Sunday, 13 April 2014

... Crouch With Tigers, Hide With Dragons: Mr. Blue Sky

Hey you with the pretty face
Welcome to the human race
A celebration
Mister Blue Sky's up there waitin' and today
Is the day we've waited for, ah

The most "action" in an otherwise uneventful flight from Vancouver to Beijing was when I assisted the stewardess in picking up some food that happened to fall by my foot. I was stood at the back of the plane fighting numb bum-itis and so I was grateful of the requirement to move my body, even if it was for someone else's left over meal that could potentially have caused an industrial accident. Green beans can be slippery suckers!

I never thought I'd say it but Air Canada have actually gone up in my estimation. Both of my meals were top quality vegan, right down to the cookie, even if I did end up feeling a tad overloaded by 3 servings of quinoa. The food served was tasty & healthy. Since when did airlines start serving sweet potato and artichokes that actually resemble sweet potato and artichokes? Two thumbs up! Service has certainly improved since I last flew with them too although admittedly, after popping a Gravol pill with my first meal, I slept for much of the flight.  Still, I don't recall being bugged either so win-win on all counts. Being on a 767-300 meant I only had to Ninja leap over one neighbour. My walnut-sized bladder was content.

When I was awake I entertained myself, as always, with the flight map, music and the vast blue yonder from my window. 36,000 ft below were frozen waters and snow covered mountains. The beaming sun added to the ambience along with some ELO in my iTunes. I heart my window seat! However, upon descent into Beijing you couldn't actually see much. In fact we had almost touched down (ahead of schedule too!) before the first sights of Beijing came into view. Where had the blue sky gone? Fog or smog? I still haven't yet figured that out.

The airport is huge and busy but customs was relatively quick and definitely pain free. You fill in an arrivals form on the plane, hand it over with your passport/Chinese visa, things get stamped and off you go (Note: Air Canada staff requested to see your Chinese visa when you were boarding in Vancouver).

I was soon riding a train from one part of terminal 3 to another so I could board the Airport Express train to downtown Beijing. It costs ¥25 and probably took me about 35 minutes to get to Dongzhimen station. Probably. I can't say for sure because by then my brain wasn't really functioning properly, just merely going through the motions. At Dongzhimen I paid a mere ¥2 to ride the metro subway on Line 2 to Chongwenmen station and then barged my way/was semi pushed onto the train. Thank heavens it's a Sunday and not rush hour!  ¥2 will get you a ticket to ride, minus the presence of a Beatle, to anywhere on that line. This is as long as you don't go through a turnstile, which is where you usually surrender the ticket to exit or at least what I found with a single ticket. Getting from the airport to downtown was fast and efficient.

The real issue was when I left the station. I really should learn to look behind me, it would've saved me a lot of hassle. I began walking, not really sure of where I was going but with the knowledge that the hotel was a "3 minutes walk" from the exit. It was hot, humid and I was dressed in all black, carrying two packs. After 5 minutes of walking I sensed something was not quite right. Even more so after 15. The location service on my phone wasn't working and instead of a map of Beijing I was staring at the location of a Greek restaurant in North Vancouver. Not good. Thankfully I spotted a shopping mall that had a McDonald's.... They've got to have free wifi there, right?

Yep they do! But the instructions on how to sign up for it were in Chinese and I couldn't see anything to translate it. I apologetically disturbed a young lady from eating her petroleum product and showed her the hotel address.  She had never heard of it. Neither had her phone's search engine. Fantastic! May be it was in the other side of the street? I needed to investigate.

Crossing the road in Beijing is fun! *cough* It might take you 2 or 3 attempts to cross one of the wider roads. And that is perfectly ok with me. I have no desire to end up utilizing the Chinese medical system. Instead you watch the lives of others flash before your eyes as they insanely believe they have the right of way as a pedestrian stood at a green light. Yeah no. The driving is crazy. I've already seen one MVI - a merc decided to cut off a bus. The bus won. I finally found a coffee shop not only with wifi but a very kind man who pointed me in the right direction. He also wrote the name of the hotel down for me in Chinese, should I have to ask anyone else along the way. I walked back towards the subway station and right behind it, as bold as brass with the name in large lettering on the top, was my hotel.  Arrrrrrrrrrrgh!

After getting somewhat settled and rehydrated, it was time to do a spot of exploring. I found... Starbucks. I might not be able to find my lodgings but I never fail to find a Starbucks. It is 2 minutes walk away. I tried to ask them about their milk options. That didn't work out very well so I lived dangerously drinking who knows what in my green tea latte. In the other direction there's the small Dongdan park where people meet to socialize, play games and dance! It was like Ho Chi Minh City all over! Soon there I was, not knowing any of the moves, dancing like a demented chicken to a techno version of some Classical Chinese music. This is what extreme exhaustion does to you! It was great fun and I'll pretend the looks I got from my fellow dancers were of respect not sheer horror.

I managed to not only make it through dinner (vegetarian dumplings) but grab some food items from a nearby supermarket. Two oranges cost me the same price as my Airport Express ticket mind you. The check out was the slowest thing I've ever witnessed. I'm pretty sure I queued for over 20 minutes. I think it then took her another 5 minutes to scan 5 items. Perhaps I should've bought under ripe bananas with the time it took. I'm shocked I didn't fall asleep in the line and I was standing there laughing somewhat deliriously at the thought. I'm definitely ready for my bed.

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