Hello to China!
Beijing Travel Blog› entry 47 of 99 › view all entries
Beijing is the city that I have probably been looking most forward to so I was excited to finally reach China. We were greeted to Beijing with a horrible thunderstorm that made the city look like it was nighttime at 11am. This was followed by people who wanted a 7% commission to exchange are Korean money or wouldn’t take it at all. Eventually we worked our way to a taxi where we started to learn how few people in Beijing actually speak English.
Since the Chinese alphabet is so different, the taxi drivers have no idea unless you can say it in Chinese or have it written in Chinese. Luckily Ana had the phone number of the Holiday Inn and convinced the driver to call the hotel for the direction. Our regular routine the rest of the trip was to get our hotel to write out where we needed to go in Chinese on a note card. We would hand it to the driver and then he would look at us and say something in Chinese. We would politely smile back at him and then point at the card again. If we went through this routine three times without him leaving then we would get out and find another taxi. The taxi drivers would then sometimes seemingly want to start a conversation in the car with which I would simply respond with a blank looking face.
The hotel in Beijing was a Holiday Inn Express which was brand new and cost $42 a night including free internet and free breakfast which was the first sign of how cheap things would be in China. Our hour long tax ride from the airport was $17, McDonalds double cheeseburger meal was $2.75, half liter of water at a street stand was $0.30 and a taxi driver to driver for the day to drive us 3 hours to the Great Wall and back was $89.
One of our first major tasks in Beijing was to try to get Ana a visa at the Lesotho embassy which we had an address for and jumped into a taxi to find. The driver couldn’t find the exact address but we eventually got out in front of the Cambodian embassy figuring we must be close. Since the addresses weren’t exactly in order we eventually peaked into the South African embassy (which is close to Lesotho) and asked them if they knew where it was. They said it was just down the road which made us happy that we were on the right track. To make a long story short 3 hours later we still hadn’t found the embassy. This included a stop at the English Tourist Information office that said ‘We speak English’ on the front. Needless to say Ana was a bit frustrated by the guy who continually had very long-winded answers for us in Chinese. She was similarly disappointed at her stop at the public toilet which didn’t have any paper or any dividers between the ‘stalls’ so all the women were just lined up going the bathroom next to one another (Ana decided she didn’t need to go that bad).
So after 3 hours and passing 50 or so embassies we gave up and headed toward the subway. Passing nearby the Canadian and Australian embassies we saw a white guy that looked like he was a diplomat for one of the governments and asked him if he knew where the Lesotho embassy would be. He said he had never heard of Lesotho before, but there was a building a block away that had a bunch of small embassies in it. This of course was the right building and our issues had been the flag of the embassy is only on the back of the building. So we walked in at 12:45pm to find out the embassy closed at noon. After this ordeal we decided that we deserved a stop at the first Pizza Hut in China which was right around the corner before heading to the Forbidden City.
The next day we returned to the embassy. We showed the taxi driver the exact same paper with the address and he quickly got to the area and pulled up right in front of the backside of the embassy as if everybody would know where the Lesotho embassy was. We walked into the front door of the building as if we knew exactly where we were going, got salutes from the guards who apparently assumed the white people must be diplomats and then went to the Visa desk. Here the lady explained that it would be 7 days before Ana could get her Visa and it would cost over $100. We were a little surprised since in the USA they issue it in a day or so and it costs $10. To bring an already too long of a story to end Ana is leaving Beijing without her Lesotho visa and we will need to figure out another way for her to get it.
The highlight of Beijing was our trip to the Great Wall. We had hired a car and a driver for the day who drove us 3 hours to a more remote section of the wall. Once there we took a cable car up the wall that looked like it was built about the same time as the Great Wall. During our 6 mile (3 hour) walk we saw less than 10 other people. While the trip through the mountains could have been nice an peaceful most of our trip was spent with one of the 100 people that were selling water, rain coats or cookies and would tend to following us for a half mile each begging us to buy something. Regardless the Great Wall is the Great Wall and is truly one of the wonders of the world.
Overall we both liked Beijing, but it was as special as we hoped. We thought that the Olympic games would have increased the English knowledge, but even a few words of English was pretty rare. White people even in the touristy locations seemed to be pretty odd. We were approached more than once by what we had been told were standard scams included being invited to ‘tea ceremonies’ so that people could practice their English or being invited to art shows. This raised our guard against anybody ripping us off.