This was the real surprise of the trip. we expected to like/ tolerate the madness that is Beijing, but we fell head over heels in love with it. Though it was not love at first sight…
It’s fair to say that Beijing airport could be more user friendly. After a long flight from London we struggled to navigate ourselves to the correct bus required to take us into downtown Beijing – from where we envisioned walking sedately to our hotel. I laugh when I think back to how naive we were.
We walked from bus platform to bus platform showing them our Chinese address for the Holiday Inn in downtown Beijing. We met puzzled after puzzled glances and were shooed away from more platforms than I care to mention. Growing increasingly frustrated, we found one man who agreed to take us on his bus. Delighted, we hopped aboard.
This is where the fun started. We watched idly as scenes of new Beijing shot past our coach window. We watched as passengers entered and left the bus when Mandarin signs and announcements dictated. We waited eagerly for the coach driver to prompt us when to leave (having given him the address of our destination). This did not happen. At the last stop, it was me and my husband on the only occupied seats, smiling with innocent expressions to say ‘thank you, and now please take us to the hotel’. We were shooed off.
We found ourselves in the middle of a 6 lane dual carriage way – think M1 at peak time with all traffic travelling at 100mph and not in a controlled manner. It was impossible to cross without losing a life. We had absolutely no idea where we were, and the locals were becoming more and more agitated at our presence (we were blocking their thoroughfare). The exhaust fumes were overwhelming and I struggled to breathe. The smog was such that we struggled to see the traffic, let alone dodge it. I tried working my wily female charms on some males and females in the hope they’d take pity – but we were just an annoyance. I cried. This made matters worse. “Happy bloody Christmas” to you too I shouted, and then started laughing. What else could you do?
We decided to flag down a taxi – easier said than done! After 20 mins of waving, shouting and pleading, we decided that the only way to attract attention would be to jump in front of passing taxis. It worked first time (thank god!). Obviously the taxi driver spoke no English and our frantic Mandarin did not account to anything more than “Hello, how are you, can I have two cold beers and chicken / beef / not fish. Goodbye.” Then my hubby had a brainwave – he phoned the hotel on his mobile and instantly thrust the mobile to the taxi driver (who swerved dangerously on a roundabout and proceeded to drive at 100mph whilst on the phone). The conversation seemed to be successful, as the phone was thrown back into the back seat of the car with a string of mandarin shouted at us, the car did a u-turn and we headed more decisively in one direction towards out hotel.
The Holiday Inn was great – just what we needed after a very long journey. They did everything they could to accommodate us, and even sent a member of staff out to find a cobbler on Christmas day to fix my boots that had broken mid flight.
But this was not the true Beijing- from the clam and serenity of the hotel we found ourselves craving the hustle and bustle of the madness we’d experienced en route. We knew we were being cocooned by a Westernised hotel (albeit in amazing luxury) but this was not the China we’d come to see and explore. The next morning we thanked them for their service, left a hefty tip, and proceeded to the Mao Er Hutong B&B.