected alley ways off which 100’s of courtyards exist which house the millions of people that make up the population of Beijing. XiSi seems to be an older part of Beijing but there is a lot of construction going on at present I presume to fix it up a little. Xisi Bei 2 tiao, the road in which China Box, the
hostel I was hoping to stay at, was situated was being uprooted to be re-tared. This meant that the road was, when I arrived, an uneven mud pit of watery furrows without a sidewalk and there was no other way to get to the hostel, that I knew of, other than to head down it. Thankfully Chinese people are among the friendliest and most helpful people in the world so I managed to recruit the help of a lovely, non-English speaking Chinese girl, who proceeded to go out of her way to help me pull my wheelie suitcase at least half a km down the dark muddy track till we eventually found China Box hostel.
Absolutely exhausted and all fingers and toes crossed that they has space for me since I didn’t book I rang the door bell and not 5 minutes later I was met by a lovely host and the sight of an even lovelier Houtong courtyard style youth hostel with a bed available for me for 3 nights, I was so thankful! It just so happened that there was only one other Scottish girl in my dorm so I had some space to spread out which
is another rare luxury in a hostel. I managed to befriend the Scottish girl quite quickly and after a very good night’s sleep and a healthy, free, breakfast I headed out of the wooden doors, with Maria, into Xisi 2 Bei houtong ready for our first exploration of Beijing.
We started out at the park and temple of Heavenly Peace where we took in the sights of 100’s of locals engaging in verbose dancing, card games and feather ball hackie sack while on rout to the temple. The temple itself was lovely and we could count our stars that it was a relatively clear day with some blue sky, what I would soon realize is a rare phenomenon in China! After spending some time at the temple we took a nice stroll round the surrounding streets before disappearing back into the subway headed for Tian'anmen Square.
Beijing is just the most unusual place I have yet visited it has such a strange atmosphere it’s the most gigantic sprawling city marked by huge concrete block buildings flanking massive massive roads that are teaming with any kind of transportation vehicle you can think of. Tian'anmen Square echoed this feeling, I
had anticipated having an ahha moment when I got there but in reality it was such a random place, just a huge huge open square teeming with 100’s of tourists and souvenir salesmen and a couple of uniformed army officers scattered around the square standing at attention. After we had walked around a bit and taken the photo to say we’d been there we ducked down the underpass to be immersed in yet another sea of tourists all trying the enter The entrance under Chairman Mao’s portrait in the direction of the Forbidden City. Since we had spent a large deal of the day strolling about by the time we got to the gates of the Forbidden City it was already after two and we’d been told that you need to set aside a good few hours inside the city gates so rather than rush we opted out of entering the city and were bust deciding what market we were going to go and visit when we were approached by two seemingly lovely Chinese girls.
The girls were so friendly and we all got chatting and they said they were headed to a market which we naturally showed interest
at since we were also debating visiting a market and so we headed off the four of us chatting nicely taking in the sights along the way. We’d mentioned that we were keen to get some food at the market but not too long after we’d set off the “leader of the two” motioned for us to head into a tea house suggesting that it was a nice spot to get some food and something to drink. What was unfolding was a scam, what these people do is they target tourists take them to a tea house have them order food and drinks as do the Chinese “friends” you sit through a sudo tea ceremony and they bring all kinds of snacks and things over and above which a room hire fee is added so that when the bill arrives and is split by the parties some people have ended up forking out anywhere from ¥450-¥1000. Once all is said and done I believe that the tea house takes a small cut and the “friends’ collect their money back and the money spent by the unsuspecting tourists once they have disappeared. Thankfully Maria and I only parted with ¥100 each
The Garden of Heavenly Peace
Exuberant locals dancing to very load Chinese folk music
only realizing some hour later that this was all a scam when we were approached by yet another couple of Chinese saying they wanted to be friends being adamant that we join them for coffee and then getting lead into the very same tea house type environment. Lucky I was 100% adamant that there was no way I needed any more tea or coffee since we had just indulged in a ¥30 cup of very average Jasmin tea and ¥70 biscuits and fruit.
Once free of the annoying tea house sharks we drifted past the open food market near Wangfujing street, walked past the very fancy stores, popped in to Beijing Lamborghini to pretend that we were in the market and finally made an attempt at trying to find Silk Road the infamous Beijing, knock off’s, clothing market.
A whole bunch of aimless wondering around, a short random bus ride for stops down the bumper to bumper main road edging us nowhere near the Silk Road we rather decided to head back to XiSi Bei and see what our side of town had to offer. XiSi Bei is a really quirky area and it was really nice to
The Garden of Heavenly Peace
Exuberant locals dancing to very load Chinese folk music
mill about the streets at dusk. Since we had hardly eaten all day we decided that we should try and find some food. Now if there is one thing that there isn’t a shortage of in Beijing aside from Hairdressers is dining halls selling really cheap food. There is only one massive snag there is no Englishie menu so you can only go into the areas that have pictures. So after pressing our noses against some of the windows we finally spotted a dining hall “Meter Squared” which seemed to have enough pictures on the wall for us to look at and find something that looked edible. It’s no exaggeration if I tell you that we had the entire dining hall of locals and the staff virtually rolling on the floor with amusement as we tried to order some dinner.
While edible I have to say the meal was rather gruff some kind of flat bread with a non-distinct meaty substance in the middle coupled with a bowl of noodles coated in a sauce that tasted something like soy sauce mixed with maizina accompanied by two soups one that tasted like hot boiled lettuce and the other that looked
The Garden of Heavenly Peace
Maria trying her foot at feather hackie sack
like bits of millie cornels ground up and thrown in some water....but hey it was definitely worth the experience in the dining hall and I’m always game to unknowingly entertain the local community!
Suitably full and quite exhausted after a day of arbing around, hacking and being badgered we headed down Xi Si Bei @ Tiao back to China Box to book a trip to the great wall the next morning.
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