Part 5: Beijing
This morning I was up at the crack of dawn, and I made myself a cup of cocoa in my room at the Shangri-La Hotel in Chengdu. (TIP! I always bring a few staples from my home kitchen when I go on the road. Hot cocoa and hot cereals are great, because you just boil some water, and you have a quick taste of home. I also pack plenty of granola bars!) I went online and checked my email for a few minutes, and it was fun to get all of the reactions to my pictures and videos from family and friends! (TIP! Do not forget to bring your wire to transfer your pictures from your camera to your desktop while traveling. This will keep open space on your camera so that you can continue to shoot your trip!)
After some breakfast of dragon fruit and cereal and a hot shower, I went down to check out of the hotel and make my way to the airport. When I got to the front desk, they handed me a bill for 256 RMB, which, I believe, was about $40 US! This is a five-star luxury hotel, which I would put on par with a Ritz Carlton!
I met up with the crew, and we all headed to the airport for our flight to Beijing. The airport was no problem at all — got there in plenty of time and jumped on the line for security. As we were standing there, I started noticing that all of the babies and toddlers all had the pant split thing. This is where the parents cut the inner seam of the child\’s pants so that they can squat to go to the bathroom! No diapers here!! Yup, there were a bunch of bare bottoms staring us down as we had our passports checked! Definitely not back in Kansas yet!
After we went through security, one of the producers and I decided to go get a cup of coffee before the flight. We were lured into what appeared to be a teahouse in the terminal and were quickly escorted to a table and given Pepperidge Farm-style chocolate chip cookies. The other producer and I just shrugged it off and took a seat. A few minutes later, a girl came over to take our order. We told her that we just wanted a cup of coffee, and she quickly wrote something on the palm of her hand and showed it to us. It looked like a price, and we both just nodded and she went off to get our coffee. The girl came back a few minutes later with two cups of steamy Nescafe (YUK! No offense, but sooo not a Starbucks!) and two bottles of water. We \”enjoyed\” our warm dirty water and then asked for our bill on the way out. Guess how much? 256 RMB!! The same exact amount that I just paid for my hotel room at the Shangri-La in Chengdu! I asked the girl if this was a golden cup of Nescafe in my best Long Island accent and we left! (TIP! Traveler Beware!! Always negotiate your price for ANYTHING before you order in China! We agreed to a price that was just outrageous!)
Our flight took off from Chengdu, and we arrived in Beijing on time. We were then whisked away by a car service to our next hotel, The Ascott Beijing. This hotel is awesome because all of the rooms here are mini-suites. So, it is like having your own apartment in Beijing! I had a full kitchen, living room, two baths and a large bedroom with views overlooking the city!
Beijing is a sprawling metropolis. It still has that gray cloud cover that I noticed in Chengdu, but what amazed me the most about this city was the differences in the architecture. There were beautiful Chinese pagodas next to state-of-the-art sky scrapers! There were also buildings that reminded me of something you would see in Eastern Europe sitting next to a Dunkin\’ Donuts or a Burger King. Just surreal.
As soon as I put my bags down, I just plopped into my beautiful 600-thread-count sheets, and I went to bed! Sam called me at 6:30 to check on me and let me know that we were going to all go out and grab a bite. So, I got up and got ready for my first night in Beijing.
We decided to go to a Hong Kong-style dim-sum restaurant for dinner. This place was a giant five-story pagoda with each floor separated into smaller compartments with large round tables. All the compartments had doors, making them really private. Maggie, our makeup artist, made the reservation and asked a few of her local friends to join us. It was amazing. We had radish cakes, dumplings, steamed pork buns and chicken feet! Yes, chicken feet! Sam and I both tried them, and I have to say that they are not that bad. They are like smaller versions of chicken wings with thicker chicken skin and soft bones. You actually bite right through the bones like you would a soft shell crab. They are served in a brown garlic sauce, which makes it all really tasty. That\’s my bizarre food for the trip!
Read on — tomorrow is our day off, and Sam, Caroline and I head to the Forbidden City and explore the ancient hutongs.