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Day 24: Beijing

May 14th, 2011 6 comments

I spent a lot of time in Beijing trying to avoid tourists. This proved to be extremely difficult while staying at the Grand Hyatt, where I was fortunate enough to spend a few days with Jan. We checked out the local nightlife on Sanlitun “Bar Street” where we paid too much for a couple beers and fries. I was amused by the assortment of live music (including karaoke) that was coming out of each bar or nightclub. There was also a very good MJ impersonator which I, unfortunately, didn’t catch on audio or photo.

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We also rented bicycles and rode around some hutongs (alley districts) near the Drum and Bell Tower.

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Trying to get a picture of myself on a bicycle without running over anyone or being hit by other vehicles…

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Walking through another hutong and being assaulted by a loop of “welcome to Beijing” and other merchants trying to sell their goods.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the luxury and the free food at the Hyatt, I can’t say I was experiencing Beijing so I was glad to spend at least one night in a hostel before leaving Beijing. It rained as I was trying to find the hostel – while carrying my 19 kilo backpack which is about as big as I am.

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My hostel, the Emperor Guesthouse

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Beijing

May 8th, 2011 Comments off

Beth, from the Emperor Guesthouse hostel said this about her city:

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translation: Beth is from Zhang Jia Kou, works in hostel, likes to go to plays with her friends, meets lots of friends in hosteling – from America, England, Russia, and every other country, likes to eat chicken, but China chicken not so good

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Day 21: Tourist train to Beijing

May 7th, 2011 1 comment

The most obvious difference, to me, between China and Mongolia was the presence of pavement and cement everywhere, even in the countryside. Rail ties were made of cement instead of wood and the hillsides were cemented to keep the earth from falling into the tracks. I’m impressed with the sheer amount of work that has obviously gone into creating this railway through China. At one point, just before entering the city, we passed through more than 40 tunnels that cut through the massive range of mountains west of Beijing.

The train compartment was extremely comfortable (although quite warm) and I shared it with Jan and a fellow backpacker, couchsurfer, and physicist (in a past life, like me) named Vanessa. Vanessa is from France and has been traveling through Russia and is going on to visit the rest of southeast Asia over the next 10 months. The midnight changing of the wagon bogeys (wheels) was a fascinating game, like a wooden block puzzle, that took 4 hours and where each wagon was one-by-one detached from the train and raised with hydraulic jacks while the bogeys were changed by men and women on the ground. No peeing was allowed (bathrooms locked) during this time so you can imagine the race for the toilets once we pulled into the Erlian station for a quick break.

View more Flickr pictures.

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Day 0: Hong Kong

April 16th, 2011 5 comments

There wasn’t a direct (or even remotely close-to-direct) flight to Vladivostok and I was trying to build up miles with oneworld airline carriers so my route to Vladivostok took me through Hong Kong and Beijing. The stop-over in Hong Kong was about 8 hours so I decided to use that time to go see the city, and I had the incredible fortune to have a friend, TW, there who wanted to show me around and had planned my full day itinerary which went something like this:

Walking through a Hong Kong outdoor market

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07:30 arrive HK Int’l Airport, go through immigration, customs and to the Airport Express train. I see a train with Mickey Mouse-shaped head for windows.
09:00 arrive in HK MTR central train station and find TW
09:15 walking tour of HK central, aka “central”, starts. TW knows a lot of the history behind the skyscrapers and most of what I remember is that they’re tall, there is IFR 1 and 2, which was the tallest building in HK until some bank built the next tallest one across the bay in Kowloon. There is some business feng shui thing going on with the Bank of China knife-shaped building. The building with circles that came straight out of the 70’s was the tallest building in HK for a while. The whole time I think to myself that I would be completely lost in about 5 minutes if I had tried to look around on my own.
09:45 breakfast of cantonese noodles and jo (rice porridge of some sort)
10:15 taxi ride through town to the base of the cable car that goes up to HK “peak”. Apparently, in HK, the higher your elevation, the higher your economical status.
10:30 cable car ride up to the peak. This is a very steep ride that goes straight up the hill. At one point, I was leaning over at 45-degrees to try and stand.
10:45 take the escalators up to the viewing deck. There is a mini Disney castle at the base of the escalators. I can’t get away from the Mouse.
11:15 go back downstairs and get a lemon-flavored aloe drink at 7-Eleven in the shopping area at the peak
11:20 taxi back to central
11:35 eat egg tarts at a local bakery
11:45 walk through the local wet market and capture the sounds and smells of fresh fish and produce
12:30 get on the tram heading out of central – we’re having lunch with 2 more of my friends at the Grand Hyatt near Causeway Bay. The crowds are starting to thicken. TW informs me lunch time is coming when everything gets really busy. Some shops don’t even open until noon.
12:50 get off the tram and walk. I’m pretty sticky from the walking and humidity at this point. And it’s not even really hot and humid in HK yet.
13:15 lunch in the air-conditioned Hyatt. I forgot to take pictures of the food but it was good. I had Hainan chicken and tried some of TW’s beef noodle. I introduced my other 2 friends because they didn’t all know each other.
14:30 taxi back to HK MTR station to take train back to airport
15:00 fly through security check and head to gate. I have time to check my email while standing in line. I love free wi-fi and smartphones.
15:35 board plane for Beijing

Thank goodness for free airport wi-fi and for the free local call phones just outside of the customs area because I had no HK dollars nor phone or any other way to contact TW.

I had a 5-hour layover in Beijing and wanted to leave the airport for a while to see what was around the area. However, after going through immigration and customs, I somehow found myself back on the airport tram going back to the International terminal. Signage wasn’t very helpful to me. I decided I was too tired to try and figure out how to get out again so I went looking for the airport hourly hotel in hopes of getting a shower and place to nap. I had to walk past the enclosed smoking lounge to get to the reception area for the hourly hotel but I was greeted by a nice lady who didn’t speak English and a page-long options list with prices listed in Yuen. When I asked the lady how much 50 Yuen would be if converted to US dollars, she pulled out a calculator and typed out some numbers and then showed me the result of “34.154”. I’m pretty sure that there is something funny with her exchange rate so I just say thank you and roam the empty terminal in search of a clock and a place to nap.

I woke from my nap surrounded by Russian-speaking people. At this point, exhaustion has made my line between reality and dream very fuzzy and I go into auto-pilot, hoping that I’m boarding the right plane.

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