"" Writer's Wanderings: The Timid Tourist in China -- Travel Day to Beijing

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Timid Tourist in China -- Travel Day to Beijing

Our plane flights are from Cleveland to Chicago to Beijing. The Chicago to Beijing trip is 13 hours. My body says it’s 2 a.m. but Beijing time is 2 p.m. as we awake from short naps and get our first glimpse of China below us. It is sunny and barren-looking. I think what I see are the foothills of a mountain range.

We have flown almost 7,000 miles and directly over the North Pole from Chicago. We are due to arrive a little after 3 p.m. Beijing time. I stare out the window hoping for a glimpse of the Great Wall. They say you can see it from space so why not an airplane? Unfortunately, the closer we get to Beijing, the foggier the view.

By 4 p.m. we have landed and we ride a bus to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Beijing. It is very smoggy/foggy. Everything has a grayed look. The sun appears to be a bright blood red globe in the sky. At times it tinges the smog/fog red. It reminds me of the Japanese flag with a red sun on a white background. But this is not Japan. It is China.

The bus ride is a wild one. Cars, buses, and trucks conflict with pedestrians and bicycles with no semblance of order. There are hundreds of bicycles of all kinds. Some are tricycles with covered cabs. Many bicycles have children seated on the back and the front. I hold my breath as the bus comes so close to one with a little girl on the back that I can no longer see her or the bike. I exhale when I see them turn a corner. Big boxes are stretched across handlebars. I wonder how they can steer—or even see? Traffic does not stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk. They must be low on the food chain here.

On our way to the hotel, we learn that our itinerary has changed. Instead of being in Beijing for two days, we will leave for Xian tomorrow morning—so much for having time to adjust before moving on. We are receiving upgrades on hotels, an onboard credit for the ship later, and a phone card for our inconvenience.

After checking in at the Crowne Plaza, we have dinner at the hotel’s cafĂ©. We are not extremely hungry and try to order light. For about $8 US, I get a bowl of noodles thinking they will be like what we had in Japan. They are very different. There is no broth, the pork is more like dried chips, and there is a dollop of bean sauce that is hot and spicy. The noodles stick together and are hard to eat with chopsticks since they are in a big lump. They are tasty though. Bob has fried rice with shrimp but it is more rice than shrimp.

Our room looks very nice—twin beds dressed with comforters and lots of pillows. Bob points to the two beds. “It’s a vacation—not a honeymoon.” The bathroom has a modern clear glass bowl sink with beautiful fixtures. The water however, is not potable and there are signs warning us not to drink it. We are given two small complimentary bottles of water each day. We will use it to brush our teeth as well.

After dinner, a short walk from the hotel leads to a pedestrian mall a couple blocks away. Just a block from our hotel, we pass a Catholic church (St. Joseph Cathedral). Lots of people stroll through the gardens in front of it and take pictures. I remember that I have prayed for moments where I can see God in China. He’s answering prayer already.

The mall has lots of shops located in buildings but we find an alleyway that looks interesting. It is crowded and narrow but lined with all sorts of booths selling food items. This looks like the “real” China. There is everything you can imagine on a stick and fried. I gasp at the sight of seahorses displayed on a stick—obviously a delicacy. There are all sorts of meat products, raw and ready to be fried. Next we pass bugs on a stick and trays of other things we can’t identify. The one thing that looks appetizing resembles small apples on a stick with a clear candy glaze over them. Lots of people are munching on them. I’m afraid to try it.

The farther into the alley we walk, the more awful it smells—a mix of hot cooking oils and exotic foodstuffs including many seafood products like squid. The odors are trapped in the stuffy alley. Past the foodstuffs, there are booths like a flea market but this is all new product—mostly cheap souvenir items mixed with clothing and handbags and small electronics. It would be more fascinating if it wasn’t so crowded and we weren’t bumped along. I clutch my bag tucked tightly under my armpit. This is what I dreaded. Crowded packed areas of people. I must be claustrophobic.

Dodging cars and buses we cross the street successfully again on our return to the hotel. Thankfully, at one corner there is a traffic control person. I think the word oxymoron fits here. There is no control of traffic.

We get to bed early but I wake at midnight. I spend another hour dozing and then lay in bed wide awake. I’m here. So far, so good. The hotel is clean and I feel a bit sheltered by the fact that we will be on a bus and in a group as we travel about. Please, God, I pray. Help me survive all this culture shock.
Other China posts:
The Forbidden City
Tiananmen Square
The Great Wall
The Summer Palace
Wuhan to Beijing
Chinese Farmhouse
Three Gorges Dam
Three Gorges and Lesser Gorges
Fengdu—The Ghost City
Cruising the Yangtze
Chonging—The Yangtze River
The Big Goose Pagoda
Evening in Xian
Beijing to Xian
China-The Trip of a Lifetime

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