My first experience in China
Trip Start Jul 28, 2009
51Trip End Jul 27, 2010
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After experiencing an overly long and boring flight, I finally made it to China! In all honestly I couldn't believe that I had arrived in Beijing, I was a little daunted but I kept a clear head and there was a smile on my face. After checking out all the good looking Chinese birds with the name cards for people I progressed to immigration. On the flight (because of swine flu) all non-Chinese 'aliens', which included me, were made to fill out a health form regarding where I was staying, who I sat next to and whether or not I had any symptoms. A couple of the details I didn't know so I made them up!
After getting through immigration it was about 7 o'clock in the morning by this time. My next mission was to make it to my hostel via the subway because I was too stingy to pay ￡40 for a taxi to town. Instead I paid ￡5 to get to Qainmen subway station. I can’t talk a word of Chinese, so getting tickets wasn't easy but I managed to pull out my torn up subway map and point at stations. This got me through!
The subway in Beijing is incredible. Built in 2008 for the Olympics; the trains are large, clean and friendly. The train puled away, and instantly I saw the contrast of the new and the old of China. There I was on my ultra modern airport train, looking down on peasant farmers tending to their vegetable lots.
I had to make one transfer at Dongzhimen, to get onto line 2 that took me 4 stops to Qianmen. This is where I met my first acquaintance whilst transferring to line 2. I was trying to buy another ticket for line 2 and was having a spot of trouble. The machine was not easy to navigate, I was clearly having trouble, and so to my surprise an English speaking Chinese fellow helped me out! The machine wasn't even accepting some crusty old note that I had got when paying for my first ticket, and so he helped me out by paying for my fare with his money. I offered him 5 Yuan, (which is double the price of the ticket) but he was not interested in it and seemed to be more than happy that he had simply helped me out. Our paths took the same route, so It was polite to talk to him about what I was up to in China and I told him about how I was going to teach English (which always feels ironic to say, especially as I cant talk a word of Chinese). I found out that he has spent the last 2 and a half months in South America and possibly North America, but It was hard to make full sense of what he was saying as his English wasn't 100% perfect. He worked in Manufacturing, and had saved up to work/travel in Mexico city. I didn't really go much into it, as we only shared about 2 stops together, but he was extremely helpful and made me realise that there are some really friendly people out here in China.
Qianmen station was my destination. It was now the time to start looking for my hostel. Thank fuck for google maps, because I would have been completely disorientated when I came out of that station. I rose from the escalator, and I was in the middle of one of the biggest tourist areas in the city, tiananmen square. Despite the fact it was probably about 8.30 in the morning at this time, there were still thousands of Chinese tourists, street food sellers with wonderful smells and beautiful traditional monuments. After walking through the Arrow tower and with Tiananmen square just behind me, I contined walking into this unknown place. I knew roughly where I had to go, because of my rudimentary research from google maps, I knew what to look out for and the street I had to look for.
I walked to the long street that I was aiming for, and admittedly I didn't really know where I was going after that. The street that I had aimed for and was walking down reminded me of something from Disney land. No joke. Completely tacky and fake, the newly paved street was full of western shops and finished off with an 'authentic' shop face which all the buildings in the seemed to adopt, and it looked terrible. The only good thing about it was, I knew that I was very safe. I walked about 600m down the street and I knew I had gone too far, so I broke out the map and tried to make sense of what street I had to be going down, and all I knew was I had to turn right. Where was this right hand corner? To my surprise a bin man saw me looking at my map started shouting at me in Chinese and walked over to me. I obviously couldn't really communicate so I pulled out the address of my hostel which was written in Chinese. He knew and tried to demonstrate how to get there by wildly throwing his arms in a backward the right direction, which he continued swinging until I showed some kind of response. After nodding wildly to show my understanding, he smiled and left me. He had helped me out a lot as I would have probably continued walking the wrong way, what a nice guy. I have to admit, I didn't really know how to thank him. Do I give him money? Or would it have not been wise to flash money as a solo traveller? I came to the conclusion that I wouldn't pay off someone in the UK for advice, so instead I said 'Thank you' loads of times. I felt bad about only saying thank you, I genuinely wanted to give him something for helping me out, but instead he got a thank you in English.
As I took the right hand turn off to the hostel I experienced real Beijing! The street that I was walking down was being totally over hauled. You can tell that it is a response from the growing number of tourists venturing into the narrow streets near the centre. They are all being transformed into pleasant western streets much like the Disney street that I had just walked from. Its not like in England where builders would have concern for health and safety or even keeping it minimal impact on the area. Instead, the whole street was building site with 100's of men working as quick as they could to rejuvenate the area. At this point I was sketching out, because I was the only white person in the area and I had all my luggage with me including my camera (which I was was wearing on my front) and my laptop in my main rucksack. My precious’. To be honest, there was nothing to worry about because it was lit, and there was plenty of people around to hopefully stop anything that might have happened. I think at the time my greatest fear was not finding the hostel. I asked for some directions from a German who clarified that I was walking in the right direction. However, he did say the when the path split into two I had walked too far. I walked down the street another 200 metres and I came to a junction. I knew I had gone too far, and I hadn't spotted the hostel. At this point I was getting a little concerned, because I hadn't slept on the plane and must have been up for more than 24 hours. I kept my head, and stayed faithful to the German’s advice. I turned a full 180 and went back to walk where I had come from.
Feeling very pessimistic at the point, I didn't know who to ask or where to go. I was stared at by lots of the locals and the only people I could really have asked for directions were the builders digging up the street. I wasn't sure if these builders were educated or not, so I wasn't too keen on shunting a piece of paper with the hostel address in their faces. Instead, I spotted some surveyors with hard hats on knowing that they could definitely read. Turns out I was close, and it was about 100m away from the Junction that I turned back from.
Arriving at 365 Inn (my hostel) was a great accomplishment. First day travelling, and I had made it half way across Beijing and I frickin' made it!! I was so looking forward to just getting a room and going to sleep. The guy at the counter informed me that I couldn't go into my room until 12 o'clock. The time at this point was 9.30 and I wasn't too pleased, but I was in too good’er mood to show how pissed off I was about it. I sat down, ate a (strange tasting) vegetarian breakfast and read/wrote some emails.
Although I was in a tired state, I still managed to get some sight seeing done, so I broke out the 'ole Nikon D50 and headed back to Tiananmen. By this point there was even more people out ‘n about and combined with the scale of Tiananmen square, I really felt the true vastness of the world for the first time. How can people live in Devon when there is so much more out there?
After walking around Tiananmen and having intense realisations that I was truely ‘alien’ to the Chinese, which was exemplified to me because they all couldn’t stop staring at me! My favourite sight was a yawning Chinese guard standing still in the 'attention' pose right next to the official Tiananmen square flag which was a main attraction, and right opposite the forbidden city. Although purely there as a tourist thing, I found it ironic that the regimented Chinese solider was slacking in front of so many people, it quite reminded me of the British worker going to their jobs pissed after the weekend. It the same all over the world! I think it would have looked better if I put on my massive zoom lens, but I decided it wasn't worth it, and the cropped picture captures the essence. I bumped into some white people who offered to take a picture of me by the guards, but I said no.. which I really regret. Im just too paranoid of getting my stuff nicked, but I would have been nice especially as I wont get too many opportunities of getting myself in the pictures I have.
I was considering visiting the forbidden city, but in Beijing the roads are not like ours. 6 lane highways are hard to cross by foot and with crazy drivers who wont stop for you it wasn't worth running across. The way to cross the road is obviously to use underground walkways, but the only one I could spot was closed! At this point I decided to head back and give the camera a rest until another time, after all I am here for 6 months, plenty of opportunities to take photos.
Got back to the hostel no problems, and even took some photos of the street I was describing earlier before getting to the hostel at about 12.30 I was supposed to be sharing a 4 bed dorm room, but for some reason I was 'upgraded' to a double bed ensuite. I was more up for meeting people in the rooms, and potentially getting laid but I suppose a room to myself is quite a bonus as It didn’t risk getting my stuff nicked. The most important priority on my mind was getting washed. I took off my clothes that I had been wearing for 3 days straight (yeah I know, I’m a backpacker now!!) and jumped in the shower. Cold, but I didn't give a shit, I was clean!
My plan was to wake up at 6, and go out. What has actually happened is me chilling out in my room on my computer, which Is vaguely familiar to the lifestyle I have been used to all these years, just without the weed. It is now 11 o'clock and I have been up for 5 hours doing nothing, apart from take pictures of dead mosquitos (one of which had loads of blood) and read my lonely planet guide about the best places to get pissed up in Beijing. After much research, I am in the wrong end of town to all the stuff that they mention but that doesn't mean that there are bars around here too. I just cant be arsed to go find them solo, and drink on my own like a loser. This is why I was quite gutted about being 'upgraded' to a room on my own, because now I have not met anyone and I think its a bit too late to go out now and make friends. Tomorrow is another day as that is when my teaching program starts, and that is when it all begins. Right now I can afford to chill out here and do nothing, because unlike most holidays I have been on.. I have all the time in the world.
GOD IM HUNGRY