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First day in Beijing

On my other two trips to Asia I’ve plunged straight into business within an hour of arrival, so I was determined to have some transition time on this trip–that jet lag feeling of not really being in my own skin isn’t how I wanted to start this new exploration of China. I allowed a whole Sunday of downtime and have thoroughly enjoyed it–especially because I’ve been listening to WKRC in New York, a whole day of old jazz in celebration of Lester Young’s birthday. I’d never heard of Lester Young (the “Prez”) and know nothing about jazz. But I thoroughly enjoy it, and I am interested in it now because it’s probably the United States’s most popular export of all time: with the introduction to Global Perspectives on the United States to finish up, I’m trying to think positively!

I’m trying to see Beijing through the eyes of a first-time American visitor, people who might be reading Guanxi: The China Letter. Everything in the airport would have been familiar to anyone used to international travel (Starbucks next to KFC, plenty of ATMs, and the usual: men offering a taxi), the ladies’ room was clean and Western, and the taxi queue well-marked.

I was handed a flyer telling me to write down my taxi’s number, but in the dark (it was late Saturday evening) I couldn’t see it. Too bad, since the driver demanded 100 yuan when we got to the hotel. The meter had said 52, and I knew I had to pay the toll as well, so the real fare was 62. I had to write down “38” in the end and wait for him to peel off the notes, one by one. Not a sign of the kind of training and grooming that supposed to be underway for the Olympics. Nor did he speak any English at all.

Liz and I had a lot of discussion before I left about footwear. I’m just recovered from a severely sprained ankle and knew I would have to wear flat shoes. The debate was over sandals, which the books and websites I looked at said had to have a back-strap, because otherwise they would be considered bathroom slippers. But when I went out yesterday there were plenty of Chinese wearing open-backed shoes or sandals, so I’m not going to worry about it (I threw my favorite sandals in my suitcase). I’m not sure I’ll want to wear sandals on the street, anyhow.

One of the first things I did was check our websites. At one point, they were not accessible from China. That’s not the case now, and I had no problem with most of the sites I looked up. Wikipedia seems to be blocked, and some sites related to Tibet, but when I did a search on Tibet, all the usual ones came up in the results list.

Chinesesupermarket.JPGThe big supermarket chain here is Carrefour’s, which is French. There’s one next door to the hotel so I went for a look, and here’s a photo. Double-click for a larger view. It was hectic, with hot foods as well as groceries, people calling out about their wares and a girl in blue and white demonstrating a Nestle product. Large range of wines and liquors from around the world, as well as local beer at 3.50 yuan (it’s 25 or 30 in the hotel). There were signs over some checkouts for “Credit Card (Domestic)” and another for “Credit Card (Foreign).” On that note, the two lines at Chinese immigration were labeled “Chinese National” and “Foreigner.” Clear and blunt.

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