After a tiring long distance flight we arrived at Beijing international airport. Our flight with Air China was uneventful but unlike my wife I can never get any sleep on the plane. We rushed through customs and met up with my mother who insisted to be our guide around Beijing (She had been to the capital multiple times and spoke Mandarin well… super helpful in covering up our Chinese incompetence. However since our travel preferences were different we ended up going to places where she had never been to – win-win I suppose!). Thanks to numerous travel websites we were able to plan and book our trip with only one week in advance.
We hailed a taxi to usher us straight to our hotel from the airport. We negotiated a fixed price with the taxi driver in order to deter any possibilities of fare-gauging as recommended online. This domestically-built taxi then raced through tolled expressways like a German-built sports car (without the comfort, style, or safety measures). As we frantically searched for our seatbelts we were passed by countless Fords, Volkswagens, and Audis just like any highways back home. We approached Beijing and I soon realized that all the bicycles I saw 20 years ago had been replaced by automobiles, and modern commercial buildings stood in places where hutong residences dominated just a couple decades ago.
We arrived at our reasonably priced hotel (Hotel Kapok) with above average reviews at the heart of the capital. The hotel staffs were courteous and they escorted us to our hotel rooms after check-in (they photocopied and registered our passports – I later learned that there were different classes of hotels in China: 1) foreign visitors, 2) Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan guests, and 3) domestic Chinese travelers). Hotel Kapok was ultra modern with many amenities any travelers would expect, plus glass walls for the bathroom (with curtains if one wished for privacy) – my privacy-loving wife did not appreciate such added “luxury” haha.
By the time we freshened up it was near dinner time and we ventured out on foot to explore the streets around our hotel. We wandered toward Wangfujing street (or Wangfujingdajie). [I found the inconsistencies in English translation all over China (not just Beijing) confusing because one thing could have 3-4 different translations… i.e. Wangfujing Street VS Wangfujingdajie. At least I could make out dajie = big street, but what about those poor non-Chinese visitors?]. We passed a busy street full of food vendors selling all sorts of “exotic delicacies” to locals and tourists – for under $5 CAD anyone could enjoy the taste of bee cocoons, beetles, scorpions, starfish, snakes, or sheep’s penises. I didn’t know I would start travel blogging at the time or I would’ve totally whore my stomach out for some extra page views/comments haha. We ended up stopping by a seemingly famous dumpling restaurant (food staple of the northern Chinese) and at the restaurant my wife experienced her first Chinese culture shock: Squat toilets. As a dude it really didn’t matter whether it was a bush, a bottle, or any permutations of a toilet because I pee the same way… but I guess girls are more intimate with toilets… Fun fact: my wife refused squat toilets throughout the entire trip and she purposely dehydrated herself on longer day trips despite my concerns.