Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Our China Journey Part I - Beijing
It was a pretty long flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing…. But we had decided that as long as we would be flying economy class for all of the interior domestic flights in China – we’d treat ourselves to at least the long to-and-from flights in business class. Our flight left KL in the mid-to-late afternoon - - was a little late taking-off – and that got us into the HUGE Beijing International Airport right around midnight…
For all of the hassle and rigmarole we had to go through to get our tourist visa for China… I must say that the process for getting through their passport-control/immigration was relatively painless…although the line was awfully long. They opened-up another line and we jumped into it…but all the Chinese people started laughing at us… it was the Chinese Only line!! One of the first things you notice about China…especially coming from Hyderabad (and India in general) – is the total lack of English on signs (with a few adverts being the exception) – and the general lack of English being spoken anywhere, period!! The laughing folks were nice enough to let us back into the other line we had vacated…so all was well.
We got our bags…and – as is usual for a trip we book with Big Five Tours through our travel agent Eve Wertsch, there waiting for us was our driver and guide… with our names clearly written in English on a printed sign! Our guide for our time in Beijing was a very sweet young girl who spoke impeccable English…. She said that she had learned by taking English as a major in college…and from watching her favourite show: “The Big Bang Theory” !! Her name was “Ivie” – so many of the guides/drivers/etc. choose “English” names because their Chinese names are virtually impossible for we Westerners to pronounce. This part was funny, too… Ivie’s husband chose his English name “Michael” – from the character on the show “Prison Break” – Michael Scofield !!! That happens to be one of my favourite shows of all time!!
Ivie was good. VERY good. She had been chosen as one of the English language ambassadors for the Beijing Olympics… and I’m sure she helped a lot of lost Americans and Brits find their way around the different venues. As you can tell…I really liked her… Amy did too.
It was just Beijing itself that she was not overly fond of!
First of all… you can read all about how cold it is…you can see the temperatures on the Weathr.com page… you can even think you remember what “cold” feels like from times you have gone skiing in the U.S. …. But after living in India for almost four years… neither of us was even slightly prepared for just how COLD “cold” was!! We had both purchased new winter jackets - - but this was the kind of cold that knifed trough that kind of layer and cut you to the BONE!
We got to our hotel and it was pitch-black and we couldn’t see much…although we could see that the traffic flowed well and the streets were relatively spotless compared to India. Our hotel (The Grand Mercure near the center of everything) was nice enough… but it was beginning to show its age… a little “long in the tooth” as my mother would have said. But the bed was nice and we just needed to get some sleep…. Our first day in Beijing was to be “on your own” (we like that) – so we got to sleep in.
When we rose in the morning, and had some breakfast… after we watched a live college football bowl game (see photo album link below) we could see that there were several Starbucks on the map fairly close to where our hotel was… but we were not sure of directions. We asked one of the nice gentlemen at the front desk which was the closest one… and we were even more confused than before we asked!!
So--- we got brave and just decided to go walkabout. I will reference this several times in this blog… but the fact that I could do this trip and walk at all (with my bad needing-to-be-totally-replaced hip) was a complete miracle!! Anyway… we just started walking… and it was freezing!!! We turned down a street that looked like it had a few local restaurants on it… a couple of them were just downright scary-looking… but we picked one that at least had some people sitting inside and there were photos of the food on the wall-menus - - so how bad could it be??
Well… it was pretty awful. We had some kind of hot-and-sour soup - - and for some reason I still can’t understand…Amy ordered this spicy shrimp dish….kind of a stew - even though the menu picture clearly showed the shrimps with heads-on and tails intact. She HATES that!! It was really hot…too spicy… hard to eat… totally unsatisfying. Well….live and learn.
We never did find the Starbucks…so we went back up to our room to look on the Internet to find another better place for dinner.
THIS is where we found out that the government of China highly regulates websites on the internet…. Google is limited… there is no Facebook (aaarrrrrrgggh!) – no YouTube…. Kind of shocking to a couple of Americans who love their freedom!
Anyway… it was decided that eating in the hotel Chinese restaurant was the wise choice…and it really was quite good… but man… they sure have some distasteful looking items on their menu!! The off to bed for our sleep before a full day of sightseeing in the morning!!
Here is a link to the photos we took on that very first day in Beijing: