After a long and mostly uneventful 13 hour flight, we arrived in Beijing around mid-afternoon China time. Our fellow seatmate was a kind gentleman from Montreal also headed to China for the first time. We got to catch up on many, many movies with private in-seat screens– finally, we go to see Argo! The only hiccup on the flight was a gentleman who got sick right when we were flying over the Bering Strait. It seemed as though a quarter of the flight were doctors, as a bunch of folks were hunched over him for the rest of the flight.
Immigration was uneventful, and customs was a breeze. Seriously, the bag check is more thorough at Six Flags! We rolled our suitcases out of customs to be greeted by absolute chaos. I can’t really put it into words, but Brian and I agreed that the crowds of people waiting with signs was a little overwhelming. We found a young man holding a sign with our name, and suddenly we were whisked off in a sedan to our hotel. Chen, our guide, is a history student who will be our guide and interpreter while we’re in Beijing. He’s about our age, and within a few minutes, we struck up a conversation about about international travel and beer! We were briefed on our touring plan for the next two days– which sounds like a whole lot in just a few days.
After he checked us into our hotel for the evening (near China World Place, a high end mall), we were on our own for the evening. We exchanged money into RMB and ventured out to find dinner. Currency is an adventure here, as it’s pretty common to find counterfeit money in circulation. Chen taught us a few ways to identify legit bills, but it’s still a little daunting to think you might be getting back “play” money as change from a purchase!
Dinner was our first real “Wow, we’re not from here!” moment. We chose a Malaysian restaurant in China World Center, and began our first of what I’m sure will be many meals through hand-gestures. We both were excited to find “draft” beer– which just turned out to mean that it came in a large bottle (but stupid cheap and still very refreshing after a long day). Our waitress wasn’t happy with what Brian tried to order, and finally helped him settle on a dish after a lot of pointing and nodding. We were definitely the only non-Asian folks there, which was intimidating but also vindicating that we chose a good spot.
We decided to call it a night after dinner, and after a fair bit of playing around with cables and our computers, passed out for the night. We both woke up in the darkness feeling pretty refreshed– only to find out it was only 10 pm! Arghhh jet lag!
We woke up this morning around 4 am, which considering the 13 hour difference, isn’t too bad for our first night of adjusting our internal clocks. We’re looking forward to a day of hiking a segment of the Great Wall and seeing more of the city with Chen. My first impression of Beijing is that it’s like any other large, cosmopolitan city. The distinct haze of smog/air-pollution is fairly depressing, but we look forward to seeing more of this bustling and beautiful city.