Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Beijing Travels and other stuff

First the other stuff: We had dinner with Winnipeg over the weekend at the Xinjiang restaurant. The entire staff changed since I left for vacation. On the plus side, they hired a waitress who speaks English fairly well. They also now have an English menu... that was taken from a similar restaurant in Shanghai. Unfortunately, they didn't have any Black Beer that night.

Today, I met my Aussie friend for coffee. I found out he moved somewhere even more convenient (albeit further away); he's now just a few blocks away from Jia's office. So, after coffee, we headed out to meet my wife for lunch at Hasio (damn fine noodles for 10 kuai). Anyway, he seems to be doing quite well with work as he's not working too much and making quite a decent living.

On to travels in Beijing: I'll start off by saying I'm not a big fan of the city--it's very crowded and the vendors and rickshaw drivers get rather bothersome (they don't give up even after hearing "no" ten times). But this year I did find some things to enjoy.

On the first full day, we went to Tiananmen Square. We took a walk through Zhengyangmen (the gate on the southern end of the square). This was closed for renovation last year. It's a beautiful site with some great views of the square, Mao-soleum, and surrounding area. We were a little disappointed that the Mao-soleum was closed for renovation this year (we skipped it last year due to long lines); I'm not sure if they were renovating the building or the corpse, but it'll supposedly re-open in September or so.

We found a very nice tourist street that ran from the road near the Bell Tower to Houhai. We were very happy that the vendors on this street were pleasant and didn't harass us to buy everything. I bought a small propaganda poster for 5 kuai after a lot of bargaining in Chinese. Of course, I managed to lose it somewhere between Urumqi and Beijing. There were quite a few bars along the street (not Houhai) that my brother and I wanted to revisit one night, but we never made it back.

I discovered a few things about the Beijing taxis on this trip. This year they managed to find the hotel (maybe it was because I told them where the subway station was first). The drivers also seemed more friendly and less inclined to take us for the roundabout ride. I was thinking it may be one of those Olympic preparations, but who really cares when you have pleasant taxi drivers (that applies to anywhere in the world). We even had one on the way back from White Cloud Temple who didn't want to take us all the way back to the hotel and talked us into being dropped off at the nearest subway station (ended up as a cheaper trip). The taxis are also a bit cheaper than here in Shenzhen--Beijing starts at 10 kuai and it's 2 kuai per kilometer; Shenzhen starts 12.50 and it's 2.4 per kilometer. That's a big difference when you consider how huge a space Shenzhen takes up.

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