We've hit a wall.........and it's BIG!!!
Trip Start Mar 10, 2009
39Trip End Nov 09, 2009
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Well, birnie and I are off to a great start in China. We were late rushing to the airport from Tokyo due to staying out past our bedtime on a school night. Needless to say, hungover, smelling like booze and cigarettes (everyone in Japan smokes everywhere.....) we boarded our flight and were on our way.
We landed in Beijing around 2pm local time, breezed through customs and started all over again, - knowing absolutely none of the language, the area, or virtually anything that could help two total standouts have a smooth transition
The first difference we experienced was that Chinese people were not quite as helpful as their Japanese counterparts. We had to catch a bus from the airport to the subway station (about a 45min ride) and the bus attendant wasn't too keen on letting these Lao Wai (white boys) on the bus. People were pissed that our packs were so big, and we felt like two-headed aliens when everyone looked at us so skeptically. So the bus attendant sent us on a wild goose chase, motioning that his bus didn't go to where we wanted and we wandered in a big circle only to come back to the same bus and same attendant. He finally let us on; his bus was in fact going where we wanted, and we were heading to the city.
We had booked a hostel in advance, (learned our lesson from multiple faux pas in Japan) so at least we didn't have that additional stress.
I must mention that the bus ride was approximately 50 cents for 45 minutes. Which would have been about $45 dollars in Japan so we were happy to arrive in a more affordable place.
Next was our aimless wandering in the subway area
We got to our hostel, gu lou street hostel and were anxious to relax for a bit. The people that work here are really awesome. Young chinese kids that are so friendly and so curious that we spend the whole day talking, showing them pictures, helping them sign up for email accounts and speaking english/chinese back and forth. Truly a fun time, if not a huge distraction from trying to update the blog hahaha.
Like the movie Groundhog Day, we walked into a place for lunch with only chinese symbols, and were about to play the point and pray game, but the kid working there brought us a menu that had a few pictures on it. He was a savior for sure. See the video clip of him playing guitar, some Nirvana, Clapton etc...which made for a good Karaoke session.
Birnie ordered the equivalent of Kung Pao Chicken and I got pork with chinese vegetables. One thing worth talking about. Birnie experienced the real deal Kung Pao......spicy as hell. After sweating, looking extremely uncomfortable and muscling through it, he then realized Chinese like-a-the-spice.......and we had a new respect for when they say spicy
After our $1.50 feast, a few hour nap led to us deciding to head out and explore for the evening.
A good night life spot was a short walk from our hostel, called Hou Hai, and it lived up to its reputation. Peddlers stalking you, begging you to come to their bar or buy their stuff, and if you give them the time of day, they will follow you for miles. That is not a lie. I was nice to one woman who wanted us to come to her disco bar, and she literally followed us for over an hour as we walked around the lake. Birnie and I finally had to force her to stop stalking at which time she reluctantly lingered about 20 yards behind us.
We settled in for a decent dinner and decided a few beers were in our future.
Well...........I have to throw a shout out to Yeng Veng right here. He warned us, but we fell victim to our first mistake in China. We met a lady in the street who asked us to come to her bar. We bantered back and forth about how much we were willing to pay for Tsingtao beers, at which time 15 yuan was agreed upon (about $2), and we were off to her "disco"
We walk into this place at which time we were quickly ushered to a room with a long line of Chinese girls. We were asked to pick a girl who was going to be our "host" for the evening, and birnie and I looked at each other not knowing what the hell was going on.
OK, get your minds out of the gutter here people, this was not what you (or we) were thinking. It was basically the equivalent of a Japanese Hostess bar. You pick a lady, and she is your assistant/waitress for the night. Talks with you, practices her english, plays drinking games with you, tells you about the area etc.....
So we chose two girls and we go into a room with a big table and some chairs. The girls break out dice and we start playing dice drinking games. Definitely fun, the girls laugh at our lame attempts to learn chinese, get us beers when we run out, teach us some fun dice games and all was great. Except for the kicker. As we finished each beer, they would run out, get us a beer, and bring themselves back a drink as well.
Nothing too suspicious until we asked how much their drinks were about a half hour into playing dice
We won't be making that mistake again. But all in all, it was a funny event and I guess that's what makes traveling memorable at times. Although it hurt our wallets for the night, we had a few laughs about it and had a life-long memory.
We headed home and hit the rack.
That was day one.
Today we got up, headed out to see the Imperial Palace, the Forbidden City and Tian'anmen Square. The second we stepped off the metro, we began talking with a man and a woman who were artists from Xi'an (or so they said). They took us to their art exhibit, showed us calligraphy, explained some Chinese history and character meanings to us and it was definitely really cool
These artists personally walked us to the Chinese post office, helped us struggle our way through sending this stuff back to the USA, which by the way was harder to do than obtaining a chinese visa, and in three months it will be arriving at my sister's house. Sweet. Chinese Fedex takes three months by ship. So bert, be on the lookout sometime in July hahahaha. Good news is that it only cost about $12 to ship five things back to the states. Worth the wait for sure.
See the pics of the artist and some of the personalized stuff he was demonstrating for us.
We headed into the forbidden city and had some lunch. It was really amazing to be walking through Tian'anmen Square towards the Forbidden city. To think of the history and actually be there in person was amazing.
After lunch at the entrance to the Imperial park was where the comedy of the day began. As we debated whether or not to pay for the park entrance, (we were going to spend an entire day at the forbidden city, so today was just a sort of, peek at the site), we saw our first stampede of the trip
The funny part is that all but one person made it in before the guard sprinted back to his post. The one guy he caught got tossed back outside the gate, and after about a 20sec reflection on what had just occurred, the guard grabbed the lone failure and threw him into the park. I guess he felt bad that the guy had failed and the soft spot he had got the best of him.
Birnie and I just sat there laughing and wishing we had caught it on video. It would have been classic. So this is the point where we began to realize that a couple of young american boys, that were just a smidge above ugly would be treated like rockstars in China. As we decided to bypass the park and gardens and save them for another day, a group of Chinese girls came running up to wrap their arms around our waists (well, not completely true, they could wrap their arms around Birnie's waist, but the girl that grabbed my waist could really only get about halfway around......weird), and began snapping photos with us
We were a little dumbfounded at first, but being the gentlemen we were, we happily went along with the photo shoot and even enjoyed the fame if only for a moment. The girls were so cute and thankful for all of the pics they took and were off as fast as they had arrived. Again, a little bit of an ego boost for Mr. Birnie and myself, and many many laughs.
As we walked around the wall of the forbidden city, we stumbled upon an intense game of cards by some Chinese gentlemen, which had gathered a good crowd of onlookers. Now even though gambling is illegal in China, everyone and their mother gamble on cards, chinese chess, and any other group activity. From the shopowners to the old men sitting in alley-ways, games are always being played and Yuan notes are always hitting the board or the pavement. Birnie and I stepped up to watch and that drew the attention of many of the spectators. They looked at us like, "what the hell are these round-eyes doing watching our gambling game??"
So to be funny, one of the spectators said something in Chinese to all of the people there, and made a motion saying that he wanted to trade his wood bracelet for my watch
Birnie pulled off one of his flip flops and gestured that he wanted to trade the man for his shoes. Now the man was wearing nice leather dress shoes, so obviously the trade would have worked in Birnie's favor. The older gentleman looked puzzled for a moment, then held his hand up and waved no as the crowed erupted into laughter. Birnie and I laughed and all of a sudden we were accepted into the gambling circle. They motioned for us to come closer and even offered us to sit down and play. We kindly declined entering the game, but did enjoy watching for a bit.
Thanks birnie for the backup. Score one for the skinny kid!! We waved goodbye to the group and headed back to the hostel.
After a nice chinese dinner, we settled in to show our travel pictures to all of the girls working at the GuLou hostel and did some blogging. Check out the pictures of our girls. They were the sweetest girls we have met in China, and we really loved meeting all of them. Their american names were Peach, Nancy, Luda, Sally and Dollar (birnie gave dollar her name because she was the hostel accountant, and you couldn't slip anything by her shrewd abacus skills). After nearly a week staying at GuLou, both birnie and I have a very special place in our hearts for these girls. They became our friends and we were definitely sad to say goodbye to them
We decided not to party since we had a 430am wake up call to head out to see the Great Wall. We were going with a couple we had met at the hostel, and were making our own way out there to avoid the excess charges of an official tour. After all, what fun is it if you are pampered day in and day out? Trying to work the public transport system and negotiating with the locals is what makes the experience unique. And we also had strength in numbers now that four of us were a travel team.
Enter Wade and Jimilla. Wade is an aussie (good on ya' mate!!!) and his wife Jimilla is originally from SoCal. They were two awesome people we have met on our travels and we couldn't have enjoyed our great wall experience more than sharing it with these two. We got up at zero dark thirty, had a quick coffee and some toast and jam (thanks Luda for the early breakfast!!!), and were off to catch the first subway train to the bus station. Rumor had it that only one bus in the morning was heading towards the section of the wall we wanted to go to, and if we didn't catch the first one, good luck getting out there without additional expenses
We made the train, made the bus and were on our way. The bus only took us halfway to our destination, and we had to transfer to an area where we could pay a local to drive us the rest of the way. We hopped off the bus and started talking to our potential chauffeurs. Wade did most of the nogotiating and at certain points had us in stitches. For those of you that know Mathew Amerosa, Wade had a sense of humor very similar to Mathew's and had us rolling laughing at times. Just a really funny guy with good wit and a comedic sense of sarcasm. In negotiating a proper price with our future driver, I couldn't help but laugh at Wade's routine on flipping the roles with the driver. He started telling the driver, "OK, OK. I have SPECIAL PRICE FOR YOU. Just this one time........" he would say and it was really funny.
He worked his magic and we were on our way to Jinshanling. Our plan was to do the 10K hike from Jinshanling to Simitai and have the driver meet us at the end to bring us back to where we could catch a local bus. We arrived at Jinshanling's section of the wall by 8am and had beat the crowd for sure. We were already at a more remote location of the wall, so definitely less touristy, and getting here this early had its rewards. Peace and quiet. The only people around were the local touts, mongolian farmers, and every other chinese or mongolian peddler that was trying to sell you everything including their first born.
We bought some sweet chinese hats and started our hike. The entire hike was amazing. Views to die for, unbelievable terrain, and it was almost unreal. Just being at the great wall was hard enough to believe, but hiking along it for over four hours really was a highlight of our trip so far
As we arrived into Simitai, wade and jimilla decided to hike down to the entrance while Mr. Birnie and myself opted for the quicker, and far more exciting route via the flying fox. For those of you who don't know what a flying fox is, it's the same as a zip line. You pop on a harness, clip in to the line and off you go. We coughed up the ten bucks for the memory and proceeded to film our adventures off of the great wall, over a river/lake sort of thing and ended up at the bottom.
As fun as it seemed like it was going to be, it was pretty uneventful, as the staff prevented you from going above 1 kilometer per hour. Nonetheless, we did it, and now we can check that off of our bucket list.
Our hired driver was waiting for us at the entrance and we hopped into the car for the 2 to 3 hour ride back to our hostel. SInce we got back relatively early that night, birnie and I decided to treat ourselves to a night on the town. Seeing as we were taken pretty good in the Hou Hai area, we opted to move venues to the also "highly renouned" expat area
The expat area of Beijing was pretty cool. A concentrated area of bars and restaurants, and plenty of touts to go along with it. We settled into one bar for a quick beer and to watch some of the local musical talent. Some dude was singing with two girls, he was the equivalent of the asian Elvis and they girls danced about as good as birnie and I........so it entertained us for roughly one Tsingtao beer. Then we were out. I actually think at one point the guy performer exuded so much confidence that he almost convinced himself that he could have any girl in the bar, but it was quickly extinguished when one of his back up dancers stopped dancing in the middle of a song to answer her cell phone.........classic.
We made our way to another bar which proved to be WAAAAY more entertaining.
More stories to come.