Day 16 - Beijing Arrival

Sunday, September 9th, 2007

Beijing. A city of smog. Sorry, a BIG city of smog. I sit in our hotel which is, frankly, a bit of a let down, even by the standards of the ferry (which, itself, was not even anywhere in the league of the hotels in Japan…). I look out of our window onto the air conditioning units of the somewhat dilapidated building behind the hotel. The street in front of the hotel could easily be mistaken for any number of streets in any developing country…But we are in the middle of a one of the biggest cities on earth with the Forbidden City not more than 100 m away.

And relax.

Ok, maybe a bit of an exaggeration. There is flat screen television on the wall. The bathroom…no, stay positive, don't go there…The room is, eh, clean? The front foyer is quite nice looking and the staff are very friendly. There, that is better.

Where was I? Oh, yes, well, an eventful day after the calm of the voyage. I was surprised when we got up and were eating breakfast – There was no land in sight. Haze appeared to have descended but no land from whence the fog came was visible. I won't talk about breakfast. Nor lunch. Not much had changed: No land, though hazy. The ocean was, however, getting busier with all sorts of fishing boats out in the morning (and late last night) and tankers and other big boats out this morning. They are all headed in roughly the same direction we were headed which is promising.

Reading on Board

Obviously, our time on the boat was getting short. I exchanged pictures and e-mails with our new friends and started packing up my luggage. Problem with a trip like this with all sorts of travel is that you are forever packing – Squeezing more things into a seemingly smaller package every time.

Eventually we arrived at the mouth of the Hai River in the Bohai Gulf (which itself is in the Yellow Sea). The whole area is, of course, blanketed in the smog though perhaps I will try to mention it less since it is really everywhere. There are a number of boats anchored out in the ocean as you approach the river with the massive artificial harbour stretching for seemingly miles out into the ocean. A number of large container boats passed by us as we made our way up the river.

Container Ship (SW)

To the south of the river as we entered from the ocean there are large boats filling up (or emptying their holds) with what looks like coal and oil while on the north side there are massive container dockyards. Both sides have huge cranes loading and unloading cargo. Everything is on a large scale particularly in comparison with our small boat making it's way to the passenger terminal. Terribly industrial. Much more than I guess I was expecting though the passenger business is quite small with only a few ferries visiting a week, I am sure.

Container Port (SW)

After about half an hour I could make out the passenger terminal on the north side of the river nestled amongst the cranes and industrial landscape – A small low yellow rectangular building with big red (Chinese) writing on it – Quite out of place with the rest of the scenery. On the top in small letters is the English “Tianjin Passenger Terminal”. Everyone seemed to be very happy to arrive with a fairly large crowd of people at a fence near the terminal waving and shouting excitedly to friends and relatives on board the ship. On the boat we were all crowded along the railing to see the ship as it finally docked then returned to our rooms to take up our luggage and join the rapidly forming queue at the door on the main floor (sorry, “B” deck). It was 14:30, only 30 minutes late. I guess since they do this every week they have a good idea of how long the trip will take and, to be honest, we had very good sailing weather.

Arriving at Tianjin

Mother and I knew that there would be some delay so were not really in all that much of a hurry. I think we both appreciated the break that the journey offered for what is quite a long, draining trip.

A few Chinese customs officials made their way on board but not to see the passengers but the luggage in the hold. We were shuffled off the ship into a bus for the short trip to the terminal (why they did not let us walk is a bit of a quandary but ours is not to reason why…). A brief visit with some customs officials and we were now, officially, in the People's Republic of China. This is the first time either of us have ever been in a communist country. True, we visited Hong Kong a few years ago after it had been handed over to China but that is not really considered mainland China. This is the real thing.

A large crowd were around the exit forcing us to push our way through. It was only by chance I saw a young man holding up a sign with our names on it. His name is “Jacky” and he is our guide for our stay in Beijing. A bit of a reminder about what we are doing: In China we have picked an organisation to arrange our travel (trains), accommodations, some meals (breakfasts mostly) and also some short tours in each of our stops. This company worked to our requirements including duration and places to see. In each place we have our own, local guide. On arriving in Tianjin I had realised that we were quite some distance from Beijing and local transport is not all that fantastic so I opted for the tour organiser to have our guide meet us at the ferry terminal and escort us to our hotel in Beijing. I knew that after our cruise we would be tired and not really all that interested in running around trying to find a train or bus into the city. This, it turns out, was an excellent choice. Our guide and the driver took us to the car where we loaded the luggage in the boot (trunk) and took a seat in the back. A very nice car with leather and good air conditioning (a must with the heat, humidity and pollution – damn, was trying not to mention that again…!).

New Apartments Outside of Beijing (SW)

The trip into the city was more than two hours and took in some of the less delightful areas of the city though we did travel along a fantastic new highway that quickly brought us into the city. Along the way Jacky gave us information about the city and what we would be doing over the next few days. He also mentioned a number of “optional extras” to us to fill out our visit. But, to be honest, mother and I like a little bit of freedom and don't want to be guided around a lot which is why we went with this tour group: They would give us a bit of a tour and we would have time to ourselves to explore as we wished. I am sure that Jacky gets tourists that are overwhelmed when they arrive so take him up on many of the extras but we are not one of those. I am also sure that Jacky gets a fair amount of money from these tours but to hear him talking he does not sound like he is all that less off (house in Beijing, family, car – which he wants to sell – so he says, etc).

Along the new road we could not see much of anything lined as it was with a number of trees. These served to hide the surrounding area but, to be honest, was just farm land and/or industrial plants. The driver seems to have a bit of a death wish – along with everyone else on the road – as he treats lanes and passing quite fluidly. A number of times I thought we were going to crash into someone as they cut us off or we cut them off. He also traveled in the middle of several lanes swerving in and out of traffic as he wished but never pulling his foot up off of the accelerator. On the highway this was exciting but in the city it was downright scary at times. Pedestrians appear to operate in the same manner as they cross the road whenever and wherever they want. We didn't see any accidents but saw lots of this going on so I can only assume that this method of travel works…Either that or the slow/stupid have been killed off already…

Driving in Beijing (SW)

It was a long way but we eventually turned off a main street onto a smaller one. All of a sudden it is as if we had stepped into a completely different city with people wandering all over the road and small shops and stalls on either side of us threatening to take over the entire street. We slowed to a crawl and the driver picked his way around the corner until we came to our hotel. The area immediately in front of the hotel is the only part of the street that is free from the wanderers and stalls with parking of several quite nice cars. We are also opposite what looks like a government building with an impressive wall and front gates. Never saw anyone in it…

Before leaving Jacky gave us a few admonishments: (1) Do NOT go out after about 9:30 in the evening (which elicited a slight giggle from myself) and (2) That we absolutely, positively, must meet him in the front foyer bright and early the next day for our tour of Beijing. Okay…

The Beijing Shatin Hotel is what the travel guides describe as a “Chinese Business Hotel”. It has an ideal location as it is geographically right in the middle of the city only a short distance from the forbidden city though getting to the offices might take a bit longer as this is really a tourist area…The hotel has a lounge to the left of the door, a large Chinese mural immediately in front with the reception to the right along with a small Internet café. A small lift (elevator) that fits, I swear, only two Chinese people but in which we managed to squeeze the two of us, our luggage and the porter – After only a brief introduction we seem to already be quite intimate after this lift trip. I apologised after he showed us our room as I did not have any change I could give him (I was not going to tip him the equivalent £10!) but indicated with waving hands I would take care of that later – Hum, I can't remember if I have done that yet…

After a brief crash in the room we gave up on going out onto the street to attempt to find some food so ate in the small eating area in the basement. It is what you would think of in a Chinese restaurant – Several large tables lined up neatly in two rows along the length of the room with a rock water feature with water running down it on the side. Red predominates.

The menu was in English (damn) but quite good nonetheless. I tried a hot pot of beef tripe which was really quite tasty (very hot, both in temperature and spice, but good) along with some green beans and beef. Mother had a soup. It was all quite good and much better than what we had been getting on the boat. A bit expensive, I am sure. But, what do I care, mother is paying! Hurrah! Hang on, I paid for the hotel, tour, and everything else! Who is getting the better deal? Let me see…

After dinner we headed out to get an understanding of our local area. Walking down the road outside of our hotel reminded me of walking down similar streets when I lived in Africa: Small local restaurants with grubby interiors and mis-matched tables and hand-written menus on the wall on either side along with stalls selling fresh fruit, vegetables along with the occasional butcher. There are also those with the wheelbarrows on the street selling whatever it is they have to offer. The sounds and people are all around you and, I suppose, would be overwhelming to someone not having the experience I have had. The meat on skewers being cooked look quite tasty, I have to admit. Around the corner we came to a main street and walked along it to have a look at the northern wall of the Forbidden City. I was a bit nervous walking along having been warned about personal security in China. It was night, the area did not have a lot of people nor traffic and was not that well lit – Not the best. I probably had nothing to worry about.

Turning a corner we made our way back to the hotel but passed by a number of stalls near the Forbidden City selling souvenirs but also, as was screamed at us by several proprietors, “WATER”, “WATER”, “COLD WATER”. Yes, we wanted some water but gave these a miss – Likely they would want to charge us tourist prices. Walking into a small corner store (literally) we took some off of a shelf and got a reasonable price from the owner. Of course, much like Africa, a lot of these prices are negotiable.

In a way I am a bit disappointed. I was expecting a much more developed city or at least the area that our hotel was located: Right in the middle. One would expect that the centre would be much more built up and easy to get around. What I have seen so far (which, admittedly, is not much) does not seem to suggest this is the case. I am looking forward to our tour tomorrow though it does mean getting up early…It is nice as we have been given breakfast coupons so we don't have to go searching for something to eat tomorrow morning but have the “buffet breakfast” I am sure, in the basement restaurant. If it is as good as dinner I don't think we will have anything to worry about.

My mobile phone is working so mother has called home to see how everything is going. She also used the Internet earlier. We are back in touch again…Good/bad? Discuss.

Day 17 - Beijing Day 1

Additional Information

For further information, please see:

  • China Train Ticket - Tour agency we used for our China tour (also has timetables and facilities for purchasing Chinese rail tickets)