Tuesday leaving Japan for China
Trip Start Nov 04, 2008
43Trip End Dec 15, 2008
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Where I stayed
Now we're in Beijing. As soon as the plane starts to descend we realize it's cloudy or is that the pollution people talk about? We step off the plane and the air smells like a fire is in the air. Is it? Hummmmmm.....no.
We grab our bags and head outdoors. The air is thick and to top it off everyone is smoking cigs. We wait in cue for a cab. We toss our bags in the trunk of a cab. It looks good but turns out to be the scariest part of our trip. Not because of the driving but because the driver didn't speak or read English he didn't know where to take us. Unfortunately we didn't realize this until we were on an 8 lane highway and unsure if we were even going in the right direction. It was the first time we decided we better turn on the cell phone and make an International call to the hotel and get them to give the driver directions. That call probably cost us $20 but whatever, we needed it! Finally after 3 phone calls and 15 minutes of "i don't understand" he assured us he knew where to go...and thank goodness, he did. 89 RMB later ($11) we were at the Hilton and thankful! It's our home away from home.
Upon check-in we are informed we are on the 11th floor in a suite and have access to the executive lounge. The bellhop struggles with our bags and escorts us up to our room. What a room it is! The closet is as big as our guest room at home. The shower room is as big as our master closet and the bedroom has a bed, lounge and office. Although this hotel doesn't have a fancy toilet like Japan it does have 3 plasma TVs an iPod setup and complimentary drinks and snacks. We pop open the bottle of Chilean red wine, snack on chocolate dipped apricots and nuts then head up to the lounge for a better view. The lounge is beautiful, recently remodeled, but the view is no better. The air is cloudy or polluted, we're not sure yet.
We grab our map and head out to Tiananmen Square down the street. The concierge directs us through a mall (darn) and down a main street toward the Square. As we're walking so are a million other people. We're basically just going with the flow at this point, literaly. John sparks up a conversation with a local who asks if we're from the US. We walk down the sidewalk as he tells us he's an art student here in Beijing from Shanghai and he's taking his friend to his college art gallery to see his work on display. He seems friendly and is inquisitive about the US so we talk with him on the walk. When we approach his turn he invites us to see his work too. The friendly people we are we follow him down a side street where he points out multiple hutongs (small residential alleys) and walks us to his art gallery. The work is beautiful - paint on rice paper and silk. Then in walks another guy who he introduces as his teacher. At this point I start to smell something fishy....not literaily but I see price tags on everything. Then the sales pitch begins. UGH! We try to leave politely but the pressure is on. Another American couple is purchasing something and they leave. Then all the Chinese people in the gallery are on us. We do like the art, it's pretty and would make a great souvenir. We decide to buy a piece of calligraphy on silk and get the heck out of there. The prices are cheap so no big deal, but the vibe is off. We leave there and head down another alley where everyone and their mother is trying to sell us something. We kick it into high gear and get into Tiananmen Square. Phew! As we approach the main gate a mass of people is stopped. We start to wonder if we're too late, did it close? Just then we notice a flag out of the archway. It's the Chinese military, the changing of the guards. The scene is awesome! Everyone in unison, dressed and pressed and focused on their task. After the guards go by we walk through the Square, past many more tourist trap shops and out the front where you can see General Mao's painting hanging. It's exactly like the photos and the books!
The crowd is thick, the air is thick, the beggars and sales people are ruthless. We decide to head back to the hotel. It's about a 15-20 minute walk to the hotel, down the main street, past the shops, through the mall and we're back at the Hilton. Another breath of fresh air, once we get inside of course. Seriously the air here in Beijing is thicker then we thought. You can see the pollution settled on everything outside. It's dirty and smelly. The moon peeks through the sky just before we walk into the hotel. Up to the 11th floor and back to our room. We enjoy a glass of wine and I try to log onto my Myspace. It doesn't boot up. John says the Chinese gov't has restrictions on the Internet and I wont be able to get on. I google and try to back door my way in...finally I'm in. Myspace.ch rather then .com. It's all in Chinese but I know the site enough to log in and see my page in English. I update a few things and we head up to the top floor lounge for happy hour. In the lounge we met some Westerners who are in from California and Seattle. The group from California is an MBA program who was sent to Shanghai to study International business for a week then came here for a short vacation. During our chit-chat we realize we're all going to the Great Wall tomorrow and have the same agenda. Jeff, one of the guys, asks us to join them on their trip so we plan on it. We'll meet them tomorrow in the lounge for breakfast and have a personal driver take us to the Great Wall in the Mutianyu Section so we can ride down it! Then we'll go to the Ming tomb where 13 of the last 14 Emperors are buried.
Jeff and his group leave the lounge and we chat with a lady from Seattle who is here on pleasure by herself. She's been here 4 days and gives us some pointers for our trip. When we mention we live in Florida she states she owns a place on the West coast, in between Tampa and Ft Myers. I ask if it's near Englewood (where I grew up) and she's in shock...YES it's Oyster Creek, in Englewood. Boy what a small world! We chat about our travels, Seattle and Englewood and 4 glasses of wine later John and I head back to our room. John's soaking in our claw footed tub while I write this blog. Oh....apparently he's done and loving the Hilton robe provided. :)
Although it's only 10pm here we're tired and have a big day tomorrow exploring. Time for bed!