My Beijing Adventure

I never imagined that I would ever be writing a post about a visit to Beijing. The trip was made mainly to quell any doubts or misgivings I had about allowing my daughter to take up a position in a place which to me was as foreign as saying I am Spanish and can speak German. I was both excited and apprehensive as we got on to the plane and kept telling myself that if my daughter has not expressed any doubts or has had any misgivings about her decision to accept the position, then why should I be so negative.

Anyway, after an uneventful 5-1/2 hour flight, we arrived at an Airport that is so massive and modern - and I thought we had state of the art, ultra modern terminals in Singapore - that we had to take a train to the baggage collection terminal. Once that was done, we went thru' immigration without much hassle even though neither me or my husband speak the language.

As we would not be able to communicate exactly where we were to be taken, a quick phonecall to our daughter and she gave directions to the cabbie and then we were at his mercy. Literally! Unless there is something very wrong with his speedometer, it registered 140km/hr and there are no seat belts at the back! I just held on tight to whatever I could and prayed that we'd get to where we were supposed to in one piece. My husband who sat in the front seat was taking photos of whatever we were zooming past and then took a couple of shots of the cabbie's licence that was hanging on the dashboard. I have yet to ask him his intent - I guess its to identify the driver in case we ended up in a ditch and the cabbie decided to do a disappearing act :=))

The best part of the journey was the cabbie speaking in his guttural Mandarin and my husband nodding his head and then saying in his best Mandarin - "sorry I don't speak Mandarin"....even I understood that much. The worst part was when the cabbie took his eyes off the road to check out this Chinese man in the passenger seat claiming not to know the language! I was thinking "Mr.....please keep your eyes on the road and your heavy foot off the accelerator"

We reached our daughter's apartment in record breaking time. It took us an hour yesterday to reach the airport from exactly the same spot the cabbie dropped us off and that journey took only 35 minutes!! We could of course blame traffic conditions yesterday as opposed to clear roads at 7 am!

From the airport to the road trip to her apartment, I was nothing short of amazed! In my small mindedness I imagined a really backward community with little shops and street vendors! Nothing could be further from the truth! Everything you can find in Singapore, is replicated in Beijing but mega times larger! Capital Land features big time over there so there's a Raffles City, there's Bread Talk, Crystal Jade, Guardian Pharmacy (Mannings)Food Republic.........anything and I mean everything we can get here, is available there! We don't have H & M in Singapore but its mega huge in Beijing! A very popular store is Zara....every mall has a Zara and not just one or two shop spaces but probably 10 shops spaces and more than one level!

The difference between Singapore and Beijing, apart from the size are the prices! Very, very affordable. There is only one size of food when you order - XXL! I am not a fan of authentic Beijing cuisine as its oily and salty but you can get any cuisine you desire and at extremely reasonable prices even at upmarket joints. I learnt a new term from my daughter "mystery meat". We don't really want to know what that is but you can guess. What I dislike immensely is the fact that they allow smoking in many eateries! Every man, his companion and their dog, are seldom caught without a lighted cigeratte. I am ultra sensitive to allergens in smoke and after the 3rd day, my allergic rhinitis developed into a really horrid cough and cold. Thankfully that was after we did the major stuff we planned to do - like climb the Great Wall - just part of it as I'd have surely ended up on a stretcher if I attempted to complete the entire stretch that we had chosen to climb. We went to the Great Wall at Badaling which is the most representative part and promoted as a key national relic. It was breathtaking and almost emotional to have done something like that, for me at any rate as I am such a pessimist when trying new things that I will always look for the negative side before finding the positive. Due to the altitude and incline of the stretch that we chose to climb, I had to actually hold tight to the railing at the side as the winds were really strong and I kept feeling myself swaying and being pushed backwards. To be sure it wasn't just my imagination, I saw other people going thru' the same thing I did!

We also visited Tiananmen Square, travelled on the subway, which is a major experience in itself! We realised then that our daughter has to change subway lines 3 times before she reaches her office which is just a 40 minute walk away! If she takes a cab it could take her over an hour because traffic in Beijing is not something you can easily get used to! One hand on the steering, other hand on the horn! Traffic turning right at pedestrian crossings have right of way over pedestrians! Most times, traffic is at a standstill and its a system I'll never understand or even try to understand! Whilst I am now confident that Beijing is a safe place to be at if you're alert and responsible I can't say the same thing about being a pedestrian in Beijing! Life appears to be cheap and everyone is in such a hurry so who dares, wins!

In Singapore, we queue for everything and are appalled when someone jumps queue or pushes but nobody observes any sort of courtesy at their subway stations! If you don't push your way out, you get pushed all the way back into the train and miss your stop. Survival of the fittest. The good thing is the train driver comes out of his cabin and only sounds the 'alarm' when everybody is safely inside and doors are shut and then he moves on. Hopefully the drivers are constantly alert! Bags and packages all go thru' a scanner before you are allowed to the turnstiles. I love it when I see tight security being enforced. Yes, I did say I'm a pessimist. I am cynical too.

Its hard to tell a policeman from a soldier from a security guard.........they all wear uniforms that look officious and commanding. However, when you come up close enough you will realise that many of them are very, very young boys in oversized uniforms. On several occassions when my husband and I were on our own and looking thru' a map or trying to figure out if we were at the right subway station, someone would come up to us and say "can I help you". I found that very comforting. Even if they didn't know they would make an effort to find out.

Whilst I managed the Great Wall, the subways and their mad traffic, I did manage to get lost in a supermarket! I went in alone whilst my husband was at a cafe on another level. We were waiting for our daughter to finish work and then she was taking us for dinner at HouHai to celebrate my husband's birthday. When I got a call from my daughter whilst in the supermarket to say we could go across to her office as the driver was arriving earlier than scheduled to take us to HouHai for dinner, I panicked and instead of backtracking I went deeper and deeper into the supermarket. I was actually running from floor to floor and they were all just looking at me thinking "Oh goodness, there's a mad laowai running thru' our store".

Finally I approached a young man who had a mop, dustpan and probably a broom in his hand and I reckoned he'd be able to understand English, and he did and the poor chap got a shout from the cashier because he walked out to take me to the entrance of the cafe which was a doorway I had passed several times during my crazy running! I thanked him profusely and I think he went back into the supermarket and had a good laugh with all the other people who saw me doing the 100 metre dash around the store :((

When I made an appearance, from my flushed face, my husband knew that something had happened and all he did was shake his head because he knows me too well. I am panic queen first class!

We avoided street food because you can't always be sure of what you might be eating. No offence to anyone but yes, I am ultra conservative when it comes to trying things I'm not 100% sure would pass FDA or even our MOH bylaws ;p

In the 5 days we were there, we got to see and experience things we'd never have been able to if we had joined a tour or travelled there on our own. Charlene did an excellent job of researching places and things for us to see and try. How could anyone go to Beijing and not visit Alien Street (Russian Market) or the Silk Market! I was wary of Alien Street - locked in a sort of time warp or maybe its just me and how I see things. This is a multi level 'market' (something like our old People's Park) with fashion catering mainly to the Russian market. Lots of 'spandex' type knit tops with blings galore. Animal prints are big on that side too.

Then we move on to the Silk market. This is a fantastic place to buy your bedding needs. Ultra soft quilts, comforters, doonas and bed linen. Of course there's a floor dominated by Pirate Central - any brand name shoes or bags and the sales personnel are persistent - In a deep drawl " wanna handbag....any wan LV" and an album is thrust in front of your face, Tods, Bottega, Hermes.......all this whilst they hold on tight to your arm or wrist. Now I am all for being nice and huggy huggy but this is a little much even for me. My daughter said "no eye contact mum, just walk on" but they still would grab my pudgy little arm.....out of frustration, I stopped at one shop, removed the sales assistant's stronghold and said "Do you have "Abberderscanges" brand and she replied "Yes", so I asked "what colors do you have?" and thats when their comrades from the other shops were called in - basically they were asking one another "what the shiatz does this mad laowai want?" yet they cooly replied "what color you wan?" so I said "a whiter shade of pale" and they replied, "white, yes have white" but nobody was moving to get me my white Abberderscanges and with that I was able to walk away as they probably reported back to their comrades that there's a new brand out in the market which Pirate Central hasn't brought in yet! Russians and visitors from Ukraine are mega big time shoppers of 'certified copies'. The sales assistants are fantastic. They switch from Mandarin to English to Russian just like how I switch from talking about food to talking about outer space....all in one breath!

I know that big name fashion houses get their stuff stitched and assembled in China but the copies are so close to the original that I have to marvel at their craftsmanship and their quality when they do their copies that might just happen to fall off the back of an original Burberry truck! The laowais from Russia were buying Ralph Lauren jackets, fully lined, excellent quality, logo, tags, string in the the correct color hanging off a button proudly proclaiming it to be an original and costing less than 100 yuan or approx S$20!

On the subject of fashion, the young working class women are almost always well dressed. One morning we had to join the rush and were at the subway station taking the train into the CBD, with the exception of a few fashion faux pas, the majority of the women dress with taste. No scruffy board shorts (of course its Autumn and that would be inappropriate street wear) or short shorts and slippers but fashionable and appropriate attire.

To say I'd be able to live long term in Beijing might be pushing it a little but I would definitely approach my next visit with more gusto and confidence :))


imp said...

What exciting stories! I was just going to ask about your trip and here you've blogged all about it. Reading it most fervently and trying to experience the BJ now compared to the one I know years ago!

Belinda Lee said...

hahahha.....more to come! Just going thru' my little handwritten journal to gather my thoughts and only write appropriate stuff that won't offend or get me into any sort of trouble. You know I'm good like that ;p