The Occasional Blog of Jonah Weiland

September 11th, 2005

The China Visit – Part 8

Posted by Jonah Weiland in China, 2005 -

I’ve finally finished writing up my journal of my China visit, so the updates will be coming a bit quicker from this point forward. What follows is the journal for Thursday, August 25th in Hong Kong and Bejing, mostly a travel day. Friday was our visit to the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square, which is where the real fun happens. There aren’t any pictures from Thursday, so when I post my Friday wrap, I’ll include new pictures in the gallery. Enjoy!

Thursday morning Sharon and I got packed and prepared for our trip to Beijing. We had a mid-afternoon flight to make, so we left Parkview around 11:30 or so and made our way to Airport Express. AE is absolutely one of the greatest things ever made for travelers and other cities really should follow suit. AE is located near the Central Station in Hong Kong. It’s a station for the train that takes you from Hong Kong Island to Hong Kong International Airport, but it offers one major convenience– check in! You can check in for your flight directly at Airport Express and skip check in once you get to the airport. You can even check your bags there! We checked in for our flight on Southern China Airlines quickly and easily. Once we were done it was simply hop on the train, arrive at the airport and find our gate. Super simple and easy. If Los Angeles had something like this life would be so great. Imagine the Flyaway in Van Nuys having a check-in for your flight and bags! Oh that would be awesome, but it would never happen.

We arrived a bit early for our flight, so Sharon and I stopped at some tea lounge and had a little lunch. Sharon had some udon soup to help soothe her aching throat (her cold came on pretty strong on Thursday) while I enjoyed my dim sum favorite, paper noodles (not nearly as good as at the dim sum place the other day).

The flight was mostly uneventful. It was the first flight I’ve been on in seven years that wasn’t completely sold out, so Sharon went and found a row to lie down in while I got a chance to pull out the computer and catch up on some e-mail. The in-flight movie was “Ocean’s Twelve,? which surprised me a bit as I was under the impression it would be a Chinese film. No matter, I’ve already seen the movie and didn’t need to see it again.

Lunch was OK and a little different than usual. It consisted of a bread roll, dried apple chips, a KitKat bar (in Chinese), a salad of pickled vegetables and a slice of salmon, some melon and greasy beef noodles. Frankly the apple chips were the best part.

Oh, one thing I should note about the flight that I thought was kinda odd. When we boarded the plane and when we left it, quietly there was music playing the background, I’m guessing to soothe travelers nerves and put them in a good mood for the flight. It wasn’t until we landed that I noticed what the song was– an instrumental only version of the Simon & Garfunkel song “The Sounds of Silence.” Maybe this was Beijing’s way of telling foreign travelers to keep their Western ideas to themselves?

We arrived in Beijing and met up with our driver there. We had been told to arrange for a driver ahead of time as cabbies in Beijing can’t always be trusted. The drive in the Black Audi A6 with tinted windows all around took about an hour and a half, mostly due to pretty awful traffic. We’d soon discover that as wild as the cab rides are in Hong Kong, the driving in Beijing bordered on damned frightening! Lanes in the roads are only a suggestion and coupled with the thousands and thousands of people walking or on bikes, even on some of the highways, it made for an interesting drive. Our driver changed lanes constantly trying to get through the traffic, driving on both shoulders numerous times. There simply seem to be no rules to the road in Beijing, other than watching the street lights (bicycles have their own lights as well).

Beijing is a sprawl of a city, much like Los Angeles, and it’s clear it’s undergoing a massive change. In 2008, Beijing will play host to the Olympics and the Chinese are busily preparing for the event. Massive construction is taking place all over Beijing, which really isn’t that modern or western a city as I’m used to. It’s a bit dirty or messy, reminding me a bit of cities I’ve visited in Mexico. There’s also a constant haze over the city, impairing visibility rather heavily at times. I’m not sure if it’s smog or something else, but it certainly didn’t allow for great views of Beijing. And whereas Hong Kong is incredibly modern and clean with huge skyscrapers, what we saw of Beijing was quite the opposite.

We arrived at our hotel rather tired and in a bit of culture shock. In Hong Kong most people speak at least a little English, but not so in Beijing. The staff at the hotel were pretty helpful, especially the concierge.

We checked in and the bellman took us to our room, which already had someone’s bags in there. The bellman called down to the front desk and made arrangements for another room. He told us it would be on the 15th floor, which was a much better room. Well, when we finally got to our room it looked no different than the one we saw on the 8th floor. Whatever, we were there and looking forward to settling in.

Once we had everything settled with the room, it was back downstairs to find an ATM, then make arrangements for a driver to take us to the Great Wall the next day. Everything I had read and everything Carrie & Jimmy told us about the Great Wall was that hiring a driver versus taking a tour bus was the only way to go. See, most of the tour busses end up dropping you off at some bullshit shopping mall on the way there, where you get to spend two hours of your time shopping for crap you can by at the Great Wall anyway. Plus, our time was short on Friday and I wanted to try to at least fit in a visit to Tiananmen Square as well, so having a private driver was clearly the way to go. The drive to the section of the Great Wall we were going to was about 2 hours each way, the equivalent of a drive from Los Angeles to San Diego, and it cost us about $100 American. If I were to hire a driver for the day to take me from LA to SD and back, it would probably cost me around $400. More on the drive, which was an adventure itself, in the next write-up.

Sharon was now in full-blown cold mode and doing fairly poorly. She was quickly running out of sore throat lozenges and could really use some cough medicine, so we asked our concierge where we could find some medicine. He instead opted to show us the way to the grocery store in the attached mall next door. We made our way down to the grocery store, which was located at the bottom of the mall. Our concierge walked so quickly through the mall, and there was so much too look at and see, neither of us was paying enough attention to remember how to get back to the hotel. Oh well, one thing at a time.

We got to the grocery store and the concierge found a pharmacist, or what I’m lead to believe was a pharmacist as it was simply a woman in a white lab coat. Our concierge tried to relay my sister’s symptoms to the pharmacist, his own grasp of the English Language not all that great. The pharmacist, who spoke no English, handed Sharon a small white box all in Chinese except for the name. My sister took one look at it and knew she wasn’t interested in whatever it was. I can’t say I blame her, either. We tried to communicate with the “pharmacist? to find out what exactly the pills were, but the lines of communication were definitely down.

My sister decided to pass on the mystery meds and as we walked around the stored we discovered a bottle of Robitussin with the only other English on the bottle reading “For Cold & Cough Symptoms.? Perfect! Then we found a package of Halls cough drops. Perfectomundo! Sharon was now pleased with her purchase.

While she bought her meds, I went and picked up some bottles of water, Coke Light and some Wrigley’s Cappucino flavored gum. That’s literally all it said on the label. For some reason this trip I’ve been fascinated by gum (I purchased a bunch of Extra Lemon-Pear flavored gum while in Hong Kong and despite the fact it sounds disgusting, it was fantastic!) How much did two 20 oz. bottles of water, two 20 oz. bottles of Coke Light and one package of three gum packs cost me? 9.90 Yuan, or the equivalent of $1.22 American. It would cost you $1.35 at your local 7-11 for just one bottle of Diet Coke. To say things in Beijing were cheap would be an understatement.

After the grocery store we desperately needed some food as we were both starved. After some delay, we found our way back to our hotel and opted to go to the hotel’s Chinese restaurant as it was now 8:00 and we weren’t feeling very adventurous. The Hue Wai Restaurant was surprisingly good and our meal would have been very cheap had we not ordered bottled water, Evian, which cost us $4.50 a piece, which was about $2 more than each of the dishes we ordered. Odd how bottled water cost that much more than actual food, but what can ya do? They don’t recommend you drink the water in Beijing, so we didn’t.

After dinner it was back to the room. BTW, did I mention that in order to get power in your room you must insert your door key in a little slot next to the door as you enter? Kinda odd, but I guess it does indeed conserve power.

Sharon made a bee-line for the bed, while I stayed up a while to get some work done and to do some research about Beijing money. At dinner I found myself slightly confused because I thought I had handed the waiter close to exact change, but apparently I hadn’t. I don’t recall what the bill was, but let’s say it was 102 Yuan. I handed him the bills, at which point he snapped a five note out of my hand and returned the two single notes, then returned with three other single notes. What the hell? It turns out that in China, their equivalent of the American cent, the jiao, is partly issued in paper money as well as coin. You can see what I mean on this page. In stead of handing him 102 yuan, I was actually handing him 100.20 yuan.

I did some more research about Beijing and was introduced to the Chinese censoring system for the first time. I soon discovered there was no way to get to the American version of Yahoo! News or CNN. I could get to Google News, but when I logged into my home computer from Beijing and pulled up Google News, it came up with different stories. It appears that Google caters their English news in China the way the Chinese would like them to. You also couldn’t pull up The Internet Movie Database in Beijing. I’m guessing too many Western movies for their taste (my sister and I had a question about some movie that came up during dinner). This was also the first time my mail server stopped responding to me.

Shit. My mail server is down. Time to send an urgent e-mail off to Matt to fix it.

Turns out it wasn’t. About five minutes after checking my mail for the first time, suddenly that one server out of my seven located in Los Angeles wouldn’t respond. I tried Web mail and even that wouldn’t respond. But, when I logged in via my home computer, I could pull it up just fine. Oh well, so I can’t check my e-mail easily in Beijing.

Except ten minutes later it was available again. Every time I checked my mail while in Beijing, the same thing would happen. Best I can tell something would set off an automatic censor, then some ten minutes later either a human being or some computer algorithm figured out it was a friendly server to the Chinese and would let me back in.

Once I finished playing online, it was time to catch some much needed sleep. The bed in the hotel was infinitely hard. Almost as hard as lying on the ground, with just a tad bit of cushion. I longed for the comfort of my Aero Bed back in Hong Kong. But I was so tired it wasn’t an issue and I was asleep minutes later with dreams of the Great Wall filling my head.

Wow, that was so incredibly gay!

One Response to ' The China Visit – Part 8 '

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  1. Melody said:

    Did you save any of that cappuccino gum? I would love to try it if you did!

    September 15th, 2005 at 9:38 pm

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