Day 1… or 2…

(read the previous entry if you want to keep things in order)

So the plane got into Beijing yesterday in the afternoon, and we didn’t have too much of a problem. Thankfully, they aren’t nearly as much of a pain here as they are in the US. Security has become quite the thing, apparently. Good to know that the whole world isn’t paranoid.
Got back into the feel of Chinese traffic, again. I’ve pretty much determined that the drivers here are some of the most skilled drivers in the world. In North America, people respect traffic laws and drive safely. For the most part, no hitches, just when people are talking on their cell phones, eating, fixing the radio, putting on make-up, drinking, or dropping well-labeled hot coffee on their lap. China traffic is pretty much whatever goes. The lines don’t mean much. Pedestrians are everywhere, and their just as brave as their motorized compatriots (random note: instead of calling ppl citizens around here, they’re called “nationals”). It’s basically one giant game of chicken. Every man looking out for numero uno. From one perspective, that’s not as bad as it sounds. Yes, you’re only worried about yourself, but hitting a pedestrian or knocking bumpers is quite a pain, so they’re constantly vigilant. From another, it’s quite a nightmare. Advice: don’t try to rent a car and drive if you visit. Leave it to the taxis. They know what to do when someone cuts in front of them, or how to fit 3 cars into 2 lanes, or when the appropriate time to go is. From another, it reflects the apparent attitude of the people. That whole thing about being inconsiderate doesn’t stop after getting away from the wheel, like road rage. As far as I can tell, the only way to actually get what you want is to be a jerk, because if you’re not, no one else has any problem running all over you and taking advantage of your generosity. From trying to get off a bus to getting a table at a restaurant, being nice doesn’t really pay off.
Which is kind of sad, now that I think about it. In my romantic, hopeful view instilled by years of apparently decent moral guidance from parents and teachers, someone’s got to take a stand and do something to change things. Unfortunately, trying to change things by being the example would just totally get yourself owned. *shrugs*
Even though I had slept a lot on the plane and gotten ahead with 6 hrs of CoD, I still got ridiculously tired at about 8. Going to sleep soon after (my dad works in Beijing, so we’re camping out in his apartment when in Beijing, if you’re at all confused), I must’ve woken up at around 4, and was completely unable to get back to sleep. Not a bad thing, entirely, since we had an early flight. I’m actually typing this entry from the Hyatt in Xi’an. Plane left at 8-something, then arrived less than 2 hours later.
So pretty much the only reason why people ever come to Xi’an is to see what the self-proclaimed “eighth wonder of the world”: the terracotta soldiers. History lesson: China is known for its emperors and dynasties, stretching from 221 BC to 1911 AD, officially. The very first emperor, of the Qin dynasty, managed to unify a good chunk of China, declared a dynasty, and did stuff like connecting up chunks of fortification to create the Great Wall of China, unifying weights, language, and such, and being pretty much a dictator. His tomb, however, has garnered more attention than most of his historical accomplishments. Some time during the 20th century, some farmers dug and hit his tomb, which is filled with thousands of clay (fired clay) soldiers. Now that I think about it, I really can’t do it justice, so just go and read the wiki article on it or something.
Anyways, the next part of this entry goes onto another tangent. So after getting off the plane, we got on a bus to take us to our hotel (the Hyatt) since we had been told that it’s a lot cheaper than the taxi. After doing that, we actually ended up getting dropped off at their (tour company) HQ, from which we were expected to get a taxi over to our hotel. Rolling with the punches, we ended up picking up something of a deal: some guys on the street outside the HQ were offering something of a taxi-tour service: basically, they’d drive us anywhere, wait on us, and drive on for the day (the tour part comes that one of the two guys could give such insights. Unfortunately, only my dad is fluent in Mandarin). While a bit shady, it ended up working out quite well for a decent price.
Now the tangent: so just about everywhere you go, people are trying to sell you stuff. In the restaurants, they push the most expensive items on the menu, possibly even withholding the full menu as experienced last night (didn’t stop it from being a really good, really cheap meal anyways). At the tourist sites, just about everyone wants to give you a tour for varying prices. Even here at the up-scale, western run hotel, we had a bit of a hassle getting our rooms as they tried to get us to upgrade. Kind of interesting, though, since it really does seem to represent a bigger issue: China has a lot of people. Surprise. About 1.3 billion people have first-hand experience with it. It just starts getting ridiculous when you look at the jobs people have. Not only is there the doorman that does nothing. There’s the revolving-door pusher next to him to make sure that goes. Service in restaurants seems less than stellar at times, with a lot of people just standing around. And the army of salespeople hanging out on the streets. Maybe it doesn’t surprise you, and it doesn’t surprise me, but actually seeing the consequences of it is just something. Kinda like the difference between being told about starving children and actually seeing it (though not nearly as extreme. And I really can’t tell you about that one. Just how I imagine it goes)
So, less rambling, more story. Uh, we dropped by a bakery for lunch, which was quite good. Among the food you should try in China, you absolutely cannot miss the bakeries. Yes, dumplings, noodles, and such are all the rage, but the bakeries are pretty much to die for. Anyways, that was great, and we moved on. After a stop at some shop (our driver was on commission), we went to some hot springs emperor retreat. It, uh, had a hot spring, and the water passed through. The Xi’an incident happened there, which pretty much only matters if you’re studying for AD, and the waters supposedly have therapeutic effects. Maybe a 4/10 as far as tourist traps go. After a look around there, we got to the juicy stuff: the soldiers. If you really don’t know about it, then it’s a big deal. If you do, it was a mixed experience. Right now, it’s pretty cold around these parts, hovering right around freezing. Yes, the Canadian in me makes it tolerable, but I’m more comfortable at room temperature. Well, they don’t really bother heating any of the buildings, so pretty much constantly out in the cold. And well, after you see it, there’s not much to it. It really isn’t built up like a museum, just a site: you can’t walk around, looking at exhibits, reading the explanations, moving from the various parts. It’s all about the same, actually, but worth seeing just once in a lifetime. At the suggestion of my family, I think I’ll throw together a more in-depth powerpoint on the experience (already prepping my jokes for it), particularly for AD, but open for others, I guess. Just don’t want to bore the rest of you with something that really might not be that exciting to you.
Uh, this is pretty long, so I think that’ll be about it. I’ll try to keep this up on something of a daily basis on my experiences here, since we did carry the laptop for computer access, and getting internet is becoming less and less of a problem in today’s world.

2 replies on “Day 1… or 2…”

Thanks for the blog posting. I learned more about this trip than when I spoke to your mother. (I guess the adults are more jaded about everyday life, so we tend to not talk about things like tourism!)

I had the interesting experience of taking my travel bike to Beijing. I ended up taking “one lap” around the city, starting from the Kempinski Hotel in the northeast, biking westward past the Olympics area to the university, over to the Summer Palace, south along the canal, and eastbound to south of Tiananmen Square. I must have been a sight because (a) cyclists in Beijing don’t usually wear a helmet and shorts, and (b) they don’t bike on touring frame (drop handlebar) bikes.

The only slight frustration was I brought the bicycle in a custom suitcase, and thus when I left the hotel, it came down in the elevator and out the door. On return, after arguing with the doorman about bringing the bicycle back into the hotel, I started using the side door so that I wouldn’t have to go through that issue of explaining myself again and again.

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