Ni hao from Beijing!
Okay, I am not in Beijing at the moment… but I was only there for a day and I was busy so get off my back! The point is that I was there and am going to share all my love for the capitol city of China with all of you.
First of all the air pollution in Beijing must be mentioned. It is awful. The taxi ride from the airport to the hotel was about 45 minutes and I didn't see one building. Not because they weren't there or because we were not very close but because the pollution was that bad. It looked like really thick yellowish fog. Yellowish fog that burns the eyes and caused me to break out into hives. It is a good thing that China has been cleaning up the air for the Olympics! I was told that China has spent 17 billion over the last three years on their air cleaning project. 17 million and my eyes are still watering? What in the world was it like before!
I was surprised at how clean (aside from the air there was no litter anywhere) and well organized Beijing was. After the fiasco that was getting my Chinese VISA I had my doubts! I was apparently a little too quick to attribute the general chaos and oddness that is Mongolia to the rest of Asia. The subtle pushing in lines that is Asia in general but the disorganization and general zaniness? That is uniquely Mongolia.
Beijing is a city of about 12 million people with one of the riches cultural histories in the world. The Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, the list goes on and on… That being said with 24 hours I managed to see none of them. Yea, Tara!
I did manage to shop and see a whole lot of the airport in a very short amount of time. Did you know that the airport code for Beijing is still PEK? A holdover from when Beijing was still Peking. I don’t know why random facts like that entertain me so much.
I also went shopping. Shopping in China is an intense experience. I was intimidated enough in Hong Kong. The vendors in Beijing made them look downright mellow. You can’t even glance at something without the shopkeeper grabbing your arm and doing his or her best to convince you to buy something. I have never been called “Missy” so much in my whole life! While that in itself is entertaining the truly intimidating part is the fact that you have to haggle. I suck at haggling. First of all it was my third monetary system in as many days and I was just confused at that point. 1 dollar equals 7 Yuan. Right? So divided by 7 to figure out how much money you are spending. Then there is the fact that the opening price is about 10 times more that you should pay. Needless to say I was ruthlessly fleeced several almost every single time. Oh, well it was still incredibly cheap!
I also found a DVD shop (where you didn't have to bargain! Yea!). You walk pass what looks like travel agency where a guy grabs you and leads you through what looks like an abandoned building and then downstairs where there are more movies than you can shake a stick at. I spent way too much money and I am embarrassed to tell you how many movies I ended up with. I thought that they were genuine but having opened them I have my doubts. Well, I suppose the price should have tipped me off. Not that I am complaining as I can’t see any quality differences. Walking back to the hotel I was briefly chased down the sidewalk by a car and was caught in a deluge. It wasn't fun to walk in but it did clean the air long enough for me to see that I was indeed in a city!
We had to get up at 4 the next morning to get to the airport with enough time to get to our gate. Customs in China is not something that you want to try to rush through. I started counting and after we were checked in we still had to go through 9 lines in order to get to our gates. Security, customs, security again, random customs questioning, security again (this time I got wanded). At some point it just started to get funny.
We finally get to our gate but after awhile it seems that our flight didn't seem as if it was going to be on time. Approaching the desk we saw handwritten sign. “Ulaanbaatar: bad weather. 1800” We deduced from this that the flight was delayed until 6:00 that evening. Ugh! However, that was before people started leaving the area en mass. We started following the crowd (who we found out much later was being lead by an employee of the airline) It took an hour (and we had to go through customs yet again) but we finally ended up at the bus terminal outside the airport. You may be asking yourself “Why would they lead us to the buses?” For awhile I was a bit worried that they would try to send us to Ulaanbaatar by bus. That would have been bad as I am pretty sure it would have taken something like a month as there aren't any roads outside Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia… Fortunately, that wasn't going to be the case! In reality we were on our way to a hotel.
This hotel was much more “authentic” than the first Chinese hotel. Not being able to communicate with anyone else around even on the most basic level is uncomfortable. Eye contact and body language are even different so there was this weird feeling of alienation. An abrupt knock, 12 hours, 10 more lines, and three more bus rides later I was finally on the plane. Which I then got to wait on for an hour before it took off. Sometimes you can’t win for losing.
I knew for sure that I was back in Mongolia when our driver drove over the sidewalk because we were blocked in…