Beijing: Settling in

Opening words of newly found wisdom: If accommodation in the centre of Beijing for £7 a night sounds too good to be true, then inevitably, it is.

Visiting Beijing has changed Katie and me for the better. We spent the 24 hour train ride from Hong Kong reading the Lonely Planet from cover to cover. We studied the map, scrutinised the subway, redefined our concept of personal space and significantly reduced it, so that no one, ever, could be in any doubt when we are in a queue and push in front of us (as so often happened in Hong Kong).

Now if we are first in the queue at the subway, we are first on the train. In fact, today we even managed to get a seat. It’s a public holiday in China and it is incredibly busy: we were packed into the carriage face-to-armpit. Obtaining a seat was a huge achievement, not just for us, but for England – we were outnumbered at least 200:1 – all the odds were against us … the Americans on board did not even come close to a seat and the French didn’t even make it off the platform.

On our first day in Beijing we explored the city and familiarised ourselves with the hutongs (small alley ways). The roads here are huge, but beware, the cars, motorbikes and bicycles will mow you down with just the same sense of ruthless priority whether the pedestrian crossing man is on green or red. To begin with, we lurked nervously on street corners waiting for Chinese people to come along so we could follow them across the road. By the end of the first day, however, the Chinese were following us across and, if anyone dared beep, we just slammed our fists into their bonnets shouting in Chinese, as is the cultural norm here.

So, our hostel. Where to begin. We’re here for 5 days/4 nights (we arrived on the 27/09). The positives: we’re staying in what used to be Beijing’s red light district and it’s the only part that hasn’t been knocked down, so historically, that might be slightly interesting. The streets heave with local people, who, while initially seeming aggressive, can be both witty and friendly. No one speaks English and so we are forced to learn words in Chinese, which is definitely a positive.

The negatives fall into three distinct problems as outlined below:

1) The bathroom smells like bin juice.

There is a hole in the middle of the bathroom floor, where stagnant, putrid water lingers from the shower. There is a bin next to the toilet filled with used toilet roll. If you spend more than 1 minute in there after flushing the toilet you will gag from the foul stench. I begrudge exposing even the bottom of my shoes to the floor in there. If you shut the bathroom door it gets stuck and can only be opened by a person kicking it from the other side, meanwhile you have 1 minute to live before choking on your own vomit.

2) Bed Bugs.

I woke up on the first morning with the inkling that I was not alone on my rock hard mattress under my stained, brown duvet. This was confirmed later in the day when I saw a line of bites down my leg and onto my foot as well as up my arm and onto my back. They began to itch profusely and became blistered. Bed bugs. Very good at hiding, which is good for them because when I find them … they’ll taste the bottom of my boot!

3) (Problem 3 didn’t manifest until day 2 and appeared at 4am in Bunk 6) Small man from Taiwan.

At 4am on our second night, a small but hugely irritating, 50-something year old man from Taiwan appeared in Bunk 6. He’s nice enough, but he farts OUTRAGEOUSLY in his sleep, he snores, leaves skid marks in the toilet and never shuts the door when he goes to the loo, in fact he just continues talking to you like nothing’s happening… plop.

All these factors considered, I’m glad we are staying at The Three Legged Frog. It’s making us stronger and the low cost means we have money to spend on other things, like camping at The Great Wall (can’t wait for this)… Admittedly last night, while I lay inwardly planning the scathing review I’d write on Trip Advisor and also shivering as I couldn’t bring myself to use the bug infested duvet, I may have said differently.

So far in Beijing, the sun has struggled to break through the smog and at night not a single star can be seen: nature seems completely blocked out, nobody is even allowed to sit on the few patches of grass that grow in the parks. On an average day the air pollution here is five times higher than the standard set out by the World Trade Organisations. You can ‘taste’ the fumes. I know I’m really waffling on a bit now, but … just to give you an idea of how much the government control here, there is a Beijing Weather Modification Office (google it). As mentioned earlier, we are currently in the middle of a public holiday for which lots of people have come to Beijing. The government want people to see the rarely visible blue sky and get some good photos (the smog makes photos look really grey-see below). Therefore, early this morning they fired rockets and shells loaded with silver iodide into the clouds to increase precipitation. This caused a thunderstorm and cleared some of the smog…

For me, the best thing about our first few days in this city is that they have marked the start of us becoming more observant and curious. In an average day we accumulate a 100 or more questions. Then, during the evening, we dedicate our time to finding out the answers. We chat to locals, and other travellers, we read books and we also google… Lots of information is blocked in China- which raises more questions. LOTS more questions.

And on that note, I’ll end this blog entry before I say anything derogatory about communism and get arrested by spies … 😉 I’ll leave you with just a few of our questions from today. If you know any of the answers: do let us know. All my love to all back home, Laura x

Why are Chinese satsumas green? Why is it culturally acceptable to spit in the street in Beijing? What happened to Pi Yu, the last emperor of China? How many people get run over by bikes on an average day in Beijing? Why won’t Chinese people discuss what happened in Tiannanmen Square in 1989? Why don’t Chinese toilets in Beijing provide soap and water? How many people per year fall down the hole-in-the-floor toilets (seriously a clear focus and a good aim are FUNDAMENTAL – one wrong move and its game over, particularly on trains…) Since our hostel opened as a brothel in 250BC has the bathroom EVER been cleaned? Which buildings in Britain were built in the same time period as the Forbidden City? Is the Forbidden City really ‘ancient’… we saw men plastering and painting the ‘ancient’ Gate of Heavenly Purity…is it more like Trigger’s ‘old’ brush off ‘Only Fools and Horses?’ …

If you were a bed bug, where would you be hiding?

4 thoughts on “Beijing: Settling in

  1. Loving the blog, I can only answer a couple of your questions. York Minster was finished in the latter part of the 15th Century and some of the Cambridge colleges (King’s I think was around that time.) The last emperor died in the late 60’s having moved back to China in the fifties.

  2. Bed bugs hide in the piping around the edge of a mattress and they come out in the dark. Heat kills them and I have a deep hate for them after they attacked me in my sleep in Australia!! Keep having fun lots of love Kate xx

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