Monday, April 27, 2009

Never trust an art student

Candace's Blog:

Our first official full day in Beijing! I have to wonder how many dogs there are nearby. Our hostel is located next to some apartment buildings and many restaurants and we can hear dogs barking quite often. We hope they don't belong to the restaurants.
We started our day by sleeping in. It was nice! We explored the showers which turned out to be interesting. Trying to find hot water proved to be fun. Kev managed to get his at a nice temperature but I had some issues. It was very reminiscent of Rome… the water was either cold, freezing, or scalding hot. I'm hoping for better luck tomorrow. I think I'll try taking a shower earlier in the day.

Once we were ready we decided to hit the streets. Not even 10 minutes after we left the hostel we ran into… art students! Oh my! He was a friendly guy and chatted with us for a bit and eventually asked if we wanted to go see his exhibition and we were like "uh…. Thanks but no thanks. We're on our way back to the hotel" (lucky for us our hostel is located behind a large hotel).

After a bit of wandering we realized that we didn't know what we were doing or where we were going so we went back to the hostel and asked about a place to eat. We eventually found a nice restaurant and ordered. Kev got some fruit salad which turned out to be either pears or apples in a sauce and I got some fried sweet and sour pork (I hope it was pork). We got ourselves some ice tea and juice to go with it. It was good and then we remembered that we weren't really supposed to drink the water here. Hopefully we won't get sick from it! As we were leaving the restaurant I managed to embarrass myself by tripping down a step and nearly falling flat on my face. Go me! The waitress had to catch me from falling. We quickly made our getaway as I limped from a sore ankle (it's fine now).

We found our way back to our hostel and got ready for some shopping at the Silk Street market. It turns out it's a lot easier than anticipated to catch a cab. There are probably as many cabs (if not more) than regular vehicles on the road. It's seriously a sea of them. They're pretty cool looking, either yellow and green, yellow and blue, yellow and red, and yellow and purple ones. I don't know if they're for different things or not but it's interesting. We also got some random guy ask us if he could drive us some place. We quickly refused that one.

Silk street market wasn't what I was expecting at all. It's a massive building with 6 floors, each one with a different set of items to be bought. It's also very confusing to get from floor to floor and to figure out your way around each floor. We must have passed certain vendors several times. Which was odd since almost every time we passed by these same vendors we had to tell them again that we weren't interested. Then they'd ask what you were looking for and point you in that direction. It was also strange to have to haggle for prices. It's nice to pay a different price than the price (lower) but it really makes you wonder how much profit they're actually making with the lower price that they offer since they settle with it. If you say that you aren't interested and start the leave they lower it some more for you. Here's how the haggling works (it was a little different in Mexico from what I could remember of it). They grab a calculator and write out a price. Usually it's already slightly discounted because you're "a nice person", or "the first customer of the day", or even "it's Monday, hardly no business". That was odd when they already start off from 20-50% off the marked price. After this they hand you the calculator for you to write in what you want to pay. It basically goes back and forth until a price is agreed on. Sometimes, they'd tell us half price and then put in the price in a 1.5% higher rate. That was quite funny to see. I've also never been yelled at by more vendors to buy underwear. That was a new experience. There was also the lady wanting to sell me children's clothing and when I told her I didn't have any children she told me that I looked young enough to fit into the clothing! After telling her no and walking away I burst into laughter at that with Kev. It was a rather fun experience. I may return shortly before I leave to buy the game of Go and this traditional Chinese board game (that people actually do play in the hutongs) I can't quite remember the name of it, but it looks fun and there is English instructions.

Kevin's Blog:

It's currently 4pm on Monday (or 4 am back in Ottawa)
Now I know it's day 2 but I'll write my experience of day 1 and 2 for my few followers (Allo Mom!). First piece of advice to anyone travelling…don't skip sleeping…even for early morning flights. From 4-7 am was the longest 3 hours of my life. I didn't want to sleep incase we missed the flight so we stayed up.

The plane was pretty neat. I didn't feel very well during the first flight (mix of lack of sleep and my
cold) so I didn't eat anything during that 5 hour trip. By the time we got to Vancouver, I was feeling a lot better and I can tell you I was really hungry. Not only that but my cold, which started as a sore throat, attacked my vocal cords and completely destroyed them. So here I was, going to China unable to say a word. I guess it doesn't matter much considering they wouldn't understand half of what I'm saying anyways. The trip to Beijing was long and squished, not a lot of room (the people in front of us weren’t very conscious of their surroundings). However, the attendants kept feeding us (probably to distract us) and for all I've heard of airplane food, I quite enjoyed it. The had really good hot sauce you could put on the chicken and it was yummy. Each seat had it's own little tv where you could watch some movies and shows or listen to music of all kinds ( I hope it's different movies on trip back). All in all, it was an ok experience. Didn't get to sleep much, probably 2-3 hours during the whole Ottawa - Beijing trip.

Finally arrived in Beijing, the airport building is a huge open space, very nice. I wanted to take pictured but I didn't know if we were allowed and didn't want a security guard chasing me because of snap shots. Taking a train to get our baggage was interesting. It was all very easy to do (even in the sleep deprived state of mind). All I have to say is thank goodness for english sub-texts on all the signs.

First thing I noticed when we stepped out of the airport was that the air smelled different. I had always wondered and now I know. Wasn't bad, just different. Got into the taxi with the crazy memory and got ready for a ride of a lifetime. It has to be mentioned, drivers in Beijing are crazier than the ones in Montreal. The cab was weaving between cars, bikes, pedestrians without ever stopping. At one intersection, he went right into a pack of bicycles crossing and without slowing down, the bicycles just swerved around like ants going around an obstacle. Fun fact for all of you readers, Chinese drivers have a deep love for their car horns. If you don't hear a car horn while you're in downtown Beijing, you're deaf.

The hostel is pretty nice. The staff are friendly, speak decent english and the room was not too shabby. It's small but for our needs, it's enough. The toilets… that's a different story. You aren’t allowed to flush the toilet paper. I was like "really?!" and then tried how I could avoid pooing for a week. Unfortunately, like I mentioned earlier, while in the plane, they kept feeding us and well, it had to come out sometime. It's not so bad I suppose, just got to be careful how you handle it once your done and throw it in a garbage can. Once settled, we went out for supper, which as Candace mentioned, was something else entirely. I am happy to say that I got to eat roasted duck, which was on my "to do list". After getting over the spoon feeding and staring, I got to eat about 1/4 of the plate before I was full. It was good, a lot of it is crispy fat and skin and little meat.

After our dinner, we went back to our room and crashed. I fell asleep at 6 pm Beijing time while Candace was typing out the blog between head nods. I woke up at 3 am, unable to fall asleep again. The walls are thin and I could hear the snoring from the next room…or maybe the one under us. Luckily I fell back asleep at 5 for another 3-4 hours of snooze. Showers! First shower since Friday night, felt good and woke me up a bit. We got ready after that and headed out. Now restaurants are not hard to find, they're everywhere just like public washrooms, however finding one with some english in it…that's a different story. We found one maybe 5-10 minutes away, very nice looking place, friendly and fast service. Culture shock #1, there are no actual breakfast food in China. All foods are good at any time, however, being the Canadian that I am, eating pork or fish at 9am isn't what I'm looking for. Luckily thay had fruit so I was able to enjoy that. Now fed and ready to face the first actual day in China, we headed back to the hostel, get all our gear and took a cab to our destination.

Today, on the itinerary, was shopping day! That's right folks, I got almost all the gifts for all of you. Spent a lot but that's ok, how many times am I going to be able t buy things in China for all of the people I love back home. Culture shock #2. Silk Street market has no comparison in Ottawa. It's like going to the downtown market but inside a huge building. Where is differs are the sellers. You can't go 2 steps without someone from a stall yelling "Sir, want underwear?!" or "Nice lady! Buy scarf? Good price fo you". Luckily, I was wearing a t-shirt and my tattoo was showing. I'm guessing they aren’t used to seeing tattoos in china cause a few just stopped talking and stared at my arm as I passed them. Did my ears some good. I have never seen so much clothing located in one spot, you can clearly see that China is the #1 producer of clothing. About 3 floors was clothing only. 1 floor for jewelry, 1 for various objects and memorabilia and 1 was the relaxation/food place. Culture shock #3, haggling. I hate haggling and probably got robbed because of my lack of skills at it. Trying to figure how much I was paying canadian was hard as well. My most expensive purchase was 600 yuan, which is equivalent to about 90-100$. After about 3 hours of shopping and 4 shopping bags full, we took an angry cab back to our hostel. We're chilling in our room for the afternoon. Tonight we're gonna go take a walk to the forbidden city to see how long it takes from our hostel.

As for myself, I am in a good mood. Not too worn out and in relatively good health. I think I managed to kill my cold but not before it destroyed my voice. Now I'm sounding like a teen going through puberty, my voice cutting every 5 words but I think it should be back fully tomorrow. I'll give Candace back her computer before she falls asleep. I'll also keep it shorter next entry….if I can. Ciao XXOO

Sweet and Sour fried pork (I hope)

Some kind of fruit salad....

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