We interrupt our regularly scheduled broadcast to announce my arrival to the capital of China, Beijing! Woo-who. Quite a trip that was. As some of you may know if you have read the recent New York Times article, this week is China's National Day week (celebrating the PRC) in which some 200 million people travel all over the country for a mini vacation to visit new places and mostly old people (that they know, not necessarily old in age). I had the audacity to travel to Beijing from Sunday, Oct 3 to Thursday, Oct 7; knowing full well the swarms of people I would find here.
Now, I wanted to travel to Beijing by fast train. It turns out that was impossible for two reasons: 1) the really fast maglev won't be in operation until summer 2011 in which a "fast" journey of 12 hours would be cut into 4 hours and 2) I couldn't get a ticket. At least, it kind of turned me off getting a crowded sleeper with no telling if they would shove people into full cabins because of over capacity. This almost made me cancel my trip, but, I decided to bite the bullet and fly instead.
And fly I did. I chose Air China, which was more expensive than the other lines, but they do have a code share with United and they are a Star Alliance Member so I thought it would be safer with them. I have to commend the Hongqaio Airport in Shanghai with high praise for civility and security (passing through it) and believe me when I tell you that the terminal is very modern. They had these interesting water dispensers and internet computer terminals and even a Subway where I bought my lunch. The flight provided a lunch, but I'm thankful for my "Airport Lunchbox" I got at Subway, because what awaited me on the ground was quite tiring.
While taking the Airport Express Train to Beijing (approx 1 hr travel time), they had to stop for some reason and force everyone off one station before the one I wanted to get to. Through my own confusion of where to go and lack of wayfinding signage, I went the wrong way a couple of times on the metro. It wasn't a waste of time, however; I got to see a lot of Beijing (it was an open air metro in this area) which reminded me of India.
Anyway, it took me another hour and a half to get to my "destination": a hutong behind some residential complexes. While going down one of these hutongs, ever closer to my "destination" on my printed out Google Map, I ran into a couple who look concerned at my apparent confusion. To make a long story short, the woman, who runs a business in household/hotel management, called up my hotung hotel and we found out that the hotel I booked didn't have rooms at the location I booked, but was sending me to its sister hotel by taxi, but was sending me to a Peking Duck restaurant where someone from that sister hotel would pick me up to lead me to the hotel. So it after leaving the Beijing airport at 1:25pm, I got to my hotel at 4:52pm.
My impression of the Autumn Garden Hotel is that I am quite pleased with it and was happy that they include slippers and toothbrushes with toothpaste (both are brand new and wrapped in plastic!). It's an 8 room hotel and is very quiet, and Nancy (the Chinese like to have English names) is nice to talk to.
For the evening, I took a walk towards the fabled Tienanmen Square while walking through the hutongs in the neighborhood. The hotel is about a 10 minute fast walk to the Square. My first impression was a bit of bewilderment and disappointment because I thought the Square was pretty small for being the largest public square in the world. This was because I was approaching from the southern end, with its axis on the Arrow Tower (below); the northern end is the famous and larger part of it.