For our 4th Anniversary and my birthday we planned a trip to China (another one of my milestone items). We left work on Friday afternoon and went straight to the airport. After a quick stop in Hong Kong, we were off to Beijing, China! It was a great holiday and we took PLENTY of photos and have many stories to share so this will be the first of several posts!
We arrived at night so there was not much we could see, but it was amazing how expansive the airport, the roads, the buildings and everything else were! Everything seemed to have a place, there was no crowding or cramped spaces. One of the things we noticed first off was ALL the cameras! They were EVERYWHERE—throughout our time in China this was a constant thing. That and the pollution that made your boogers black!
|This is the pollution from our window|
We stayed at the Ascott and decided that we just wanted to get a taxi to the hotel. After waiting in a REALLY long line (something we did very often during the course of the trip) we got into our first taxi. We showed the driver our hotel, written in Mandarin characters and he waved his hand, said something in Chinese that we understood as “NO!” This happened frustratingly two more times before we got our taxi and we were pestered by the “other guy” that always happens to pop up and say “I take you, same price. Come with me.” After living in Asia for over a year we KNOW that if someone approaches you out of the blue and offers you something—NEVER trust them OR what they say! So luckily one of the drivers got us to the hotel.
The Ascott was in a great location, next to the main subway station, had a pool, great restaurants around (well they were great until I found a HUGE hair in my noodles once—that was downright nasty), and to our surprise the room had a kitchen and a washer/dryer. Now, the washer and dryer was one of those space-saving-economical contraptions that the washer and dryer are the SAME machine. Great idea! But the instructions were ALL in characters! HAHAHA…so when I did laundry I just took a guess and started with “A” and hoped it worked. Eventually it did!
The first stop on our adventure was the Summer Palace. This is a massive piece of land north west of Beijing and filled with gardens, walkways, temples and a HUGE lake! It was so beautiful there. We explored the old building that are intricately painted and immaculately landscaped. We climbed thousands of stairs and relaxed on a water ferry.
I have never considered myself as a follower or a “band-wagoner” but we began to get into the habit of watching what others were doing and following the crowd. Even after taking two years of Mandarin in college (6 years ago) I could not understand what was being said. The longer we were there small phrased would come back to me, like “Water” or “Bathroom” or “Excuse me” but that was it! We were on the ferry and the captain was giving instructions and the whole boat of people began to prepare their things. Us and an Indian couple were just sitting there watching the melee around us. I started to laugh when I heard the Indian lady lean over to her husband and say, “I am NO idea what is happening!” --my thoughts exactly!
|Lady wanted one of these and so we bought one...I ended up packing it ALL day! My bag smelled so bad! Everytime I wanted to throw it away, she would say, "I am eating that..." next thing you know I was packing it again!|
The train and subway system in really great! It is only 2 RMB per ride (30 cents USD) and off you go. There is a learning curve with the language barrier but we had it down by the time the week was over. Rush hour was especially exciting! People were EVERYWHERE! All we had to do was stand in front of the door of the train we wanted to ride and the masses would push us on and when we wanted to get off they would push us off! It made me laugh to see them try and push more people on. One lady was determined to push herself onto an already packed train and then screamed in pain and surprise when she had the door shut on her butt! I guess I should have felt bad for her, but it was a bit hilarious! (in case you were wondering, they did open the doors so she could gather her behind in and we could leave) You stood so close to people you could smell their soap…and any other odor they may be sharing that day. Or you could count their dandruff…you get the picture!
Lady Hiva wanted to go SHOPPING! So of course during our first day we went to one of the markets. Before our trip she had asked several of our friends and read books and online to find the BEST markets in the city--This became our guide for the week. We planned site seeing and eating around which markets she planned on visiting that day!
The markets sold EVERYTHING! Most of it was “knock-off” stuff. The brands were names we had never heard of, but the quality was similar and it was cheap…so we had fun. It is all about bargaining. When you find something you like, you ask how much it is and they give you a price using their calculator. It is hugely inflated—like 8 to 10 times the real price. Then you have a chance to tell them it is too high and give your own price and the yelling and haggling starts from there. It is really fun at first, but by the time we left at night I was exhausted.
|Lady wanted a photo with Mao as he passed!|
|Another Mao being sold|
For example, I wanted to buy a suit. I asked how much and the lady typed on her calculator while saying, “I give you good price.” Her offer was 1620 RMB ( Somewhere around 275 USD)
“What?! That is way to high!” I would say and start to walk away, which they don’t like. But because I am a foreigner they still want to rip me off…that is NOT going to happen.
“What price you pay…hello? Hello? What price you pay?” She panics and shoves the calculator in my face gesturing for me to take it. I learned in Cambodia and Thailand that you NEVER take the calculator, much like you don’t haggle while holding the merchandise, because they will not take it back and they see it as a way to keep you there. It is hard to leave when you are holding their stuff. So I type some outrageously low number while SHE holds the calculator. To which she feigns distress and anger and says, “You JOKING! I lose money!”
“Ok then, good bye” and I start to leave again.
She promptly grabs my arm and says, “Ok, ok…I give you friend price..” Then after that she offers the “Final price” then the “Final, final” then the “Big discount final price” and it goes on and on until I get what I want. I usually walk away a few times and they yell for me to come back. (Lady Hiva hates to argue so she gives in easier.) I eventually bought the suit for 300RMB (48 USD). And still was sure I could have gotten lower…but that is a cheap suit.
As we went from market to market it was fun to hear the sellers yell in Mandarin, English, Spanish, and Russian! We would laugh when we would hear them yell, “You joking!” or whine they are losing money if they sell for that price…but later will actually sell it to you for less! HAHA…LIARS! It made me wonder how many foreigners stop bargaining and pay the higher price?
|The kitchen making dumplings...|
We made it back from our first day…having really enjoyed it. We both were tired and Lady Hiva’s back hurt from walking so much, but we sat and mapped out our next day’s adventure: The GREAT WALL OF CHINA!