Tag Archives: Beijing

Saying Goodbye to China – Confused Communism & Controlled Capitalism.

2 Nov

Say goodbye to China. I wonder when I coming back? If, I’m coming back? Isn’t it strange to think like that. Thinking that you many never, ever return to a place. In other words, death will knock on my door before China will?

What would bring me back to China? Work? Vaction? I really just don’t know.

Do I see myself in China? Hmmm… Do I see myself in Russia? I believe Russia needs me more than China. They’ve got things cranking in China.

Russia, she just sighs. Has so much potential. I have a “fixer” soul. When I see a problem, obstacle or issue – I look for a solution. For me, China’s simple. She’s in need of an image makeover. Re-branding to describe this blending of free market and one-party government. Russia is lost. She needs to find herself.

After spending some time in China, I found day to day, communism is a non-issue. Like the rest of the world, the Chinese are more worried about holding on to their jobs, paying bills, feeding their kids, saving money for school… They are more concerned about making a better future for their children than what the Chinese government says about the currency, human rights, Tibet or climate change. For the most part, they’re a politically apathetic bunch of folks… Sounds familiar.

Unlike Sweden, UK, US or Canada….there’s scant evidence of any social safety net in China. This SHOCKED me for I assumed communist governments took care of their people to the point of putting a spoon to their mouths.

What about Social security programs? Medicaid or medicare? Welfare? Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac? Chinese are on their own. Because of this, they save and save and save and save.. To buy an apartment. To buy farm land.  To pay for having a baby at the hospital. To pay for their one kid’s high school education.  To pay to drive on a road…They pay out the nose, considering their average salaries per year hoovers around $4,000 US dollars –– depending on who you ask and who you include…

At a macro -level,  one-party rule is here to stay. There’s no tea party. No coffee party. No dumpling party. No nothing. People can’t kick out the inept. Can’t trash talk their leaders. Can’t call for change. Really, they can’t call anyone.

What you see – is what you get. Quite frankly, it’s in their culture NOT to question parents, elders or superiors.  They obey.  Did you see the opening ceremonies for the Olympics???

As a Westerner, I can NOT imagine keeping my mouth shut if I received a notice from the government instructing me to move from my home I was born and raised in to make way for a skyscraper, five star hotel or new toll road.  They do.  They comply.  For, government officials know what’s best for the collective whole.

Commercial break. So, when China Southern Airlines does their 411 on “what do do when you crash,” you have to giggle. Of course, I look around

Picture taken of TV of N. Korea Parade

seeing if anyone else finds this humorous. The plane is 98.4% Chinese. No one is smiling.

They are reading the newspaper. Front page news details yesterday’s little dictator gathering in N. Korea’s where Kim Jong-il showcased his large and in-charge son and his country’s military might on international TV.

OK. China Southern Airlines instructs us to do the following before you crash and burn. Four main rules of thumb…

  1. Take off your high heels
  2. Take out your denatures
  3. Take off your head phones
  4. Put on your flotation device.

Then, and ONLY then, can you slide down the raft. That is, if you are still alive. Never knew wearing heels and denatures were an issue during an airplane crash. Now, they are playing over the loud speaker some Latin dancing number to slow Chinese music. The woman is doing the samba to Chinese music.

Back to blog: Confused Communism and controlled capitalism. That’s how I labeled China.

Came here with little expectations. And, leaving confused.

Someone I met said China, reminded her of Europe after WWII. People had hope. People saw a promising future.  Innovation. Ideas…She said, that is how China is to her now where possibilities are limitless…  Even, a two party government? Freedom to express your differences?  Five thousands years of written history says…“not so fast lady.”

Face of China

I look out the plane window and question what is China’s tipping point?

They’ve entered a time of government corruption, a widening income gap, a decomposed, non-existent social safety net and political disinterest in favor of profits. China’s been here before – just a different dynasty, different millennium, same issues…

And, I wonder if it possible to change the direction of 5,000+ years of a culture based on Confucianism, Buddhist & Taoism?

Where respect for elders and complete obedience of your superiors remains unquestionable.

Where people have differences in opinions, yet are required to live in harmony with each other.

Where seeking knowledge to become a better person means bringing wealth and honor to your family and, once again, serving your superiors.

Where trading for profits is seen as disrespectful and self-serving. Where attraction, not force, is used to obtain what one wants. And, where humanity is seen as kind and benevolent.

This philosophy fits perfectly in this government’s one-party rule. Doesn’t fit so nicely with free markets and modern political parties. China seems to be straddling both sides.

Napoleon Bonaparte once said of China, “Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she’ll shake the world.”

From what I’ve seen, this giant has stirred. Watch out world..

Next stop. Bhutan.

Buddhist country of only 700,000.

Just put in roads in the 1960s… Some towns just got electricity. Monarchy introduced democracy two years ago. Only allows a select # of tourists in per year…My type of place…

Happy Birthday at the Hilton. Beijing, China

2 Nov

Where am I? Back at the center of balance and harmony. Beijing Airport, Terminal 3. Blogging. Finally writing… Terminal 3 is my place.

Last night was a night for my travel history books. The Hilton Beijing Airport Hotel welcomed me for my birthday. After resting at the zero star hotels across Asia, I’ve realized I’m made for this type of living. We’re talking about shower heads over 6 feet tall. Water pressure strong enough to rinse hair conditioner. Springs, not plywood, for a mattress. Oversize pillows on a King Sized bed. White linens recently pressed. Clean robes falling to Tall Girl’s knees. Working hair dryer expelling heat not air. Soft toilet paper to last more than 2 days. Working lamps and working electrical sockets. Unused, recognizable brand named shampoos and soap. Hog heaven baby! Heart the Hilton.

Pure relaxation hit as soon as the Hilton’s automatic, magical doors ushered me into a lobby built for giants – Ghangis Khan would be proud. It was here, the brain shut off. Muscled crumbled. And, I exhaled. Ahhhh… Clean….Silence…Alone… I’m starting to like people again….

Getting to the Hilton Beijing Airport Hotel was not easy. When traveling via trains, planes, automobiles, boats, bikes and taxis, expect the hardest and longest path of resistance. Especially in those countries that have over 2,000 characters in their alphabet. To minimize arriving in pools of sweat, I enlisted the help of the front desk lady at the Beijing Hotel recommended by Gap Adventures. I told font desk lady where I needed to go. She never heard of Hilton. There are five or six Hilton’s in Beijing – never heard of it. This was going to be fun.

I showed her online where the Hilton Airport Hotel is located. Her only role in this was to translate directions to the taxi driver. She nodded. I assumed by her nod she relayed this information to the taxi driver.

We’re making good time to the airport. Not much traffic – for Beijing – on a Sunday. As we approach the airport exit, taxi man slows down. My internal “not a good sign” radar goes off. Here we go. Taxi man starts to mumble. Talking into his ear piece. I gathered he called a friend to figure out where the hotel is located. Lost in translation. I know where the hotel is. TERMINAL 3 – My home away from home. I could lead you to the land of order, balance and harmony in darkness…

He kept talking. I booted up my laptop. The last stop on the internet super-highway was Beijing Hilton and I hoped Firefox saved the page. It did. Thank GOOOOOD. I pulled up the map. Showed the driver. He nodded in enthusiastic relief. Yes, he had NO idea where this hotel is located. Don’t get it. Hotel lady and taxi man talked for a good 3 mins before I got into the car. What did they talk about? Climate change? North Korea’s national “I heart communism” military parade being broadcast in Chinese TV? Chinese dissident receiving noble peace prize? Overcooked dumplings?

Yes, its the Anglo that gets us to the Hilton. I would have walked at this point. We pull up. A Chinese young lady greeted me in perfect English. Another young man opened my door. White gloves on the car door, ensuring I don’t bump my head. Young lady with a tight bun wrapped in bows and rhinestones hands me a taxi card. Not knowing what to do, I handed it to taxi man. She laughed. “No. It’s for you. It has the taxi name and number on the card. If you accidentally leave something in his car, we can call him for you. He will bring it to you. I guarantee it…” she smiles. She’s wearing red. Favorite color. I’m confused by this level of service. Mind is entering into happy, calm, zone. Can feel the transition as I step from mini-taxi into the Hilton built for giants.

Commercial break. On plane. Chinese Southern Airline. Flight attendant just said. “We’re waiting for one passenger. Please be patient. And, refrain from smoking.” Shit. I hope this is a non-smoking flight. Get ready to gag. When is the last time you heard about smoking on an airplane? Oh my… Also, the nicely dressed Chinese man sitting next me opted not to shower today. Not sure if it BO or Chinese cooking grease. Flight is only 2 hours and 55 minutes. Just going from Northern China to middle China. Big ass country.

Back to Hilton.

Little lady asked me if I’m a World Hilton Member. Hell, I am now. I smiled – and said, “my step-brother works for Hilton, so…the answer is YES BABY!” Fiona – another young, smiling lady with a bun laced with bows and rhinestones- enthusiastically greets me…

“Ms. Day. We’ve been waiting for you. Happy Birthday! Today is your special day. We have a cake for you…”

If I would have known about this type of reception, I would have whipped out the red lipstick AND eyebrow pencil. Then it hit. That’s right. Guess who called Beijing Hilton Airport the day prior – my Southern Mama. She had a “lovely chat with this very friendly woman who said she will take care of me.” I can only imagine the conversation from a NC, Southern bell and the Chinese guest services manager. What Fiona heard was Mom was taking care of everything. Hey, that works for me! This is not what Mom had said. But, I’m going with Fiona.

Mark, my stepbrother, got me the family/friends rate for he works for Hilton in Orlando. ROCK STAR! I don’t even want to know how much this would cost otherwise. I’m so grateful to him and Susan – his cute wife – to help me reserve a room. I’m bringing back a surprise. Soap from the Hilton in Beijing…

Chinese bell man escorted me to my room. I walked in. Smiled. Body is entering the land of Zen… The air condition even has FREON. The other hotels claim air-condition, but they opt for the fan only. Life is getting better by the minute.

Bellman left. I just say and took it all in. The mini-fridge is not only cold, but quiet. One thing I can not get used to is their idea of refrigeration. I get why they don’t sell milk, yogurt or cheese… It is unnerving when you reach for a water or COKE Zero from a mini-market fridge and it’s warmer than hot. Fridges in China are for storage, not coldness.

The bathroom – well, I could move in. A SITTING toilet and a faucet with both hot and cold water. A tub to hold a 6 foot girl. And a bathroom window facing the flat screen TV. You can bath and blow dry while watching the BBC. Life can not get much better than this.

Wait. It can. My other goal is to mail – they use the word post – a few things back to the states. I’ve purchased a few things along the way – like Polish furry boots – and picked up a few times – rocks from Petra. Hilton has a business center on floor 2. I walked in. Greeted by a tall – five foot six – smiling, Chinese lady with a bun, bows and rhinestones. I told her I needed to mail a few items. She looked confused. Switched the word “mail” to “post.” She understood the word post, yet still looked confused. Hilton has trained her in the art of customer service – meaning, listen, find a solution and charge the customer. My type of proactive, guest service system I support.

She made a few calls to EMS and DHL. Express mail is the best way to go. Yea, most expensive. I told her, “I have a date with a spa so I’ll be back in 2 hours. It’s in your hands. You are the expert.” She smiled. I did a birthday dance. When I came back, she told me it would cost $100 to express mail. Nope. I’ll wait to Bangkok to do the 4 week pony express for much less.

In route to the spa, I pass a REAL gym with REAL equipment like a treadmill, free weights, TVs…. The works. My overachiever goal had me in there first thing in the AM. FYI. Did NOT happen. I walked into Spa room. Dark. Cool. And two overly friendly, giggly Chinese girls with buns in bows and rhinestones greeted me with flowers and tea.

First thing out of their mouth, “Happy Birthday!” Fiona – front desk girl – gave them a head’s up on my arrival. LOVE this place. Proactive baby. They both agreed before I even saw the menu that the Red Wine Spa was for me. Like the sound of this. But, wine in China is 50 to 80% proof. Are they going to bath me in it or do I drink it? Either way, pulled the American thing – need to be in control and see my options – and asked to see the spa menu. I was really just looking for a manicure. Cuticles have not been tended to since July 9, 2010. It’s time.

Cuticles will need to wait. No manicure. Just wine disinfecting. Chinese massages. Acupuncture. Facials. O’well…what is a birthday girl to do. I asked for the deep tissue massage for 90 mins and 30 min facial. Glass of wine will work too. My pores need to be drained of Chinese pollution. Fibi was my lady. “She’s the best…”

We kicked started the relaxation gig by washing my feet. I felt uncomfortable for my feet have been wrapped in wool socks and hiking boots for the last 6 hours. They are NASTY. I took off my shoes and apologized. She just giggled. The Chinese like to giggle. Meanwhile, the oversized copper bowl was filling up with steaming water. She gently placed in the water pink rose petals with three scoops of green powder. She lifted my feet and set them in the water. DAMN. Hot mama. I smiled. With an exfoliate in one hand and more grainy, green powder in the other, she worked over my two worn out stubs, mandated to hold up my 6 foot body.

Next on the docket was a shower. She requested I shower first. I had to agree. I walked and walked earlier in search of my Oba-Mao t-shirt. I can only imagine the pollution I’ve accumulated. When I washed my face, my skin felt grainy from the dust. Chest too. After showering and swaddling my body in a warm, fluffy robe, I waited.

Within 30 minutes of the massage, I was out cold. Asleep. Probably snoring. I have never fallen asleep on a massage table. Especially in a foreign country. Oh, one other thing. The face hole on the table, guess what greeted me? A warm bowl of water with red and pink rose petals. When my eyes opened, petals and fresh sent of flowers greeting me. On the other hand, in Petra, Jordan for the “Turkish” massage, I was greeted by mold and scum. Love Hilton!

The facial was interesting. I was expecting a high powered mirror to deep clean every pore. Nope. It was more of a face massage with apply every oil and lotion from “France.” She exfoliated a few times. Then, spent the rest of the time giving me a face and head massage. I fell asleep again. Who falls asleep in a facial? My body was so tired. I do this. That is, run hard with little sleep for a week or two or three, and then my brain and body shut down. I need to be quiet and sleep for 10 to 12 hours then I’m recharged. Today is recharged day.

After spa, I zombied back to my room. Within minutes, the phone rings. New front desk girl, Julie rings. She has my cake and a present. OK. Come on up!

Five minutes later, she arrives with the CHEF and three other Hilton employees with a cake in one hand and fresh purple and white flowers in the other hand. Tears came to my eyes. Am I really about to cry… Was it because of the service or shear embarrassment of imagining my Mom negotiating a cake in her Southern-drawl English? The best part was their rendition of the Happy Birthday song. Bad. None of these lads will make it on Karakee night at the local Beijing bar.

I asked them to sing it in Chinese. They all looked relieved. And, just as embarrassed. We clapped. I think they wanted to stay… Not sure what the protocol is. I led them to the door for my next stop was a tub, beer and cake. Check the box. Filled the CLEAN tub with yummy water. Drank my beer. Cut some cake. Soaked in silence. I was tempted to turn on TV for I have no had English news in weeks. Why start now? Silence.

All I could think about was my blog. How to write about the fact that my soul is made for fine hotels and customer service. I’m no longer cut out for 5th class Chinese trains, sleeping six to a compartment with no door, sheets encrusted with old food and bathrooms where you need to use a mask and gloves to enter. I had to giggle for if were ever to run for office my opponent would have a field day on my “love for fine things” – clean sheets, customer service and birthday cake. But, I’ll be brave and put it out there. I like nice things. I like nice people. Political career is now over.

Last night, I cuddled with FOUR oversized, fluffy and firm pillows. A mattress with springs. And, clean, WHITE linens. I watched Addicted to Love on HBO with Meg Ryan and Ferris Bueller Day’s Off actor. (Forgot his name). Never seen the C+ movie. No matter. Meg Ryan’s hair and make-up is what captivated me. Perfect in every scene. Her character is a “grunge” or one of those “avaunte guard” tough girls. Tough girls don’t devote an hour a day applying eye shadows and eyebrows. And, another two hours styling hair. And, Meg Ryan’s wardrobe was so cool and stylish. Man, I must be craving new clothes. I’ve been wearing the same four long sleeve t-shirts since July 11th. I also want her eyebrows and hair. I have all of these high hopes for my style upon my return. I’ve already given up all forms of instant coffee and replacing it with ground coffee beans. I guess my next “big thing” is to embrace daily hygiene and fashion. Got to love what traveling does to the soul…

Commercial Break. Chinese Southern Air is serving lunch. I’ve already got some coffee laced with heavy cream and extra sugar. I’m on a roll. What’s in store. Wow. For those that sleep, flight attendants leave a sticker requesting you ring the bell for lunch. The Chinese business man next to me is going to town on his food. He’s slurping up the rice and chicken while using a fork. I swear if he hocks a luggie, I’m going to scream. For whatever reason, I assumed slurping only happened when using chop sticks. Wrong. Lunch was rice. Chicken. Yogurt with a straw. Dried apricots. Mixed vegetable with tofu and peanuts. All good… Glad to see a fork again. Oh, and alcholog is free… All you can drink.

Back to Hilton.

This AM, woke to sunlight. That’s right. Pollution, midst, fog – whatever you want to call – has enveloped the city. Thick stuff. It rained last night. Air is clean. Sun is out. Vitamin D is in the air. Puts a smile on my face. Checked out of my favorite hotel in the whole wide world – Hilton – and headed to the airport. At airport security, I was greeting by young girls wearing bows, buns and rhinestones. They all have the same hair style. Here these young girls – wearing all black. Black jumper. Black thick belt. Black boots. White letters in Chinese and English on their back saying Security. But, THEY even have sytle. They spice it up with their buns, bows and rhinestones. Super feminine security. Why have I not noticed this until now? Julie – your Mom would be psyched to see so much glitter in one place.

Next stop is Bangkok. I have my passport photos ready. Thailand requests passport photos at immigration – or so they say. I’m in Bangkok for a few days, then off to Bhutan. Can I just tell you how much I HEART the Hilton? I need to be their paid spokesperson in Beijing… Thank you Susan, Mark and Mom. Birthday at the Hilton was the BESTEST!

Birthday at the Great Wall. Beijing, China.

2 Nov

It’s 5:40 am and I’m waiting for the Great Wall tour bus to pick me up at the Dong Jiam Mia Xiang Hotel for a 4 hour drive to a remote part of Northern China to hike the Great Wall.

Today is my birthday. Well, today in China. My official birthday is not until tomorrow. I’ve opted for a 2 day celebration, not by choice but by timezone. Today I will hike the Wall. Tomorrow, I’ll check into the Hilton. That’s the new Hilton at Beijing Airport at Terminal 3. There awaits a mattress, massage and manicure. It can’t get better than this.

What is it about hotel lobbies? Everyone is asleep. The valet boy is zonked out on the outdoor bench. The two receptionist have their heads down behind the desk. The lobby attendant is sitting next to me – back straight, face looking forward, eyes closed. He frightens me. What if he starts sliding over towards me? Come on bus…

The hotel is located only a block or so from the famous Tienanmen Square and Forbidden City. Interesting how these two historical and politically prominent icons are a stone’s throw from each other.

The hotel’s neighbor is one of the Premier’s of China. So, our street is teaming with military soldiers. Young kids. Standing straight up. Wearing Mao green. Looking forward. Not smiling. Protecting the Premier. When we walk pass, we wave. They don’t..

There is a mini-market around the corner. Chinese mini-markets freak me out. Each aisle has one to three people assigned to stare at you. At first, I thought it was about shop lifting. There is probably some truth to that. But, now I believe it is a government requirement stores of a certain size must hire a set number of workers. So far, I’ve found these people to be the street cleaners and aisle watchers.

So, at the mini-convenience store, I was assigned a kid probably in need of Ritalin. I just wanted water, peanuts, dried fruit and Coke Zero. You see, I LOVE strolling grocery stores in foreign countries. It tells me a lot about that particular neighborhood or country as a whole. Ritalin boy was breathing down my neck. No time to stroll. I took a step. He took a step. I reached for peanuts. He reached faster. I wanted to pop him one.

Where is the bus? I hope they pick me up. If not, I will walk over to T-Square and watch the soldiers raise the Chinese flags. That will be my Birthday. Flag raising. Nice second to Great Wall hiking.

They got me. Scared the shit out of the employees sleeping in the lobby. Now, I’m on another micro-mini bus in route to pick up more fellow Wall travelers. It’s a little after 6 AM. Streets are calm. Pollution is thick. Can’t see much. We’re now driving through an affluent area. Car showrooms like Ferrari and Rolls Royce line the street. Who are these rich and what do they do for a living? Confused communism. Wait, there is action at the Motel 254. Hmm.

So, it’s my birthday. From the sound of these blogs, I would assume I LOVE birthdays. Can’t stand them. That is why I make a big deal out of it. It’s a joke to myself. So, this year I’m going to do a resolution or need to improve myself plan. Not sure what all it includes but working on my selfishness and Pride is part of it. I walked for almost 2 hours because I refused to ask for help. Really? How stupid. Mr. Pride is like that – The more defiant. And, the more I place faith in my own brains, the more lost I become. Yea…. Got to love what Mr. Pride can do to you…

Now, we’re driving through a Hutong neighborhood. This was what the old Beijing looked like, until the government decided to relocate the people and replace them with hotels, retailers and skyscrapers.

In this neighborhood, people are getting the day going. Preparing street food. Walking or cycling to work. We pull up in front of the Shijia Hutong, name of a hostel. Old man with a pony tail takes a seat. I hear an accent. Can’t tell where he is from.

Fog is thicker. Sun is trying so hard to shine. What do I see? Man is jogging – not in running shoes – but loafers. Ouch. Street sweepers are out. The architecture is amazing in this city. I give the Chinese credit for innovation. Yesterday, I passed the Olympic Village. The Birds Next stadium. Truly spectacular.

I spy a breakfast place. Steam is rising from the tables. Dumplings and tea for breakfast. Bamboo steamers are stacked five feet high on tables.

We pull up to another hotel. Picking up three women. From afar, they look Chinese. Nooooot Chinese. They look Israeli. I wonder if I’m right. It frightens me to think I’m right. Guess what, I’m right. I hear Hebrew. And, they wear their annoyance with such grace.

They sit behind me. Within 45 seconds, I’m asked to shut my window for its cold. I respond, “Yea, but there’s no circulation… Foggy windows or fresh air?” Then, I smiled. She nodded at me to shut the window. I give it 30 min before she asks to open it again.

We pick up more. A Norwegian family. Some couples. We’re cruising. We take a pit stop at a gas station. The Israelis and I hit the “little girls” room. I belted out a huge laugh when I saw them tie their bandannas around their face. They were laughing too, saying – “we come prepared.” Damn, I wish I had a bandanna. This place was RANK. I can’t write about it or I’ll dry heave. Three holes. No door. No cleaning. We all looked at each other and stood guard. Decided one girl at a time and the others wait outside. Glad we’re on the same page. Get back to the bus, disinfect with every bacterial cleaner possible and opened the bus window.

We arrive. There is no one there. PART-AY. The Chinese Great Wall guide – maybe 18 and weighs 80 pounds – tells the electronic lift to take us to the top of the wall to start our climb “no work today.” I have a feeling it has never worked. We’re in BFE. I mean, when we were driving out here, we were stopped twice by Chinese police to check our papers. We were driving through manufacturing and industrial zones. Feeling that foreign businesses do not want tourists out here. And, the government doesn’t want us snooping around either. The REAL China.

I take in the Israelis’ expression about the lift. Roll their eyes and interrupt… “We were told there was a lift. We paid for it. We want our money back. We want a discount…” On and on they went. Really? This whole tour is about $25 for the day. And, we’re at the Great Wall. It’s about exercise. Walking. Climbing. Not electronic lifts. I did NOT say a word. Just looked at them in amazement. Wow…Our stereotypes are right on. That’s what international business school taught me – all stereotypes about countries are right on the money. I digress.

I let little Chinese Wall tour guide sort them out. And, I walked off. I’m here to get away. And, get away I did. I was alone. With my thoughts. Hiking the Great Wall on my Birthday. Really? Am I really here? I just thanked God over and over and over again for my health and the gift of being alive. Gift of breathing this air. Gift of being able to journey the world. Still questioning why in the world am I so blessed – why? Why me? And, grateful.

I prayed to help me understand. To help me see what He wants me to see. And, do what HE wants me to do – today and tomorrow. As am American, I want answers now. Patience is something God and I battle with – or let me rephrase it. God continues to teach. On this day, I focused on being grateful. And, asking to help prepare me for whatever He has in store for my life. It’s His life, not mine. My cup of joy is being filled – day by day. Thank you.

I made it to the point of no return. Meaning, the place where you can’t walk any farther on the wall or you will fall to the depths of Chinese hell below. It’s a cliff. I sat. Continued my long conversation with God. Attempted to listen. And, the old pony tail man appeared. He sat down next to me. Started chatting. His name is Kelly. From Ireland. Outside of Dublin. Owns his own bar. We got into the usual discussion about Guinness. He was giving me pointers on how to pour, refrigerate and drink the brown gold. Didn’t want to tell him I’m not fond of the Guinness.

After our Guinness discussion, he mentions he just left Russia. I started to laugh. Well, he was not laughing. He pointed to his pants. His pants looked like a pit bull tore them apart and he stitched them back together using bamboo roads and a needle.

Me: “What happened to your pants?”

Kelly: “I was mugged in Moscow. Took my wallet. My passport. Had me a knife point. Two Russians. Coming back from the bar late at night. Just right around the corner from my hostel. They were waiting. Surprised they didn’t kill me. Cut me up real good…”

Me: “OMG. Were you hurt? What happened?”

Kelly: “Tore my pants here. Stabbed me here. Went back to the hostel and they said I should NOT go to the police. They said to call the Irish embassy because my passport was stolen.”

Next day, I went to the embassy. They said that I needed a new passport. And, I needed go back to Ireland to get it. If I file for a new passport here (Russia), then I need to go and report it to the police. Well, I’m leaving in a few days on the Trans-Siberian. Have got my ticket. I thought I should go to the police. I can’t go back to Ireland.

Went to the police. What did the Russian police do? Arrested me for NOT having a passport. Put me in jail. I’m reporting a crime and they arrest me. I had to pay 6,000 Rubles to get out of jail. Then, they told me they are deporting me because I don’t have paper work. They would charge me more.

I showed them my stab marks. I was mugged. They did not care. They just wanted more money. I called the embassy. They said they can help me get back to Ireland. I don’t want to go back. I paid off the police.

I did not know what to do. I was sitting in my hostel a few days later and they say a woman is in the lobby. I go downstairs. And, she is holding my passport. She found it in the garbage or something. She had heard about me – getting mugged and all – and found me…..

I listened and took all of this in. Typical Russia. So damn corrupt. Syria and Iran are probably safer to travel through than Russia. None of this surprises me. Everywhere I go, people have a bad story about Russia. It is comical. On a tangent – yes, I’m editing this blog in Thailand – I was at a Thai cooking school yesterday. Cute couple from Holland is next to me. They are telling me a story about their stay at a Burmese/Thai camp on the border. They said there were NO tourists at the camp except one group. They were a very, very unhappy group.

I said, “let me guess. I bet they were Russians?” She screamed out.. “YES! How did you know??? They walked around with their arms crossed. They were angry….You have to feel sorry for them… They just look like they want to kill or throw objects – all of the time….” She went on and on with stories. Oh, it makes me laugh. Poor Russia.

After Kelly finished his story, he headed back down to the bus. I stayed up at the top for a little while longer to take in every minute. I wondered back and encountered very few people. It truly was a brilliant Birthday.

On the way back, I chatted up the Chinese Great Wall tour guide. She has been doing this SAME tour to the Great Wall – everyday – for TWO straight years. And, has had only ONE vacation day for snow… She said, “If I take vacation, I loose my job. In tourist business, there is no vacation. Tourists are here everyday.”

She wakes every morning at 4:00 AM and returns home by 9:00 pm. Her Mom told her that to succeed, she needs to be tough and not complain. It has nothing to do with complaining, and all to do with workforce protections…. Yea, I worked on the subcommittee for Workforce Protections in DC. So, I’m overly sensitive. I gave her big fat tip. It made both of us feel much better. I keep her in my prayers. So young. So eager. So smart. So tired…

Her story reminds me how thankful I am to be living in the US. Thankful and truly blessed. Once again, I asked God “Why? Why me?”

Went back to my hotel room. Showered. And, had a planned “Skype” with the family. Well, I was SURPRISED because what appeared on my screen in Beijing were the GODDESSES! Yes, the traveling goddess went to Mom’s house to wish me a happy birthday via Skype. Wow. So surprised. And, once again thankful for having friends who would take time on a Saturday to drive to my Mom’s house to wish me a happy birthday. It’s make me feel so humble and grateful. They truly put a BIG fat, red bow on my Birthday DAY. Thank YOU Goddesses!

Planning my Birthday. Beijing, China

2 Nov

This is how I imagine I’ll be talking about my birthday….

“So, Amanda…what did you do to celebrate your birthday?”

“Oh, nothing much…Jumped on a bus in China. Drove 4 hours. Hiked the Great Wall without tourists. Captured a glimpse of the REAL China..”

It will be a remarkable birthday for I only have three goals – Be outside. Be alone. Be silent. Sounds dull? You’ve GOT to be kidding. Try traveling a country the week where 1.3 billion are on holiday.

Government reported Chinese traveling was up 24% from last year.

Over 900,000 tourists were on Tienanmen Square on October 2nd. Just a tad less than the population of Orange County, Florida. And, 25 million+ were on a train during the first two days of Oct.Now, we’re talking about the population of Texas.

China was booked. Guess where I was during the first week of October – trains, planes, buses, boats to all the prime Chinese tourist attractions. Yes, birthday was about embracing my inner dullness.

One thing I noticed about the Chinese is they travel in groups. Travel with

Tour Guide. With microphone and flag...

guides. The difference between their guide and our guide – peppy, positive Olive – besides smiling and enjoying their jobs, is their tour guides ALL carry their very own karaoke machine. You don’t know noise until you have five Chinese tour guides competing for air space. It’s one big, fat, staticky run on sentence lasting for hours. I asked Olive if this annoys her. She said, “I don’t even hear it…When you share space with millions. With constant noise – or constant karaoke – you tune it out…or invest in ear plugs.” Olive carries ear plugs.

So, you get why my Happy B-Day present to me was peace and quiet. This meant locating a Chinese travel agency who specializing in Great Wall treks. This also meant finding time to jump on the Beijing metro to sign up for the tour. The agency I wanted was located near the main train station. Easy enough, or so I thought, for I entered this great country on the train. Know the station well.

Beijing metro is simple – just like walking through an open door. It’s when the escalator throws me outside – into the light – is when I become dazed and confused. The map indicated main train station was right in front of me. Don’t see it. When I’m map confused, I take to walking the streets. Always leading in the wrong direction. On this day, my legs and lungs put in a good 10 minutes. Nothing. No train station. I turned around to head back to the metro, seething with annoyance. I just want to go to the Great Wall on my birthday. Is that hard to ask?

After wondering for another good 20 mins, I stumbled upon the ginormous train station. It was on the OTHER side of the metro stop. Whatever. Found the Chinese travel agency. Booked the Great Wall trip on my B-day, scheduled to pick me up at 6 AM. Easy. Breezy.

At Forbidden City with the rest of China

Now, I have two hours to get back to my hotel. Think I’ll have time for a nap. I’m so tired. We spent the day at the Summer Palace, Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square. Great day to inhale pollution, make friends and witness Chinese history.

Learned a lot. Not going to blog about it for anyone can go to Lonely Planet for tour details. Or, check out my pictures in the album in this blog. It’s big.

You can imagine what happen. I got lost. I mean real lost. I walked to an industrial district in Beijing. An hour and forty-five mins later, still walking. As each minute passed, my pride inflated. I refused to ask for help. I refused to hail a taxi. I was going to find my hotel, no matter what. Each step, the more angry I became – AT me. Was I really this directionally challenged? Why is it the more I travel, the more my map skills shrink. I later found out if I would have made a right instead of left, my hotel was 20 mins from the main train station…not 2 hours. Travel angels got me back to the hotel. I spied some tall men and followed them to a main cross road. Tall people know best. Right.

We had our final farewell group dinner on October 8th – day before my birthday. The Travel Posse surprised me with a B-day cake. Talk about surprise! I was surprised the cake tasted so good. I was very sad to leave them. Great travel group. It’s always about the people when you travel. Olive was a super star.

The next day, I will wake early and hike the Great Wall. I will be on a bus for 4 hours heading North. Heading to the area that the government has not rebuilt for tourists. Actually, very few tourist go to this part of the wall. Can’t wait. Pray for peace…no noise. No people. Yes stillness.

Balance. Order. Beijing Airport. OMG.

25 Sep

Just throwing it out there. I could move into the Beijing airport. OMG. I’m a Libra.  THRIVE in harmony, order and balance. This place is built on those principals and then add some architecture genius, high end retailers, Disney codes of happily moving people, yummy restaurants and customer service, you’ve got Beijing airport baby. Tallgirl was built for this place. OMG. I just can’t stop smiling.

Signs telling you it’s going to be a 7 minute walk from one point to your gate. Their TSA security actually moves people through in a fast, precise and efficient manner…No taking off shoes. No liquid bullshit..They care about technology.

Oh, they speak English. Have a TCBY fro-yo cafe that sells BEER. Don’t tell, just had a large peach with extra sprinkles and a beer. Sounds nasty, but I’m just smiling… Oh, the little TCBY girls, spoke English… When taxi man dropped me off, had greeters to point you in the right direction…It’s Walt Disney, Chinese style.

I’m not shocked for I assumed China, especially Beijing, would bleed with order. The opening ceremonies of the Olympics screamed that loud and clear. Actually, frightening the living shit out of me.  Focus here…What I’m trying to say is, I’m in HEAVEN.

Coming from sighing Russia and mayhem Mongolia, this is a shock to the system. My internal balance is being restored. I’m drawn to clean, straight lines. The color red. Quality. Fine things. Over sized, artsy windows. Accessible, clean water. Working electrical outlets built into the floor. Free WiFi. High ceilings, making me feel petite. Signs in English. And, no clutter… We’re talking Clean…clean…clean.. Damn… Bring it on China. My soul is waking up.

The drive here was orderly. I was expecting billions of cars. Horns. Chaos. None of it. Five to seven lane highways. No horns. Using signals to cross lanes. Where am I???

Off to Shanghai in a few. I have a feeling that Beijing’s order is Shanghi’s chaos… Yes, I’m flying.  Toss the trains for 48 hours please.

Facebook is down. So, my blog will have more random observations.

By the way, last night was Young Bucks goodbye dinner.  We had Peking duck…never had it.  I’m a fan. Add another animal with feathers to my diet…  Will be back in Beijing in 14 days….

Views from my hotel window this AM..Around 5:30 AM… Pollution Central?

My side of the room… BIG mess…Hotel in Beijing..