Our flight from HK to Beijing
arrived at about 11:00PM Monday night and Beijing Airport was a madhouse. It took us three weeks to catch on to asking the concierge at the prior hotel to write the name, address, and phone number of the next hotel on a card so we could just hand it to the taxi driver in the next city and avoid the inevitable blank stares. I was looking forward to our stay at the... (I'm typing this on a computer in the Asiana Flight Club in Beijing as I wait for our flight to Seoul->LA->Dallas->Cleveland, and I mistakenly hit some button on the keyboard that turned every character on the screen to Chinese and it took me 10 minutes to get it off.
Man, is that symbolic of the whole trip)...
Raffles Beijing but unfortunately my stay would be very brief. We got to the hotel at about 12:45AM and waiting for me at the front desk was a message from my tour guide about the Xi'an and Beijing tours for the next 4 days, stating that, although he was unable to find time to make any arrangements at all, including hotels, he was, indeed, truly sorry. The prior day, I'd booked a non-refundable flight down to Xi'an for 7:30AM Tuesday morning, so at least I had that, but, once again, I was in the position of having to do things on the fly. Some people might enjoy a no-firm-schedule, blow-with-the-wind type of travel, and I suppose in some circumstances it's fine, but this simply added a great deal of unnecessary stress and aggravation to an already stressful and aggravating trip. I finally got to bed at 1:30AM after checking email, and left a wakeup call for 4:30AM, to get to the airport in time, for my trip down to Xi'an, which meant I'd spend all of three hours in this gorgeous hotel room (see pics) for which I paid close to $300.
It's as steep as it looks
Not much could ever beat the Terracotta Army for wow factor, but the Great Wall of China comes close. On the other hand, nothing could ever beat the Great Wall for a leg-searing cardio workout. On the other end of the spectrum Tianenman Square is about as boring as WalMart parking lot. Pure Communist blah.
I spent Thursday morning in my hotel room feeling pretty sick from something I ate on the plane ride up from Xi'An Wednesday night. But it didn't matter too much, because I hit the proverbial wall as far as sight seeing is concerned. If I never see another Pagoda, Temple, or Palace it'll be too soon. You can't swing a dead cat in this country without hitting one of them at least twice.
I left China somewhat with relief, but somewhat with a feeling of...accomplishment almost, as if I overcame...something. I can't say I had fun, or that it was an overly enjoyable trip, but it was every bit a trip of a lifetime that I'll certainly never forget, and I'm glad I did it.
The oldest culture on earth; we in the US think in terms of hundreds of years, Chinese think in terms of thousands of years. The amazingly different food; it's no wonder everyone in China is thin. The only time I ate red meat was when Alan and I went to Morton's Steakhouse at the Sheraton in Kowloon. Otherwise, it was fish, vegetables, rice, and dumplings, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Desert is unheard of, at least as we know it.
After every meal, watermelon and cantalope is served. By the same token, with 70% of all Chinese men smoking, they'll certainly die of lung cancer and emphesema long before any weight related illness hits them. The insane taxi drivers in the south (with freakishly long, Fu Manchu fingernails); although I've heard that Indian drivers are much worse, these guys were crazy. Stop signs and traffic lights, yellow lines, sidewalks, and most all other things are merely viewed as suggestions that are usually ignored. The dazzlingly beautiful architecture; I've never seen such dramatic buildings before. It makes Chicago architecture look almost boring. The rock hard beds in all the hotels; these things were like box springs with a sheet thrown over them. And of course, the spitting; the throat tightening, stomach turning, absolutely nauseating habit of every man, woman and child in China.