I got an early start on day two, and headed to Ho Hai to walk around the lake and check out the Hutongs (long winding streets that are what all of Beijing used to look like). Turns out it’s mostly an evening spot with restaurants and bars lining the lake and the hutongs shuttered up till later in the day. It was still a stunning mile or so walk around the lake, with people practicing Tai Chi and chinese puppies running around yapping at ducks. I decided if I was really gonna get my shopping on, I had to go to Silk Street.
Silk Street is an exact replica (though much much smaller) of the malls across the border from Hong Kong in Shinzen. So I had practice on my side. You really have to bargain like your life depends on it. I bought a bag for Greg that started out at 3800 Kwai ($608) and ended after 30 minutes of haggling and walking away twice for 500 Kwai ($80). I also bought myself some sunglasses for about 6 bucks each a wallet for $15 bucks, and a custom suit for $140 (I could have gotten it for $100 but the sales girl confused me with her math!! :P).
Later that night I met up with Max and his buddy Zach and we decided to go clubbing. After hitting 2 places that were not our cup of tea, we found a Steam-punked out club with killer bartenders and awesome music. We played Jenga with the bartenders and the locals and I learned a dice/drinking game. The pictures from that night are LEGIT, but unfortunately they’re all on my iPhone, which I left at the club. Even a return 30 minutes later and some very helpful staff yielded no results. I crawled into bed around 5am.
Day Three - started with brunch at 10am downstairs at my hotel. I really scored with The Swisshotel Beijing. Nice rooms, and a great location right over a subway station. Then it was time to get lost. Not really that hard to do here, considering that nothing is in English and the city is monstrous. Found my way to Lucky Street, wherever that is, and decided to stop for a 2 hour massage for $80, a bit overpriced, but after loosing my iPhone I needed it. I kicked it around Sanlitun Village (upscale shopping neighborhood) grabbed some coffee and worked on my book. Now I’m back at the hotel, blogging away before I head back to silk street to try on my suit and have it altered, before meeting Max and friends near Peking University for some casual drinking tonight. Tomorrow is Max’s day off and we’re hitting The Great Wall!!!!
Some reflections on China - It’s really busy here. But not as busy as I was imagining. The whole place is so spread out, I have a feeling I’m having the same reaction that people have when they visit LA for the first time. It’s also pretty damn cold. However, the creepiest thing by far is the pollution. There are no shadows her because there is no direct sunlight. It’s 4pm and it’s been dark for hours, not quite night, but more like the whole city is on a very low dimmer switch. Visibility is 2 blocks at most, so working out where you are can be difficult. (the pics from my hotel room make it look like it’s brighter than it is because of my killer camera :P).
The best thing so far is the street food. I just love the stuff, so much variety and all so cheap! I don’t know why anyone would ever eat in a nice restaurant. I have no idea what I’m eating of course, I just point at what other people are having and they laugh and hand it over.
I love all the incongruities. Light switches go down instead of up to turn on. Public toilets are everywhere, but they are the squat kind. You pay for everything including drinks BEFORE they start to make it. There is no tipping at all (awesome). All doors say push, or pull, but they really all do both. I’ll keep em coming… in future posts.
The city is building like they will never run out of money (they might not - they have all ours). This truly is the most architectural city I’ve ever seen. Every building is trying to be more creative than the one next door. Well, every new building that is. The old buildings sit in between, crumbling away, remnants of 80s concrete utilitarianism. Yet, construction continues around the clock. When I come back in 20 years, I’m sure the city will be unrecognizable. Then there’s the Communist Buildings. Like the Workers Stadium, or the CCTV building. Monuments to unlimited government resources and the pride of a people. I’m sure when I see the Olympic Village I’ll be floored.
The social differences are very obvious as well. The place is DIRTY bordering on disgusting at points. People shit in the street, pee everywhere and spit like it was going out of style (I’m sure the pollution has something to do with that). Smoking is ubiquitous. Of course I only notice these things because I’m a judgmental American, if I grew up here, it would all be common place.
Well if you’ve made it to the end of this you’re either my dad, or a close friend. So keep reading for more fun from The Middle Kingdom. Love and miss everyone!!!
PHOTOS HERE!! - https://picasaweb.google.com/111673508261637052651/20111115