Billions and billions in Beijing
Trip Start Aug 09, 2010
124Trip End Feb 01, 2012
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Here is our installment from Beijing.
We got into Beijing at noon and we were met by a sea of humanity! The day we arrived was October 1st. Our Chinese friends will know what that date means. Basically its the start of a National holiday that lasts a whole week. It also means that there are millions of people traveling around. In fact we read in the paper that 280 million people travelled on October 1st! 280 million! It was a bit different than the Mongolian steppes!
So we made it to Beijing from London by train! Woo hoo!
We squeezed through the crowds and jumped into a taxi that cost £2 to get to our hostel. It was in a hutong. A hutong is basically a very narrow alley in Beijing. There are not many of them left as the Chinese government are knocking them down. Which is a shame as they are great. There is a real sense of history in them and the atmosphere is special. We loved walking and cycling around them. Although it was quite hard when there were loads and loads and loads of Chinese tourists about. We were amazed how cheap Beijing was. For example to hire the bikes it cost us 1 pound a day! It was so easy to cycle too as on the main roads the cycle lanes are as big as roads back home. In the hutongs there are food vendors and restaurants everywhere and the food was amazing. It was so great to go into any place you fancy and know that you would get decent food! The beer was amazingly cheap!
There we were happily walking down Huangang, after a morning of cycling. The place was packed with people and we were having trouble finding 'snack street' where we wanted to get our lunch. This pretty Chinese woman approached us and said 'hello'. Having had so many great experiences with strangers P and I were delighted she wanted to speak to us and started chatting happily away. Her two cousins also joined us and started asking us about our trip. They told us they were from Qingdao and were in Beijing for the National Holiday. We got very excited as we were actually going to Qingdao a few days later. We asked them if they knew where snack street was and they said they'd take us there. 'Great! More helpful people' we thought. On our way there the terrible trio made sure they massaged our egos by telling us how beautiful we were (to me) and how adventurous we were and how this and that. By the time we turned round the corner we were walking taller and more inflated. They nonchalantly asked us if we wanted to go for some tea with them and we said ok. The thing is that both Paul and I had read the strong advice by our guide book never to accept any offers of drinking tea. I even told Paul that we should be careful as we entered this tourist shop and were hurried upstairs. My instincts were screaming 'nooooooo'. The menus were put in front of us and I noticed that the cheapest cup of tea was $6. By this point we should have stood up, made our excuses and left. But no, the idea of saying 'no' to these lovely people didn't sit too comfortably with us. They were so nice, we wanted to be nice back! So we stayed and we drank tea and after an hour we asked for the bill. Lo and behold we were presented by a bill that we had agreed we would split. The total was £90!!!!! For 1 pot of tea!!! Apparently we'd drunk the best tea and we also had to pay for room rental. You'd think we would protest at this point, refuse to pay, call the manager, anything but take out our credit card. Well, you'd be wrong. We were in such shock that we paid quietly and even said bye to them before we left. Be both staggered out of the shop feeling dazed and confused. The whole incident had just absolutely shattered this street-wise, seasoned-travellers- image we had of ourselves. To be honest I think our ego was a lot more bruised than our pocket. Kudos to the con men - they were absolutely brilliant. They had us eating out of their hands and in a way deserved their cut. We actually escaped relatively unscathed as apparently some people are presented with bills of £300 at the end if the scamming session.
Unfortunately the whole incident put a real dampener to our visit to 'snack street'. Which turned out not to be 'snack street' after all. Instead it was a market that specialised in weird food. But not even the sight of sheep's penis on a kebab got a smile from us.
I was determined to turn this incident into something positive and whilst cycling back home philosophised about our general reluctance to say no for fear of appearing uncooperative, unhelpful or unfriendly. How often have we said yes when we would have loved to say no, to a friend, a manager, a family member, a neighbour.What does it end up costing us? On this occasion I had a very specific figure - £46. So I made a pact with myself, from today onwards whenever my instincts told me to, I would remember this day and say 'NO' loud and clear.
Anyways, onwards and upwards... to the Great Wall we go!! And so the next day we made our way to the bus station to catch a bus to the most scenic part of the wall - Badaling. When we got there we quickly discovered that our idea was somewhat unoriginal. It seems that the entire population of Beijing had also planned the same trip that day and the queues for the bus were literally never ending. We could see where the line started, but not where it stopped - and this was the line for the standing tickets, never mind the queue for seats!! We decided that as beautiful as Badaling might be, sharing it with thousands of other people would somewhat take away the magic of the wall. So we decided to visit another part of the wall and set off on our journey to Dalian.
Hold on, I write this as if the whole process took ten minutes at the most. I haven't yet mentioned that there were about twenty different departure stations for bus 363. We still haven't figured out how to determine which one goes where. In our case the queues were a good indication but they were conveniently hidden away behind a corner and we only saw them after walking around the other 19 stations. I also haven't mentioned that we did queue in the sweltering heat for a while before deciding to abandon the original plan. Or that we thought the other bus we wanted also left from the same bus station and so we walked around for hours until someone told us it left from a completely different place in Beijing. But these are just details. It's these challenges that add to the joy of actually making it to a place.
We finally got to the right part of town and caught the bus to Dalian. This time the whole thing really did take a few minutes and I was thinking that it couldn't be that easy, I wasn't convinced we'd actually make it to the wall.
Paul & Karen xxx