A lot can happen in 48 hours especially in Beijing. After a nightmare journey lasting over 40 hours and costing over $3000 (read about my drama here) I finally touched down at 4am local time. After all the palaver of getting into China I wasn’t surprised to find a wait at immigration. Although two hours of waiting for my passport to get photocopied was rather excessive. Beijing’s immigration was an absolute shambles with people waiting everywhere not knowing what the hell was going on. I spoke to some people that were just changing planes but they had to endure a lengthy customs and re-check in just because they had bought some duty-free on the plane. I was ratty and not being able to get any cold water at the airport didn’t help matters. During my brief time in China I’ve come to learn that cold food and drink are thought of as unhygienic and bad quality so everything in China is served warm or in some cases such as beer, a little chilled. Luckily I had some teabags with me so I filled my water bottle with a cuppa instead.
Getting into central Beijing from the airport was relatively easy as the names of each stop were in English or at least used English letters. I was made to put all my heavy luggage on one of the spare seats which baffled me as the hold under the bus was open for other people’s luggage. The driver also stopped me from putting my trolley back in the trolley park and so it was left on the pavement for everyone to trip over.
Once on the road I knew I was back in Asia. I watched motorbike riders with no helmets, cyclists cycling down the wrong side of the motorway, cars using their horns like there’s no tomorrow and I even saw a man on the floor who had just got run over by a car. Thankfully he looked reasonably OK.
I made my way to Wesley’s house, my Couchsurfing host for the one night I had in Beijing. Wesley lived in a Hutong which is a narrow alleyway where locals live. These traditional local digs were built in the Yuan dynasty (1206-1341) and remain in order to remind the younger generation what old Beijing used to be like. Wesley’s house, which is considered rather large, consists of one small room just big enough to fit a single bunk bed, a small desk and a small shower. There’s certainly no room for a kitchen or wardrobe and the toilet is the public loo at the end of the road which I wasn’t overly keen on at 2am when nature called.
The majority of people in Beijing don’t have a toilet in their home due to what I presumed was the lack of space in the city and for hygiene reasons (Chinese people are big on personal hygiene). However, I was wrong. Back in the days when these Hutongs (alleyways) were built, there was no water system and instead there was a well at the end of every street. Thanks to these Hutongs a public loo can be found at the end of most roads in Beijing – happy me. Sadly they don’t contain bog roll due to people stealing It. Unlike many other Asian countries there is no bum gun in China so I either had to come prepared or go back to my days in India.
After dumping my stuff Wesley and I hit the streets by bicycle. Beijing opporates a shared bike scheme in which everyone pays deposit (depending on the brand of bike) which, in theory they never get back as most wish to continue using them. To access a bike you must download an app and scan the bike using a mobile phone to unlock it. A bike costs about 10p an hour and you must lock it whenever you get off to stop other people using it in your name. You cannot claim that bike as yours though. Even if you have just stopped for a minute someone can come along, scan the code and ride off with your bike. At first I thought this was a ridiculous idea but I soon realised that we were never a few metres from an available bike. Like with the bikes, everything happens with a smart phone. We event bought an ice cream from a small street vendor by scanning a code using Wesley’s phone. Beijing is quickly becoming a totally cashless and cardless society.
We stopped off at the side of the road to try some sweet yoghurt which can be found everywhere across the city. It was very tasty but cost nearly twice as much as a beer so I decided against another (priorities). There’s a price for everything which doesn’t surprise me because it’s China and Chinese people are known for their desire to make (and spend) money. If I wanted to ring a bell in a temple 10yaun, if I wanted to get 100 metres in front of a pagoda 10yuan, I couldn’t even refill my water bottle in the toilets due to the angle of the tap so I had to buy a new one each time. Wesley said this was because Chinese people are smart and I kind of get him.
I asked Wesley heaps of questions about Chinese’s politics, religion, the “communist” society and what to me seem conflicting idealologies. I learnt so much I cannot possibly tell you it all. We went to Jingshan Park and climbed the “hill” to see views over the Forbidden City and Palace. Unfortunately the time I was in Beijing it was incredibly smoggy which I was told is not always the case. There were a group of middle-aged people in the park singing songs praising the communist state. We sat and watched them for a while. This is a very common thing for people of this age to do, Wesley told me.
Next we went to Beihai Park which was by far my favourite city park. Inside is a huge white and gold pagoda, many colourful temples and a huge lake with the most beautiful flowering lilly pads on the water. We took a boat over to the other side which was a good way to see the whole lake and families enjoying their Sunday morning. In my eyes this park is well worth a visit. It’s been such a jam packed first day in Beijing that my story will have to continue in a second post coming soon. Read more about my time trying rather odd local delicacies, my trip to the Great Wall and my slightly sour goodbye.