Friday, January 23, 2009

China Chronicles: Day Three (Part One)

I woke up on the train not knowing how long I had been sleeping and not knowing where in China I was passing through. I kept a steady gaze out the window as what started as a pale pink light in the darkness slowly got brighter, turning orange first and then a bright red. What I had finally realized was confirmed by the mother I was sharing my seat with.

"Beijing", was the only decipherable word I got from what she was saying to me.

To be honest, this was the part of the trip I was dreading. I don't like being rude to people, especially when I'm travelling. It makes me feel really awkward, actually, like "I need to be rude to you but that doesn't mean I don't understand where you're coming from; you're just trying to make a living..." etc, etc. Of course I am referring to haggling, and it would be my first time haggling. I didn't need to do it in Qingdao, as prices were either dirt cheap to begin with or people were just being agreeable. You don't really haggle in Korea, except in a very few exceptions, but then I know enough Korean to know how to be polite and get a cheaper price. Has my rambling convinced you yet of how scared I was to try and get a taxi to my hostel?

I probably would have felt better about it if I had been arriving in the daytime, but when my train arrived at Beijing Central Station it was only 5:30 AM and still very dark. Few people were awake and out in the street, and I had been warned many times that I would try to be ripped off at the very least. Absolute worst case scenario? I get abducted and sold as a bride (that one was told to my by Koreans and may not be completely accurate, but still, it's enough to freak a girl out). Second worst case scenario? I get dropped off in a random area after being driven around for ages and being charged an exhorbitant amount. If I had been with someone I wouldn't have been worried, but being by myself and only knowing how to say "hello" and "thank you" had me sufficiently scared.

However, like every other thing I had been worried about, it was for no reason. Did I get bombarded by strange men trying to get me into their taxis? Yes. Did I almost get shoved into an unmarked van? Yes (but many taxis are unmarked vans so I'm sure it would have been fine if I had actually gone for it). Did I get ripped off? Ohhhhh, yes. But in the end I found a driver I thought I could trust, he gave me a much lower price than everyone else (which was still too high) and I got to my destination in one piece. And I was relieved!

At around 6 AM, I stumbled into my top bunk that I was sharing with five other young women. I hit my head on the roof twice and made a lot of noise. Then I slept comfortably until about 11 AM.

I woke up feeling like I had conquered something big. Readers, this may not seem like much to you, but for this country girl who had, yes, gotten used to living in a city but had gotten used to living in a Korean city with Korean people (and, to me, there is a big difference), I felt that I had handled the chaos of my arrival in Beijing pretty well. Looking out the window and seeing what a gorgeous, sunny day it was made me excited to go out and explore the city.

I bundled up (it was -10C on the warmest days), had a brief look at a map, and set off to find out where everything was so that, when my friends arrived later that day, we wouldn't have many problems. The area of Beijing I was staying in is called Wangfujing. It's really central to a lot of tourist attractions, it's close to the Silk Market (where I planned to do some serious shopping) and it's extremely classy. The difference from Qingdao was like night and day. As I walked down the street, no one was staring at me, there were brand name stores alongside traditional tea houses and heritage monuments and although the area had a lot of Western influence it did not feel at all like a place at home, in Korea or in Japan. It felt completely unique.

I walked down the street and soon found the government buildings. If I kept walking south I would come to the Temple of Heaven. If I walked to the right I would find Tiannamen Square and the Forbidden City. If I walked to the left (for a bit longer) I would find the Silk Market. And within my vicinity was the famous eating street and Wangfujing Market area. I totally felt like I was in my element. I ran into a nice middle aged Aussie woman who lived in the Grand Hyatt with her businessman husband and she helped me get my bearings. Beijing is a remarkably easy city to find your way around; the whole thing is one big rectangle with the Forbidden City at it's centre. Hutongs, which are old, winding alleyways, are located within the rectangles. They are not easy to find your way around, but they are fun to get lost in as I would later find out.

I found the Market area with the help of my new Aussie friend, had some lunch, and went to a teahouse to warm up and write in my journal. After, I found my way back to the hostel, had a shower and waited for Allison and Jeremy to arrive so we could wander around some more. Bernard and Charlene would be joining us the next day and then the real exploring would begin.

As I was sitting in the teahouse, I could picture myself living in Beijing for a little while. It's a beautiful city- and not at all what I was expecting, coming from the neon lights and highrises in Korea. Here are some pics:

Entrance to the Wangfujing Youth Hostel, which became my home in Beijing. It was great! I especially liked it's little pub/restaurant/tea house. Oh, and my bed was six bucks a night. Can't beat that.

The only downside? I disturbed everyone in the room every time I tried to climb into my bed. The ceiling tiles are surprisingly noisy.

The teahouse where I spent hours. I really enjoyed their beverages.

Entrance to the Wangfujing Market/eating area.

Duh duh duhhhhhhhh. Building Number One, where the big Chinese politicians do all kinds of Communist things.

The streets were extremely clean and litter free, but unfortunately they were not pigeon shit-free.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The information here is great. I will invite my friends here.