Sunday, December 25, 2005

Oh yeah, I can't speak Chinese...

THAT was my big realization today... All I can say in Chinese is Hello, Thank you and How much... which is quite refreshing while being disturbing at the same time since my Japanese was better than that when I first came to Japan. Here, I'm just treading water... but so far so good!

Nee Hao from the capital city of the world's largest growing economy, the country with the largest population in the world, the city chosen to host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games and the capital city of the most powerful still functioning communist government in the world. After spending a day here, I've definitely been witness to all that and more.

Needless to say, it's been an eventful day. It started off well, I woke up at 5:22, about 8 minutes before my alarm, the alarm clock in my head doing it's job as beautifully as usual. Packed up my things and started the trek back to Keisei Station from Azure Guesthouse. Azure was great, comfortable, not busy so I didn't have to share a room, conveniently located, etc.etc.etc. I would recommend it to anyone who has to spend the night near Narita Airport because they did a stupid thing and booked a ridiculously early flight and couldn't get from their place to the airport in time... like me.

First time flying out of Narita was simple enough, thanks to my flight being so early. With the holidays starting in Japan, I had been warned it would be a bit nasty. As you can (almost) see by the departures board, CAC422 is to be the first one off the tarmac... lucky me. You know you're getting to the airport early when you ride on the same train as most of the staff. God I need some sleep!

The 4 hour flight was uneventful, save for a 30 minute delay in leaving, which was somehow mostly recouped in the air since we arrived just a few minutes later than scheduled. The process through the Beijing airport was fast, VERY fast... the fastest I've ever seen, especially considering it includes immigration, bird flu quarantine, baggage check and customs. And so it was that I exited the security area quite tired and was immediately taken advantage of for being the sappy\tired\moronic tourist that I am. Even though I had been forewarned by Scott, and had read about this in Lonely Planet I was lured into one of Beijing infamous illegal taxis.... and paid about twice the rate for my ride in to town. It just happened so quickly I was stunned, quite fascinating how good these guys are really. I was still inside the terminal when someone approached me and asked if I wanted a taxi, to which I said yes. He immediately took my bag and jogged into the parking structure past all the waiting taxis (first red flag) and put my bag into the trunk of a car (second flag, this means I can't get out without the driver's help) and into an unmarked vehicle (goddamn I have no idea why I didn't say anything, I knew what was happening, I was just hypnotized or something) for the ride into town. There was a meter in the cab, but it was obviously rigged... but once I was in the car and my bag was in the trunk, I was just along for the ride (especially considering I learned when I exited the "cab" that the doors only opened from the outside)... At least the guy didn't drive around in circles, I had my map out and he went the direct route to the general area of the hotel. As we got near, he turned the meter off, gave me a receipt and asked for the money. Not being a total dolt, I kept telling him to take me to the hotel and he'd get his money... he knew I knew I was being had and softened his touch a bit. Instead of the 300Y fare, I gave him 150 (still 65Y over the going rate) and we parted ways. Quite interesting how I didn't listen to my instincts for some odd reason. I guess shit like this has to happen to you before you become a smarter traveller... learn from your own mistakes and all that. Anywho, no harm done and I have another story to tell... lol

So then I checked in to my room, wrote a quick blog (which this more coherent, I hope, version is replacing) and had a shower before going to bed for a bit. It's nice to know that the horrible Engrish hasn't been left behind in Japan, how the heck does one not know how to spell Merry Christmas??? The sentiment is nice though, I was told this was a special package for me, since most guests don't celebrate Christmas here... a giggling housekeeper brought it to my room for me, I guess they don't get many foreigners here.

It's quite a nice room, clean, free Internet, nice big bathroom, king size bed... etc.

It even comes with a PC, though I've decided to connect my laptop directly since it is in English and I prefer to know what my computer is trying to tell me... lol Skype works, MSN works, my blog works (obviously) but I cannot see the results of my blogging unless I go through a special anonymizer web site. China blocks blogs, part of it's censorship program.

So after my nap I decided to do a little exploring around the hotel, and jeez but if I ain't in a totally different country... again... While I don't get the double-take "Oh my god there's a foreigner walking down the street" so much here as in Utsunomiya, I am seeing a bit of curiosity from the locals. I checked out the neighbourhood, walking East and then West from the hotel, trying to get oriented, it's a rather interesting neighbourhood, rather eclectic with many outdoors vendor plying their wares, lots of little shops and big restaurants and such... should be nice in the daytime tomorrow.

After walking by a bunch of places, I chose a restaurant to be my first victim.

This is when that damn language barrier thing happened again... I can't even say "O susume wa nan desu ka" (what do you recommend) in Chinese so I had to use hand gestures and the flustered\shy\giggling waitress chose some kind of turkey leg thing that you wrap in thin rice tortillas with some kind of sauce... I dunno... About 6 waitresses stood in a corner watching me eat and giggling every time I looked over, quite different from Japan. I think they were probably impressed with my chopstick skills as I noticed a collective gasp when I first picked them up. Maybe they expected me to start spearing food? So we made ourselves understood and upon leaving I tried English, French and Japanese to no avail and ended up with the standard "Shie Shie" (thank you) as a parting note. 45Y for dinner (about 6$, or 650JPY) pretty damn good deal!!! I have WAYYY too much cash, luckily I'll be dumping some tomorrow when I pay for my trip to Xian at the travel agency.

So, a good first day and now I intend to get a good night of sleep before my first real day of exploring tomorrow. I'm not quite sure what I'll do, not sure I'm ready to tackle the hutongs quite yet. I may do one or two of the walking tours suggested in Lonely Planet Beijing through the Foreign Legation Quarter, Tiananmen square and up to the forbidden city... that's about a 5 hour jaunt if you don't stop... we shall see. First order of business is getting over to Xinhua tours and making the final arrangements for the trip to Xian which along with the Great Wall will be the crowning jewel of this trip.

Impressions thus far? Amazed, refreshed, frightened, confused but very comfortable. China is indeed a communist nation, as I saw from the plane when looking out over the highly organized and segmented sections of the city, and by the ever present military presence on the street, even in this relatively residential area. China is also booming, there are cranes everywhere, fantastic looking apartment buildings, and a new terminal going up at Beijing Capital Airport... this trip will be a fantastic one, there's no doubt about that. I will try calling home shortly, I have yet to wish my family Merry Christmas and Christmas Day is almost over here (4.5 hours left) and I spent most of it travelling...

So a final Merry Christmas to you all from this side of the planet.

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