Planning the Trip | Moscow | The Train | Ulaan Baatar | Back on the Train | Beijing
I didn't really expect to say much about Beijing, since I've been to Beijing before, but the experience was a lot different than I expected, which was both good and bad.
Friday, November 9, 2007. We arrived in Beijing on time, just after 2pm. The weather was sunny, clear, and unseasonably warm. When we came out of the station, Em & M very quickly met up with some people from the hostel where they were staying, Leo Hostel, so we headed off to the taxi line. (Our hotel was close to the north end of the Forbidden City, so not right on a subway line.) As we approached the taxi line, a lot of people tried to get us to take a taxi for a flat rate, 80 yuan, 120 yuan, and even higher. But I could see that the kilometer rate for all taxis was 2.0 yuan (there is a sticker in the taxi window), and knew it was only about 6km to our hotel, so we continued to the line. My estimate was that it would cost 20 to 30 yuan with traffic, since i knew Beijing traffic could be horrible. Unfortunately, there was no one at the beginning of the taxi line to help us get a taxi, like there usually is at airports, and every single taxi driver in this line was prepared to cheat foreigners. We walked through the line and past all the taxis, and the taxi drivers never let up. Some even said ok we can use the meter but it will be even more than fixed price. I was sure those drivers would drive around an make sure the meter was actually as high as they predicted, so that wasn't at all helpful, and I was getting really pissed, further convincing me to give in. I saw there was another taxi line across the street, so we headed over there. I figured that worst case we could take the subway a stop or two closer to the hotel if we had to, and the subway entrance was over there too.
At that taxi line there was actually a person helping people into taxis, and this apparently kept the taxi drovers in line, but the first two taxis refused to take us, and the third didn't know where the hotel was, but I pulled out a second piece of paper with a map to the hotel, and he was very willing to take us. While in the taxi, I read the taxi rules are as follows 10 yuan for the first 3 kilometers, and 2 yuan for each additional km. Also, for each 5 minutes of waiting (like sitting in traffic), it is an additional 2 yuan. About 15 minutes, and 20 yuan later, we were at the hotel. Then we learned the next most important thing about Beijing taxis, always have change. I had 19 yuan in change, and then a bunch of 100 yuan bills. Our taxi driver was so nice, he let us pay 19 yuan, because he didn't have change for the 100 yuan bill, which left me feeling guilty.
Our short ride through the city showed the effects of trying to clean up the air pollution in Beijing. Busses were new (they weren't totally crammed with people either, so maybe they could be used by tourists), traffic was lighter, taxis were all new cars rather than mostly run down rust buckets, and there was almost no air pollution. It certainly wasn't the eye burning Beijing I left behind almost 8 years ago.
Check in to the Shatan Hotel was quick and easy, they spoke good English, and I was able to get some change from the front desk for future taxi rides. We got settled into our room and cleaned up for dinner, just in time to grab a cab and head to the SAS office to meet the R&D team that I work with, and take them to dinner. Em & M would meet us at the SAS office as well.
The SAS office was located on the 19th floor in an office building that is also part of a fancy shopping mall. The offices were very nice, and we had a nice dinner with the team. We introduced Kim, Em, & M to the Chinese rice wine, definitely not Em's taste, I'm glad she didn't get sick.
Saturday, November 10, 2007. The four of us met up at the Forbidden City. The crowd was huge, but the Forbidden City is so big that we were quickly inside and it didn't seem so crowded inside. They had done a lot of restoration here, so the decorations were much nicer nicer than when I was here last, but what had not been restored seemed much worse than what I remembered. The Starbucks inside is no longer Starbucks, it's called Chinatea now. Everyone else was amazed at how big the Forbidden City was, I don't ever remember being amazed by this.
From there we went by subway to silk street, which has actually moved around the corner into a building, and went bargain hunting. On advice from one of the R&D team, Deng Wu, we had a goal, bargain 70 - 80% off the price. Getting into the bargaining was hard at first, but in the end I even had Kim bargaining. The market's vendors were very pushy, often grabbing you to try to keep you from leaving. This seemed much pushier than when I was last in Beijing, and left Kim and I very tired, Em & M, seemed to thrive as they got used to bargaining. They also speak much more English than when I was in Beijing last.
We ended the evening with dinner at T.G.I. Friday's. There is one within walking distance of the silk market. When I was in Beijing last, there was one out on the third ring road, which I wasn't sure I could find if it was even there anymore, now, according to the T.G.I. Friday's website, there are three in Beijing. Our friends in SAS R&D helped us find this one when we were out to dinner with them.
We took the subway back to the hotel from there, it was a little bit of a walk to the closest station for us, but a 20 minute walk isn't that bad. Another improvement in Beijing is the subway system. The subway has been expanded from the original two lines, they have signs in English and Chinese, and they even announce the stops in both English and Chinese. We even got to use the brand spanking new subway line 5, I think it opened in September 2007.
Sunday, November 11, 2007. Sunday was our day at the Great Wall. We met up with Em & m at 7am at Qianmen subway station, and then took the hour subway ride out to Longze to meet Jungle, Deng Wu, Qiao, and Leaf to go to the Great Wall at Simatai; they would drive us the three hours from there. I've been to the Great Wall at Badaling and Mutianyu before, and none of the 8 of us had ever been to Simatai, and I heard this was one of the best places. I was not disappointed. The mountains there were very steep, and it definitely wasn't as touristy as the other places, although there still was a cable car and something called the Flying Fox to help you get up to the higher towers of the wall, if you didn't want to hike it, and there were still a few souvenir vendors. They also had some really annoying souvenir sellers that went up the great wall along side of us the whole way up and down from just beyond the exit of the flying fox. None of us liked the way that they did that, so we didn't buy anything from them, except Emeli. I hope others, too, will find this annoying, and not buy from them so they will eventually go away.
We had a pretty nice lunch across from the street from the parking lot before returning to Beijing, and saying goodbye to the Chinese. It was a very nice outing, and I am glad I got to do this with some of my colleagues in China. Despite my stomach feeling a bit odd, on the way back we stopped for more shopping. The market we went to this time was less stress, the vendors weren't very pushy at all and knew less English, but still more than when I was in Beijing last, but the prices were also lower from the start. We had split up in pairs and Kim and I also did some shopping at the mall across the street and had a western dinner at Pizza Hut across the street. Again the level of English was noticeably higher than my last time in Beijing.
Monday, November 12, 2007. The day started badly. Kim and I planned to go to the Temple of Heaven in the morning, and then we would meet up with Em & M after lunch to see the Summer Palace. Only I had been up sick most of the night, so the Temple of Heaven was canceled and I still wasn't feeling too great when it was time to leave to meet Em & M, although it seemed like the worst had passed. So, we headed out for Wudaokou station to meet up. From the station we took bus 690 from the station to the end, which was the stop for the Summer Palace. They've done some restoration here, but there is still more to be done to make it as nice as the Forbidden City. Again the other three were surprised with the size of the Summer Palace. The only other surprise, they sell popcorn that's sweet, yuk!
When we left we were headed for the Hiton market to check out some electronics, the bad taxi drivers were again out to cheat us, the first told us the market was closed. The second was willing to let us use a meter for 4 yuan per km. Eventually we found a taxi driver that didn't understand English, but was willing to take us to the market, the meter came up to only 15 yuan, and the market was open. If you know what you are looking for and what price you want to pay, you can probably find it here, but do not go into the ground floor, you will be attacked by sales people if you are not Chinese. We ate in one of the restaurants on the top floor, but not the one selling donkey. On the way home we stopped to get tea, and had a lesson in fine Oolong tea. I was a little hesitant at first, because I didn't want them to try to pressure us into buying tea that we didn't want, but in the end it was a pleasant, relaxing experience, that gave us a chance to rest our feet. Em & M headed back, but Kim and I also picked up a bottle of Chinese red wine to celebrate our last night in Beijing. A very friendly person at the store, who spoke no English, persuaded me to buy one called Dragon Seal, vintage 1999, and since she did so well trying to convey that it was a good wine, we tried it. It worked out, since we both agreed it was actually a good wine.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007. It was our last day in Beijing, and after sleeping in, and packing all of our stuff, including all of our recent purchases, it was time to leave for the airport, since we didn't want to get stuck in traffic on the way. There ended up being no traffic an it took only 35 minutes, rather than the 2 hours we had expected, so we had a lot of time to kill at the airport. Annoyingly, the time we saved in traffic was wasted during check-in, and we couldn't get even get seats together on the plane. Luckily, the seat next to Kim ended up empty, and we got to sit together after all, only 10 hours until we were finally back in Copenhagen.
Copyright ©2007 Lisa G. Hansen
Last Modified: Apr. 27, 2008