We don’t have a Lonely Planet, and for some reason we didn’t bother booking a hostel or even looking up where one was. We have no idea what the currency is worth. No one speaks English, and we don’t speak a word of Mandarin. The tourist booth is less than friendly and can only guide us to multiple star hotels – obviously out of our price range. We manage to find the train to somewhere near the centre of town…25 Yuan. Good enough! Wait…how much is that?
We’re told that if there is one country that requires a Lonely Planet, it’s this one. Well, we’ll see how it goes, because the Chinese government forbids the sale of them in bookstores! The history presented in them isn’t up to ‘snuff’ I guess.
We meet another white person on the train (making a grand total of 3, including me and Curtis), an Eastern European/Mongolian girl named Anna, who loves to tell us about Beijing an dChina in general. Thank god! She teaches us a few words in Mandarin, and even says she will talk to our cabbie to get us to a youth hostel! He’s even got a pamphlet to a Hostelling International place! All right, not all is lost!! We exit the train and she arranges us transport. “How much is it going to cost us??” I ask. “Oh, taxis run on meter here.” Perfect! None of the scamming you so often find in Southeast Asia. So we throw our bags in the back and bid farewell to Anna. I turn around and the cabbie gives me a sly look. The rain is drizzling down, and all I want to do is get in the cab and go to a nice warm dry room. “100 yuan” he says. “No no no, meter, we go by meter” I say as we get into the backseat. “No no, 100 yuan, I take you.” Curtis and I exchange looks. I slowly point at the meter in the front, in case there is some misunderstanding. “She say to you meter, we go by meter or we find another cab.”
Fine, he says as he gets out and opens up the trunk so we can get our bags out. The rain is pouring down now. Perfect timing. (Although the rain DID have the benefit of clearing up the haze from the skies the next morning, which was the only time I can honestly say I saw blue skies and a few kilometres of clear weather!) “Can we look at your pamphlet?” I ask, hoping to show the next cabbie in line. “No…50 yuan to look.” (That is almost $10, btw). The cabbie now calls back to the cab behind us, presumably telling him not to give us a ride for less than 100 yuan. We ask him, and he refuses to take us anywhere. As the rain pours down on us, and we realize that we have little chance of finding a decent place any time soon, we start to barter. The cabbie drops his price to 90 yuan, still WAY over priced. “It’s 100 from the AIRPORT!” Curtis exclaims, and the cabbie laughs jovially, resting his hand on my shoulder as if we are old friends. “You want to go by meter? Beijing VERY big city!” *points to map in circles around the downtown core* “I take you to hostel! Around, 100, 200, 300! Whoo whoo whoo! Or you pay 80!” At least he is honest about how he’s going to rip us off! Ah well, we ended up paying 60 for a cab ride that should have cost 10…but I showed him when we got out and I wailed a passing car with the cab door. Oops…but he deserved it!
China has quite a different culture from southeast asia, and we discovered this each and every day. For one thing, the tourism industry is geared much more towards asian than western tourists. What does that mean? Carnivals. Well lit, tacky, low budget carnivals. I don’t know who came along and thought “Oh boy, all these tourists are going to come see this ancient temple, we should put a rickety old ferris wheel and a merry go round right next door! Surely people will pay for that!” Another difference I am quite dismayed to find is that every bus you get on, the people push and shove as if the station we are exiting is on fire. And don’t even mention trains, I thought we were going to be crushed in a stampede trying to get through the gate to the platform! Slow down nana, there are enough seats for all! Another difference is nobody knows how to travel the country. You can ask at the hostel, and they will tell you that they can book a train…but if the train is full, you have to take the bus. But they don’t book bus tickets. You have to do that at the station. “Where is the station?” you might ask, but they won’t know. Not only that, but there are 4 stations in the city, and they don’t even know which one you should go to. Might as well start with the closest! But…the cab driver doesn’t know where the bus station is either. Really dude? Isn’t that what you get paid for?? Alright fine, we’ll find it ourselves! And find it we did. But not before some adventures in Beijing!
Mongolians show up while Chinese labourers are building the wall.
M: “Whatcha dooin?” “
CL: Just uh…building a house…”
M: “Wow…thats a pretty big house!”
CL: “Yeah uh…build a wall…y’know…put a roof on it…*trails off*”
M: “Ok, yeah……. Alright, we’ll come back later!”
CL: “Yeah, alright. You do that.”
Maybe it isn’t funny if you didn’t hear Curtis say it, but I can tell you I had a good chuckle.
We also found out that Chinese acrobats can not only do a headstand ON another person’s head…apparently they can do it while spinning plates on sticks. UPSIDE-DOWN. Are you picturing this?!? If only we could have got a picture of THAT! Of course the flash would probably have made them fall, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Other than that, the food in Beijing is EXCELLENT, and beer costs 50 cents for a large bottle, in the street at least. Good intro to a new country so far!! Next stop: Qingdao, the home of delicious Tsingtao beer and an annual beer festival on NOW! Let’s go!
More to come next time!
A shameless plug for the company, or a prophesy of what’s to come…? Shameless plug.