Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Beginning the travels

Before I start my story of the journey, I want to write about something a little strange that happened today. I found that I had a poem published. I submitted the poem more than a year ago and it was just published. But I never received any correspondence informing me of such. I'm still quite happy about this, just a little confused.

Anyway, the day before I left for Beijing to meet my family, I had to finish moving some of my stuff into a friend's apartment for storage (thanks again for that). The last piece I moved was my giant inflatable Kingway beer bottle. This was a fun journey through the neighborhood--everyone was screaming, "Da pijiu!" (Big beer). The best was the little boy by the dumpling shop who shouted, "Mom, mom, look! A foreigner. He has a big beer!" I almost fell over laughing--sometimes I wonder how good my Chinese skills are when that's the sentence I can translate.

My journey began the following day with catching an early bus to the airport. I waited. And waited. It was about 45 minutes of standing by the highway, waiting for one of two buses. Finally, I decided to see if I could find another bus to take me. One pulled up and I asked the ticket girl if the bus went to the airport and she hurriedly waved me aboard. I took my seat and she came by again to sell me a ticket. "Ni qu na li?" (Where are you going?") "Ji chang." ("airport"). She looked confused. I repeated my destination and included the name of the airport. She then told me they didn't go there. They stopped the bus at another bus stop down the highway to let me off as I yelled at the ticket girl for not listening to my earlier question. Fortunately, one of the buses I wanted just happened to be a short distance behind.

My flight left Shenzhen late. I didn't mind much as I was set to arrive an hour before my family and they would have to go through customs. What I didn't realize was that my flight arrived at the other terminal. So, I took my luggage on a nice long walk through the crowded Beijing airport. As I approached the Starbucks (no, I don't like their coffee, it's just a convenient meeting place), I ran into my parents and brother--they were early. Perfect timing.

We somehow managed to fit all our luggage into one taxi (better than paying 450 kuai for a van). The driver took us to the Harmony Hotel, right near the train station. Slight problem there, China International Travel Service never sent our reservation to the hotel even though my father pre-paid online. We got in a fight on the phone with them--they denied ever doing anything wrong (just wait til they have to deal with a credit card company that won't pay up). Fortunately, the Harmony Hotel did have two rooms for us for one night--we'd just have to find somewhere else for the rest of our time. It was disappointing, it was a nice hotel with cheap prices. We ended up at the Novotel by Chongwenmen subway station (same place we stayed last year). We had everything set for time in Beijing, except for our plans of what to do.

That night, I went out with my brother for some beer near the hotel. There were no bars, just restaurants. I was quite shocked when I saw our bill. The waiter said, "6 kuai." I thought he meant each, but it was the total. I couldn't believe the beer was that cheap.

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