First things first- the border crossing. Now with it being China, we weren't expecting it to be easy. Before we arrived we had to fill out the most insane visa application form and pay best part of £110 just for the privilege of being allowed to enter China, so we were expecting the worst. For some bizarre reason before boarding we were going through immigration at Osaka airport we passed a Chinese lady who was quite distressed. She attempted to run through immigration without showing her passport and from then on until the plane she just was a bit mental (killed time at the airport observing her behaviour so thought she deserved a mention). Another strange thing to happen was that the plane from Osaka decided to touch down in Qingdao (about an hour from Beijing) and every single person had to get off the plane and go through immigration, circle through Qingdao airport, go through two lots of security and then get back on the SAME PLANE to fly up to Beijing for 50minutes?? Thankfully we found two Canadians who seemed to know more than us what they were doing so we all managed it together, thanks Harold and Lynne.
On the next leg, we watched a really bizarre video in Chinese (with English subtitles) about all the reasons not to go to the USA to have your baby (guessing this happens a lot). Propaganda at its finest!! When we finally arrived in Beijing thankfully we didn't have to go through immigration again BUT we landed in domestic arrivals and our luggage landed in international arrivals. Obviously we couldn't just walk through and seeing as none of the security staff spoke any English we found ourselves in a bit of a conundrum. Again, good luck was on our side as we found an American (Ian) who actually happened to speak fluent Chinese. He was incredibly helpful and managed to find our luggage within minutes, sorted us a taxi and directed along the way. Thank god or we'd probably still be trying to reach our hostel.
So, we finally reached our hostel which is pretty cool. On a mega busy street with a night market, stalls and restaurants right outside the door. Very typically Chinese and something to see everywhere you look!! Walked in the door and there was a massive rave going on in the on site bar (being created by a man who greeted us with 'oooooh English'). More to come on our experiences with this particular bar.
After finally reaching our room (about 11.30pm) we got ourselves sorted and hit the hay. Beds are super comfy and again not a futon!! Next morning, we headed out for our first day in Beijing. Starting off we had our first Chinese food at our hostel restaurant which was AMAZING and super cheap compared to Japan. Two portions of sweet and sour chicken, a vegetable fried rice, two sodas and two waters all for the grand price of £9.00!!
With us starting a tour in a few days, we're saving the most famous Beijing monuments until then so we decided to head to the Zoo! Mostly, we both wanted to see Pandas and haven't got time to go to Chengdu. The zoo was good- was a bit apprehensive that the animals wouldn't be in great conditions but was very pleasantly surprised with the spacious enclosures which most animals were in. There were some exceptions with the smaller animals which should have had more room but on the whole not bad by Chinese standards.
Aside from the pandas, there was a host of other animals, one of which took us by surprise; the snub-nosed monkey. It genuinely looked like something Jim Henson would have created....
Aside from the animals, walking around the zoo was very interesting. Chinese culture is completely different from Japanese, and it's generally much more brash, loud and in-your-face. Not sure what we were both expecting, but China is definitely proving to be something of a culture shock and we found this was particularly true in our first experiences on the subway. The seats seem to be very popular and there's something of a fight which is very dog-eat-dog over them. The queue for ticket machines doesn't really exist and again it seems more of a brawl. Every time you get on you have to put your items through a baggage scanner (constantly beeping so not sure how much these are scrutinised) and there's a mad scramble to grab your possessions at the other side.
After getting back on the subway, we headed to our hostel and this was when the fun really started. The other couple in our room, Carly and Steve invited us for a few drinks and then we all decided to brave the crazy street and go for food. Very few restaurants have English menus, and those that do tend to have VERY poor translations. We've seen some comical signs including.....
And donkey sauce?? Anyway, we ended up ordering dim sum, beef in soy sauce, marinated duck, rice and pork tenderloin. When it arrived the beef was cold slices like you'd get from a packet in tesco, the duck was a bone and the rice was a bowl of peanuts?? Best of all though, the pork tenderloin was actually pork tendons. Yes, tendons.....
Can't say we enjoyed any of it apart from the dim sum so embarrassingly we came back to the hostel with our tails between our legs and ordered another meal which was more dim sum and actual rice. Thank god the food is cheap!!
After our second meal of the evening, we stayed in the hostel bar and met some other travellers from England. This hostel is much more social than anywhere we stayed in Japan, probably because alcohol is soooo cheap here! A few sambucas, lagers, gin and tonics and White Russians later and the night starts to get a tad blurry. One tip, don't facetime your parents at this point or they won't let you forget it!!!!
The next day was a bit of a write-off. I ended up spending most of it in bed (shocking I know) and only surfaced for food at about 6pm when we went for a walk and ended up with BBQ chicken pizzas (excellent hangover cure). Didn't make a great first impression on our new roommates who coincidentally happen to be on the same China tour as us!
Today has thankfully been much more productive. We rose earlyish and after a good breakfast headed out to the Olympic Green to see some of the stadia there. Outside the green was a cool street market and you could get a sculpture made of your own face for a tenner. Super tempting but the prospect of carrying a clay model around in our backpacks for 4 months without it cracking seemed an impossible challenge! Arriving at the green, it was super awkward to find either ticket booths or entrances. You'd think these would be signposted better. Unfortunately we eventually found out from some fellow tourists that the Birds Nest was shut for the day as a concert was on that evening, but we saw it from the outside which was cool. Went on to the water cube and had a quick look around. Unfortunately outside of the stadia there was no shade anywhere which made walking around challenging in the 35degree blazing sun.
....and that pretty much brings us to now. Just about to go out for some famous Beijing duck so hopefully our next experience of Chinese food will be a bit better....