It's About The Journey And The Destination

Trip Start Jul 03, 2009
Trip End Aug 16, 2009

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Where I stayed
The Crowne Plaza Beijing

Flag of China  ,
Tuesday, August 4, 2009

We began our day not really prepared for what Beijing would offer us on this particular day. It started late as we slept like logs, babies, etc. The Crowne Plaza or as Joe likes to call it, The Crowne Royal…lacks in some service aspects but the beds are very comfy. We got a recommendation from our concierge to a buffet style restaurant called "Coffin 99" which we soon discovered was really “Café 99.” It was a nice restaurant with delicious pizza, some really nice Chinese specialities and the larger than life dessert table. We thought we were getting a good deal until we got the bill and our water and one can of Diet Coke cost us about $20.00. Ah well. The food was tasty enough to fortify us for what would be a very interesting day.

Our goal was to get to the Summer Palace, a pristine massive garden area built by the emperor. We decided against a cab all the way to the garden as our trusty tour book promised us a “lovely more peaceful” ride on a luxury boat down the river. We jumped in a cab to the Beijing Aquarium as the book said the ticket booth was “just south” of there. “Just south” involved an hour long walk to a small booth behind the Beijing Exhibition Center. We bought our tickets and waited. It was nearing 3:00 already and my stomach had a grumbly odd feeling.

We stood at the waters' edge watching families take dangerous looking speedboats from 1960 around this small moat area laughing and screaming. The boats all appeared full. Certainly this wasn’t our luxury cruise. It was approaching 3:30PM and just when we were about to ask after the boat’s departure time, a speedboat pulled up. We were told to get in and immediately noticed that everyone was wearing life vests except for whitey. I have been on some terrifying roller coasters, planes that have been hit by lightning, I have been paragliding, bungee jumping, my house has set on fire in the middle of the night and I can honestly say I have never been more terrified than I was on this five minute hellish boat ride. (Make sure to watch Joe’s video, it doesn’t begin to capture the horror). We were told that the boat was going to the zoo which is not where we had planned on going. After making it safely and having a laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation we were quickly escorted to another boat, more serene but already full of Chinese tourists. We were given seats on the edge of already full benches in our non-air conditioned cabin. This is ok, there’s a nice breeze once the boat starts to move and I can see how this could be considered relaxing, until the Chinese tour guide gets on a microphone and starts speaking loudly throughout the entire ride.

Finally it was time to disembark. The garden was lovely but we soon realized that we were in the wrong garden. We followed the swarming crowd to yes, another boat. After waiting another fifteen minutes the next boat pulled up and there was a literal stampede to get on for prime seats. I would not be trifled with. My large behind was not hanging off the seat for another half an hour. We joined in the pushing and shoving and managed to get a bit more room. The next ride was as loud as the last so we were more than grateful to reach our final destination…3 hours later. 3 hours. Would have been a 45 minute cab ride. 3 hours.

As those who know me should know by now, I was not in the best of moods after this situation. As my mom often remarks, “poor Joe.” My stomach was in knots of a familiar type of way, but the gardens were incredibly lovely and seeing how excited Joe was made things a lot better. We made it through the first small garden when I had to use the restroom, pronto. Thank God there was a toilet nearby. I left Joe to take pictures of the scenery and headed to a porta potty type situation with squat toilets only. I have been thinking all day long about how explicit to be on this blog about what happened and I’ve decided to share a small anticdote.

The floor of the building where I work consists of 5 immigration offices and one feature film casting office. The bathrooms are always disgusting with all forms of bodily fluids on the floors, seats, etc. We are continuously in awe. “How does pee/poop/etc. get way over there? “ “Who doesn’t know how to use a toilet?” I think that’s what the cleaning person who is in charge of the Summer Palace might be thinking when they enter the last stall of the eastern porta potty. After basically having to shower I headed back out to regroup.

After popping some Pepto and Immodium we were finally on our way. The gardens were spectacular. There was the Long Corridor with 10,000 different scenes from the country side painted on it, the 17 arch bridge which is what it sounds like, and beautiful temples and receiving halls, rockeries, and lakes. The best part of the gardens was the quiet. We entered in a less popular section and enjoyed peace for the first time since hitting Asian soil.

It was getting dark, so we decided to head over to Olympic Park. It was just as impressive as it looked on television. Unfortunately, we didn’t get into the Water Cube because Swan Lake was being performed…in the water cube. We had even brought our swim suits as you can buy tickets to take a lap in the famous pool. Our feeling of peace and quiet was gone quickly at this tourist drenched site, until we heard some drum music in Olympic Park and found some older women doing a traditional dance with fans (I almost called this a fan dance but realized that the mental image would have been quite different).

Time to head back on the subway, which always makes Joe and I feel more comfortable than a cab. After three transfers we grabbed a quick shower and headed downstairs to our hotel restaurant, Zen, a Hong Kong transplant that was quite tasty.

It was quite the day of travel and patience, but looking back, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

T-shirt of the day: Woody Allen, what’s next?

Tomorrow: A Great Wall
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