China #1 Beijing … First Day Wanderings

This is the first of my musings reliving a six week trip I recently completed to China and Mongolia. My journey began on 5th September in Beijing where I was to take part in a special 5 day ‘Walk on the Wall’ to help raise money for a student support program for the University of Newcastle in NSW. I also visited Kunming in south west China before going to Mongolia to join a trek into parts of the far west of that vast country.

Map of China

Map of China

Beijing, on the north east of the map, is denoted with a red star because it is the Capital of the People’s Republic of China.  For those who like to know co-ordinants, it’s at 39⁰55’N, 116⁰23̕E, elevation 43.5m [142.7ft]

The city is an important hub for highways, expressways, railway and air traffic networks. It’s main airport, the “Capital International Airport”, is the second busiest airport in the world when passenger numbers are taken into account.  (Atlanta, Georgia, USA, has been the busiest since 2000.  However, if all airports in a city are counted, London has the world’s busiest city airport system by passenger count.) 

Being so big, it is not the easiest place to navigate. But I was expecting to be met so thought, “no worries”. Mistake number one! There wasn’t anybody waiting for me with a lolly-pop stick with my name on it. Oh well.. perhaps I hadn’t booked a transfer after all.  So, I found my way to the taxi area where dozens of others were waiting patiently to get to the head of the queue. My turn eventually came  … but where was my cab waiting? Not near the queue but across a three lane roadway. The old rule for crossing such roads came flooding back to me, so with head down I marched across the road to my appointed cab. All the traffic missed me, as I knew, hoped, it would. Just never eye-ball a driver!

The cabbie didn’t know my hotel… not an unusual event it seems. I was told later that many cab drivers are country villagers seeking work in the city. Fortunately, I had written down the hotel’s phone number along with its name and address so he rang them and got ‘Chinese directions’ on how to find the place. It worked perfectly as around forty minutes later some large neon-lit words came into view exactly where he expected them to be. The Royal Phoenix Hotel had been found at a few minutes before midnight. And the fare was exactly as previously suggested and although tipping is not expected in China, I didn’t bother about the 10 Yuan change he handed me from the 100 I gave him. He even got out of his cab and helped lift my bag out of the boot, to boot.

Royal Phoenix Hotel Beijing; DSC00145 © DY of jtdytravels

Royal Phoenix Hotel Beijing; DSC00145 © DY of jtdytravels

I wandered into a very dim foyer … the chandelier had been turned off along with most of the other lights in the place. As I spoke with the receptionist, a cleaner manouvered a vacuum around my legs. (Reminds me of a time in Singapore many years ago when a female cleaner swished a mop between my legs whilst I was performing at a urinal !) 

And so to my room… large and comfortable with a king size bed that needs a map to find the second pillow. A fridge and a kettle… much appreciated. This is China, so tea is provided but NO COFFEE! Made a cup of tea, unpacked my bag and hung things up as I’m here for five nights. It was wonderful to find that the curtains were heavy and would keep the light out… daylight that was going to flood the sky in just a few hours time. Curtains worked a treat – I slept well… too well and missed breakfast by a few minutes. The sleep was worth it though.

Inside The Royal Phoenix Hotel, Beijing; DSC00147 © DY of jtdytravels

Inside The Royal Phoenix Hotel, Beijing; DSC00147 © DY of jtdytravels

My Beijing ‘home away from home’ was not one of the new hotels that have sprung up to cater for the thousands of tourists and business people who visit Beijing every year. It was an older style hotel, many of the fittings having the flavour of old China… very evocative.

Superficial opulence everywhere but that’s the way things are done here, and who am I to be anything but appreciative of different ways of doing things! That’s why we travel.

Table edge decoration; DSC00148 © DY of jtdytravels

Table edge decoration; DSC00148 © DY of jtdytravels

Neo-classical, Chinese revival and pseudo ornate may be words to describe the decoration… this table edge complete with glass bling instead of the jewels and diamonds of former days.

DY Selfie; DSC00150 © DY of jtdytravels

DY Selfie; DSC00150 © DY of jtdytravels

As befits modern times, I began my journey with a selfie! I tried to look “Imperial”. Then, at the hotel’s Business Centre, I spent many frustrating minutes trying to get an internet connection. I connected OK but couldn’t get ‘Google’ to respond. I’ve been told a ‘dozen’ different reasons why, by a ‘dozen’ different people, none of whom have come up with the right answer. If something doesn’t work or the answer to a question isn’t known, one never looses face here in Asia! The real reason… Google is banned in China!

Persimmon Trees; DSC00151 © DY of jtdytravels

Persimmon Trees; DSC00151 © DY of jtdytravels

An hour or so later, as the hunger pains started to twist in my stomach, I ventured out to see what I could find. Nearby the hotel, all but obscured by thick electricity wires, I noticed a row of Persimmon trees in fruit hanging over a wall. They looked inviting but were not the answer to my hunger. I wandered on. I’d find food somewhere.

Soon, I found an answer to another pressing problem. I needed to find a razor as I’d left mine back in Canberra. Forty odd hours of growth needed dealing with. I ventured into the first likely looking nook-like shop and, lo and behold, there was a razor and spare safety blades to go with the implement. AUD5 later, I was armed with the equipment I needed to make myself respectable again.

Old man in Beijing DSC00139 © DY of jtdytravels

Old man in Beijing DSC00139 © DY of jtdytravels

I wandered on across a bridge. Down below I noticed an old man. While much is new in the city, some older people seem to have been caught in a time warp. What stories he could tell if only I could speak his language… but I can’t, more’s the pity.

Cranes on the city skyline DSC00156 © DY of jtdytravels

Cranes on the city skyline DSC00156 © DY of jtdytravels

He will have seen so many changes and must marvel at the amount of building going on… the old coming down, the new going up. In recent history, the city’s population has grown very quickly indeed, from 11.5 million in 2000 to 21.55 million in 2014 and still growing… that’s like having the whole population of Australia crammed into one city!  This makes Beijing one of the most populous cities in the world and the second largest city in China after Shanghai. Keeping up with building requirements for housing, infrastructure and business for such a huge population has given Beijing it’s ‘national bird’; the crane!

Traffic in Beijing DSC00135 © DY of jtdytravels

Traffic in Beijing DSC00135 © DY of jtdytravels

It’s not just buildings this city needs, but transport infrastructure. Beijing’s traffic often comes to a standstill, as we were to learn as we criss-crossed the city by bus in the coming days when the rest of my group arrived to join me. But for now I was on my own and free to just wander. The first real decision for the day was should I turn left or right at the first main intersection I came upon. Casting fate to the wind, I chose to turn right.

Shopping street ©  DSC00163; DY  of  jtdytravels

Shopping street © DSC00163; DY of jtdytravels

My hunger pangs were becoming stronger.  Looking around, as one does in a strange place, I realised that all of the signage on the shops was, of course, in Chinese. I would have to window shop. I soon found a supermarket and a McDonalds! Three floors of supermarket provided a far superior razor than the one I’d bought a few minutes before. I also bought 4 lovely apples for less than 70 cents, 8 bananas for around $1.70, three ‘buckets’ of noodles, 950ml of full cream milk and some beer. I felt quite pleased with myself!

It was lunchtime by now so I broke a rule and had a Macca’s, and a coffee from the McCafe! Was rather good even if I do admit to it. And, after that, I just sat around on a corner or two and watched the Chinese world go by! {Click on the clip to view; then click on the red button at top left of clip to return to the musing.}

Clip #1

Eventually, back to my large and comfortable room for a rest.

An interesting thing happened while I was out for my wander. My bathroom had a venetian blind covering the window in the shower. The blind was a bit tatty but OK. Whilst I was away, the blind was removed along with the glass in the window, this being replaced with an opaque sheet of glass. Even the silicon sealer was dry by the time I noticed the change some hours later! How many Chinese it took to perform this marvel, I shudder to think when it takes so many to do so little on other occasions. And there’s more… a new kettle! The place must be undergoing a major up-grade.

As evening fell, I indulged in a bucket of Roast Beef Noodles, an apple and a banana, a beer and a cup of tea.  ‘Dinner’ was had. Then, just before I fell back into bed for what I hoped would be a really good night’s sleep, there was time for a small (medicinal) whisky.

Here endeth the first musing.  

More anon   David

 

All photography copyright ©  David Young of jtdytravels

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