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Day 2. Dubai to Beijing

Saturday, September 12, 2009 permalink [Permalink]

After almost a year of anticipation, I finally arrived in Beijing. Exhausted, jet-lagged but in one piece. Only too eager to explore Beijing.

Although I like the new Terminal 3 at Dubai, I have to say that it pales in comparison with the new airport in Bangkok.  Sure it's new and is dedicated to only Emirates flights; but what bugs me is the fact that it lacks recreation areas or gardens.  I guess if the only aim of the airport is to sell duty free I think they have achieved goal.  But for someone stuck there for four and a half hours it gets rather mundane.  If you're lucky enough to fly business or hold either gold or silver status with Skywards you will at least get a shower and somewhere to sit or even plant your butt in one of the electric massage lounge chairs; yes they certainly come in handy after a cycling trip.

It was just passing 3am when I realized that I only had 20 minutes to get to my departure gate.  I'd spent almost two hours in the massage chair, drifted off to sleep a few times and completely lost track of time.  But after a brisk walk I made it to the gate just in time for the final call.  Traveling in economy doesn't suit someone who's 6'3", and both my neck and knees took a battering - but I did get some sleep and by 3pm I'd arrived at Beijing.  Not quite as refreshed as I'd hoped for.

I'd gotten to Beijing a whole day earlier than Bill and Dave, but I wanted that time to put my bike together and have a ride around Beijing and the surrounding areas before we get going.

This being my first time in China, I didn't quite know what to expect - as always the only thing you have to go on is what others have told you and what you hear in the media.  Occasionally some research does shed some light on what China really is like, but not matter what your source of information is, it never quite does it justice to actually being there.

I remember watching a documentary about the airport's construction, how the roof tiles were to represent the scales of the red dragon and that the roof is the single largest spanning roof in the world.  The documentary itself was quite impressive, but I took a minute to take it all in.  In true Chinese proportions, the airport is huge, clean and very functional.  The immigration forms we were handed on the flight were quickly processed by the officials and we all followed the streams of passengers to a waiting monorail.

Beijing Airport
[Beijing Airport]

The monorail terminated at the baggage collection area and by the time we'd arrived our bags were already starting to pop out one by one.  But my bike was nowhere to be seen and as any cyclist will tell you, bicycles are one of those things that are with you through many experiences and trips, and losing one in transit is a bit like losing a vital part of your body.  I was surprised that not many of the officials I'd spoken to knew English enough to help me with my enquiries, but after an hour of waiting around I'd spotted an Emirates representative who helped me locate the bicycle.  With that done, the next step was to get some local cash and catch a cab to the hotel.

The taxi stands are at the bottom floor and extremely well organized, normal taxis, minivans, and larger buses wait patiently to take people to the city.  Not wanting to get ripped off by the taxi guys (in case they spot the naive western tourist) I'd asked at the information desk how much (roughly) I should pay for the fare to Beijing.  100 Yuan seemed to be the going rate.

Once at the bottom floor, I was ushered to a waiting taxi and we tried to get the box loaded into the boot, however, the rear seats wouldn't fold and I didn't want to unpack the bike at the airport.

Beijing Taxi
[Beijing Taxi]

I decided to take a larger vehicle and waved over one of the minivans.  The cost seems to have gone up with the size of the car, 300 Yuan - but I was so tired that I didn't feel like haggling for a few cents and off we went.

My first views of China were much like the airport, grandiose.  Large freeways, modern cars, green trees and very little to compare the communist Poland I'd known some 20 years back to the modern China.  As we got closer to the city I realised that China was growing up fast.  On both sides of the freeway I could see large office and apartment towers, wide boulevards and most surprising of all, thousands of electric powered scooters.  I was actually quite impressed with the scooters and that China (or at least Beijing) is making an effort to cut back on emissions.

I'm glad that I'd written down the Citycourt Hotel's phone number and kept my booking form because as it turns out the hotel is rather hard to find, not even people in the area were aware of where it is.  My driver meandered back and forth for almost two hours after which the hotel staff decided to meet me at a major intersection and we carried everything on foot.

The hotel was OK, and served as a good introduction on what was to come some days later.  The toilets didn't flush properly, and if they did, the second flush would block up the toilet completely.  The shower didn't drain properly and flooded the bedroom, which would be rather annoying if you'd left your luggage or clothing on the bedroom floor.  And the constant smell of sewage, mould and wastewater was never far when stirred up by a gentle breeze.  Other than that the hotel was great, it even had a nice central courtyard where people could meet or have a couple of beers.  But it's only for a couple of nights, and we weren't planning on living there.

Citycourt Hotel Beijing
[Citycourt Hotel Beijing]

The staff were extremely curious to see what I had in the box and proceeded to rip it open with knives and scissors - eventually when they realised it was a Giant bicycle (made in China) the excitement dimmed away from their faces and they left me in peace to put the bike together.

Everything on the bike survived the journey but by accident, I had left the handlebar headset bolt at home and was unable to steer without it.  I tried to think of a way to fix it, but because it was keyed and grooved on both sides it was going to be impossible to find a replacement.

Beijing Intersection
[Beijing Intersection]

The time difference and the lack of sleep were starting to get to me - I decided to simply go for a walk and try to find something to fix the handlebars with.  After trying to use my multi-skilled hand gestures to communicate with the locals, I managed to find a bicycle seat post clamp for 10 Yuan which did the trick just fine.  It worked so well in fact, that I might just leave it there permanently.

Beijing Lake
[Beijing Lake]

Although exhausted, I still couldn't motivate myself to go to bed, instead I took a long walk around one of the lakes not far from the Citycourt Hotel.  At first I was surprised to see so many people out and about so late, some playing ball games, other throwing Frisbees.

Beijing Evening
[Beijing Evening]

I walked around some more and then crashed into bed.

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