Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

Trip Start Feb 18, 2009
Trip End Aug 10, 2009

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Flag of China  ,
Monday, June 8, 2009

Arrived in Beijing in the early morning of 05 June 09. Prior to de-planing, a crew of government health workers boarded the plane and took everyone's temperature… in a very sci-fi way with a gun-like thermometer pointed at our foreheads! As I was waiting for the elevator to go down to a lower level of the airport to catch a cab this young man approached me and offered help getting a ride to the centre of Beijing. I thought he was going to just help me locate the taxi stand. As we walked, I asked what he does for a living and he said he drives cabs. At that moment a lightbulb went on and I realized that he was offering to drive me. I asked him how much it was going to cost and when he replied 300Y I laughed and walked away. I made my way to my original destination and there the 'real’ taxi drivers wanted 250Y which I knew also to be ridiculous. After wandering aimlessly for some time I happened upon a bus stand and ended up paying 16Y to get me into the city! From the bus stop I was easily able to find the subway where I took the #2 line (for 2Y) to a stop very near my hotel. I've found it to be very beneficial to know ahead how much you should be paying for transportion in these cities! My hotel was called the Bamboo Garden and I was completely pampered there… the room was lovely with its Asian décor, flat screen TV and in-room computer!

Once settled I went for a walk and found the nearby Drum Tower (which was closed for repairs) and the Bell Tower (which I climbed… and wow did those stairs seem easy at this lower altitude!). Drum and Bell Towers are exactly what they say they are... towers with drums or bells. The drums and/or bells were struck at different times during the day and night as kind of a time-keeping method. I also found this trendy little street called Nanluogo Xiang that was lined with shops, cafes and bars. Later that afternoon I took the subway to find the Wangfujing Snack Street and the Donghuamen Night Market where I found some very INTERESTING food items... some of them still moving on the skewers! The Wangfujing area is filled with expensive shops… even a Lamborgiini store!

This day was the 20th anniversary of the standoff at Tian’Anmen Square but all was quiet in Beijing.

The following day (06 Jun 09) I took the subway to the Forbidden City where I spent about 3 hours wandering in the drizzle and rain. It really did feel very ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’! I loved thinking about the movie using it as an aid to picture the era and envision what the place would have looked like and what the people would have been wearing during that time. I was very tired or I would have stayed longer as I didn’t see everything but between the crowds, the rain and me being exhausted I eventually left. On my way back to the hotel I did find the energy to stop at the Oriental Plaza… a very expensive mall… where I was happy to just window shop.

On Sunday (07 Jun 09) I rented a bicycle and toured all over central Beijing. I visited the 3 lakes (Xi, Hou and Qian) in the northwest and the amply named Bar Street that overlooks the lakes. There was a man in the park surrounding one of the lakes playing a strange instrument but the music was enchanting. I road past Tian’Anmen Square and the National Grand Theatre and walked through some weird shopping street that looked like a movie set. I saw the Monument to the People’s Heroes and, the highlight of the day, what I think may possibly have been the blue line painted on the road from the Olympic Marathon!! I road through countless hutongs (narrow streets/alleys that give access to Beijing’s gated courtyards and homes… but they are very quickly being destroyed to allow for highrise construction). I road around the exterior of the Palace Museum (Forbidden City) and then stopped at Beihai Park (most parks in central Beijing have an entry fee which I found unusual). I road back to the lakes and stopped at a bakery called Michelle’s (so un-Chinese!) to buy some whole grain bread (something I’ve missed dearly!). I sat in the park again and listened to another gentleman playing a flute… his music was so tender it made me melancholy to the point I was teary eyed so I had to leave! I road to the train station to purchase my ticket to Datong and then to Silk Street where I did some shopping. I found the woman vendors there to be VERY aggressive and 2 actually got physical grabbing my wrists to keep me from leaving when I wouldn’t barter (only because they started at a simply ridiculous price and I just wasn't in the mood!). On my way back I noticed some kites in the air and it seemed as though there were being flown from nowhere. Kites would become a common site in China. I stopped at a small bar on Nanluogu Xiang for a drink and met and chatted with a woman from London who works for Reuters and was in Beijing for work.

On Monday it rained and I was so happy that I hadn’t booked a trip to visit the Great Wall as I had thought about doing. I spent a good part of the day working on my blog, watching tennis on TV (there were very few English channels) and sitting in my window listening to the rain. I did venture out for a while to visit several more hutongs. I noted the number of public restrooms in these alleys and eventually discovered that many homes do not have bathrooms and so public toilets were installed. There are also a lot of small dogs in Beijing and I later learned… although don’t quote me on this as I don't know if my source knew what they were talking about… that the size of dog you are able to own depends on where you live (ie. the more central, the smaller the dog).

My initial impression of Beijing was possitive. It was very easy to get around on the subway and bus systems. Even with all the traffic I found the bicycle safe to navigate the streets with. The city was relatively clean and I felt safe walking at night. I was shocked that I could see blue sky on clear days as I had expected the smog to be all consuming. The city was; however, rather expensive (relative to what I had been paying in south eastern Asia) and I was surprised at how little English is spoken.

Tuesday morning I'd begin my trip through China.
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