First impressions of China
Let’s back up for a minute and set the stage for our entry into China since we skimmed over that in the last post. We had a very early morning flight out of South Korea to get to Beijing. We gained hours on the way so we still got there very early in the morning. After we got off the plane, we made our way to the customs area for the passport check. The China visa was difficult to get and expensive ($250US per person).
We got our stamp and made it through customs and then headed to the area where they check bags. A gentleman in that area was looking at our docs and bags and then goes, “Peyo Manin!” and he pointed at me. I assume I’m in trouble but I have no idea what he’s saying to me. He yells “Peyo Manin” again but this time a little louder still pointing at me. I look behind me to see if there’s something I’m missing but there’s nothing. He moved in closer and points to my shirt, which was a Bronco’s polo with just the Logo and nothing that said Bronco’s. Turns out he was trying to say “Peyton Manning!”. I finally made the connection, smiled and said “Oh yes, Peyton Manning!” he laughed and I was relieved I wasn’t going to spend time in a Chinese prison.
We grab our bags and now need to find the express train into the city. We find the line and stand at the back, but we’re confused because multiple people are bypassing the line and simply walking right up to the ticket counter. Are we in the wrong line? Are we supposed to be at a different window? The line is probably 50 people deep and 20+ people simply walk up to the front of the line and get their ticket and move on. This creates a huge swarm at the actual ticket agent windows so it’s unclear where the line even is when you get up there. Slowly but surely we make our way in and get 2 tickets to the city center.
On the train ride there, we notice that there are TV monitors on the train. Rather than play advertisements or some random entertainment, the TV monitors are set to a 5 minute loop of the Chinese parades where they march their men, missiles, armor, and president down the street. The video concludes with the president looking at all the people who have gathered and all the troops (many thousands) staring back at him, then repeats infinitely. This was not an isolated incident, they play this loop on every single metro in Beijing.
We make our way off the train and head down to catch our connecting train. It looks like something out of the 50’s and everything is run down. We are relieved (and surprised) to find that navigating this subway is much easier than in Japan. We make it to our stop and get off the train. We have no sim cards because there weren’t any at the airport. Fortunately we have google maps loaded up so we start navigating to the address that Ashley had saved. Unfortunately that didn’t matter because the location on google maps was useless. Google maps doesn’t work in China because China has banned google, and therefore there is no real map support there.
We’re now completely lost with no internet. But wait! We can go to Starbucks and get on wifi and figure it out! We stand outside a Starbucks to grab a bit of internet. We try and login and it turns out you can’t login to Starbucks wifi without entering your cell phone number. As it turns out, you can’t login to wifi ANYWHERE in China without entering your cell phone. Why? Because then they can monitor what you’re doing and tie the traffic back to you.
We wander around for a bit and I’m starting to wonder how we are going to ever figure this out. There were few people around to ask, and even if we did, most people don’t speak English. Right as I’m wondering how this is going to turn out a woman is walking by with her Husband and asks us if we need help. We tell her we’re lost and need to find the hostel. She looks it up on her phone and shows us the map and points us in the right direction. We thank her multiple times and slowly make our way to hostel. We finally arrive after a bit more searching and we are both relieved we finally made it!
Upon checking into our room, we’re both excited to see that it’s huge! Lots of space for us to spread out which is a big change from what we saw in Japan. The room is on the cheap side as well so things are looking up. We quickly notice that there are a lot of bugs smashed on the wall with people’s shoe imprints all over the wall as well. In short order we figure out that the mosquito to human population in our room is roughly 9 mosquito’s to 1 human.
I make it my personal mission to kill as many mosquito’s as possible. The windows seem like they have a good seal so if I knock them out 1 by 1 we have a chance to survive in here. I make my way around the room adding to the already large number of shoe marks on the wall. Down they go one by one. I’m feeling the tide turn in our favor. One sneaky mosquito thinks he can make his way into the bathroom to escape but I am undeterred. I pursue and he manages to fly up to the ceiling. I hop on the toilet, take aim, and score another kill in my war against mosquitos. As I hop off the toilet, I feel it buckle under me as the extra weight from jumping adds more pressure. I fortunately make it off the toilet before it completely falls apart and I fall through, but the toilet seat is down for the count.
Interestingly enough, I must not be the first person to break a toilet seat. There is a list of items posted in every room and the cost if you break them and there are only 5 or 6 things on the list. Toilet seat happens to be one of them. We end up having to pay a grand total of $2.15 for breaking the toilet seat. The mosquito battle continued for the duration of our stay, and I believe they ultimately won. Ashley and I each walked away with 10+ mosquito bites. Overall our stay in the hostel was great. The downstairs area was a good place to socialize and hang out during the day while we got work done. If you take away the mosquitos, the place was actually alright.
Night Tour: Round 2
Fast forward past the Great Wall of China day, and our group meets up again to finish off the night tour we started. We didn’t have time to hit the final location so we decided to go out again with the same group as before. This time we decided to eat before we walked around and Sherif already knew of a place close by. We stopped in and we weren’t disappointed. Our entire meal with drinks would usually be under $10 for Ashley and I both. The menu was on the wall and it was simply pictures so we were able to easily order as well. The owner seemed happy to have us there and we ended up going to the same place at least 4 or 5 times while we stayed at this hostel. As new people would come to the hostel, we would introduce them to this place and it was a hit every time.
Once we were full it was time to head to the next night tour location. As it turns out, the smog on this particular day was even worse than the day before. Our air quality apps (which I didn’t know existed prior to South Korea) were telling us that not only was it unsafe to work out outside, it was unsafe to even be outside without a mask and they recommend staying indoors at all times. Amanda (our polite British friend from the Taxi incident) had masks so we set off for the night to explore.