Beijing – Part 1 September 10, 2009Posted by jorkat in Beijing.
It occured to me this morning that its already been a month since we returned from our trip to China. Having only written about the Hong Kong portion of the trip, I vowed to finish Beijing today and try to write a couple more posts this week.
Instead of writing a 5,000 word essay covering all of our adventures in Beijing, Katie and I decided to sit down and conduct a more formal interview. Katie prepared a series of questions which I did my best to answer. Here is a transcript of the interview.
Katie: What was the biggest highlight of the trip?
Jordan: That’s easy. The Great Wall of China. It wasn’t even close. We were fortunate enough to pick a less-touristy portion of the wall (Mutianyu) and hired a private driver to take us to and from, rather than just signing up for some tour group where you’re herded around like cattle. We arrived as early as possible and virtually had the place to ourselves for a couple hours before a few other tourists trickled in. Even then it was never close to being crowded.
Here’s what we saw next…
We’ve heard many stories and read all about just how awe-inspiring this wonder of the world is, but no picture or description does it justice. You have to see it in person to fully understand the scope of not only how big it is, but how steep some of the sections of the wall are, and how steep the hills are on either side. It’s absolutely astounding that this was built by hand thousands of years ago. I thought building the driving range on an uneven rock surface at the cottage was difficult, but this might actually be more impressive. I’m still undecided.
We covered as much ground as we possibly could and saw 75% of this particular portion. There are boundaries at both ends which forbid tourists from passing as these sections have not been restored. It’s also nearly impossible to find a perfectly flat surface along the path. You’re constantly going up or down to varying degrees, some of which is so steep that it feels like you’re climbing or descending a rock ladder. We tried to take some video/pictures but it doesn’t capture how truly steep it is.
Imagine walking up and down this sort of terrain non-stop for over 3 hours. The best analogy I could come up with (don’t worry, it’s sports-related) was walking from the first row of any Major League Sports Stadium with a seating capacity over 50,000, all the way to the very last row in the upper deck. Then turn around and come back down. And then go back up. Don’t get me wrong, it was worth every step but it was physically taxing.
The only negative aspect of the entire experience was how smoggy it was. I can only imagine how breathtaking it would look like on a clear day, but clear days in Beijing in August are few and far between.
Once we reached the last guard tower, I managed to find a crumbling piece of stone inside and may or may not have kept a substantial piece of it as a momento. We then returned to our initial point of entry for the long trek back down the stairs, but not before stopping for a quick refreshment. Our first chinese beer – Tsingtao.
Jordan: Yes. Sorry about that.
Katie: Oh, and I just bought two new skirts like the one featured in the pictures from Lululemon. They’re super comfortable and great for travelling.
Jordan: Next question.
Katie: OK…What was the coolest unexpected experience which quickly became awkward?
Jordan: Good question. First let me preface this with the fact that I’m a firm believer in karma. What goes around comes around, and the story I’m about to share is a prime example.
After exiting the airport shuttle train in central Beijing, we were confronted by a pushy cab driver who couldn’t speak English but insisted on driving us to our hotel. I asked him how much and had a pretty good idea that the hotel wasn’t that far from our current location. I also knew that cab drivers have been known to prey on foreigners and try to rip them off. Our Lonely Planet travellers guide warned us of this and advised to always use the meter, don’t accept a flat rate. He offered to do it for 150 Rmb’s which equates to approx. $25 CAD. Seemed a little steep to me so I simply asked to have the meter on instead. After hesitating for a split-second he accepted.
About halfway into our 10 minute cab ride, I quickly realized that we had been had. The meter started going up faster than anything I’ve ever seen but started to slow down as we approached our destination even though our speed and distance hadn’t changed. Coincidentally, the meter ended up charging us 140 Rmb’s. After taking our first cab after that from the hotel we confirmed our suspicions as every other cab ride of that distance was never more than 20-30 Rmb’s. Somehow, our first driver had rigged the meter so that even if the unsuspecting foreigner opted for the meter, it would always come close to 150 Rmb’s, if not exceed it. We’d been in Beijing for less than a few hours and had already been ripped off.
Fast forward to our next unusual travel experience. We were leaving the famous Pearl Market after doing some shopping for counterfeit goods when we quickly realized that it was rush hour and that traffic was going to be a nightmare. We approached a few cab drivers outside the market but they all insisted on flat rates and we had already been ripped off once by these guys. We started to walk a few blocks and hail a regular cab, as opposed to the guys hovering outside the market who try to fleece foreigners, and weren’t having much luck until fate intervened.
We had a gentlemen on a large tricycle with two seats on the back stop and offer us a ride. He had already approached us as we walked out of the market, but we had declined. Our situation had changed somewhat now, so I asked him how much. He said 40. I said too much and started to walk away. He said 30. I looked at Katie and we decided to give it a shot.
My first thought was “I can’t believe this guy is going to drive us across the city for about $5 CAD”. My next thought was “how are we going to tell him where our hotel is?”. Fortunately, I had the address of the hotel on the paper which accompanied the key card for the room. Unfortunately, he still didn’t know exactly where it was, but appeared determined to find it.
And yes, we have some video…
After a few minutes it became clear that he was lost. He asked us to see the address again and was looking around like he should have been sitting in the back with us. Finally, he stopped to ask someone for directions.
I think this next video captures the mood of the moment quite nicely…
After about 45 minutes, our surroundings started to look much more familiar and we recognized our hotel in the distance. After getting a bit closer we were starting to feel guilty for paying another human being to bike ride us across the city. I decided that we would give him a generous tip and started to discuss it with Katie. Once we were within a few blocks of the hotel and were stopped a major intersection, we motioned to him that we would get off here and hadn’t him the generous sum of 50 Rmb’s.
I wish I had a video of the conversation that took place next. It went something like this.
Me: (I hand him 50 Rmb’s instead of 30 as we disembark from his tricycle) Shez shez (“Thank you” in Chinese)
Him: (Gets very irritated and starts shouting) 300! 300!
Me: You said 30. Katie did he say 30?
Me: You said 30.
Him: (Getting angrier while pointing at his legs in an attempt to acknowledge that he’s tired from peddling us across the city) 300! chinese obscenities 300! chinese obscenities. 300!
Me: Here’s another 10. That’s all I have on me. (I motioned to my pockets and showed him that they were empty)
Him: 300! More chinese obscenities. (I don’t even know for sure if they were obscenities or not, but sometimes you just have a feeling)
This conversation continued for what seemed like forever until we slowly backed away feeling guilty and scared that he might call some of his other tricycle buddies and follow us to our hotel. Thankfully, I don’t think he could afford a cell phone and we managed to get back safely into our hotel unscathed.
Katie: That story was over 900 words. You’ve eclipsed the 1500 word mark and I’ve only asked 2 questions.
Jordan: Why don’t we split this post into a two or three-parter so our readers’ legs don’t get numb.
Katie: Good idea. Hopefully you won’t be wearing that stupid Red Sox shirt in every picture in the subsequent posts.
Jordan: I can’t make any promises. Stay tuned for Beijing Part 2 later this week.