Welcome to Beijing, have a peasant visit
Trip Start Jul 17, 2008
26Trip End Aug 16, 2008
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We were travelling with Jake who was heading to Shanghai. Alex, Jake and I remarked that once we separated, that would be the end of our respective Monglia journeys. It would be over. After picking up his bag, Jake peeled off and headed to the domestic connections.
The Mongolia portion of the trip was over and the Beijing part was beginning.
It started with a bit of a rough start. Alex and I hadn't written instructions to the hotel so we had to try to find an internet cafe. None in the airport. Great. We went to the hotel accomodations desk and they wrote the name and address of the hotel in Chinese. That was enough for the cab to get going. A quick call near the end of the trip and we were heading down a hutong (aneighbourhood but more of an alleyway). We managed to fit our taxi in the little alleyway. One one side was parked cars, on the other pedestrians and bikes. It was very busy!
We arrived at our hotel and were amazed. Basically it was what we expected, no hype, no exaggeration. The rooms open into a traditional courtyard garden. The rooms were decorated with simple yet elegant Chinese furniture. The bathroom was marble tiles with an enclosed shower and a nice sink. We scored with this hotel!
There was also a cat in the courtyard. It was a nice grey and extremely friendly. A quick shout out to my big guy! Hope you're doing good Oli!
After a quick clean up and unpack Alex and I set off to wander the area. From first glance it appeared that we were in a hip shopping area. There were lots of younger Chinese walking around and lots of clothing and accessory stores. We picked a direction and started walking.
First stop. Buy a phone. This proved to be fairly simple. With the help of Alex's translation book and the communication (phones, SIM cards, etc) we were able to quickly buy a prepair phone SIM card and a phone. It also helped that there were 5 staff trying to guess what we were trying to say. Charades made easy!
There are lots of Japanese toys in China. I guess they are based on anime shows or movies or comics. We went into one store and they had this rocking 'ninja' character model. I decided this would look great on my desk at work and bought one. That'll keep me busy for an hour or so when I get back - KIDDING! Two hours more likely.
We made our way back to the hotel to drop off our goodies. The hotel recommended the next hutong over for dinner. We wandered over and really appreciated the location of the hotel. Being in a hutong really gave us a feel for the neighbourhood. There were common bathroom buildings. I guess not all Chinese have access to plumbing and/or running water. Outside these bathrooms were bright lights. This is where locals would hang out and chat with the neighbours. It had a very friendly feel to it. This was much different than a western neighbourhood where these gatherings are uncommon.
After dinner we rushed back to the hotel for 9 pm. We had arranged to meet with a friend of Debbie (Habitat) so we could give him some books from her. Ping turned out to be a fantastic man and was very helpful in suggesting places to visit and things to do.
He recommended a pedestrian mall not 5 minutes away with great shopping but also an attraction itself. NYC 5th ave equivalent perhaps? Alex and I set out quickly because it was getting somewhat late at this point.
And this is where we avoided being scammed!
We were heading up toward the mall and were stopped by a young Chinese girl. She looked 18 or 19, was pretty and spoke fairly good English. We chatted about where we were from and she explained that she was from out of town and was renting a house in Beijing. She said she was a student studying ancient Chinese calligraphy and would we want our names in Chinese for free so she could practice. Her supplies were at school and she pointed across the street to a second story of a building. There wasn't any markings that this was at school.
This is a twist on a fairly common scam. A pretty girl offers you something for free, whatever it is. When you go with her you find her friends. And they want your money. Or whatever.
We moved on quickly citing the need to get to the mall before the shops closed.
It was like a lot of North American malls with a lot of the same shops (Armani, Nike, etc). We stopped in to buy some memory cards for our cameras. I stopped into a second shop to compare prices with the first shop. They were charging way more than the first shop. This is when the negotations began. I'm not a great negotiator so this was new territory for me. My strategy was simple though: be willing to walk away. The sales clerk offered 350 and I countered with 150 yuan. She was very 'insulted' and asked for a real price. I moved to 200. She countered with 300. I explained that was the same price as the other store pre-discounts and said I was leaving. She offered a special price of 275. No deal, still leaving. For me, super low price 250. Nope. Final price: 225. I'm leaving ... fine 200. Nice! The general rule is 60% of whatever their first price is a good price. 70% is what a local would pay.
On the way back Alex wondered if we were walking through the red light district. I asked him why he said that. He was mistaken and had thought he had seen a red light in a window.
Or was he mistaken. In the next five minutes I'm asked if I want a reading (but it seemed more like she said woman) and asked by a man if I wanted a massage. No and no. That was enough excitement for the day, we headed back to the hotel for the night.