Tony and I left Atlanta around 11 am on Saturday morning. My mom (we’ll call her Amelia) flew into the Atlanta airport from Columbus that morning. We were meeting my brother, Matt, in Seattle. From Seattle we had a 12 hour flight to Beijing, China. After meeting my brother, he found out that he wasn’t able to get on the flight so he would join us a few days later.
We landed in Beijing at 8 pm Sunday night. Yes, we left on Saturday morning and landed on Sunday night. We crossed over the international date line, and thus, lost an entire day during our travels. The timing was actually good though. Since it was our new nighttime, we planned on resetting our internal clocks to China time. After clearing immigration, we attempted to get some cash for a taxi to our hotel. It took four ATMs until we were able to find one that had an English option. The exchange rate is low. One Chinese Yuan equals about 15 cents in US Dollars.
We walked into the crisp November air and found a very long taxi line. Someone saw us befuddled and indicated that we should follow them. I pulled up the address to our hotel, showed it to a woman behind a counter, and a few minutes later the three of us were piling into a van on our way to the hotel.
We checked into the hotel seamlessly and were handed two room keys. Tony grabbed one and Amelia grabbed the other. Once we got to the third floor, Tony started searching for room 361 and Amelia for 369. We could not find the rooms to save our lives. We shuffled back downstairs, and after much frustration, finally got an employee to escort us upstairs. He kindly pointed out that the rooms were 347 and 349. I’m not sure if I can chalk this up to a language barrier or bad handwriting, but there definitely were no “4s” on the room keys.
We had dinner at the hotel and turned in early. Around 4 am, we were wide awake. With sleep out of the question, we showered and got our day started early. Matt wouldn’t be able to make it until the following morning, so Tony, Amelia, and I bundled up and walked a block to the nearest subway station. There was a flight of stairs going down, so Tony ‘bounced’ me down and we successfully purchased a train ticket. Train tickets are about 2yun, which equates to 30 cents. I don’t think I need to point out how incredibly cheap this is. And the trains were nice, well maintained, and appeared very safe!
A few stops later and we had arrived at our destination. We were going to get Tony a custom made suit. He had done this a few years ago in Hong Kong and loves the suit. Unfortunately, Wendy’s Tailor was permanently closed, which we found out after arriving there. So, instead of shopping, we opted for coffee and pastries. “Croissant Village” was next door and their shelves were full of baked goods. The coffee was incredible and the area was filled with the smell of baking bread. Every 20 minutes or so, a baker would come out with a new batch of delicacies. They were different every time, and not only smelled amazing, but they looked fabulous. We spent a few hours here and would later learn that our favorite food in Beijing was the morning bakeries.
That afternoon, we attempted to find a famous replica of the “Friends” café – Central Perk. We successfully found the building it was located in, but could not find the actual café. We searched all the way up to the 3rd floor of a building that were predominately offices before concluding that it must be closed. I was disappointed, but what could I do?
Knowing that the trains were not extremely accessible, we grabbed a taxi back to the hotel for a mid-afternoon nap. After all, we had been awake since 4 am. That evening, we ventured out again for dinner. There was a shopping mall nearby that we thought might be a good option for our inexperienced Chinese pallets.
We waited at the cross walk to cross four lanes of traffic thinking that the light would change and it would be very orderly. It was the exact opposite. There were cars, buses, tuk tuks (3-wheeled scooter-type vehicles), motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians all trying to go different places. The traffic light did change, but pedestrians certainly were not the ones with the right of way. Cars were turning, motorcycles were cruising along besides pedestrians, and bicycles were fighting to get across the street. In China, pedestrians do not have any rights. In fact, the penalty for hitting a pedestrian and killing them is less than if the pedestrian survives. Chinese drivers are known to back up and hit the pedestrian a few times to be sure they are dead. International drivers licenses are also not recognized in China. All of this made crossing the street an extremely stressful ordeal at every intersection. We always waited until we were surrounded by people and crossed with them, using them as our protective barrier. It became an unspoken process that we went through dozens of times each day.
Finally at the mall, we found dozens of restaurants. We walked by at least 10 before we found one that had an English speaking menu. It ended up being a Taiwanese place, but the food was good and the beer was satisfying. It was a great ending to the day.