China At Last – part 18


A hutong is an old style alleyway

Monday 10 November 2014

Awoke suddenly at 0500. We had to be ready to go by 0630 and I thought it was 0600 so I jumped out of bed in a panic, then looked at my watch again and saw the right time..

We had time for brekky. We have to wear the same clothes as last night as our cases were collected overnight. Out to Club Fusion at 0630. Not bad, not too long a wait before our bus group was called. Crumbs, to think I thought we would do our travel into Beijing on our own. Possible, but only if you’re young and brave.

Off the ship about 0645, to find all our bags lined up in rows in the immigration hall, No customs or immigration checks this time, presumably because we were done at Shanghai. Reasonably fast passage to our buses, pulling our own heavy bags, of course..

Set off for Beijing in Silver 3 bus at 0725. Freeway all the way. Plantation trees all along the route, millions of them. I’m not exaggerating, millions of trees in neat rows in plantations, kilometre after kilometre, most of them propped with bamboo tripod supports. This is China’s green policy in full view. They will be very attractive forests in a few short years. Excellent.

Stopped for a loo stop and shop at about 10am. Starting blocks, no loo paper but used paper in a plastic bin. Need I say more? By what standard is this OK? Horrible.

Traffic grew as we neared the city. Gradual increase. We made our stops at major hotels. Driver kept getting stuck in the hotel parking areas, backing and swearing to get out. He’s not a very good driver.

Our guide was another serial talker at first, Galen, but he shut up as we dropped people off. Blessed quiet. I asked him many questions as we went along, about government, press freedom (there ain’t any) and so on. A Govt job for Chinese is no. 1.desire, a job for life, secure. “We Love China”..

Then I got a big surprise – we passed under a wide footbridge, with Einstein’s relativity and gravity equations in metal signs on the railings! Where else in the world would you see that? Wow. I was impressed.

Finally reached the Shi Cha Hai hutong about 2pm. We had a quite long (300m?) walk down the hutongs to reach our hotel, having a dispute about which turnings to take, but we got there OK. Nice check-in. They speak halting but quite good English. Room is brilliant, one of the best I’ve ever had, I think. Modern, recently built, immaculately clean. No fridge in the room, so I had to go downstairs and ask that my insulin be kept in their fridge. No problems, but every morning and evening I had to go to the desk and retrieve it, use it and go back again.

Once rested, we went out for a walk about 2.30pm to an ATM on a big main street nearby.. Drew Y1,000 = A$192.30 approx. Needed my CBA EFTPOS PIN but no trouble. Amazing, it all works worldwide. More walking, slowly, in pain – my feet and ankles hurt like hell. Had lunch 3pm at a small cheap looking restaurant, all we could find. Beer Y6 = $1.15 for a 600ml bottle of Chinese beer, but it’s only 3.6% alc! As I was to discover, that’s basically all you can get in China, low alcohol, some as low as 2.6%.

But we were totally confused and frustrated. Bloody people can’t seem to understand pointing at a picture on the menu and putting a finger up to say one please. What is there not to understand??!! Each time we did this, we got a string of questions in reply. Eventually we got shrugs of shoulders. In the end we got a big bowl of barley, cabbage and egg soup Y15, but very bland, and six big things like giant spring rolls, very nice, Y20.

I also got lots of funny looks and finger pointing because I was wearing my ship summer rig in the Beijing climate – shoes and socks yes, but white socks, with shorts and a thin black T shirt. I was cool, for sure, but not cold, but the locals thought this was a great joke. So bloody what does it matter what I wear? We wouldn’t treat Chinese tourists this way. I laugh at it but I was pretty pissed off.

Walked back to the hotel via a shop – 500ml can German beer, 2 x mixed drinks, peanuts, toothpaste at last, Y63.70. Back to hotel so tired that I collapsed on the bed at 1730. Tried to sleep but wouldn’t come. Noises! Finally took a sedative at 2130 and after a while dropped off. Woke at 0530.


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