Friday, October 10, 2008

Beijing - Arrived safe and sound

My cousin Reenie and I arrived safely in Beijing. We flew on United Airlines from Dulles International. The flight was loooong but we managed well. We did have lots of turbulence over Canada. We saw lots of ice-covered land, especially over the Queen Elizabeth Islands and Siberia. And the mountains were beautiful with jagged edges. We crossed over Mongolia before heading south into Beijing.

Landing, going through customs, and getting a taxi was very easy. We both took money out of the ATM machine outside the exit area. There are two official taxi lines. As warned by fellow travelers, a man did walk up to us while still inside the terminal asking if we needed a taxi. I knew best and headed to the official stand. It took about 20 minutes to get to our hotel. The traffic was very light. I had read about the aggressive taxi drivers, but not ours. Our seatbelts didn't work but I actually felt comfortable with his driving. Along the highway into the city there were many potted planters with various flowers. We didn’t know if they were from the Olympics or if flowers are there for most of the year.

The taxi driver had to stop to ask for directions to our hotel, while I kept trying to tell him it was next to the Regent. He called the hotel and we were at the door the next minute. We paid 84RMB for the drive, which I knew was more expensive than the express train/subway, but after a long day in the air, we wanted no other mode of transportation. It was nice having door-to-door service.

Check in at the Park Plaza Wangfujing hotel was fast and we were upgraded to an executive room with the club benefits (breakfast, cocktails in the evening and use of the computer!) Our room, #1506, was quite nice with two double beds, desk, tv., decent sized bathroom; chair and coffee table; and amenities (slippers, robe, 2 bottles of water daily). The service was great at the Plaza. Every employee we encountered was friendly and always with a smile. The location of the hotel is great: a subway is located next to the hotel and the Wangfujing night market is only a 10-minute walk away. Breakfast was just “ok” – not enough of Chinese foods and they always put out American sausages. Got tired of that. Evenings they had wine and hard liquor, but we enjoyed the white wine. Most evenings we would have a drink or two while I got on the computer; followed by dinner out.

Our first day was beautiful. Blue skies, with a slight haze, but nothing compared to what I saw on t.v. before and during the Olympics. The weather report called for the same sunny days and temps in the low 70s.

For dinner, I asked at the concierge desk for a recommendation for a light dinner, as Reenie wasn't that hungry. We were given a restaurant business card and one of the employees walked us outside and pointed us in the right direction (out the back entrance and to the left, crossing over a main street and down 2 blocks or so, restaurant is on the left). I wasn't sure if we were going to find the place since only Chinese characters were on the card and it took a while for the employees to figure out the directions.

The restaurant was a dumpling place (Shun Yi Fu Dumpling restaurant, 36-3 Gan Yu Avenue Eastern District, Beijing, Beside South of the WgFuJing Church) and the place was packed. In fact, it was the only place that was full on this particular street. There were probably 5-6 other small restaurants. We didn't have to wait, as 2 people just left their table. Three young waitresses brought out plates of steamed and fried dumplings. Some of the diners had various types of soups, vegetables, and other dishes. It all looked great! We ordered a small plate of pickled vegetables (daikon, cabbage and carrots), which was slightly spicy (5 RMB) along with a plate of fried dumplings stuffed with cabbage and pork (15 dumplings for 25 RMB). The cabbage had the taste of spinach. They were delicious and filling. With 2 bottles of water our dinner was 35 RMB. What a delicious, yet inexpensive dinner for our first night in China.

We didn't get to the night market, as we walked in the wrong direction but we did see a lot of activity in the area. Many shops were open and we even checked out a teashop. After picking up a couple of bottles of water for the room, we walked back.

My first impression of Beijing: Alive, vibrant, fast-paced and wow, those drivers are all over the street. I can’t imagine riding bikes in the city in between the cars, but the Chinese do it so easily.

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