Monday, January 5, 2009

Beijing 2009

Wow, Beijing is a cool city! It's huge first of all and it has everything imaginable for foreigners. I loved it. We had a bit of a twist to our of the girls' wallet was stolen before we even left on the train. It had her train ticket, cell phone (with her contact info and housing for the night) and a significant amount of cash... so to say it was adventurous is an understatement. Stressful would be well put too. But it all turned out okay. She bought another ticket, and we put our cash together and helped cover her for the trip. We got to Beijing early Friday morning and wandered around the city until we found a warm place to be and an internet cafe. We emailed our contact person my cell number and 10 minutes later, she called. However we were already on our way to Starbucks. The cab driver seemed like he knew where he was going but he took us to a place called "super bar street" instead. Apparently the word for Starbucks also is close to bar. Later we found out that there was one about half a mile from our origination point from the bus. UGH..
(this is after an 8 hour sleeper train ride. I was in the least feeling grungy.)
Later on we went ice skating on a small lake, or what I want to call a run-on pond. It was a bit scary, there were areas marked off where the ice was melting and it wasn't very thick. The ice skates themselves were a disappointment. The ankle support was flimsy so it was really hard to skate. But it was worth the experience. One of the girls has two friends that live in Beijing and they came to hang out with us for a few days so they went skating with us and we had a blast.

The next day was my favorite... we saw the Great Wall! I have been wanting to see this for some time and it was magnificent. Part of its greatness isn't just the size or the history, but the physical challenge it offers. There are lots of stairs and they are all uneven. There would be one stair that was about 3 inches high and the next one would be about 10 inches high. So it was a very rocky trek. For another stretch of the wall it was up and down hill steep slopes. I mean you could have been on roller blades or a bike and wiped out either direction. It was so beautiful... the wall is built on a series of gorgeous mountains, or some would call them foothills. But to me, coming from the flat state of Indiana... they are mountains. we were only able to take 50 or so steps and then we had to rest... It was hard work! We climbed a little further up and had lunch and then on the way down by the shops we found another Starbucks! :) I can say that I got my fill.

The next day we went to the Forbidden City and Tian' anmen square. It was cool, but not my cup of tea. Just another thing to see. I am convinced that I don't know enough about either, therefore my excitment is not as high. So I can say that I have been there! :)

In the afternoon we went to the Silk and Pearl Market. In this market is everything known to man. It has about 6 levels and they sell things like trinkets, North Face and jewelry. Not only silk and pearls. That is only a few sections. I got a few souveniers and T-shirt and we did well with bargaining. The key is to always pay only 20% of the price they ask. If you are firm with your price and they still don't come down for you, then you walk away. That is when they negotiate your price.

At first you laugh at how much they want for it, then you are asked to name your price and they laugh at how little you want it for. My trick was to say, "but that's not how much I want to spend"... that seemed to work. Also with the help of one of the girls on our trip, she did lots of the bargaining too. But I think I overpaid for two things but they are both very nice. It was a fun time. They are really aggressive. If I walk by the shops they would say "Lady, you want a bag... I have Prada... What do you want? I can help you... Good deal for you" that was their tag line. It was fun to be strong. In the past I had avoided shopping in stores where the workers were paid on comission, now I think I have mastered it. I just need to say no. :) The age old phrase.

As we were passing through the pearl market, we ran into one the teachers' family. They had been visiting and spent Christmas with us here and we got to know them. So for fun we took a picture with them as waited for their pearl necklaces to be made.

That is the end of this adveture, now onto the next one. Backpacking through southern Thailand! I am sensing that it will an adventure as a challenge. Can't wait to blog more!