Of Great Walls and Not So Crispy Ducks
Beijing Travel Blog› entry 31 of 48 › view all entries
I'm once again backfilling entries because I've fallen further and further behind in this journal. Today is actually June 15, and I've been in China exactly 1 week. I spent the 8 - 13 in Beijing, staying at Peking Downtown Backpackers Hostel in a hutong alley called Nanluogu Xiang. Hutong refer to the narrow lanes and alleyways characteristic of old-school Beijing, and visitors often tour these areas by pedicab.
According to the hostel staff, this particular hutong went through a lot of development in the past 2 years, evidenced by the plethora of bars and restaurants with English under their names and some crazy insane prices for drinks. However, there are still plenty of street stalls, people squatting/smoking/expectorating, and wandering dogs enough to keep it interesting ; )
In terms of the hostel itself, it was quite clean, with super nice staff and breakfast & airport pickup included in the room price (roughly 8.50 USD for a 4-person dorm with ensuite bathroom). Staying there renewed my appreciation for hostels, since I met such great people and they really made my time in Beijing. I spent the first couple days exploring Beijing on my own, then the last few with my 3 Singaporean roommates, who were super polite and funny and friendly. For native English speakers, I can't imagine better China traveling companions than Singaporean or Chinese-Malay folks, since they have all-but-guaranteed fluency in both English and Mandarin Chinese. Vurry helpful indeed
One of the Singaporeans particularly made me laugh because he reminded of a small furry woodland creature, except with really white teeth, a habit of sarcastic mumbling, and self-described "fussy" eating habits. Another, who stands at 5'11", told a story of how some kid in Shanghai addressed him as "giant" - as in "giant, hello!", to which he answered "midget, greetings!" hahaa. The three of them are traveling China for about a month, and I may meet them in Chengdu & Jiuzhaigou, since we're heading there around the same time.
In the past week, I've discovered my Chinese is pretty passable, though if I speak to anyone for an extended period of time (read "more than 5 minutes") they absolutely know I'm not from here - or else they just think I'm slow. For example, sometimes I'll point at something and ask what it is, even though it's clearly written on the large sign in front of it. At those times, I get funny looks and people start speaking to me very loudly and slowly, eventually asking where I'm from.
I also think I confuse some people at the markets, who tend to think I'm from here and start with the Chinese price for things, which really is different than that for foreigners. When I went to Hongqiao market, the first time I asked how much a 2GB SD card was, I was quoted 450RMB as the starting price. Since I was just getting an idea of prices, I didn't try to bargain. However, the second time I asked about the same card (but from another booth), the lady started at 180RMB instead! I was so taken off guard by the difference I didn't say anything right away. The lady then shouted, "Ni dao di shi bu shi zhong guo ren ma!?" - which with her tone basically meant "what the hell! so are you actually chinese or not!?" hehhee. By this I gathered that the first lady assumed I was a foreigner, and the second lady didn't.
On another note, I've found almost all the Chinese people I've met to be incredibly helpful and generous so far. For example, even if I turned down someone's offer for a car ride to a tourist attraction, they'd still give me the right directions to the bus station I was looking for, which would take me to the same place. My experiences in Taishan (which I'll write about in my next entry) only further confirmed this finding. I suspect it also helps that I'm small and look young - even by Chinese standards. For some reason, I didn't think it'd be the same as back home, where a waiter once gave me a children's 10-and-under menu at my 23rd birthday dinner =)
So yeah, I think people may look after me more because of my size and seeming youthfulness, though I don't usually need it and of course am still very wary. I've heard many a warning about friendly-seeming folks who essentially only want your money or worse. In any country I've been in, I've found I have the easiest time trusting local students. They seem to be more open, have less incentive for cheating you, and are even more generous than most in helping you out. They also tend to have interesting opinions about things and like to discuss them.
My only complaint about where I was staying would be its distance from the nearest underground station, which took about half an hour of walking to reach in the summertime heat. Beijing's not known as a good pedestrian city, but I spent an incredible amount of time the first few days just walking around. It was definitely good for my stamina though. By the time we hiked the Great Wall on my fourth day, I was quite used to walking long distances in the sun. Plus, it gave me more reason to buy the cold bottled teas and juices that I love so much (my absolute favorite is when they're so cold the liquid's already frozen, so then they can melt as the day goes on, and you have cold stuff to drink for hours on end). I really could've saved a lot of time by renting a bicycle or asking the hostel staff which buses to use, but the truth is I was in no hurry and was scared of bicycling in Beijing traffic.
Oh hey, speaking of being scared, this was my most frightening moment in Beijing:
So I was on my way to the Xidan subway station when a lady grabbed my arm and asked me to do her a favor and sign something something. She said she only needed 2 more people and wouldn't let go of my arm and that it would only take a couple minutes, etc. Stupidly I ended up going with her, figuring I'd take a look at whatever she was talking about (I didnt' really fully understand) then say no if I wanted.
As she kept leading me further and further away, I started getting nervous. We ended up walking through a bunch of stores, then down some stairs and through a restaurant until we got to this little room with a bunch of beds laid out and all these ladies (maybe around 7 or 8?) standing around in pink and white uniforms. There was one other person laying on a bed, and the lady who grabbed my arm wanted me to sit on another one, and another woman came by and started saying a bunch of stuff to me. I felt like they were sort of surrounding me, and the first woman told me I should lie down and that they were providing me a free service. When I refused, she kept trying to convince me that I should since I already came down there and shouldn't have said I'd do her a favor if I wasn't planning to. She was still holding on to my arm, and she and the other lady kept stepping closer to me and trying to get me to sit down on a bed.
At that point, another woman flipped up the sheet on top of the pillow where they wanted me to lay my head, and I swear it looked like there were blood stains on it!! I don't know if I was just being paranoid, but there were definitely some sort of brownish spots dotting the pillowcase. Frickin scary. This whole time the two ladies were still chattering at me, and from what I could gather it started sounding like they wanted to check my forehead for computer chips. The woman kept pointing at my forehead and saying they wanted to do me a favor, and she kept saying "dian nao" (as in computer) something something. It didn't help that the second woman had these crazy eyes that kept moving in different directions from each other.
All this while I was still saying no and that I was late for meeting my friend and had to go and stuff, but for some reason, still trying not to be rude. It wasn't until the blood-stained pillowcase and the woman started calling me selfish that I decided I better try harder to get out of there, so I ended up literally grabbing her hand and pulling it off me, then storming through the two women to run upstairs. Honestly there were a lot of other people right outside the room, so I'm sure things would've been okay anyway, but boy oh boy was I ever glad to get out of there.
In conclusion, my very obvious lesson learned: DEFINITELY no more following random ladies in subway stations.
All right, so I feel like I've rambled on for long enough without even saying what I really did in Beijing. Please find a relatively brief day-by-day description below:
Day 1 - Arrived from the airport. Napped. Went to Wangfujie and shopped around, ate at the food court in Oriental Plaza (so awesome! i really wish our malls had food courts like the ones in Asia), then visited the nightmarket stalls off Wangfujing dajie. Looked around but only ate a bowl of something tasty and spicy that made my stomach hurt later. I'm not sure what it was but it seemed to be sauteed rice-based clearish cubes of some sort, with spicy sauce.
Day 2 - Visited Tian'anmen and the Forbidden City, then walked to Beihai Park. At Beihai, hung out with a mother and son from Xinjiang who invited me to see the park wtih them since I was by myself. Had beef noodle soup for lunch, and only an enormous bao bing with fruit and fruit syrup on it for dinner. The heat makes me less hungry.
Day 3 - Went to Sanlitun Yashuo clothing market, ate some noodles, went to Hongqiao market, bought a new tank top. Walked around a lot. Got my original ticket from Beijing to Shanghai, before I decided to go to Taishan.
Day 4 - Went to the Great Wall at Badaling with my roommates. Originally tried to go to Mutianyu, but the taxi driver assumed we wanted the bus to Badaling, since that's where everyone usually goes. Ended up going to Badaling for convenience sake. Hiked to the 10th of 12 towers on the Northern route.
Headed back to Beijing and ate a "Peking chicken wrap" at KFC. It was really funny - a standard fried chicken wrap except with hoisin sauce, cucumbers and scallions. This was the first KFC I'd been to on the trip, though I ate twice at McDonald's in Amsterdam. The Chinese KFC has really delicious ice cream drinks.
Went back to the train station, traded in my Beijing-Shanghai ticket for a ticket to Tai'shan. Sad I no longer got to ride in the soft sleeper express train I'd heard so much about.
Day 5 - Visited the Summer Palace with my roommates, shopped a bit around Xidan subway station. Ate roast duck at Quanjude restaurant for dinner, which was in our Lonely Planet Guides and also recommended by our taxi driver as the best duck in Beijing. Realized after we went that he probably only said that because that's where all the tourists go, and not because there's anything special about the duck. While it was okay, I've definitely had better back home - the skin wasn't very crispy, and the accompanying duck soup was way watery and bland, with no depth. After getting back to the hostel, my roommates went to a nearby food stand and bought 5RMB fried rice and fried noodles, along with 2RMB tsingtaos.
Day 6 - Woke up, had breakfast, rode for 7 hours to Tai'shan with a hard seat on the train. Was not bad at all. People eat a lot on the train, and a lady sold my neighbor some very high tech socks.
And that concludes my entry about Beijing. I'll try to upload pictures once I'm in Shanghai and add the link up at the top. Will write about my adventures in Taishan in the following entry. Until next time! Adieu.