So I’m in Beijing, behind the Great Firewall, so I can’t get to Facebook or Twitter despite my illicit VPN, which is its own kind of torture. We haven’t been here 24 hours and the adventures in miscommunication have been unreal.
Our flight landed at 1 am. Our plane was nearly empty, but the flight attendants had a hard time getting the handful of passengers to follow basic airline rules like sit down, wear your seatbelt, and don’t stand up with your iPod while unpacking your suitcase stored in the overhead bin in the midst of take-off. Exhausted, we made our way through customs and immigration to the taxi stand at the airport, fighting off fake taxi touts our whole way in line.
A tout yelled, “with meter 240! I give you 200! 200!”
“150,” replied Andy with his best haggling face.
The tout insisted on 200, so we stayed in our place in the airport-approved line.
After all our somber-looking fellow passengers get settled with cabs (they must have spent their energy running laps around the plane during the landing) and we make it to the front of the line, our cabby comes and takes us to his vehicle on the other side of the arrivals area.
A few kilometers in, Andy realizes the meter isn’t on.
We arrive at our hostel, and the cabby prints out a bill for 458 yuan–a total and complete rip-off, and an amount of money that we don’t even have. He starts yelling at us in Chinese, so we give him all the money we have, about 400, and run to our hostel with the sketchy receipt, where the receptionist confirms that we’ve been screwed. The cab cost to our location from the airport should be around 150, 200 at most. This is after our cabby in Kuala Lumpur (did I tell you we went there?) took us to the wrong airport, so we hopped in another expensive cab for the sake of catching our flight. Total cab fare for the day? $110.70 USD. Fail. Scammed. Fail. This time, we didn’t see it coming.
In our hostel, I get paranoid and lock up all of our belongings in our travel safe that barely made it through security from Kathmandu, despite our diplomatic airport status (long story).
This morning we wake up late and head out to find a sim card, a post office, a place to do laundry, and place to connect to the internet. We find a sim card first for Andy’s fancy new phone, but it’s too big and nothing is in English and we get it cut down, but it still doesn’t work. A message pops up in Chinese, and we click okay, which brings up a full menu only in Chinese characters. We select everything, exploring all options and/or breaking everything until we resign ourselves to defeat after nothing works.
We eat at the restaurant next door to our hostel that boasts an English menu. I ordered the “Big Noodle Face” and “Barely Article” which ended up being a Szechuan pepper noodle dish and a salad of some shredded mystery vegetable with cilantro and red peppers. We cannot communicate our desire for water, so Andy goes and picks one out of the cooler, which seemed like it was an okay thing to do.
After lunch, we search for internet, walking up and down the streets around our hotel searching for something cafe-like when we finally find a coffee shop with a big INTERNET sign sticking out. We order two American coffees and have the barista try his hand with Andy’s (brand new) phone. Nothing works. We leave with our coffees that we only bought out of desperation for internet and throw them away a few blocks down.
The hotel tells us that laundry is exorbitantly expensive, but gives us no alternatives. I have one clean skirt and one clean shirt left. Tonight, I will be hand washing jeans in the bathroom shared by the entire hostel, hoping no one else needs the shower.
We go to the post office. The nice guard motions us to the “international” slot for our 65 unstamped postcards. Well, they were stamped with Thai stamps, but we ran out of time in Bangkok to find a post office, so the postcards came with us to Nepal, Malaysia, and finally China. The nice woman at the post office charges us $45 to mail the stack to locations across the world, takes our post cards, and sends us off. We saw no evidence of postage. The Hindu god Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, pops into my head, as I haven’t fully left Nepal behind.
We go back to the phone store for help. The sales rep has not learned any English in the four or so hours we’ve been gone. Somehow Andy communicates that his phone is not working, but all we hear is “recharge” and “next month” between long rambling phrases in Mandarin. Eventually the rep takes out a piece of paper and writes 50, 100, and then 10 –> 70K and 30 —> 100K. Andy pays the cashier 50 and then 100 yuan while the rep yells on Andy’s phone to a lady who I assume works for China Mobile. We believe K stands for kilobyte, and that Andy purchased the slower speed, but we will never be sure.
Everything is confusing and weird here, yet so modern and familiar at the same time after 10 months in Asia. Upon our nighttime arrival, Beijing reminded me so much of Minneapolis that I dreamt about the Minnesota city. In the day, it feels more like a cold LA. It’s just as polluted and modern and Chinese and rich and middle class as I imagined in the little corner of the city we’ve explored.
This may be the worst post I’ve ever written, but the girl sitting next to me is smacking her noodles so loudly I find it nearly impossible to think. I don’t want to be rude, but the best way I can describe to you the volume and character of the noise is to imagine a breast-feeding whale. I’m tempted to tell her she’s being a stereotype, but then again, I’m the white girl with the Apple products and the fair trade scarf, so I guess we’re in a stalemate.
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