1998 BEIJING, JUNE 1
This was the start of a visit to Beijing to assess a proposed tour for Thai tourists as we had the tour business Kangaroo Tours in Bangkok. The difficulties would not all be found these days. A hotel could be booked online. I have a friend in the city who I would phone to sort things out. I used roaming with my Australian phone and the charges were enormous.
Highlights of the first two days
Shopping for a dress which had to be 32 inches. The shop assistant showed me that it was the required length but I was keeping an eye on him and pointed out that he had put the 2 inch mark of the tape on the other end of the dress. We all smiled at him being caught out but it was in good fun as I expected him to "try it on" and it was his aim to sell a dress no matter what.
The young women on the pavement could both speak good English. They explained they were art teachers from Xian. They were at the entrance of the small hall whose walls were covered in paintings. They were allegedly painted by their students and the sales were for their support. However the prices were ridiculously high when you remembered that farmers in the country had a per family member income of 700rmb per year.
These are not a comfortable way to get around the city and while they should be, they are not cheap. The first night I was in Beijing I went for a walk to get to Tiananmen Square as it was just down the road according to the map. The hotel was a small one in a back road without English speaking staff. I had been unsuccessful in contacting the person I organised the visit with and did not have a hotel to go to when I reached the airport. The chap selling hotel accommodation at the airport had put me in this one which was where I geographically wanted to be - a central location within walking distance of the Forbidden City etc.
The road was a narrow alley with the people living along it carrying on with their evening activities so that you were in the middle of it all. Interaction with them was out as they didn't speak English and I speak nothing else. The Square was close but not to be found and I gave up looking after walking further than I needed to so that I was obviously going the wrong way. The way back I knew but as it was a bit far I accepted the offer of a rickshaw peddler who could say a few words of English of a lift back to the hotel for 1 RMB. He peddled and I sat and when we got there inflation had overtaken us rather dramatically and the price was now 10 RMB. Arguing was not an option in my opinion in this all Chinese neighbourhood but it was not a good introduction to Beijing.
Up early. Taxi to Tiananmen Square.
It is 06.40 in the morning. School groups already assembled in the area. Kite flying. School group reciting/singing for parents.
Over the road to park. People walking and also exercising. Some of the students said "hello” behind my back.
To the Forbidden City. 07.55, opens at 08.00. Thousands of schoolchildren already lined up ready to enter.
Went shopping. Nike air (from Korea) for 160rmb (au$35). Belt-like the one for AUD6 in Macau 4 years ago-wanted 68rmb, offered 30rmb, agreed 40rmb.
McDonalds for brunch. Parents eating with one child/parent generally.
Rickshaw to hotel. Cup of coffee, wanted to give it to me in a plastic cup but got the reception staff to give them the message that I wanted a cup with a handle. Sleep.
To tour company by taxi who had been given directions by hotel. Stopped in the middle of the street with no tour company in view, only signs in Chinese characters. Got him to drive on. Gave up on the tour company. Got him to understand to take me to the Forbidden City.
Each temple has a description of its importance in Chinese and in English.
Across the road to the park with the hill to view Beijing. Too tired to go up the hill but walked around. Middle of the city. The second refreshing park I had walked through. Many people. All seats occupied, and there were many seats. Grass has "keep off " signs.
Saw the tree where the emperor hanged himself in 16??. Sign in English.
Taxi to hotel. He thought the traffic was bad. He hasn't been to Bangkok. Not even as bad as Perth, Western Australia, at 5pm (which was the time).
Spoke to hotel staff and the three who could speak some English gave me notes in Chinese for the taxi and other people for the next day. Sleep.
Tried getting some breakfast. No one in the restaurant spoke English. Reception counter staff all changed and no one spoke English.
Gave up and went out to catch number 15 bus to the zoo. Started to rain as I waited. Bus came. Full. Some still squeezed on. Waited for next bus. Assumed less full. Not. Some more squeezed on.
One kid couldn't fit. Next bus shortly after she managed.
Bicycles going past with a variety of wet weather gear to shelter them and their kid.
Granny, daughter and granddaughter waited for bus. Long wait. Many to get on. The three the last on. No room but they pushed on with the doors shutting on granny with her half out of the bus.
Rain stopped. Walked back to hotel. Phoned Air China but my ticket turned out to be a fixed date of departure ticket. I was here until Saturday as originally planned. I had had enough of a "no English" environment. Got on the phone to the tour company. Got a number for the branch I contacted. They got hotel I was supposed to be at organised. Taxi to Landmark Hotel. Everyone here spoke English. Had a meal as by now I was starving after not having eaten for 24 hours. Raining again. Watched Australian TV channel. Phoned by Lin Yong to organise tours. US$250 but down to US$150. Car and driver/guide.
Promptly at 08.00 Scott, the guide, rang me in my room.