Friday, July 25, 2008

Jul 25 - Beijing

We got to the hotel and checked in at 3:30 pm or so. The clerks at the desk were almost all "trainees," according to the badges, and took a long time finding our names. Finally, we were up in the room (a standard two bed 4 star room). Estimated group room price $80 USD, from the hotel's website.

We had two goals for Friday afternoon 1. change money (already done), and 2. get some bus maps of Beijing (to be done at Wangfujing Bookstore some 2.5-3 mi away). We met Tristina and began walking toward the bookstore. We noted that the sky was so polluted that you could look directly at the sun, and really had to search the sky to find it at all. This was a "sunny" day, mind you. The smog is so bad we had started coughing. Beijing felt like a steam oven, with a grey sky, and limited distance visibility.

We walked past a flower garden , decorated in honor of the Olympics. Everything is being cleaned or is under construction in anticipation of the Olympics, including the trees in this garden area. Large numbers of people are standing around, wearing Olympics tee-shirts and badges, doing what, we don't know. As we were walking along, on the left, were walled off neighborhoods, clearly in a state of destruction, being guarded against entry. On the right were some similar neighborhoods, in a partial state of destruction, but still with inhabitants. These are the hu tongs, the old neighborhoods of Beijing, that are rapidly being replaced with modern high rise construction. Since they originally lacked indoor plumbing, and perhaps even running water, there are public toilets every block or so. There seemed to be outdoor firepits instead of kitchens. In other hu tongs we have seen, people seem to be renting bed space only, and living spaces of 2 square meters seem to be the norm. We exited the various hu tongs, some in better shape than others, and approached Qianmen, the southern gate to Tiananmen Square. It was 5:30 pm, and Tristina decided to go back to the hotel. We pushed on, and maybe .5 - 1 mile farther on was Wangfujing Street, a major commercial thoroughfare.

On the street was a drink place, where we had an exotic green bottled drink for 5 RMB, which turned out to be, when we deciphered the characters, "green tea." We also bought, for 4 RMB, a yogurt like drink (kefir?) in a ceramic pot, with a paper top, and a straw, that we saw several other people enjoying.

On to Wangfujing Bookstore, a huge place. After some consideration, we bought two maps and a street book of Beijing, some of which were entirely in Chinese. All the bus routes were there, and time will tell if we can figure out where the buses run, and what the maps indicate.

It was now 7 pm or so, so we hopped into the Gourmet Center (Eat Street), a basement level mall of 30-40 small eateries. You buy a plastic card, put some money on it, and have at it. We settled on a bowl of laghman (lamb noodle spicy soup) from Xinjiang, and a pickled mixed vegetable salad (20 RMB total). The guy next to us had a cold mug of beer, so we also got a mug of Tsingtao (10 RMB). So the total was 30 RMB ($4.50) for a filling dinner for two. We sat at communal tables with a happy crew of families, couples, singles, kids, etc. The card was returned for the unspent remainder.

We got out at 8:15 pm, and walked back, looking quite unsuccessfully for an Internet Cafe. Several were described for us - go that way and turn left, or some such directions, but no luck. We passed the outside of Tiananmen Square, where crowds promenaded and took pictures under the benevolent gaze of the Chairman. We passed Hepingmen subway station, bought a 4 L bottle of water for 7.5 RMB, passed a number of restaurants with "Old Beijing Food," whatever that is, and finally got back to the hotel. Total walking 5 - 6 miles. Total sweat - one gallon each.

At the hotel, we used 10 minutes of Internet time at 2 RMB per minute (the minimum). They told us it was 11 minutes (we don't believe it). This morning's internet is 10 RMB per hour!
To bed at 11 pm, after showers all around, and in-sink clothes washing.

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