A City of 20 Million

Trip Start May 04, 2011
Trip End Oct 08, 2012

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Flag of China  ,
Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Beijing was my first stop in China where I had arranged to Couchsurf with a local Chinese couple Hengna and her hubby Mr. Loo. Per Hengna's directions I was successful in arriving at the desired metro stop; however, since I arrived at 6:30AM and Hengna had the phone off, I spent the first couple of hours at the nearby Starbucks, not knowing if I had a place to stay or not. In the end I met Mark, a Canadian working in Beijing, who offered me his place as a back-up. It is always so nice to see the open trust and hospitality of others abroad, something we don’t see much of in LA. Fortunately Hengna finally called me back and got me situated in their home. Combined with a red eye flight and a rainy day I really didn’t do much other than venture over to Tiananmen Square to take photos with the masses. I quickly discovered that the Chinese vacation in August and it was apparent during my entire stay in Beijing. In the one afternoon I picked up on some of the less desirable Chinese culture. Immediately I witnessed what it means that the Chinese have "no sense of personal space." Changing metros at a connecting station meant pushing and being pushed if there was any luck of boarding the desired train. I watched a woman with baby in arms, on more than one occasion, be pushed in every direction including head on as those trying to exit were blocked by those trying to board and vice versa. So now I’m doing as the Romans. A similar bad habit that doesn’t seem to bother their fellow nationals is cutting in line. I was amused at how common it is for everyone especially the elders to just cut to the front of the line and yet no one says anything. But as an American my nerves have been tested. Sadly I wasn’t utilizing what I had just learned at the retreat and after waiting an hour in line for train tickets one day I blocked this one guy from cutting in front.  I’m sure these behaviors are due to living among so many people and if you don’t take care of yourself you get left in the dust.

The night was lovely, I met my host back at the house around 7:00PM and we went to a really nice restaurant for Chinese Hotpot where you cook all the raw food yourself in two different oils. Hengna mixed up a delicious dipping sauce and cracked me up when she whipped out her phone to show the equivalent of a Groupon coupon. We had roughly 10 dishes with four meats and the whole thing cost the three of us less than $30USD total. Hengna does PR for a French/Japanese lingerie line and like me is great at making reservations. She loves to eat out and tends to order way too much food. We went out on three different occasions.

The next morning I woke up early and with clear directions written in Chinese I attempted to purchase a train ticket to Xian for four days in advance which is as soon as you can purchase certain train tickets in Beijing. However, with 5,000 little ticket kiosks on every street I was competing with the Chinese tourists once again to get a popular ticket. No such luck even starting at 8:00AM the next day. In the end I had to reroute to Shanghai to make the southwest loop instead.

Still early, I spent a full day at the second of Beijing’s highlights: The Summer Palace. The grounds are enormous and even with thousands of tourists the gardens are peaceful. Upon arrival I met a nice Russian girl named Anastasia, and together we explored the park with a special mission to find Suzhou Street.  Suzhou is a city just south of Shanghai that is often compared to Venice, Italy because of its canals.

That night I met up with the CS meet up in a very happening area called Sanlitun Street which is lined with bars and street food. Nice way to end the day.
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