Out, Out, I’m out
Bye, bye non-existent traffic rules, people spitting on the street, eating indefinable food, and also bye-bye Beijing smog.
It’s incredible. After just one week in Beijing I have the worst stuff in my sinuses to take home. Don’t get me wrong – I ate a lot of food, which I probably shouldn’t have eaten, but in Beijing I had my first bleeding nose in my life! I woke up every morning having a sore throat and a blocked nose with cstuff coming out like looking from another planet (they were green on Mars, right?).
But before I tell you more about all those things in Beijing that make me never wanna go back to China again, I can tell you, that I also had a great time with my Couchsurf hosts and their other guests from Belgium and Hong Kong! We had soooo much fun. Here are a couple of my Beijing Highlights listed:
Couchsurfing with Jean-Marie and Seen
Jean-Marie (27yo German) and Seen (29yo Malaysian entrepreneur) gave me shelter for the whole week while I was in Beijing! They warmly welcomed me in their little apartment, where I had access to my own little bath room and Chinese internet (which of course was censored). Staying with these two great meet-ups with friends and other couchsurfers were guaranteed. I had an amazing time there.
Well, it’s not time for a voicycle yet, so Jean-Marie was so generous to lend me his bicycle while I was staying with them. This beautiful piece of Chinese craftsmanship was far from the 1970s and it used to be a status symbol at that time. Well, time, rain, sand, pollution, wear and tear left their marks on this. I rode it for about 10m until I noticed that all parts need some fixing: The breaks brought the bike to a stop after about 30m (walking speed) and the chain threatened to jump off every second. So while making my way down south to the great train station I stopped by at a motor cycle repair shop, smiled friendly and pointed at the tools. I was at least able to fix the breaks myself and to reduce the stopping distance to maybe 5m. After another few minutes on a bike to get the chain fixed as well. So I stopped by at a bicycle shop, where they offered me a complete new chain. Initially I only wanted them to take out a piece or two from the chain to tighten it and to keep it from jumping off. But when they told me that the replacement would only cost 28 Yuan – which is about an iced coffee at one of the more expensive places in Beijing – I decided to get a complete new chain! Man, did that thing go off, when he was done! The next days the Chinese bike was a brilliant companion on my discoveries. Oh, and one thing you definitely need when riding a bike in China: a bell (the louder, the better!)
The Couchsurf Community
Staying with Couchsurfers I was immediately integrated into the CS-family present in Beijing. I was invited to join numerous activities such as restaurant visits, a badminton session in the local sports center, a karaoke evening (with great food!), a movie night at the uni showing a movie about the history of Rock music in China (I fell asleep… to much ice cream and sugar beforehand HAHA) and for my farewell visiting a bar where a jam session was hold! Yessa 🙂 . All that is to say is that the CSers in Beijing are all great people that would make anyone’s stay in Beijing super special! And that is not just because of the hosts. At my place we had two Belgiens join us for a couple of days. They were the best fun! Gregorié et Fabine shared spent a day up on the great wall with me – including a sprint up the stairs to one of the watchtowers (heart-attack predictable after half the way). Even when our “tour-guide” (who we paid!) brought us to some interesting places of commercial interest (selling tea, silk and ming vases) we still had the greatest fun playing jokes on all that all the time! While visiting the porcelain manufactory we were shown how they craft Ming vases by the use of copper, color and heat. Right before the end of the explanation for the work the presenter the guide for the manufactory said: “There is only one last step to get the gold onto the copper, but we can’t tell you since this is a business secret”. I then said: “Is that the process with the electrolyts?” and quite surprised he confirmed. HAHA! What a business secret.
In Beijing there are a couple of options to move. Car, Bus, Undergroundtrain, Bycicle, foot. Beside cycling, catching a train is the most favourable option since usually you can’t move with your car in the heavy traffic, you have money stolen on the bus (happened to one of the Couchsurfers) and walking is sometimes too far. Taking the train one way also only costs 2 Yuan (about $0.30). Before entering the train you always have to pass a security check including x-rays applied to your carry-on bags! Always… there’s no way around it. Then you go through the gates down to the platform using a pre-paid card or buying a ticket at the counter. The trains run every few minutes. That doesn’t prevent everyone from pushing though. Being used to an Australian and German culture it took me a while to get used to not letting people leave the train first before boarding. Well… I kinda still waited till everyone left. Chinese manners are horrible (did I mention spitting on the street, yet?). If the car of your choice is full you still squeeze in. There is always a bit of space, even if there obviously isn’t any. In the train are videos shown about how to behave on trains and at stations – probably installations for the Olympic Games 2008. So that is public transport as far as I experienced it.
If you want to know what is in your food, if you are allergic to anything (be it gluten, soy, meat, flavor enhancer) or if you are vegetarian you have two options: cook or stay home. I love discovering the taste of foreign cultures. So in the first few days I was inhaling foreign ice-creams, Chinese pancakes, local Beijing Duck and little skewers with meat(?)-balls whose content was indefinable.
One thing that I totally remember (which was delicious!) was a kind of noodle-dough spread on a hot iron plate, then layered and covered with tomato(?)-sauce. It tasted like a fried lasagna. Just incredible! I should open up a franchise for those. Name suggestions anyone?