Traveling to Beijing, China
What a long yet mostly nice first day to China! On my last trip to the Philippines, the RTD A-line failed which put me into a bind and ended up costing me a lot of parking money at the airport, so this time, I left even earlier and figured I’d use a pass at the United Club. I was out of the house by 4:45am! It was smooth sailing with a fantastic sunrise with only one small glitch. The United Club doesn’t open until 6:30am…boo!
The next glitch after being crammed on to a 737 that had the least amount of leg room I have ever seen, was the government put a 45-minute hold on our flight due to fog in San Francisco. I only had a 1.5-hour layover. Fortunately, the pilot made up some of the lost time. Having said that, with only a quick bathroom break, by the time I made it to my gate to Beijing, they were just beginning to board Group 3 (my group). Without any status on United, I suppose I arrived in perfect timing! I may need to aim for status, however, as I was on another crappy plane…a very old 747.
There was no in-seat entertainment and the personal entertainment that is made available to those who bring an ipad or computer wasn’t working. It was time to turn to the old school drop down screens. The snafu encouraged me to eat, read a little, and attempt to sleep which was the best decision anyway. At least my knees weren’t hitting the seat in front of me like the last flight.
Upon arrival I followed the green line for foreigners with nothing to declare to go through immigration. I got in the “trainee” line, so it was a little slow, but not as slow as the line for those waiting on a free 72 hour visa. Seeing as how I was only going to be in Beijing 2.5 days in route to Mongolia, I could have gone this route, but I figured I’d be back in China over the next ten years, so I splurged for the ten year visa.
Eventually, I made it through the line, changed some money, and picked up my bag on the carousel before finding my driver who I scheduled in advance. He didn’t speak a lick of English. He just nodded as we raced to his car. The $60 ride to the Grand Hyatt Beijing located in the heart of the city was around 18 miles and took over an hour. After nearly 24 hours of traveling, having a scheduled driver was worth the convenience!
The Grand Hyatt
My room at the Grand Hyatt, which I will be sharing with my friend Page tomorrow, was extremely spacious and nice. The hotel was conveniently located near some of the main sites. Given I only had one day at the Great Wall and one day of sight seeing scheduled, I felt like I should make the most of the few hours of daylight available. Plus, I thought a walk might energize me.
Sightseeing in Beijing
I left the main entrance and turned right and within minutes a gentleman shouted, “Hello!”
I politely responded, “Hi” to which he asked, “Where are you from?”
As I passed, I said, “The US.”
He replied, “Enjoy our country!”
It didn’t take long for two females to speak to me too. They asked, “Can we help you? We are on vacation from a different state in China. What do you do for a living? We come to practice English. Would you like to get a beer? Coffee, Tea?”
Zhong Nan Hai
After short chat, I declined the invitation, which I learned from my guide the next day that this was a good choice. Apparently, they try to scam you somehow by taking you to an expensive place. I didn’t quite understand his explanation, but it didn’t really matter as I felt the need to see a few famous places in Beijing and continued my quick pace through barricades and security check points past what turned out to be Zhong Nan Hai, the Communist Party Headquarters. At least on this street, I really don’t know how anyone could do anything wrong in Beijing. Security cameras pointed in every direction and a policeman could be spotted every fifty yards!
I was actually trying to get to Bei Hei Park. On the tourist map, it looked like I would just come up on some green space with a lake. I didn’t know it would be behind a wall and heavily guarded due to Zhong Nan Hai being on the south side. It turns out, I should have gone to the north entrance, but the south side was on the same street that ran through Tian’an Men Square, so it seemed easier.
Xidan Cultural Square
After a little over a two mile walk with mostly views of walls, cement, government buildings and no parks, I settled on resting at Xidan Cultural Square. The cobble stone square featured lovely flower arrangements and seemed to be a popular place for skateboarders and in-line skaters. The walk through thick smog didn’t energize me much, so I headed back toward the hotel with a small detour through a pedestrian tunnel to the south side of the street where I strolled through the famous Tian’an Men Square.
Tian’an Men Square
Tian’an Men Square is a large concrete expanse surrounded by Communist Style buildings with Mao’s Mausoleum as its focal point. The square has served as a stage for demonstrations and is known for the 1989 massacre of protesting students where hundreds to thousands of demonstrators were killed while trying to block the military advancements toward the square.
I entered the square on the southwest side after passing the Great Hall of the People, the Seat of the Chinese legislature. This entrance brought me close to Mao’s Mausoleum which is flanked by revolutionary statues. The building contains the embalmed body of Chairman Mao and his casket is raised from its refrigerated chamber for viewings in the morning and afternoon. I seemed to have missed that, but on the opposite end of the square, near the Ming Dynasty Gate where Mao proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China, a large crowd circled the national flag which is lowered at dusk every day. Several soldiers stood at attention as they waited for the sun to set. I didn’t stay for the ceremony, but it seemed popular among the Asian tourists.
Standing in the center of the square is the Monument to the People’s Heroes. Erected in 1958, the granite statue is decorated with bas-reliefs of episodes China’s revolutionary history. The East side of the square is lined by the China National Museum which reopened in 2011 after three years of renovation. In addition to displaying Chinese history, it hosts exhibitions from other world-class museums. I’m sure it is nice, but a visit wasn’t in my future. It was dinner time, and I was tired.
Along the way back to the hotel, two more girls practiced their English on me, though otherwise my walk was uneventful aside from having to dodge bi-cyclists who weaved from the street, to bike lanes to the sidewalk while texting on cell phones. Their unpredictable behavior was far more difficult to decipher than the drivers who zoomed through cross-walks and honked anytime they had to slow. Pedestrians played Frogger while motorized vehicles clearly had the right of way!
Made in China
Had my phone worked (shame on ATT&T: tweets, texts, phone calls, and visiting the store three times still hasn’t gotten my phone to find a cell tower internationally), I would have looked for a place to eat nearby, but I wasn’t up for an aimless adventure so I settled for the bar at one of the hotel’s restaurants, Made in China. I ordered a shredded duck appetizer which was quite large. I was expecting it to be hot, but is was cold and mixed with spicy cabbage like kimchi. The $8 appetizer seemed like a reasonable price at a fancy hotel. I was surprised, however, to find out my 500ml bottle of water was $9! Haha…Steripen to the rescue for future water orders or I will stock up from a convenience store for a $1 or less. $9 for water is outside my realm of justification! I probably could have gotten a beer for less…ETB