China Travel Journal: Beijing 2

This travel journal is part of a series of journals, which are all written during a long trip between november 2007 and may 2009.

Eating Beijing Duck09-06-2008 Too bad for you, we ate it all! The Beijing Duck tasted wonderful.
A little over a week we've spend shopping and arranging things in Beijing, which was kind of a shocking experience from time to time. Entire neighbourhoods, like the interesting Hutong area South of Tian An Men, have completely vanished and are replaced by highrise projects. Gone are the cute old alleys where you could spend an afternoon just strolling around. Even the nicest shopping areas turn out to be flattened and replaced by huge, shiny department stores full of way too expensive designer clothes. During the past three years the city has changed seriously. Still we've managed to find a few nice shops with lots of clothes for little money and the week still passes faster than expected.
Our new sticker for Kyrgyzstan is now firmly stuck in our passports and so we can move on. And we're happy with that, as we're done with the Chinese frills and we're looking forward to leaving the country.

We don't want to bore you by sharing the time-consuming and sometimes frustrating activity of arranging things in Beijing, but to get somewhat of an impression we'd like to share this anecdote:

The Bank of China, around the corner... At 9 fourtyfive we arrive, but the bank's still closed. Today's a holiday and the bank opens at 10 instead of 9, as we are informed in perfect English by a man in a suit. At the door 2 more people are waiting, but soon there are 5, 10, 15. Just before 10 15 noses are squeezed against the glass doors and some nervous pushing and josling has started. As soon as the doors open people pull and push even more, but with a quick movement Yvonne manages to get number 9 at the employee who's now handing out numbers. The latter is probably a form of protection for the beautiful digital ticket device, which wouldn't last long while used by the personal use of the crowd.

The only Englsih speaking employee who doubles as a ticket supplier approaches us.
"What do you want?"
"Get some US-dollars"
First we're send to the ATM to get some Renminbi, which we can subsequently exchange at the counter. We withdraw the maximum amount of 5000, as the options to get cash in Kyrgyzstan are limited. Thirty minutes later Propaganda?it's number 9's turn, we push our Renminbi through the hatch and ask for dollars. Our lady is summoned, as the man behind the counter doesn't speak English.
Suddenly there comes an English word after all: "passport!" Uhm... well, we don't have one, as'they are at the Kyrgyz embassy ("the what?"), but here's a copy. Immediately a second English word follows: "No". What do you mean by no? Through our interpreter we now hear this man needs our original passport. To exchange money? Yes, that's the rules. Ah the Chinese rules, yeah right... those rules.
In our pre-Asia era we now would have stood up to make room for the next in line, to consider what to do next. But after 6 months in Asia that's not an option anymore. Instead we explain we don't have any passports, but we do have this receipt from the embassy and a copy of our passport and we're just exchanginging money after all, nothing special and nothing involving credit cards or anything. A waterfall of words comes in reply and it's obvious the man behind the counter is tired of us and wants to help the next customer. Well, we have another idea about that and to make this even more clear Peter grabs a chair and sits down theatrically.
We explain it all once more: we need the dollars today, as our train leaves tomorrow and we only get our passports back by tonight, when the bank has already closed. We just need to exchange some money and when we were here last week, to pay our visa, the very same visa from the very same embassy where our passports are now, we didn't have to show our passports to show a steep fee. They are free to call the embassy as they please. But whatever we say, it's still no.
Peter sits a bit further back in his chair:
"Then we want to see the boss."
"But my boss doesn't speak English." (nice try)
"Then you'll have to translate for us."
"Oh" (disappointed look)
Alternatives are being offered, like exchanging money at the airport, (30 kilometers out of the city) or at a hotel a bit further down the road and for a ridiculous fee. Well, we'd still like to see the boss.
Whether we'd like to move over to wait for the boss at the sideline, to make sure the line is not growing any longer. In our pre-China era we now would have been good and move over to make room for the rest in line, but after 2 months in China that's no longer an option. We know how easy it would be for them to turn us down and so we stick to our place. "The boss" decides to come quickly and obviously doesn't know so well how to handle this situation. He asks us to walk with him to the office. Through our interpreter we explain the whole story once more and the boss listens in silence. Then it's quiet and apparently we're waiting for something. "Another boss" is what we hear when asking what we're waiting for. Ah.
Meanwhile we've also suggested our drivers license, bank card and creditcard as identification. When the chief has also heard and checked everything he gives his permission to exchange 3500 into Dollars with our drivers license and the copy of our passports as identification, but no 5000. O, no problem, as we're happily with the two of us and we're BOTH carrying a drivers license and a copy. Peter decides he'd like to exchange 3500 with his drivers license and copy and Yvonne an additional 1500. Obviously this was not their aim, but since we're both offering our own identification they don't have much of a choice.
Er Some others were shopping as wellThey copy our copy of our passports (?!?) and the money is payed. More than an hour after we entered the bank we leave again... only to exchange some Dollars. Welcome to China, welcome to Beijing! For everything they reply to with a no (and that's a lot of things!) the only solution seems to be: put them on the spot and outsmart them. And that's what makes us feel so tired after these months in China, feeling the urge to outsmart people all the time and find a creative solution for things so simple. It seems like ages ago since we enthusiastically entered Yunnan 2 months ago. We've had a hard time saying goodbye to all the coutries we've visited so far, but we don't expect China to be added to that list.

Unless... we happen to appreciate the following things more than we think:

  • Beds even harder than those in South-East Asia. It's almost impossible, but we do sleep on real "stone-sleepers" on a regular basis.
  • Smoking in the bus, the train, in the shops and in the streets. Whether there's a sign or not: people are smoking everywhere and non-stop.
  • People daily shouting at each other like the other person is a piece of garbage. What do you mean loosing face and staying polite all no matter what? That must have been in the time of the empires, but here and now we don't notice anything from it and from time to time people even start barking at us. (Sometimes we even bark back.)
  • People, everywhere you walk and all the time right in front of your nose.
  • Being harassed by saleswomen when entering a store, kissing your feet and walking with you to hold up everything you maybe even looking at, or what they are sure of that you're gonna buy.
  • Being completely ignored when you ask a question to which the other doesn't know the answer , or when you come up with a problem.
  • Staring eyes in the subway, in the bus and in the train, staring eyes in combination with an open mouth or pointing fingers in the streets or in a restaurant.
  • Gurgling sounds, followed by a large green phlegm in front of your feet or, when you're lucky, right on top of it.

  • We figure we might get used to it, a Han-free environment. Even though we do like the "who-pushes-in-the-best-will-be-served-first-idea", but that probably has to do with the fact we've become pretty good at that lately.

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