"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

N. China - Day 1

"We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else." - Tom Stoppard


N. China
Day 1 - 30th October - Hong Kong Airport, Beijing: Beichizi Dajie

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"This is not the iPhone" - shop in passenger area, Changi Airport

One of the signs in Changi: "The binocular - specialists!" It was advertising Steiner Germany. Err.

As was my custom, I dozed before the aircraft took off. This wasn't very smart (my current jetlag avoidance strategy is to pretend I'm in the new timezone once I get on the plane), as it was a 8:30am flight, and Beijing was in the same time zone, but I hadn't gotten much sleep the last 2 nights - one of the disadvantages of having work the day before. Annoyingly, the stewardess awakened me in taking out the video screen (I was in the front row so I didn't have a seat in front of me on embedded in which would be a screen for me to stare at) to the safety video could be played facing my closed eyes. And then I was awoken again when she kept it. Grr.

While I was dozing on the flight to Hong Kong, a soft noise on the edge of my consciousness stirred me. It sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it. Then, something clicked and I realised that this was my first sighting (hearing) in the wild of Herve Roy's Lovers Theme (which Wikipedia claims is from the 1971 movie La folie des grandeurs, aka Delusions of Grandeur). This is better known as the 2girls1cup theme. After verifying the song, I went back to sleep.

They gave us a pain au chocolat for breakfast. Hmmph. I was not impressed.

I successfully tried the universal airplane toilet opening trick. Kinda. I tried opening the catch and it worked.

The in-flight entertainment marked movies which involved an "Aircraft Incident" (presumably where a plane crashed). Perhaps they feared that passengers would be scared. Amusingly, political and religious stuff was also marked out. Sex and the City got an R (not for those under 17) rating, but then this rating was broad as Predators and Cyrus also got it.

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Free internet was scarce at the airport. Some of the terminal were like this - with only an onscreen keyboard, but most of them had "coming soon" signs pasted on them. Gah. Touchscreens are bad enough. Perhaps this was to limit people's usage.

I had about an hour to kill in Hong Kong airport; as not many airlines flew directly from Singapore to Beijing, I had to transit through there on Cathay Pacific.

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On the "Healthy Drinks" shelf: Kirin Milk Tea

The safety boarding announcement for my flight to Beijing talked about turning off pagers. This was really unaceptable.

I realised that I had not packed one of the most critical items for anyone going to China: toilet paper. So I took some from the Hong Kong airport toilet.

Guardian Pharmacy is Mannings in Hong Kong.

Here is a picture by someone else of the sign for the prayer room in Hong Kong Airport. I didn't take it because I thought I already did in Kota Kinabalu. Turns out I didn't, though I distinctly remember making a particular snide remark (actually I had taken picture of a sign like this before - in Hong Kong airport in 2007. However my pictures have been off the Open Web for the longest time since Mediafire deleted my account):

For some reason the Air Canada sign had a Chinese translation.

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The Arrival Card for foreigners is very interesting: they distinguish between "Return home" (the Mandarin is probably more accurately translated as "returning to place of long-term residence") and "Settle Down". Perhaps there're many Overseas Chinese and Enchanted Westerners returning, for them to have the latter option. "Visit" is also distinguished from "Visiting friends or relatives" and "Sightseeing/in leisure".

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"Steamed Sliced Pork Neck with Eggplant in Bean Paste Sauce... This menu is designed by Dynasty Restaurant of Renaissance Harbour View Hotel Hong Kong"
I felt that this was the fanciest sounding aircraft food I'd ever seen (KLM had been exotic, but this one was made to sound fancy). On reflection it's not that special, but I suppose emphasising that a hotel was involved in the menu and the promotion of something as mundane as tao cheo were what tickled me.

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The reality looked pedestrian but was the most delectable tau cheo I'd ever had. It wasn't salty and I could taste the cleanness of the black beans. The pork neck was also a very tender cut.

This was the first flight which (at least that I remember) immediately on landing told you you could turn on your handphones.

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Wild Air China ad on not buying Tigers

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"Polite Notice of Inspection and Quarantine"
A sign also said to walk slowly so the temperature detector would work. Ahh, Chinese Tech!

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"Come to a world class event and connect with people like you... Tiger Woods"
I don't know about you, but I sure don't have 16 mistresses.
As I was taking a picture of this a guy carrying a Komtar Tours flag was staring at me. He was thinking: "Someone more swaku than a Malaysian? Poor thing"

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"Relax... Train comes every 3 minutes"
Maybe they've had stampedes in the airport before.

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Terracotta warriors. I think these were original.

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"Please do not climb and take care of the children". The kicker is the pictures.

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"There are many differences between Chinese cities and the western cities. Don't worry, it is not necessary to always figure out which way is right and which way is wrong. Just relax, and enjoy the cultural differences."
Translation: don't get too upset if you get food poisoning or swindled.

I was told that the way not to get conned in China was to pretend to be a native. Yet, my Mandarin was not up to scratch. This was brought home to me at the airport when I asked for a map, and was given one in English, which had more information on why counterfeit goods were bad than on Beijing.

Due to deficient language skills, I was pondering the next best alternative - pretending to come from a poor country. I considered North Korea, but that wouldn't be convincing (and Kim Jong Il would not approve of my hair). Vietnam and Cambodia were other possibilities but I decided not to pretend in the end.

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"We gratefully thank the Motherland. Accelerating development, reaching new heights of results, in order to show our respect for the Motherland... Under the Motherland's care, Bank of Beijing has had 13 dynasties [?], under the benevolent gaze of the Motherland, supporting our progress and growth... repaying it from the bottom of our heart, Bank of Beijing will have even better results to pay respects to the Motherland's motherliness"
I think this is short for "Thanks, CCP, for easy credit with no questions asked, and not jailing any of our leaders for Corruption"

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Beijing Subway: "Stay Clear from Tracks" (pay attention to the picture)
What's wrong with PRCs?! I have a series of signs called: "Sad things PRCs do to amuse themselves". This is probably the most dramatic, though.

The text was not as dramatic as in Shanghai in 2007:

"No jumping off the platform and onto the track" (both the Mandarin and English here are more dramatic, though the picture is the same)

A guy on the subway was holding a sign reading: "Request for help. I am a destitute university student. My parents are sickly. Life is hard." He would then bow and move on.

My hostel was a way off Tiananmen Square. So I passed by many restaurants and shops selling the most ridiculous tourist crap (including Panda Hats with trailing sides and Beijing Cloth Shoes) along the way.

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"Traditional Beijing Food... Good, Friendly, Neighbourhood Chinese Tea"
Apparent tourist trap

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These signs were outside what seemed like most of the Free Public Toilets in Beijing. I assume the "Defence Mask", "Safety Belt" and warning to watch out for the "Ovntilating" are not for the General Public who use the facilities. I would be very worried if they were (on another day I walked into one of them to see 2 men squatting down and shitting - there were no doors. Maybe they were scared of people falling down the holes into the shit pits).

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"The Olympic flame is in Beijing
Enter the toilet in a civilised fashion and be hygienic
Preserve the surroundings in a good shape and save water and electricity
Give servie with a smile in the East City [?]"

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Cock Three-Wheeled Vehicle. It's a motorcycle inside
The license plate seems to indicate that it's for the disabled (a sign in the background reads: "Low-Priced Supermarket")

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Sign in hostel: 'Gambling is prohibited. Prostitution is prohibited'
You'd think they'd look somewhere other than a hostel for prostitutes.

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"No dogs in public places. Keep dogs away from women, children and old people. Do not disturb people with dogs"
With their obsession with controlling dogs, it's no wonder they eat them.

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"We Have English Menu. Reasonable Price. Please Come in and Taste the Authentic BEIJING CUISINE"

I actually took these 2 pictures above earlier on my way to the hostel, but I returned there for dinner so I put these 2 here. I had talked to the lady inside (who had come out when she had seen me taking pictures). I had asked her if the items were the same on the English and Chinese menus (in the West, the English menus have items like Sweet & Sour Pork and Egg Fried Rice, and the Chinese ones things like dog meat Water-Cooked Meat), and she said "差不多" ("About the same"). It turned out that she thought I had been asking about the prices - she said that the English menu was about 2-3¥ more expensive; she had just admitted to price gouging. I clarified and she said that it was a bit smaller.

Me to Restaurant Lady: "给我几分钟" ("Give me a few minutes")
Restaurant Lady to Me: "等一会儿" ("Wait a while")
At first I thought I had been wrong, but it turns out "给我几分钟" is Kosher Mandarin after all.

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木须肉 (Moo Shu Pork), the non-spicy recommendation for me. It was mostly vegetables - meat is expensive in China.
The previous (and only) time I'd gotten food poisoning in China, it had been from the equivalent of a caifan stall in Hangzhou. I thus resolved to try to eat freshly cooked food (the rice was so hot that somehow the bowl was also burning hot).

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Chinese menu: Homestyle dishes; English menu

The Chinese and English menus were in the same booklet, which was not smart since non-Mandarin speakers would be able to compare the two and find out that they were being swindled. The difference was definitely not slight - the vegetarian menu was bigger than the whole English menu. Indeed, there were many sections to the Mandarin menu: Beijing Taste, Shop Specialities, Cold Dishes, Homestyle, Vegetables, Hotplate/Claypot, Soup and Hotpot.

I couldn't finish my food (Chinese portions are mostly quite big) so I got queried on why this was so, so I told her I was on a diet. Later I walked by another restaurant and was asked to go in and eat. When I said I'd already eaten I was told that I could eat again. Uhh.

My meal cost me 18¥ in all. I suspect she overcharged me by 2-3¥. Oh well. In comparison, a Subway ub of the day was 15¥.

The thing about Chinese food is that even if you recognise the characters, you may not know what the dish is. For example: 水煮肉 (Water-cooked Meat). This is actually very spicy beef.

After dinner I went for a walk. I saw 2 hair salons sie by side. One only had guys inside, and another only had girls. At least one if not both offered massages. Hmm.

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This yogurt drink in a jar was sold at many places. I let the guy talk me into buying one for 4¥ (it was 3¥ if you drank it there - which explains the empty jars you see). He claimed it was a bit sweet.

I'd already had a 3¥ Miranda Green Apple so I bought one for takeaway. The man claimed that the paper-and-rubber-band cap was waterproof so it wouldn't leak, but naturally by the time I got back to the hostel the yogurt had already caused a wet spot to form on the cap. Gah. Lucky I'd asked for a plastic bag instead of putting it in my bag. It was quite sour and not very nice (Miranda had been better) so I didn't finish it, and I realised that I'd called it "Bee Milk" instead of "Honey Milk" ("蜜蜂" is "bee" and "蜂蜜" is "honey").

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"Hotel Kapok"

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95% of this shop's products were cigarettes

At one shop I saw "I ♥ BJ" T-shirts. They were going at 55¥, as opposed to 90¥ in summer. The shop girl explained that during high season prices were higher.

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The World China according to China - map in hostel

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Chinese National Anthem

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China claims ownership of pretty much the whole South China Sea, up until the very coastlines of Vietnam, the Philippines and Sabah. I'm assuming "古普" is in Brunei Geo informs us that "古普" = "Kuching". Curiously, the Senkaku Islands are not clearly marked out as Chinese.

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My hostel was 100¥ a night, making it the most expensive of the 4 I would stay in (the cheapest was only 25¥), but it was nice. The lounge area was very comfy and room access was with contactless keycards. There were lockers in each room and each bed got a bedside ledge and 2 power socket panels (each having one universal 2 hole socket [with a third hole for the damn Italians] and one curved three hole socket, making for a total of 4 power sockets per bed) and slippers. Actually all my other hostels were not bad too; the quality of hostels in Beijing was quite high.

The hostel was a HI one, and seemed to work differently from how I remembered. From what I recall, non-members had to pay a surcharge. Now it seems members get a discount. Which really works out to the same thing, but it's all about marketing, y'know?

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"Walking the Great Wall... No Shopping"
"A different trip... No Shopping"

As I was amused at the above, one hostel girl (the majority of people working in hostels seem to be women) was remarking that only Europeans liked to hike, and that Chinese didn't like hiking but liked an easy time. I added that they liked to buy crap ("废物"). I don't know if she was offended.
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