09.29.2000 - 09.30.2000 0 °F
One of the biggest things to adjust to here is the bargaining. The set price is apparently a Western way of life. Here, you must bargain for everything from goods on the street to food to hotel room prices. We did some souvenir shopping on Friday morning. That was an experience. The larger markets here are housed in multi-level shopping mall type buildings and consist of many little stalls that line the walls and fill the floor (i.e. no open spaces, only narrow walkways) and anywhere you walk people are calling out to you and waving goods in your face ("Hey Lady, you want Puma shoes! "Good watches, good watches" "You need phone!" Ellen got called "Sir", we thought that was quite amusing) But the main thing is going in prepared; emotionally prepared, that is. Once you start bargaining, the salesperson looks at with you with such shock and disgust that you want to shrivel up and die, as if they cannot believe the price you are suggesting. And the more you bargain, the more you feel like you are ripping their heart right out of their chest. It is SO difficult! It's all you can do not to just say, "Okay, I'll pay whatever you want!!!" But I think we did well (by our standards, not by Chinese standards, I'm sure). And when you leave, you're absolutely exhausted. I felt like I had just run a marathon.
After two days in our first hostel, we moved to another section of town to see something different. This new area is considered more western friendly. We could see why as we walked by several Ex-pat bars advertising rugby games and soccer on TV, etc. We stopped in one one night to watch one of the world cup rugby games, and it was filled with westerners and overpriced food and beer. We didn't go back after that. It has been slightly more difficult to find authentic eateries in this area, but we have done it. Last night we found a small place without English speaking staff or menus. We managed to order something (which, of course, wasn't what we were imagining, but had a go at it anyway), and it was some sort of noodle soup. It tasted okay, but afterwards my tongue and lips were tingling. (?) Luckily, it went away after about 15 minutes.
The more you spend walking around a city, the more you get a sense of the way things work. For example, Beijing is full of highways and four lane roads (and cars), and I'm sure there are rules of the road, but I couldn't tell you what they are, no one seems to follow them. Pedestrians definitely do NOT have the right of way here. In fact, they are ranked third after bicycles. The traffic is very bad here, and it's best to avoid taking a taxi or bus during rush hour. And the pollution has been more noticeable the past few days, I think we had an exceptionally clear day our first day here. It has been more hazy and smoggy since then. One thing this city does well, though, is cater to their bikers. Every street has a bike lane on either side of the road that is quite wide (not 2ft and discontinuous like in Chicago) and separate from the main road. Ellen read in her history of China book that it is not uncommon for people to commute to work 1 - 1.5 hours each way by bike. We have taken the bus many times, and it's an efficient way to get around the city. We rely, of course, on someone writing down our destination in Chinese characters (Usually the help desk at our hostel) and then showing it to the driver or other bus patrons who have all been very friendly and helpful. I now know how to say hello (Nihao) and thank you (xie xie). The language here is so tonally specific, though, that if I try to read the westernized version of a word to someone to try to explain where we are going, I do not pronouce it right and they do not understand (which is why we always ask someone to write it in Chinese for us). For example, we are staying at the Zhaolong hostel, and I tried to tell this to our taxi driver last night. I was essentially saying each letter, but the Chinese speak much more gutterally and swallow their "ong", and the emphasis is on the first syllable and it is almost yelled. So it sounds more like "SHA-loh". They sound very similar to my untrained ear, but worldly different to a local.
So, what else have we seen? We saw the Temple of Heaven, which has similar architecture to the Forbidden city, but is round.
We went to the zoo to see the Giant Pandas. That was great, they are so fun to watch.
And then yesterday, we took a trip to see the Great Wall! The Great Wall as we know it was built in the 3rd century BC by Emperor Qin Shi Huang by filling in the gaps between previously constructed sections of wall. It was built to prevent invasion from rival tribes. It endured periods of disrepair and reconstruction and regained significance and strength in the 14th century during the Ming dynasty. The wall presumably took millions of people to build, and many of these workers died during the construction. Of course, though a beautiful and magnificent feat of engineering, it did not serve its purpose and Genghis Khan's Mongolian army conquered much of China for a period of time, and established his capitol on what is now Beijing (Peking at the time). The length of wall currently stretches for thousands of miles, though is not continuous.
Three hours on the bus to get to a slightly less touristy section of the wall called Jinshanling, where we entered the wall and hiked on it for four hours until the next section called Simatai, where our bus picked us up. This was a serious hike, extremely steep most of the time either climbing up or down, and much of the surface consisted of crumbled rock, not smooth surface.
It was amazing, and rolled up and down the mountains as far as I could see. It seemed to go on forever, and we hiked 10km of it.
The sun was strong, and I could not imagine doing it in summer, when most of the tourists go. Also, we were lucky in picking a day, as this week is a national holiday in China, celebrating the cultural revolution, and most of the tourists are in the cities for the first day (Oct 1st), so it was relatively uncrowded. We were, of course, exhausted afterwards, and slept soundly last night, thin/hard mattress or not!
Here are some pictures of a more locally patronized Hutong:
A market where we bought some fruit
And some locals playing a game, right outside someone's residence