Sunday, December 10, 2006

Destination: Beijing

It was decided that we would try to get to Beijing while we were in Hong Kong. Turns out it was going to be really expensive to fly there, so we looked into taking the train. 24 hours on a sleeper train.... hmmmm...I guess we could swing it. I mean when else would we have the chance to get to the Great Wall. Plus, it was inexpensive, so we got tickets and we were off!

When we first arrived in Beijing it was dark out. Stepping out of the train station, we immediately felt lost. There were no signs, no information booths, no help... we were thrust out into Beijing to fend for ourselves. A few minutes later, we were bombarded with people yelling "hotel! taxi!". We were a little taken aback, so both Shawn and I kept saying no thank you. When we broke free from the chaos, I heard a few men saying "same to you" as if we had just cursed at them. Our first mission was to get money, the currency is different from Hong Kong and that is all we had on us. Going back into the train station wasn't much better. The crowds of people sitting on the floor was a little intimidating, the stares were piercing. I asked a lady behind a desk, where we could catch a cab or find out where our Far East Hostel was, while Shawn went to find an ATM. She didn't speak English and then led me to a ticket booth. I told her we had just arrived and that I don't need a ticket, I need a taxi. Then I saw a little, dirty sign that said "English", so I guess this is the person I have to talk to. As I was standing in line, I left a little room in front of me (just like anyone standing in line usually does). But apparently this was an invitation for a few Chinese men to push in front of me. What was I supposed to do? No one speaks English and here's me trying to be polite to the person who was originally in front of me by not standing on his heals. So this is how it's going to be, huh? I maintained my space in line by standing uncomfortably close (well, to our standards) to the rude ones. When it was my turn, I made myself as tall and as big as I could, so I couldn't be pushed around. I repeatedly told the lady behind the counter what I was looking for and all I got was her pointing in the direction of outside behind me. Are you kidding me?!?! After all that.

We made our way back outside, where we flagged down a taxi, an almost impossible feat. He made some suggestions by pointing and we figured out quick that he wasn't available to take us anywhere, though we didn't know why. We walked in the direction he said, and found a taxi stand... thank god! Then we had two different companies looking at our address and talking amongst themselves. One was very persistent that he was metered and it would be 3x cheaper, blah, blah. Finally, I was sick of them just standing around, I yelled "I don't care who takes us, I just need a taxi!" That got their attention and we piled into one of the cars. The driving was CRAZY! There's no rhyme or reason, cars are jammed together and they play chicken with opposing traffic. People walking and those that are on bikes crowd the streets. It was like watching a video game. Except we really only have one life, and we were glad the game ended at the steps of our hotel 20 minutes later. Whew! And it cost less than $2!

The Beijing Far East Hostel is located in the Hutongs (photo), which are traditional Chinese villages. The living quarters are situated very tightly together, dirt roads and I couldn't see signs of running water. It was interesting to see the way of life, but you feel bad staying in a comfy hotel among the lower class.

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