Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Bustling Beijing! Day 1

Touch down! Oh, wait. That's a plane. Disembarkation day! That's better.

We were scheduled to disembark Diamond Princess at 7am. We spent much of our last day at sea discussing, researching and planning how to get off the boat (well, duh, walk) and get to Beijing. You see, the port was actually in Binhai, 50km from Tianjin. Tianjin is 120km or 3 hours away from Beijing.

It is China's fourth largest city, and we had originally planned (thanks to Google) to catch a taxi from Port to Tanguu railway station. Then catch a train from Tanguu to Tianjin main station and a bullet train to Beijing South Station (30 minute ride) and then a taxi to our hotel. Easy, right? I read that eventually, the train will be extended to Binhai, but that will be too late for us.

After our near-miss in Taiwan, juggling their train system, and being told their may be no taxis at the Port when the ship got in, and then not being able to figure out the bullet train timetable, and worried about lugging all our bags with us, we basically chickened out and forked out big $$ to Princess where their bus would take us to Beijing (and as it turned out, it took us right to our hotel door). Gutless? Probably, but we were still sick and sometimes you just need to take the path of least resistance, even if it costs you.

Tianjin Port at 7:30am - yes, there were taxis, in case you wondered

All charged up and ready for the trip

Sick and tired and not impressed with having my photo taken.

It was a cruisy trip along China's massive freeways. It seems the entire country is under construction of some kind. Trees being planted everywhere, freeways being built and everywhere, even in the countryside, high-rises rising up everywhere.

I did find the billboards quite amusing and managed to snap a couple for you:

I lurrvve this toilet soooo much - it surpasses squatty potties!

Don't put elephants on the roof racks

And at least we got to see the bullet train, even if we weren't on it.

Finally, after a pit stop (literally - squatty potties as far as the eye could see) we headed into Beijing. It's a big, sprawling city - it felt as geographically big as Sydney, but less green and more high rises (all high rises). We did a bit of a scenic tour, as we dropped cruise passengers at their various (brand-name) hotels. We spotted Beijing Train Station.

Look at All. The. People!!!!!! Holy crap.

I work in our local Visitor Information Centre. We have a pleasant view of the Harbour. I don't think I'll be rushing to apply for any upcoming positions at the Beijing office...

I knew we were getting close when I spotted the sign to Tiananmen Square! Woot! We were in Beijing!!!

Now as we dropped people off at the Beijing Hilton, the Beijing Novotel and the Beijing Park Plaza, I quietly fretted that our little boutique hotel, Hotel Kapok:

a) didn't, in actual fact, exist or
b) was a cockroach-infested dive and/or
c) didn't have a reservation for us, because I refused to give them my credit card details by email

This fretting feeling was not put in abeyance when the bus dropped us around the corner at Jade Garden Hotel and everyone was staring at this family who nearly miss boats getting out in front of a very small little courtyard hotel (not anything like the big chain ones) and giving us sympathetic looks.

Well, it turns out that Hotel Kapok was indeed real and really was just around the corner. It turns out that despite the strange exterior, it was a lovely, boutique hotel where the staff could actually speak English. It also turns out that our booking was safe and sound and secured on arrival by our credit card. Breathe a huge sigh of relief!! Also turns out our "Fashion Suite" was great - roomy, clean and roomy (after 24 days at sea in an interior cabin, roomy is a sight for sore eyes).

The entrance to our hotel

King sized bed - the mattress was very firm, but I slept surprisingly well

I was a tad excited by the free WiFi. At last! Not so excited by the fact that the Chinese ban Facebook. And Video Boy was devastated that the same fate befell YouTube. Communism, huh?

The kids were to sleep on the sofa, but if that wasn't big enough, they offered free rollaways.

The to-die-for bathroom, with the BEST BATH EVER.

Kids beds made up

By now it was lunchtime. It had been quite a few hours since breakfast, so we walked down our street in search of. I recall the smell of Beijing as we got off the bus with our bags. It smelt fantastic! Exquisite food smells permeate the air - much more so than any other city we visited.

But the interesting menu choices persist!

You can't accuse them of wasting anything in China

Video Boy ordered "Listen to the sprite" just to see what turned up. Yep - Sprite.

We mistakenly ordered "two" steamed pork buns. Two plates of six. Duh.

 And mistakenly ordered a massive bowl (a whole chicken chopped up) of spicy chicken:

Luckily we were full on pork buns...

Bellies full, it was time to go for a little walk. We were one block away from the famous Forbidden City! It was HUGE! And of course, the Eastern entrance closest to us was closed for renovations. So, we walked to the southern entrance.

Our hotel is the pink market - handy, yes?


Little did we know that from 1 April 2013, the Forbidden City would be closed on Monday afternoons from 12:00 (guess what day it was, go on, guess). So, for the time being, we will have to be content with viewing it from the outside.

The southern (closed) entrance.

Onward! Time to head to the iconic Tiananmen Square. It is the fourth largest city square in the world (huh, the largest is Xinghai Square in Dalian - which we didn't go to!) and of course, the location of the massacre of hundreds, probably thousands, of Chinese civilians after the declaration of martial law in 1989.

Northern Tiananmen Gate between the Square and the Forbidden City.
OK - now we really are in China!

Chang'an Avenue between the Forbidden City and the Square was a veritable freeway! It was chained off, so you couldn't attempt to get across. Somewhere here "tank man" stood his ground.

We found the subway underneath the road that popped you up on the other side. Our bags were scanned by x-ray security (of which I declined to take a photo, just in case). But the people are still highly patriotic!

As we walked through the square, we explained (to the best of our limited knowledge) what had happened in 1989, but quietly as the Chinese government has prohibited all forms of discussion or remembrance of the events. And there were a lot of police and army around.

Walking past the National Museum of China

Monument to the People's Heroes

View north back to the Gate

Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. Guess what? Closed in the afternoons...

One of the two sculptures at the entrance to the Mausoleum

Which is protected by honour guards.

Great Hall of the People - China's parliament and where just a week later,
we watched Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard on those steps, from the comfort of our sofa.

The whole place was spotless. That would be because the minute a piece of rubbish hits the ground, these guys sweep in.

As usual, the tour groups abound. We were learning to stay out of their way!

So, my biggest tip for travelling in Beijing is don't attempt the Forbidden City/Tiananmen Square on a Monday afternoon.

It was a pleasant afternoon and we had some time to kill, so we decided to head into Zhongshan Park (I think it cost 1.5 yuan - about 25 Aussie cents). It had a bunch of temples and gardens, so it was nice to walk around:

You could tell spring was in the air

The Alter of Land and Grain

All goldfish roads lead to...

...um, goldfish fishing? You could rent poles. I don't know what you
actually did with them if you caught them.  Judging from previous menus, they ate them!

Goldfish pavilion
With Goldfish!

Why don't kids walk on the footpaths?

The kids were getting tired (guess it must be all that balancing on footpath edges). So we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. Back past the forbidding Forbidden City.

The love their dogs in Beijing! Maxie would have fitted right in :-)

Our "go to" guy in the Hotel was Leo. He helped us organise a driver for the next day to take us anywhere we wanted to go. He gave us advice about which sites would best suit our family in our limited time-frame. He also would love a job in Australia if anyone has anything going. Just sayin'.

Can't believe this is the only photo I have of Leo. He was da Man!

We wandered down our street to another restaurant. Another meal, another menu:

What the?
 Or perhaps this?

I just googled "enema" (the Beijing kind) and the descriptions have left me none the wiser. However, after reading this blog, I'm glad we didn't order it. I'm thinking next time I travel to Asia though, I'm going to start my own food/menu blog. What we did order was the dumplings, calamaria balls and Kung Pao Chicken (mine was almost as good!). Video Boy declared "we are going to have to try hard to beat this dinner!!!" High praise, indeed.

And with that, we retired for an evening of trying to decipher Chinese TV and a BIG BATH in the best bath ever!!! And early to bed, because the next day, we planned an early start to a big day exploring....


  1. A self enema. Yup.

    What a great hotel. Lurve that bath!

    Thanks for sharing your holiday with us.

    1. I saw a lot of weird things on menus, but that was about the strangest. Nope - not going there!

  2. I am too scared to look at what Fried Enema is.

    So when you said "squatty potties as far as the eye could see" does mean that there are no stalls? Like you just, um, squat down and do your thing in front of EVERYBODY?

    Dude. I can't even.

    1. It looked like fried pork rinds. But I didn't want to test it out for myself.

      Rest easy Deb - just stall upon stall of squatties! No western options. Squat or forever hold your... I missed a bit though and apart from having a wet shoe, I'm sure I shared with the stall next door ;-) TMI?

    2. Could have been deep friend pig's intestines?

  3. Do they even know what an enema is? LOL!!!


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