12.04.2006 0 °C
Well, I finally made it to China. I stayed there for eight interesting and adventurous days. I say "interesting" and "adventurous" to try to be positive, because to be totally honest, I was a bit disappointed in Beijing.
Of course there are always good and bad points, so I'll get the bad ones out of the way first. Yes, Beijing is very dirty, but not as dirty as I expected as far as the streets and sightseeing places go. HOWEVER, the toilets are a NIGHTMARE! In most places, they have your typical asian style ones, which sometimes require some tricky squatting, but that wasn't the problem because it's the same as Japan, but, in many of the bathrooms they don't have doors! So, there's no much needed privacy (in the most needed time if you ask me), and if there is a door, many times, the women don't close the door!! Okay, so, I'll just have to stop there and you'll have to let your imagination do the rest...
In general, okay, no, keeping totally honest here, 9 out of 10 people were not nice, polite or kind whatsoever (in the Western and Japanese sense). Upon checking in to the hotel, there was no kind greeting, "welcome to China," nothing, just "What's your name" and "here's your key." I tried to change money at the hotel, which clearly they said they do 24 hours a day, but each time, they just said "no," and "we have no money." It's really quite shocking. Having worked in a hotel for four years, I'm going to be even more appauled at this type of "service." Anytime I bought something at the supermarket or any shop, they never say "thank you" and even I know thank you in Chinese. They just hand your change to you and move on to the next customer. At the hotel, once they don't want to talk to you anymore, they just put their head down and start doing something else. Really shocking.
On the first day, I decided to go to the Forbidden City, where all the old Chinese emperors lived. It is the most famous place in Beijing, and maybe, second to the Great Wall in being the most famous place in China. So, I took a taxi there, which was about a six or seven minute ride. Boy do I wish I had walked. I didn't notice that the taxi driver had not turned on the meter. When we arrived, he said, "YOU, GIVE ME MUCH MONEY!" He wanted about 15 US dollars. I was really shocked. I looked at the meter and it was off, but I knew that taxis in Beijing were supposed to be really cheap, so I said, "but it wasn't very far, very close..." He yelled at me again. It was my first day, so I was so scared and nervous, so I just gave him the money and got out.
In every shop and restaurant I was treated with this same kind of attitude. But, after I got my bearings and felt a little more confident about being there alone, I realized I'm just going to have to suck it up and be agressive myself and stop letting them push me around. After about three days, I'd had enough.
My first "Raging Southern American Woman Tourist Monster" incident was when I went to change money again. I went to the desk and asked kindly to change Japanese traveler's checks to Chinese Yuan cash. But again, the clerk said, "No." Just "no." I went off. I raised my voice a bit and said, "Look. YOU are the worker. I am the customer. I don't think you understand this. I need money and I need it now!" She said, "We have no money." Ya know, it's not as if she can't speak good English either because I heard her talking to other customers before and she is fully capable of handling this situation. The Chinese actually speak much better English than here in the Japanese countryside, but I would never be treated this way in Japan, English or no English. So, I was lit up, so I said, "I don't care. That is your fault you don't have any money. I am not going to be inconvenienced anymore. Either you exchange this now, or you go get someone to get it for me." She said, "you can got to a bank." And then I just said, "Get your manager out here RIGHT NOW." She went in the back and I heard her talking to someone and when she came back, she said, "Manager said, no money." I said, "I didn't tell you to ask him anything I told you to tell him to come out here RIGHT NOW." Again, she went in the back and when she came back this time, she said, "Okay, I change money."
AHHHHHHH!!! This situation drove me nuts, but it was a catalyst for my next, "Revenge of the Raging Southern American Woman Tourist Monster." I had to take another taxi that day, and this time, the ride was about 25 minutes. Again, the driver didn't turn on the meter, expecting to bully a stupid blonde western tourist out of more cash. But, no, I had popped. When we arrived he said, "You, give me 150." That's about $20 and that's about 300 times too much money. I had learned by talking to other tourists that they charge about 2 yuan per kilometer. So, I said, "NO. You didn't turn on the meter. That's too bad. I don't know the cost. We'll negotiate. Here." So I gave him about three dollars, which really is about the right amount. But he was so mad. He started yelling in Chinese and I'm sure I'm glad I couldn't understand. Then he said, "NO, very much more money." I said again, "you didn't turn on the meter," and he said, "No meter, no meter." But I then pointed right to in and said, "ON, you didn't turn ON! Bye bye." Then I got out and slammed the door. I thought he might come after me but he just sped off, probably because he did get paid the right amount, but was angry that he couldn't screw me over.
I was also lied to when I took a tour to see the Great Wall. There are several tourist spots to see the wall, but only one was opened to group tours and buses, at Badaling. So, I signed up for a tour that said we would spend two hours at the Ming Tombs and two hours at the Great Wall. I was excited about the Ming Tombs because 13 emperors have large tomb structures scattered throughout the countryside about an hour outside Beijing. The countryside is what I really wanted to see anyway and the history of these places is fascinating. Or so I imagined it would be. On the tour, we actually ended up spending 20 minutes at the tomb and an hour at the Great Wall. Other parts NOT included on the itenerary were an hour visit to a jade factory (which was okay because I love jade) and three hours at some type of market where our tour guide made commission on what we bought. I was so frustrated because I had come all this way to see the Great Wall for one hour. I had imagined myself climbing to the top of a mountain, looking all around at the most incredible scenery I've ever seen, not stuck in a swarm of tourists and not even able to get to the top because of old German ladies trying to climb with their canes and holding up the lines. Considering I only had a hour here, that was obviously impossible.
The next day, I asked the incompitent front desk if they knew of any way to get to another section of the wall, and again, just, "no." I also asked how much it would be by taxi and they said, "I don't know, go ask one outside." AHHHHH! And they are going to hold the Olympics here?!? These people are going to be hosting hundreds of thousands of western tourists. Holy moly. Don't stay at the Howard Johnson Paragon if you ever go to Beijing, okay?? Thank you.
So, I did go outside and ask a taxi, but of the two drivers I asked, one just laughed and the other said, "$200 US dollar." Well, forget that.
That night, I went to a restaurant near Tianmen Square, the center of Beijing, and tried the famous "Peking Duck." It was not what I expected. They brought out a plate of chopped greasy flesh and a questionable brown sauce. I tried the white meat and pealed off the skin. It was really good actuallly. So I ate a bit of it until I saw something stange under the mountain of chopped duck. It was the head, beak and all, and the neck hiding at the bottom staring right at me. I almost screamed. I just couldn't eat anymore after that. When I got up to leave, the waitress looked concerned and motioned for me to come back. I went back to the table and she brought out a huge bowl. The "chef" had made a soup from the duck's bones and probably whatever else they could find. Out of politeness, I tried it, but it was just too scary. The waitresses and cooks kept looking at me and kind of giggling at my shock, but I just couldn't eat it.
Although the duck was scary, all the other food I ate in Beijing was really good. The ramen is soooo good and sweet and sour pork is really really good. I tried duck one more time at another restaurant, but I didn't order Peking Duck this time and it was much better. Jasmine and Oolong tea, which is most famous in China is really good too.
Con't to next entry......