Going West by Mark Powers

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Back in Beijing

Well, its back to Beijing. I had some trouble at the Singapore airport though on the way. They typically allow 50 Kilograms on long-haul flights, like LA to Tokyo, and I considered Singapore to Beijing the same. But I found out at the airport, all flights within in Asia are considered short-haul and only allow 20kg. So I had to negotiate with airline and basically beg them for a break. Otherwise I would have been 30kg overweight with my check-in luggage and pay more money than the cost of my ticket! I wasn't about to throw away my skateboard and guitar to get the weight down. I eventually got them down to just 10kg and paid that instead. I had to find a Internet Cafe and find my old e-ticket that proved I flew in from the US 6 months ago and that I would be returning to the US, which allows for more weight. What a pain in the butt.

Arriving in Beijing I got to see the new airport terminal they had built for the Olympic games. It was a massive glass and steel structure, very clean, well-designed and modern. Its nicer than the old terminal by far, but it takes a while to get around because its so big.

Also, once I got through customs I was not greeted by dozens of "heiche" drivers like before. Heiche means "black car" or illegal taxi. There used to be many of these drivers who would harass you as you get into the main lobby of the terminal. They supposedly charge less than a regular taxi, but if you are not sure what you are doing or where you are going, they could really rip you off. I used them before because I didn't know any better and learned the hard way.

But this time, they were all gone, and I went to a taxi stand where the taxis actually lined up. I just had a bit of bad luck in getting a taxi with a very grumpy driver who seemed like he just wanted to get his money and go home. I had him call my friend to tell him where to drop me off, and he dropped me off somewhere in that vicinity on the street, but I didn't know where. It was an embarrassing scene. Here is this foreign guy with all this luggage just standing on the sidewalk next to a busy street full of people. There wasn't another foreigner to be seen and I felt like all eyes were on me. I could feel the curious gazes.

Since I didn't have a phone I got some people on the street to call my friends and tell them where I was. Finally they came by car and picked me up. That taxi driver was really bad, he dropped me off about a block from where I was supposed to be.

My friends treated me to a giant Huoguo, literally "Hotpot" dinner that night. They take a pot that has a steel separator in the middle. They boil water on one side and spicy stuff on the other. You order all the noodles, meat and vegetables that you like and put them in the hotpot. If you like spicy, you put them on the spicy side of the pot. Once we got into the restaurant I could really smell the powerful aromas.

I ate a day's worth of food. I even ate a kind of tofu-like duck blood which looks like little red cakes. Actually it takes fine and is supposed to be good for you. I ate more than I wanted to, but when you are being treated its just polite to eat as much as you can of what's ordered.

My friend's also lent me a room to stay in. It was cozy and I can use the Internet, so I have was I needed. I can even see the Olympic stadium, also known as the "Bird's Nest" from one of the windows. Its good to have friends in China.

The first thing I did the next day was go to the US embassy. I had only half a page left in my passport and needed to get more added. The US embassy does this for free if your passport is still valid for a few more years and you have less than a few pages left. The embassy compound is near Liangmaqiao on the east side of Beijing alongside many other embassies. There was a huge crowd of Chinese outside the building waiting for whatever reason. I was able to get straight in with my printed appointment letter and passport. They took care of me right away and was done within 30 minutes. I met some fellow Americans there, the first I had met in a long time.

I still have a lot of work to do. Extend my Chinese visa, find a apartment, find a job, etc, etc. Beijing is still cold in March, fortunately I brought a jacket with me.


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