chris vs. the arctic

chris: 72 // the arctic: 47

Beijing

This past weekend I went to Beijing, China!

Click on the link to the photos above. It'll help you visualize. Sweet. Let's begin...

NOTE: This is basically a short story. Grab a coffee now. Do it!

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 16th

I get sick. Yeah, stupid thing to do before a trip, eh? I was so mad! I managed to coast my way through all the flus and colds my kids have had, but I catch it right before I leave for China. Dammit.

THURSDAY, MARCH 17th

I take the train from Toyama to Nagoya City. It's about 4 hours, but it seemed like 7 with my cold. I was disgusting! Snot rags everywhere. Ugh! Anyway, I catch my flight to Beijing on Air China. Twas a good flight. AC is good, FYI. I landed in Beijing at 15:00, but I didn't get through customs until 16:00. There were about 500 people trying to shove their way through. Insane! My friend Mike was waiting for me in the airport, with his illegal cab driver. Nice. I exchanged too much money.

I stayed at Mike's apartment on the north side of Beijing the whole trip. Man, it was a nice apartment! Compared to Japan, I was shocked. I suppose it was in the suburbs of Beijing, in one of the 2000 new apartment buildings, but still. I couldn't get over it.

That night, we head out to meet with Mike's band mates. They just formed a band temporally called "The Maolesters." By the end of the trip, they change it to "Solid Gold Space Cannon." That was a funny night... But anyway, back to this one. I met Mike's foreigner friends: Kelso (a Canadian from northern Alberta -- we're practically brothers!), Engla (a Swede), and Paul (an American). Kelso was hilarious!

Ex-pats

They practiced their tunes in the back, back room of a sketchy basement of a building. It was a little hole in the wall that randomly had a complete drum set and all the gear for cheap. I found out later on that 4 families live further along the basement, next to the practice room!

Here comes the embarrassing part... Guess what my first meal in China was? Peking duck? Dumplings? Fried Rice? No my friend. It was KFC!! I was really sick and didn't want to deal with Chinese bullshit right away. Plus it was right there. :S

FRIDAY, MARCH 18th

Mike had to head into work this day, so I was sent out into the wilds of Beijing on my own. It's pretty simple, actually. I took the Beijing Train into the centre of the city. The train just opened last year, and is exactly like a Japanese system! My first impressions of Beijing turned out to be false -- I thought it was cleaner than it actually is.

Train Station

After catching the train, I took the Beijing Subway! What an experience! You're literally part of a pack of animals, shoving your way into a small crevice of a moving death trap. Okay, it wasn't that bad. It was actually pretty fun! Chinese people cut in line, and generally don't care, but it was SO refreshing after living in polite Japan for 7 months.

My destination was Tiananmen Square. It's pretty self-explan. Walking around felt weird, because I kept thinking, "this is where those tanks were. Is this where that guy stood?" Makes your skin crawl. Speaking of which, I almost got scammed. A guy started talking to me claiming he was an art student, and he wanted to take me to the museum to see his exhibit. Mmmhmmm. He was probably going to try to sell me crappy paintings. I checked my LP Beijing book later that night, and it mentions that scam. That's what I get for not doing my homework...

Tiananmen Square

After Tiananmen, I crossed the street for the Forbidden City. Man! I had no idea how big it was! (Check out the two pages of photos now.) After the 5th gate photo, I was ready to fall asleep. They're all the same! But the Roger Moore audio commentary made it all hilarious! It must have been from the 70's. Here's a choice example from the tape:

"... [Music]. Now walk up the smooth marble staircase to the grand Hall of Supreme Harmony. Isn't it marvelous? Look up! Can you see the spectacular gold dragons meticulously painted on the ceiling above you? Aren't they fantastic? ..."

Heheh. Picture James Bond telling you this. Great!

Forbidden City

That afternoon, I met up with Mike, and we ate dumplings, etc. in a real Chinese restaurant. It took only 24 hours to get a real meal! Afterwards, we went shopping in the street markets. We haggled like madmen (making several merchants quite pissed), and I scored two watches featuring Mao waving to the people! (His arm is the second hand.)

Afterwards, we took a taxi to a famous hutong (old style Chinese housing -- with shacks and courtyards). Had some drinks, and then met up with the expat peeps and partied. You should see the kind of people that work in Beijing! Mainly North American, but there were plenty of snooty Europeans acting like they're the shit with their favorable exchange rate. Yeah, like it's not easy being rich in China! Gaaaawd!

Enough of that rant... Time for

SATURDAY, MARCH 19th

Late start. Oops! Mike had to work again. This time, I head to the Temple of Heaven Park. It was good, but the pollution that was blatantly absent during my first day showed up to finish off what my cold missed. I nearly died. You can see the haze in most of the pics. I photo-shopped a lot of it out, but believe me, they were br-ow-n.

Temple of Heaven

After THP, I decided that I was still too sick to eat in a Chinese restaurant (and they are surprising hard to find!), so I did another embarrassing thing... I ate at Pizza Hut!!! Oh my gaaawd! So embarrassing! But! I have now managed to eat in a Pizza Hut in every country I've been to this millennium. So that's something.

I got to the Summer Palace way too late, and only had a couple of hours to wheeze my way around the grounds. I bet it's really beautiful in the summer.

Summer Palace

Mike picked me up at the Summer Palace, and went went directly to the Chang'an Grand Theatre to catch a Beijing Opera. It was fantastic! The costumes were very elaborate, and the music was thoroughly annoying. (Picture a singing cat in heat accompanied by an untuned mini-guitar being played by a deaf child.) But, the acrobatic fight scenes at the end blew me away! So good!

That night, uuuh, you guessed it. Went out again. This time is was a cute Belgium bar. I drank too much 'expensive' imported beer. :)

SUNDAY, MARCH 20th

The Great Wall of China!!! Yay!!

Mike and I get Fulong (the Chinese co-worker/professor that Mike lives with) to hire us an illegal cab to take us to Badaling -- the site of the most touristy part of the Great Wall. This guy was ridiculous! First of all, he was driving a suped-up VW car, with decals all over. (Where did he get it??) Secondly, he had a baseball bat and metal pipe hanging out beside his seat. (What??) Thirdly, he didn't actually know where Badaling was, so there were frequent stops. Skehhhhchy. He eventually got us there, and waited in the car the entire time we were on the wall! That was about 4 hours!! Sure. Whatev. After almost passing out on the wall (not much to tell), we haggle our way through pushy vendors, and I get more crap to make my trip meaningful. The driver was waiting for us, and we head back to the city. This guy was cheap too! We only paid Y170 (Chinese currency). It would normally be at least Y400.

Admiring the Great Wall of China

That night, Fulong joins us for some hot pot in a hutong. Hot pot is a kind of elaborate Mongolian dinner, consisting of a large boiling pot of spicy water and raw ingredients. You throw the ingredients into the pot (like lamb, tofu, lettuce, meat balls, mushrooms, etc.), let them cook for a second, and then enjoy! Very good! But, it's a communal thing, so maybe not the best thing when you have a cold. (Un)Fortunately, we all had colds. We also grabbed some spicy lamb on a stick on the street, which were made by an awestruck Muslim local. (Mike and I attracted a little bit of attention.) :)

MONDAY, MARCH 21st

I head back to Japan early, early in the morn.

So that's my trip! Thanks for making it to the end!
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