Sunday, April 6, 2008

Beijing - part one

The flight to Beijing was rough, plenty of turbulence, but we got there in one piece. Despite my cold I was feeling pretty happy as I made my way through customs, even managed to get someone at the airport to write out my hostel's name in chinese characters - a necessity I would latter find. However, this is where my fun for the day ended.

It was cold and raining as I exited the airport and made my way to the shuttle bus. Unfortunately, what should have been a 45 minute trip turned into two hours. Getting off the bus at what I was meant to be the train station, I was greeted by nothing but moderately heavy rain. Having forgotten what it was like to be cold and wet, I soon became miserable as I found myself unable to hail a taxi. It took me another 2 hour before I would find the actual train station, the ajoining official taxi rank, and a taxi that was willing to pick me up. The systems for catching taxis in beijing are unique, as they only seem to pull in at certain spots. In addition, and despite the warnings I was quite unprepared for the complete lack of english speaking. Fortunately, I did make it to my hostel in one piece and what a beautiful hostel it was. I can highly recommend the Sitting on the City Wall Hostel to anyone travelling to beijing.

My first night in Beijing was a quiet one. I met some other backpackers who had just finished the Transmonglian railway coming from the other way, so I picked up a few pointers from them and then hit the sack. The next day I woke up and made my way to the hotel that the Vodka train group were staying at. After checking in, I decided I needed to get some clothes appropriate for the weather i.e. a beanie and some proper gloves. Being a little confussed about where to go, I ended up heading to what can best be described as Beijings bourke street mall. It was here that I suffered my first propper swindle of my travels.

Feeling a little bit low, as I was sick and couldn't find any cheap clothes (I thought that china was a mecca for cheap knock-offs), a chinese girl started talking to me. She was the first chinese person I had met who could speak proper english. As she was waiting for her friends she asked me if I wanted to grab a drink. Thinking that she just wanted to use me to practice her english, and me having nothing better to do I said yes. Somehow we ended up at a tea house, where she got the tea attendant to set up lots of different teas for me to try. Having just bought some tea at a reasonable but high price I figured, at worst I would be out $30. Then the bill arrived, she wanted me to pay over $300 for our teas. I almost cried, as realised how baddly I was being stung. After a great deal of protesting, I got out of the two house $150 the worse for wear.

While disappointed, I know from others that I have met since then that it could have been a lot worse. And at least now I know a lot more about tea. Life also significantly improved after I made it back to the hotel and met the rest of my vodka train tour group. But I will save that for my next post.

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