Angkor Wat |  Cities |  Laos |  Kinmen |  Myanmar |  Penghu |  People |  China Portraits

Friday, September 23, 2005

At first sight

First impressions can mean so much when you are traveling. This is most true in situations like I am now when you have such limited time in each place. It is kind of like I imagine those speed dating evenings would be where everything is based on 5 minutes of interaction.

Sometimes, like in meeting people, these impressions can be wrong. Did you know my girlfriend, when she first met me thought I was gay and British? I thought she was dating the guy she was with at the Dragon Boat Festival (who I will, in an ironic twist, possibly be staying with in Shanghai next week). Sometimes you get a glimpse of a city or have a bad experience finding a hotel and predict awful things. Other times everything is going right, the weather is fine, the restaurant you pick is tasty, and you think you have found a wonderful city.

This is how my first few hours in Beijing have been. Full of promise. Is this a place that we may live at some point, to take advantage of myriad job possibilities? Who knows, but perhaps I am approaching my time here with that question in mind.

Straight off the long 12-hour train ride from Harbin (past a lovely autumn landscape of just harvested corn and gold and red tinted fields as far as the eye could see, running up to distant hills and mountains), a woman was showing a brochure for rooms. I had reserved a bed in an hour bed hostel in the Sanlitun district where many expats reside, as well as all the bars and western amenities that accompany expat districts. Her bin guan is located a fifteen minute walk from Tiananmen Square, and after getting her to commit to 80 RMB for a single room, I took the free ride offered to check it out. 80 RMB in a nice place with a western toilet and shower and it is all mine. Not bad.

Then I went out to see Tiananmen (which was not lit up and was actually cordoned off, so I saw Tiananmen (the gate) and Zhengyangmen (gate) but that was about it. On the way, though, and just down from my hotel, I stopped off at a restaurant in one of the old old Beijing neighborhoods that have dwindled faster than some creature racing towards extinction in the last few decades. I ordered a few random dishes and had cold beef slices soaked in vinegar and covered with diced garlic (Yum!) and a plate of cold, spicy cucumber. There were big red lanterns hanging over the narrow street outside, strung from an old tree growing out from a wall. Though it was a restaurant that no doubt sees plenty of tourists, at 10 PM, it felt like a nice little neighborhood place where all the cooks were sitting at tables eating and the lao ban was counting the night's take. Next to this place were two small restaurants, one selling homestyle Chinese cooking, and one selling jiaozi and kebabs.

The walk to Tiananmen, down Qianmen Lu was not what I expected. The buildings are all low and most are unattractive. There are lots of bike repair shops and small cigarette vendors mixed in with the tea shops and te chan (local specialty) food stores geared towards tourists. With buses running by and and few people out, it felt more like a residential neighborhood than a place so close to one of the biggest tourist attractions, one of the most famous spots in the world.

There were also some faux 7-11's along the way, and a disturbing number of filthy beggars dressed in rags and sleeping on the burlap rucksacks containing all their belongings, and perhaps a few plastic bottles meant to be recycled for the next meal. In the many underground passages one must take to get to the square there were also a plenitude of people who might have come to the city looking to make a fortune or who were displaced during the last few booming years.

On the way back from the square, I walked through some of the narrow lanes running off Qianmen Lu. I was reminded a bit of ShiDa in Taipei, except here there was more trash, more beggars, more cheap hotels (most don't take foreigners, although I found one that does and so may go there tomorrow--70 RMB for same things I have now, plus greater proximity to subway and the square--but then again I may be too lazy). There were a number of dim neon lights hanging over the streets, though, and small fruit vendors and sweets vendors. Some cho tofu and a few fried treats like squid on a stick. There was a foreign guy looking confused as he walked back and forth looking for his hotel, and a woman not sure what kind of snack to order. There were Chinese minorities speaking in tongues that bear no relation to Mandarin, and there were police hassling some shirtless guys standing inside a warehouse waiting to unload a delivery. It was late and somewhat quiet, but you could tell it was the kind of street that is never really quiet, and the kind that has the potential to offer a unique experience each and every day, no matter how tired and jaded you have become in relation to China or to Asia and to market life in general.

So there it is. A good first impression of Beijing. I hope to carry this with me on my visit to the PSB tomorrow as I attempt for the second time to extend my visa.

11 Comments:

Anonymous shawn said...

alan you are on warp speed! good luck with the visa. I thought you were gay the first time I meet you too. hahahahahahahahahahahahah just kidding. cant wait to read whats next.

11:58 PM  
Blogger musica said...

YOUR BLOG IS GREAT. I WILL BE BACK. HERE IS MY WEB SITE AN IS RELATED TO cheap hotels also we have cheap hotels It pretty much covers cheap hotels and other similar topics available.

2:30 AM  
Blogger musica said...

YOUR BLOG IS GREAT. I WILL BE BACK. HERE IS MY WEB SITE AN IS RELATED TO discount travel also we have discount travel It pretty much covers discount travel and other similar topics available.

2:54 PM  
Blogger musica said...

YOUR BLOG IS GREAT. I WILL BE BACK. HERE IS MY WEB SITE AN IS RELATED TO discount airfare also we have discount airfare It pretty much covers discount airfare and other similar topics available.

11:17 PM  
Blogger musica said...

YOUR BLOG IS GREAT. I WILL BE BACK. HERE IS MY WEB SITE AN IS RELATED TO discount airfare also we have discount airfare It pretty much covers discount airfare and other similar topics available.

8:11 AM  
Blogger musica said...

YOUR BLOG IS GREAT. I WILL BE BACK. HERE IS MY WEB SITE AN IS RELATED TO discount airfare also we have discount airfare It pretty much covers discount airfare and other similar topics available.

11:51 PM  
Blogger usersanonimos said...

YOUR BLOG IS GREAT. I WILL BE BACK. HERE IS MY WEB SITE AN IS RELATED TO cheap hotels also we have cheap hotels It pretty much covers cheap hotels and other similar topics available.

1:18 AM  
Blogger musica said...

YOUR BLOG IS GREAT. I WILL BE BACK. HERE IS MY WEB SITE AN IS RELATED TO travel bargain also we have travel bargain It pretty much covers travel bargain and other similar topics available.

3:38 PM  
Blogger musica said...

YOUR BLOG IS GREAT. I WILL BE BACK. HERE IS MY WEB SITE AN IS RELATED TO discount travel also we have discount travel It pretty much covers discount travel and other similar topics available.

10:43 PM  
Blogger Adult Personals said...

hehehehe good topic, like the site.

11:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Came here searching for adult baby personals

Not a bad site you got here mate!

Check out mine
All about
adult baby personals

8:22 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home