Welcome to Bejing, now, what to do there?

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ March 21st, 2008. Updated on August 5th, 2009. Published in: Travel blog » China.

Travel Journal Overview: Another capital city, and yet again Asia was proving that not all capitals have to by dry boring places. Bound by international tourists and media, Beijing was more relaxed than the rest of China. Hopefully it would lead to more things to do in my penultimate overland city.

View of new Beijing from old Beijing, the forbidden city (click to enlarge)

View of new Beijing from old Beijing, the forbidden city - notice the two girls in little pink coats (click to enlarge)

That was Stefan’s comment as he recalled an early goodbye encounter with Mara before departing with Quinnell. Surprising her with an early morning knock on the door, Mara had leapt out of her bed in distinctly non travel friendly, yet most assuredly male friendly, undies for a goodbye hug. Chris had departed the day before for Beijing with an obsession for getting on a plane to Thailand to surf. It just left me and the Slovenians for a final day of Xi’an life.

There would be no laptop for me, yet I now carried a bundle of 120,000RMB thanks to a in Bank credit card transfer with the aid of Natashka’s interpreting skills. The machine in the mega mall complex was the wrong spec and time had it carried no warranty outside china.

Natashka was coming down with a cold and during a trip to a local pharmacy began to sing a made up song about Mara’s boobs. It was the first time she ever broke out of her ‘more serious’ than Mara personality and had permanently embedded some fairly graphic images in my mind, not to mention a catchy tune. It was obviously a day when everyone was fixated on Mara’s boobs. And since I was sharing a room with the Slovenians and got a full front row view of Stefan’s goodbye hug, it wasn’t hard to be fixated myself.

Like the Slovenians you meet so many people on the road that you either like, or you don’t. Even then with the one’s you like it’s not going to be friendship forever. Changing emails or addresses with some people is as good as collecting business cards at a paper weight convention. There are a few people though that you know you will stay in touch with. On this trip I had collected many many paper weight business cards. But only a few keepers. Stephi, Mara and Natashka. That was it. No more. With Stephan and Quinnell we didn’t even bring the subject up. We were all very different, and only shared the Riots as a common bond. We had had a good time together, but there was no need for false exchanges. We might never have even sent one mail to each other. With the Slovenians we spent the morning of my departure for Beijing already emailing our own future plans to each other.

My train ride to Beijing was an overnight one. As it was nearing the end of my journey it was time to relax a little so there was a prearrange hostel pick up waiting for me at the station. Although the train was comfortable the stations are often over crowded and aside from party hostels it was good to arrange a pick up. Why bother fighting with taxi’s or touts when a nice man in a suit and a sign with your name will meet you at the platform? Indeed later on at the seriously plush Jade hostel I encountered a group of four travellers who over hearing my conversation at reception said they had seen me at the station.

“You are the guy with the name board!”

I looked at he long dark haired American girl with bedazzled look, “Yea, I guess.”

Her blond friend gave me a thumbs up, “Nice move, we got stuck with a 15 Dollar taxi just to get here.”

My hopes of meeting another twosome of girl company were dashed as they turned to their two respective male partners at the check in counter. “Look honey,” said the dark haired girl, “Its the guy from the railway station.”

What the hell? I was a celebrity hostel booker?

Pretty Chinese Police Woman in Beijing - the police were a lot friendlier in the capital! (click to enlarge)

Pretty Chinese Police Woman in Beijing - the police were a lot friendlier in the capital! (click to enlarge)

The two guys turned and gave me a fake smile and nod. The girls went on about the cost of the taxi a little bit longer as their counterparts tried in vain to change the subject. Not withstanding the male ego bashing of their counterparts I headed to my dorm room.

Chris should have been at the same hostel, I’d given him the directions, and we’d agreed. But an email I got from him continued to make me think why I had bothered

‘Dude, I so left that place man. Found a cheaper place down the road. Mail me back so we can meet up for some beers. Off to the Wall today.’

The dorm room held 8 in pine bunk beds. After ten minutes of swapping beds with a confused Korean girl who didn’t like her bed the night before she offered to take me to down town Beijing en route to her second day of city discovery.

Jin-ho was a nice enough girl in her mid twenties. She was waiting for some friends to come back from a tour and in rather a blunt manner explained that’s why she had nothing to do so could show me around. We were close to Tienanmen Square so it was our first stop, and the first place I realised how very different Beijing was to the rest of China. Tourists flooded the Square outside Chairman Mao’s resting place. Police ignored the camera’s pointing at them here too. And in a slight act of private rebellion of no consequence I asked a cute Chinese policewoman to pose for a photo. It was hard to picuture the scene from the student uprising that infamously covered all TV and newspapers back in the early nineties. The throng of crowds made it hard to picture where ‘that’ tank had shuffled to avoid the student.

The back streets of Beijing are perhaps more like the China we think of. Lot’s of open food stalls, vendors selling anything to anything and crowds. Also present was so much scaffolding it was hard to pass a street that wasn’t under construction. People were friendly though, happy to pose for photographs. National pride was higher than ever thanks to the Olympic Games. Modern Curio shops were a joy to wander into. Everything from ancient looking wooden boxes, the smell of shoe polish still fresh on their ‘ageing’ wooden frames to the latest counterfeit plastic toy was on sale. Boxes of rip of confectionery stacked shelves complete with unknown triple digit additive numbers typed over very familiar design patterns. This was the market place that embodied both old and new.

We stopped for lunch at a traditional street steaming restaurant. Peking Duck, or as it know now Beijing, Duck was too good an opportunity to pass up. Beijing was trying hard to accommodate all. It was so obvious it was in your face. The new subway rode without a glitch, the signs were all new, and English was everywhere. As were the tour groups. Little ladies held brightly colored flags and led people of all ages and nationalities with matching name tags around the city. The shopping centres along Dongcheng road all bustled with the latest in consumer items as the fashion conscious walked arm in arm along the well paved roadside. While consumable items were cheap, large electronics or brand name clothes matches of even surpassed European high street prices. It was a city you could easily live in. There was plenty on offer, and the after that plenty more to do.

For me I was limited by time again. It was the price one pays when you book a flight ticket, not something I was used to.

“Dude, I so gotta surf!”

Chris looked at me with a big goofy smile. Not knowing quite how to explain to him the obvious, I stated it plainly. “Chris, you are in Beijing. No surf! In two days you will be on a plane. And I happy man in Thailand with the waves.”

“Yo, that’s what I am talking about.”

He was actually a nice guy, just in the wrong country. The Great Wall was never my thing so to speak, but as Chris wanted to see it as well on his last day we teamed up and invited the Korean Jo-him to join us. It was a hostel arranged bus that took us out to the site. We had argued briefly about the various sections that were on offer, and listening to an email I read out agreed we should see a little visited section of the Great Wall.

Some related links on this website that  you might like: (including a lot more photographs from China)

Stories: Surviving the Riots in Tibet

Stories: Watching the Chinese Army Move into Lhasa

Resources: All about getting a Tibet Permit / Visa

Resources: How to Guide – Nepal to Tibet Overland

China Travel Guide

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