25th November – Beijing

imageBefore I left on my epic journey, my best friend sent me a card signed by a good chunk of my friend circle, and this gold compass as a going away/early Christmas present.  I’m sure he just thought it was a fun gift to give to a girl going travelling who has no sense of direction, and wouldn’t get any actual use.  I carried it in my pocket on the train, and its been in my day bag as a good luck charm.

However, I really need to thank him dearly for giving it to me.  Because today it became nothing short of a lifesaver.

My original plan was to have an ‘admin’ day today.  I was 5 days behind in my blog, and desperately needed to do some washing and organise transport to my next hostels from my airports.  However, most of the group (three of whom were leaving that night) had been talking about visiting either the Pearl or Silk Markets and then going back to the Hutongs today, and I decided I:

A) Wanted to go to the Hutongs again to get the awesome postcards

B) Really wanted to spend more time with my group.  I’d already done some washing, so left it in my room to dry (took the chance that nobody else would be entering the dorms that day – hotel is nearly empty), and tagged along.

We got to what we’d decided was the correct underground station (a VERY big problem with Beijing is that the stations are very rarely situated near the tourist attractions).  We came out in the middle of a chaotic road, and were struggling to put the tourist map, and the station map together.  Beijng is so large, that the maps are often zoomed out to a point where main roads don’t have names – making it really hard to get your bearings.  We finally asked a woman for directions, and she pointed and told us we’d need to catch a bus because it was too far.  After ten minutes of walking in that direction, pretty sure she was wrong, we decided to walk back.  Someone complained it would be easier if we had any idea what direction we were actually going in, and I remember the little gold trinket at the bottom of my bag…

Whipped it out, and confirmed that we were indeed going West, when we should be going South.  Headed back to the station and then went down the road the compass seemed to suggest was right.  For a while it looked uncertain – it was a pretty busy area of Beijing and we couldn’t really see anything like the photo…until we went over a road bridge and saw a very distinctive roof…

The compass got us there and saved us time, money and quite a bit of stress.  For the next 2 days, our group would have me take it out at every subway just to double check where we were – worth its weight in gold.
imageEveryone had picked the Pearl Markets over the Silk Markets as the tour books and references we’d been using suggested it was the one with better quality.  However, when we walked in, my first impression was of my local Indoor Market.  Lots of stalls selling the exact same thing, and everyone screaming at you.

The first floor is electronics and watches, the second is clothes, shoes and wallets, the third is Chinese Souvineers, and the fourth and fifth are the Pearl Trading Floors (and the only ones that actually look somewhat legitimate).  I was considering buying a wallet as my little day pouch was terrible for large notes – which were pretty much all I was going to be dealing with from now on – but most of them were too large or badly priced.

And that was another thing about the Pearl Market.  Haggling – and how hard it was.  Places in China generally have a mark up of nearly 200%, and you should be looking to pay about 10-25% of the asking price most of the time.  Shops are a little different, but this was a market, and should have adhered to the same rules.

It did…but it wasn’t happy about it.  No price started at less than 20, and if you tried to haggle at all they looked at you like dirt on their shoe.  I attempted to haggle using the advice one of the guys had given me, but I’d clearly gone too low because without even trying to get me to a reasonable price, the woman just yanked what I was looking at out of my hands and told me to get lost.  Every other place I would have been would have accepted that starting price as proof I was interested, not the limit on what I wanted to pay.

It just wasn’t a nice atmosphere.  Compared to the Great Wall Market and the Hutongs, haggling and shopping here was a horrible experience.  After an hour of people grabbing and yelling at me, I even felt my claustrophobia (which hasn’t been an issue in YEARS) starting to act up.  Thankfully everyone else had had their fill too, and we quickly left to head to the far more fun Hutong markets.

These weren’t quite as good as we all remembered them since it was a Monday – which is apparently the Chinese imageequivalant of Sunday – and most of the stalls were closed.  Did manage to get some of the great postcards though, and others in the group found some last day gifts for people.  Stopped for lunch here too, ending up in a small hard-to-spot place called ‘The Pass Over Bar’ which caught our attention because, surprise! it did pizza.  I swear one of these days I’m actually going to eat in a Chinese restaurant, but after watching them all have very nice pizza 2 days before when I’d had my lotus cakes, I was desperate for American-Italian too.

Ended up being almost too big to finish, so at least took comfort in the fact that I wouldn’t need dinner, and we began making our way back…before deciding that the trip was kind of gruelling.  It really is ridiculous just how far the stations are from our hotel – those leaving are planning to get taxi’s rather than walk the 20 minutes.  Have to make a decision about the airport myself…

Because of this, and because of where we were (Hutongs are prime rickshaw territory), armed with an address card and the best haggler we had, we talked 2 rickshaws into taking us back for around 15 yuan each.  Admittedly thats 13 yuan more than the subway, but it was a helluva lot more fun, a lot faster, and dropped us right at the door.  Although did have a complete panic in ours as we had 3 in a rickshaw and got into a game of chicken with a bus.

When we get back, there’s not much time before 2 of our group have to go.  Really gonna miss em, really get along with this duo, and they’re about to hit Japan so I’m also a bit jealous.  Heading towards Australia too though, so hopefully we’ll be able to meet up next year.

Once we’ve bade a tearful farewell, we all decided to go out for ‘street meats’ from the Night Market.  Two of our (now very diminished) group hadn’t come with us, and as such had not been glutons at lunch.  So I finally got to have a look at the Night Market in all its glory.j  `
imageWas so full I was very reluctant to buy anything – wished I’d known we’d be coming and would have eaten a much lighter lunch.  Promise myself I’ll come back again before I leave and try something weird and wonderful.  In the end I just buy another one of those awesome caramel fruit sticks (sadly getting far more caramel on my scarf than in my mouth) and watch the others.

They mostly stick to the generic peking duck and dumplings, but one (who I’m told tried spider and centipede the first time they came) decided to invest in some witchetty grubs.  Bites into one…and then offers the rest of the stick to some laughing Austrian tourists haggling for some snake.  Apparently they’re pretty damn awful – old and sour.  Ends up washing them down with a fried banana.

Its another quiet night – especially since a few hours later, its let another one of our number vanishing into the ether, leaving just 4 of us in this little hotel in Beijing.

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About Batale

I am an aspiring writer - though since I haven't written anything original in about 2 years, so calling me a writer is like calling a man who makes dinner every night a 5 star chef. I started this blog to force me to write. From the 1st January 2013, I intend to update this blog every day. If nothing interesting happens, I'll write about something that does interest me, whether that is a movie, a book, something I've heard about, or even some of my stories growing up.
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