The flight into Beijing was terrible. The plane had the smell of vomit and cheese. And their idea of “Canadian bacon” was actually half a slice of ham. But I told myself, it won’t be that bad once I get to Beijing. Oh how wrong I was.
My first day in Beijing was a harrowing experience. I was warned about the smog, but I never realised that it was going to be this bad. I have yet to see the daytime sky as anything other than a depressing shade of grey. I have been to Beijing once in the late 80’s when I was really young. This is nothing like the Beijing of old. Cars dominate the roads where bikes once roamed.
Massive buildings littered the skyline (up to the point where the haze obscured all vision). It seems that the Chinese love to build massive building complexes. Sure the buildings were tall, but they weren’t super tall. What I saw instead were massive buildings on massive compounds. This was especially the case when it came to government buildings. Initially I was supposed to go the the circus school.
I was tired and did not want deal with public transport, so I decided to get a cab. Problem was the cab driver doesn’t know how to get there. This seemed to be a prevailing problem in Beijing. Cab drivers here don’t know where streets are. You have to tell them the area, then guide them to the street. So I ended up calling the school and asked them to guide the cab driver there. That’s when the first major issue happened.
With the current H1N1/09 flu scare, the school decided to enact a 7 day quarantine policy. In fact, the school unreasonably insisted that I stay in a hotel and not leave the room for 7 days regardless the prescence of symptoms. It was a horrible idea which disgusted me to the core. And it was highly impractical. I later found out that a girl was admitted into the school before her 7 days, which lessened my impression of the school. Do I really want to be training in a place like this?
What that meant was that right now, I couldn’t go to the school, I couldn’t meet my friend, ultimately leaving me with no couch to crash on. However, I managed to contact another friend of mine who arranged to meet me at TuanJieHu subway station later in the evening. So all was not lost. Initially I planned to just wait at the station for the next 4 to 5 hours, but I really didn’t want to be in a strange place for that long alone toting about a suitcase and an overstuffed messenger bag. So I told the cab driver to drop me off at a hotel that’s near to a train station in the city. So he drove towards the town centre passing by several landmarks and tourist attactions along the way.
Coming up towards TianAnMen, he asked me if I knew about the place. All of a sudden paranoia stuck, could it be that taxi drivers here are moles for the government? Profiling “problematic” foreigners so the government would know who to keep tabs on? Or maybe he was just curious to know how foreigners see the entire incident. But be it luck or misfortune, my poor command of Chinese prevented the conversation from going anywhere.
Through the haze, I started to make out signage such as “Marriot”, “Hilton”, and other names that made my wallet almost die. So I instructed the driver that I just wanted a place to sleep for a few hours and maybe have a shower. So in the end he dropped me off at a 2 star hotel near the barracks. My experience with the locals thus far has been challenging. For some reason, those who could speak some english, kept insisting on conversing with me in Chinese despite me making it evidently clear that my command of Chinese was far weaker then theirs of English. In the end I managed to get a room, charge my electronics, have a shower, and take a nap. The outlook started to brighten in the end despite feeling a mild anxiety attack.
In the shower was this sign, “Slip and fall down carefully”. Last I checked, I haven’t been able to “slip and fall down carefully”, it tends to always be carelessly and dangerously. There was another sign that I encountered at the airport that I didn’t have the opportunity to snap. It was on a broken moving walkway that said, “Please do not enter the dangerous”.
The room also had a few amenities included for a price. Such as vibrating condoms. I was later told that you can find vegetable, green tea, and sesame flavoured condoms in China too.
After my nap, feeling mildly refreshed, I decided to walk out and find the subway station. Thankfully I haven’t decided to check out yet, choosing to first find the subway station, the come back and retrieve my luggage. One other thing that I learnt was that the people here can’t seem to give directions either. I asked 3 different people where the subway was and I got directed in 3 different directions, none of which led me to the station in question.
In the end I gave up and caught a taxi. Which leads me to my next point. Why don’t people here wear seat belts? Is it to solve the over population problem? And also, the drivers here drive on the road with their windows down. Even in the middle of a traffic jam. For hours. Even luxury car drivers leave their windows down in what would be the worst smog I’ve ever experienced. But 1 and a half hours on the road made me ill. The traffic jam was just that bad.
But finally, I got to TuanJieHu station and just as I stepped out of the cab, I saw my friend across the street. After today’s ordeal it was a great relief to see a familiar face. We went over to her friend’s place where I was to spend the night. We had a large beer each. 600ml for less than AUD$1! And surprisingly, it wasn’t too bad. It was a little light in taste, but that seems to be the case with most Asian beers I’ve encountered.
After the much needed beer, we went to SanLiTun. This is considered the English speaking quarter. Most of the embassies and consulates are here too. Also many shops selling foreign products at much higher prices than back home. This is also where a relatively new juggle meet, much like Brisbane’s own Juggle Jam, is held. We went to a cafe frequented by travelers had sandwiches for dinner. Not very Chinese, but I was just happy for anything familiar.
And of course, who could forget the Great Firewall of China? The government here deemed it fit to block common internet staples such as facebook, twitter and youtube. All this presumably is for the lead up to China’s 60th anniversary. Having said that, it was easy to side step the filter using Tor or VPN. Being on the internet and able to communicate with everyone else has preserved my sainity and kepy my hopes thus far.
I’m still appalled at the poor air quality here. I wonder if a good storm will give us an hour or 2 of clear skies. And there’s this awful stench that’s almost everywhere. Frankly, I’m really disliking Beijing right now.
Hopefully things will get better once training starts.