Welcome to China

Beijing Travel Blog

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As my plane touched down in China, any anxiety I might have had about this trip had vanished, My seat neighbours on the first leg had been a lovely Indian retired couple, who had been chatting with me about the trip. They were so calm, warm, and positive about it all, it was lovely. My neighbour on the second leg was a Lebanese lady travelling with a group of about 50. She was clearly horrified that I was even thinking about doing this trip alone, and I had to prevent her from setting off to find her tour leader to ask if I could join them. At that point I knew that it was going to be fine, and that I had absolutely no need of anyone to help me.

As we disembarked, I was in need of a toilet, so went to find one before we reached immigration. Each time it became my turn to go into a cubicle, someone pushed ahead of me and took my turn. After the third time, I remembered that this was China, and shoved back. As I came out of the cubicle, the toilet attendant was neatly spitting into the litter bin. Yes - I was in China.

As I headed towards the health check counter I came across my first examples of Chinglish. The very detailed poster advised me about the symptoms of plague amongst other amusing things. The immigration signs were equally funny, and I wished I was able to photograph them. But that didn't seem a good idea - particularly as I hadn't been let in yet.

I headed for the guesthouse in the basement of the airport, where I'd planned to stay for the night. Of course, it was full. Instead I headed for the hotel counter, where an exceedingly unhelpful lady eventually found me a room 7 minutes drive away. She then called a porter to take me and my luggage to the shuttle bus. I was trying to explain to him that I needed a drink of water before I got the bus. But no luck. He called someone on his phone, who spoke some English - but she didn't understand either. I pointed to some water in a vending machine - but as I only had a 100RMB note, that was no use. The guy got the point though, and took me to a kiosk where they sold water - but they couldn't change my note either. The porter took out his wallet - I assumed, to change my note. But no. He took out 5RMB and bought the water for me. I was stunned. He knew I couldn't pay - or tip him. But he just bought it for me anyway. This was to be the first of many incidences where the kindness of strangers would just take my breath away.

Well the hotel was grim. Dark, dingy and ill kept. It was in Nowheresville, Beijing - but all the same, I set out to explore. And the sheer differentness of being there was stunning. No English anywhere - total immersion in a culture not my own - and fascinating. I just walked and wandered, looking tentatively in small food shops that sold nothing at all that I recognised. I really needed a meal, but the many restaurants on the street had no menus that I could understand. Embarrassingly, I have to report that I chickened out. I ended up buying a hideously expensive pot of Pringles lookalikes from the hotel kiosk, and dug out a two day old , slightly squashed KitKat from my flight bag to go with them. Oh well, it was my first few hours in a scarily different country...

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photo by: Deats