Trip Report: Beijing

Day 0

The flight over was nice because I was able to sleep for much of it.  The key, of course, is to procrastinate and stay up late the night before.  The flight from SFO arrived about 3PM.  I didn't have a window seat so I missed out on seeing Beijing from the air.

The arrivals hall was packed with people waiting.  I was expecting to find someone holding a sign with my name, and I did without too much trouble.  But for a moment I didn't know if this was my CNNIC friend, or a driver from the hotel.  Turns out it was a hotel employee, but not the driver.  She phoned my CNNIC friend and we all drove to the hotel.

Driving in Beijing, is, of course different.  There is much lane changing and maneurving for position.  At intersections it is common for left-turners to go before cars heading straight.  Taxis use their horns liberally.  Most roads have a lane on the right side for bicycles, carts, and pedestrians.  Taxis also use this as a passing lane.  Pedestrians have no rights of way, even with a walk signal at a crosswalk.


I checked in and had a so-so buffet dinner alone, and then watched some TV before sleeping.  I was surprised to see quite a few English TV channels (at the hotel at least) and some so-bad-theyre-good movie channels.  I got to see most of "Tank" starring James Garner and Shirley Jones!

Day 1

At 10AM I was driven to the CNNIC offices to meet a number of people and prepare for the workshop.  As with the ride from the airport, this one cost 500 Yuan, which seems to be about $75.  By contrast a taxi ride to/from the airport is 75 Yuan, or $11.

I didn't really notice the smog/pollution the day before, but on this day it was obviously bad.  I couldn't tell how much was fog and how much pollution, but I kind of assumed the worst.  I hoped that it would clear out at some point during my trip, but in fact it only became worse.

My driver didn't speak English and dropped me of at almost the right building.  I found the right place by showing the visa invitation letter on their letterhead.

At CNNIC we discussed changes to the agenda, nametags, video/audio streaming, and other important details.  During our walk to the restaurant, I learned that here people walk in the street, not on the sidewalk.  I almost caused incident by "herding" my host friend toward the sidewalk where he was almost hit by a cyclist.  At lunch put on a brave face and suggested we order some stewed jellyfish head.  It was not bad -- chewy like squid.

As I expected from descriptions in my travel book, the food is shared via a large lazy susan.  Rice and/or noodles are absent.  We had some beer too.

After lunch we exchanged gifts.  I gave them some notecards with photos of the Palouse, plus some Idaho Spud candy bars and fancier Cowgirl Chocolates.  I think the chocolates were a faux pax.  One of the guys said something about leaving them for the girls to eat. They gave me a very nice leather passport and wallet set.

We took a taxi back to the hotel (passing the 2008 Olympics areas) and spent the rest of the afternoon preparing the meeting room. Lights, microphones, podium placement, and streaming setup.   After some time they took me out for dinner, which was much like lunch.

Next we walked to this "street snack" area which contained numerous stalls serving various strange foods.  Starfish and baby sharks on sticks.  Squids, snakes, and some more mundane things as well.  I expressed some interest in fruit-kebabs that seemed to be covered in ice.  They bought one for me.  In fact they are covered in sugar. I chose straberries and kiwi.  It was very good, and very sticky, and certainly exceeded my sugar quota for a week.


Then we walked through large pedestrian mall area with lots of high-end shops.  It was like a big-city version of the Pearl Street Mall.  Lots of watches, perfumes, jewelry, and chinese tourist trinkets.

Day 2


First day of the workshop.  Had an early breakfast so I could get to the meeting room, meet the attendees and get everything ready. Boring work stuff.  It all went pretty well.  The room was certainly full.  I ended up giving an old presentation to fill some time.

I was looking forwarding to spending some time with my visiting colleages but was once again invited to dinner with the CNNIC folks, this time to celebrate and discuss their cooperative agreement with ISC.  We went to a fancy restaurant with a private room and a table with the largest lazy susan I'd ever seen.  More delicious authentic chinese food, and finally something I'd consider spicy.

After dinner we were walked to Tianamen Square.  I suggested it because I figured it would be my only chance to see it.  The time must have been between 9-10PM and the streets were relatively croweded.  We walked past various large and impressive buildings containing museums or ministries. At this time many of the areas were blocked off, including the Square itself.


I told my hosts that I planned to visit the Great Wall on Saturday, with my friend Sebastian.  They encouraged me to see the Forbidden City instead, one reason being that the mountain regions would be too cold.  We walked past the Forbidden City on our way to/from Tianamen, but I never did make it inside.

Day 3

The workshop finished up before lunch time, and then our hosts took us for a tour of the Summer Palace.  Again, unfortunately, the views were obscured by smog.

It was during our ride on the bus that I learned to recognize my first Chinese character.  Our guide was explaining about the nubmer plates on taxis.  All the car number plates begin with the "Jing" symbol (), as in Beijing.  Jing means capital and Bei (北) means north, so Beijing is the north capital.  Our guide explained that all taxis have "B" as their first letter, but she didn't explain why Bei is omitted, or why they had mixed Chinese and Latin characters.


The Summer Palace is a popular spot and very crowded with mostly Chinese tourists.  There were also a lot of annoying street vendors selling trinkets.  The main feature of the place is large lake. Near the entrance there was a large tempmle at the top of a hill. We did not get to see the temple, although I'm not sure why.  I did gather that the hill was created artificially due to dredging for the lake.


There were numerous other buildings, some of which were turned into snack bars.  Also a number of "stone relics" and I only half heard the story about why it was considered bad luck to take a picture of them.  I took a picture of the stone because of the sign, which says "Help Protect The Cultural Relics -- Help Protect The Railings."  Surprisingly little wildlife here, and even elsewhere in Beijing.  A few ducks on the lake, a magpie or two, and some cats that came out after dark.


We had about an hour of free time before dinner.  Most of us took this time to walk to the 17-arches bridge, which is one of the main features of the Palace.  Our guide explained how it came to have 17 arches.  In Chinese folklore, odd digits are "good" and nine is the best.  If you count from each end to the center, there are nine arches.  The middle arch is shared, so there are 17, rather than 18, total.


After making it to the bridge we had to hurry back to the Hall of the Oriels for dinner.  It was getting dark, so it became a mini-adventure to see if we couldn't get lost.   Some of the sections were closed off after we passed through them, but we made it back alive.

The dinner was top-notch.   I was drinking blueberry juice in a large cup, wine in a medium cup, and some kind of strong alcohol in a tiny cup.  The servers were all very young girls in some kind of ancient dress.  Our hosts also hired some girls to play traditional music for us.


Day 4

Sebastian and I agreed to meet for breakfast at 6:45 and then leave early for the Great Wall.  The concierge helped us negotiate a taxi for the day at a cost of 600 Yuan.  He didn't speak English but was actually very nice and helpful.  He made sure we had his phone number, and escorted us to the ticket booth.

In the city the air quality had only gotten worse.  We were hoping that the Wall was sufficently far away that the air would be clear. As we drove the quality improved only slightly.  At some point we agreed that we were looking at just fog rather than pollution, however.

The city scenery along the way was fascinating.  We drove through some areas that seemed to be the taxi hangout.  There were lots of cabs parked off the road and lines of cabs getting washed.  Our driver stopped for feul and had to negotiate a complicated left turn.  We passed a materials market (e.g., bricks and lumber) and quite a few roadside fruitstands.


We arrived a the Mutianyu Great Wall around 10AM and were back at the hotel by 4PM.  See the Great Wall blog entry for those pictures.

After our hike, we went out for dinner and snacks.  I declined the sharks, bee cocoons, and sheep penises.  I did want some noodles though.  I got swindled by the savvy street vendors.  Like an idiot, I gave them a 50 Yuan note and got way too little change.  I'll probably hold this grudge until my death bed.


Day 5

Since my flight home didn't leave until 1:30, I had a nice relaxing morning at the hotel.  Breakfast, uploading pictures, emailing the family, trying to stuff all my stuff back into my luggage....

Our flight left Beijing at 13:40 Sunday and I landed in Spokane at 13:20 the same day.  Love it when that happens.  After a 2 hour drive home in the pouring rain, I get to see my lovely family again after being gone all week!!

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Duane published on November 8, 2009 12:00 PM.

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