DAY 10 3/1/2013 FRIDAY
Its Friday evening and we are on a fast train cruising at 301km/h on our way to Shanghai. Other than the horrid sound of the Chinese deep clearing their throats and the putrid smell, the ride is smooth and comfortable.
Our bodies have yet to adjust to the time difference between Miami and China. We have been going to bed every night at sunset and by 2 am I am up and unable to fall back asleep, so I work and play with my photographs.
We have been starting our days off with an early morning workout routine followed by long walks around the city. We walk 5 to 8 miles per day. We've been busy sight seeing, scouring for food, getting lost, finding our way back and doing it over and over again. Daunting it may seem at times, all worth it.
Walking and riding the metro is the best way to get to know the city and taking a taxi is a good alternative, once you've become tired. A cab ride anywhere in the city will only set you back a few dollars.
At the metro there is absolutely no need to consider being courteous; kindness will only slow you down, "ain't nobody got time for that," around here. The sense of urgency here is GREAT. Whether you are in line paying for your ticket, at the cash register, waiting to take a piss, get on the bus, train or inside a building, your fellow bystanders/pedestrians will push, shove and trample you if need be, but everyone single one of them will get in or get what they want, even if there was really no hurry whatsoever to do so. Once you've managed to board the metro or any form of transportation, hold your breathe, if the pollution outside doesn't kill you, the stank will.
Getting to know the metro was made easier with the Easy Beijing App (ebj). The application works offline. Finding free Wi-Fi is hard in Beijing. In places where it is available, such as Internet Cafes, Starbucks and the mall, it's inaccessible, unless you have a Chinese phone number. This is just another way the Chinese government makes accessing the web a lot harder than it should be. We have been able to access the web, mediocrely, at the hotels we have stayed at, but forget about accessing Facebook, YouTube, & other social media sites we normally use in the states, those are off limits here, as well as other even more pertinent sites that the Chinese citizens might wish to take a gander at sometime, if they can manage breaking through the Great Firewall of China.
Our First Week in China - Beijing
Our arrival in Beijing was swift, as we breezed through customs, (because we were practically the only foreigners on board) claimed our baggage and stepped aboard the metro.
I was on the other side of the world, farther than I had ever been from home and a bit perplexed about having to stand and squat over the hole on the bathroom floor at the airport, "why hadn't they installed toilet seats yet?" Ah, but that is not why I was here, it was not to study our different body waste disposal habits, but to learn about all of our differences and hopefully discover that our differences only made us special and that in the end we are all the same, just all part of one race, human.
It took us some time to find our hotel, after sprouting above the ground from the metro, we knew we were close, but no one seemed to recognize the name of our hotel and that is when we first realized that absolutely no one spoke English. Most things had two names, one in English and one in Chinese. The Chinese however, were unaware an English name was ever used and that was to be understood, they had no need to ever use it themselves. It was endearing thou, to see how helpful most of those we questioned tried to be and how they politely apologized for not speaking English. We were the ones who should be apologizing for not speaking Chinese L
We stayed at the Prime Hotel (Hua Qiao Da Sha, in Chinese); it was situated on a main road called Wafuging that catered to pedestrians who visited the shopping malls, movie theaters and street markets. I guess you could say it could be slightly compared to Lincoln Road on Miami Beach, with the exceptions of edible scorpions on sticks and the lack of Palm Trees.
Falling asleep that first night was a breeze. Unfortunately, the Chinese New Year's celebrations weren't over and fireworks were being lit all through the night. This caused the sensation of being in the midst of warzone.
These fireworks disturbed me, not simply because they were noisy, but the smoke they created mixed with the incredibly polluted air that was already settled over Beijing, would not only spoil our sight seeing, but also our lungs. Do the Chinese citizens lighting the sparks not realized what harm they cause, Do they care? Who's lighting them? Rebellious teens? Ignorant adults?
Our week in Beijing first began with preparations. Before venturing off to the east we visited a Travel Clinic in Miami, where we each received several Vaccines and were sent off with a package of syringes and medication we might need while traveling through Southeast Asia. We were forewarned about being too adventurous with our meal choices and cautioned about the water, mosquitos and other nuisances that could cut over travels short.
On a daily basis we take:
- A probiotic - to avoid stomach ailments from food or water
- Vitamin C
- Fish Oil
Because I have allergies & the air in Beijing as well as some of the other major cities in China is highly polluted, I use a saline spray on a daily basis, as well as Flonase that I was prescribed by the Travel clinic Doctor and Allegra.
We walk around with plenty of sanitizer and although we did not go to the extreme of wearing facial masks, An Italian expat we met while in Beijing who works as a Health Coach, admitted that although she did not wear one herself, it was crucial to do so. The cost of a facemask that could actually protect you from the polluted air will run you $70 or more. We are merely in China for a month and didn't feel the need to wear one for such a short period, but for most people living in Beijing, that is a cost that they cannot bear. Most people here do not wear masks.
I also carry 2-3 extra pounds on my backpack that consist of my Clinique facial products and body creams, I'm not going to get any younger on this trip, but I don't want to look any older. Interesting enough, while searching for a facial cleanser here, I came across a dozen products to whiten your facial skin. Apparently, the women here want to have whiter skin… a Michael Jackson complex I presume? This is a topic that I will definitely look into.
It was an incredibly cold week in Beijing and a satisfying warm plate of food was hard too find. We got our first taste of Chinese Cuisine on Saturday afternoon, I can't recall the restaurant's name and that is probably because I simply never understood it. It was located in an area called Ghost Street; it's a street like many others found in Beijing full of Restaurants with Red lanterns all over the sidewalks. The street was whimsical from afar, but as we walked through it, we noticed it was dirty and unkempt. Andrew ordered what appeared to be ribs, but looked more like a tiny pig or duck, after sending a pic of his meal to my mother, she suggested it could possibly be a small dog :/ My Kung Pao Chicken was nothing like its western version, it was extremely oily and consisted of chicken fat and feet. I couldn't stomach it; I couldn't even stand to smell it. There is something in the food here that I can't discern, but I intensely dislike it. Naturally I'm a picky eater, but this has nothing to do with my picky habits, I simply just can't sink my teeth into the food here. The Chinese food I've had in the States is a better tasting poor imitation of the real thing.
The next morning we visited our local grocery store and loaded up on eggs, bread, nuts, yogurt, milk, cereal and my savior, Peanut Butter. We ate boiled eggs for breakfast, PB & J sandwiches and loaded up on yogurt.
We visited the Lama Temple, The Forbidden City and the Confucius Temple, but overall, our visit to the Great Wall was the pinnacle of our stay at Beijing. We met a friendly couple, in their early 60s, from Wales while on our journey to the wall and their conversation was welcomed. They were visiting their son, who is teaching English in China. They too were not too amused with the food and somewhat taken by the Great Firewall that blocks access to sites and information on the Web in China.
The Great Wall, however, was one of the most amazing man-made sites I've set my eyes on. It's amazing what man can create in the name of what they believe and in order to survive. Andrew and I walked for about a mile on the Great Wall. This is not a simple task, the wall is not flat, it has many slopes, and you must go up steeps steps and then hold your feet firm against the ground as you go down. I had to sit for a minute along side the wall, as I reached a set of steep steps. The wind was blowing fiercely and coupled with the fact I'd hadn't much to eat all week, I worried the wind might carry me off. I eventually got on my feet, avoiding looking down and climbed higher. I'd previously hiked down the Grand Canyon in efforts to conquer what I believe is a growing fear of heights. Although the Great Wall is wide, I could feel the same fear I had churning inside me at the Canyon, but much like my guide at the hike, Andrew pulled me through it, until the fear faded and all that was left was the country side, its massive man-made wall and me.