So as you know (drum roll) I arrived in (cymbal stroke) CHINAAAA!
More specifically in Beijing! I arrived on Wednesday night. Well, my body arrived on Wednesday. My mind didn’t arrive until Thursday morning when I was queuing a local breakfast corner in the sleazy hotel I was staying at. The lady behind the counter -I estimate her to have been 22 at the most- started shouting at me like a wild goose. I didn’t know what the fudge she was saying but I reckon she was angry because I wasn’t supposed to be there.
I knew I wasn’t, but I was hungry and I wanted food. I waved a stack of tens (RMB) in her pretty face and two good things came out of that.
1) It made her shut up instantly and
2) filled my belly up in no time.
I was only in Beijing for 6 hours and already had someone yelled at me and did I have a legendary breakfast in a cinematographically very interesting setting.
(***This is where I would have pasted a pic of a chinese mob restaurant. IF I ONLY HAD GOOGLE!***)
Of course that sleazy hotel wouldn’t be the place where I would spend the rest of my time in Beijing. It was just convenient since I had a very late arrival at the airport the night before. When I checked in and entered my room I found some hooker cards under my door with pictures of half naked girls. They must have heard about my lesbian fling in Australia…
The next day I was off to the Lucky Family Hostel -as the name already gives away- a hostel. It is wedged right in the middle of the Hutongs. A famous maze of little shabby streets and basically the ‘Chinese hood’. The hostel is great. It’s located partially below street level and the people who work there are incredibly helpful. And the food is sooooo gooood.
I immediately booked the five days with them -my entire stay in Beijing- since it’s close to some very good places from where I was free to explore as much as I want. I also bought a tourist map from the front desk. Oh no wait. I tried to steal it since I walked away with it without paying. But 50 meters down the street, I felt bad and ran back telling them I ‘forgot’ to pay. I just couldn’t cheat on my family like that. When I opened the map I saw it was a little useless. None of the big sightseeing things were actually pointed out in there. It was just a maze of streets with names I couldn’t even pronounce in a million years.
The first day I didn’t do a lot. I almost lost an entire afternoon getting a Chinese sim card. In Australia -or any other country- you just enter a local supermarket, pay two dollars and you’re good to go. Here everything takes AGES! China is such a bureaucratic country. You need a red stamp for everything. I even had to show my passport to get the sim card.
Lady behind the counter: “No, passport!!”
(Their pronunciation isn’t everything and yes a lot of Chinese women appear to have an anger management issue)
Apparently I couldn’t get 4G internet because of my phone ‘being too old’. They said “it wouldn’t support the Chinese 4G”. Weird, since it supported the Australian 4G just fine…. They even tried to talk me into buying a new phone! Of course I wasn’t interested so now I’m stuck with 2G. Not that it matters. I can’t access any of the stuff I would need internet for anyway. No Facebook, no Instagram, no Google! The only thing I can do is send and receive emails and use WhatsApp. Which is already something. Everything else is blocked by the Chinese government. Only locals with a VPN connection can get around it. Including the common computer at the hostel. That’s how I could got some of my stuff out there these past few days. And I worked with a Belgian admin to take care of my Instagram posts! Thanks Cedric! 😉 You are my Great Wall in life!
So the first day I wasn’t up to much. But the second day was double the fun! I went to the Great Wall, a very good part of the wall where I walked for hours, and in the evening I went to the theater. It was an amazing day. Fortunately, since the next day I was back to dealing with Chinese bureaucracy again. I really needed to get US Dollars. A significant amount of USD since I have to give them to someone somewhere next week….
You: ‘Djeez Ev, why so mysterious?”
(shouting like Chinese woman) :”THAT’S NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS! Yet (…)”
The only thing that matters for this post now (you always want to jump ahead of my stories!!) is that I needed those bucks asap. It took me an entire morning to find a bank that would give them to me. The Bank of China was the only place they could help me. When I arrived the lady was happy to tell me she could provide me with the dollars but only up to a limited amount, which was about half of what I needed. She advised me to come back on Monday (since the next day was Sunday and they would be closed) or go to another Bank of China the same day. That was easy: another Bank of China it is! I remembered seeing one the other day, even though it was quite far away from this one. I just figured the walk would do my body good! I walked for almost two hours to discover the bloody BANK WAS CLOSED!! I got past the glass sliding doors and from there the red thread had stopped.
I had just spilled my entire day looking for this money and I only ended up with half.
You: “Couldn’t you just have checked the opening hours before you went there?”
Me: “Well yeah, If I would have had Google, I would have checked it. Trying to organize yourself without is hard! It’s not like you can randomly ask someone either, nobody understands what funk your saying.
I can get used to the spitting and throat scraping, I can get used to the dirty toilets that don’t flush toilet paper, I can get used to the rudeness of some Chinese people, … But the internet thing is a big challenge for me. Mostly because I depend on it since I’m an organic traveler and I didn’t prepare this trip too well.
Great was my joy when I ran into an English speaking Chinese guy at the Tian’anmen Palace on Sunday. I had just spent an entire day visiting parks and monuments around the city and my last stop was the Tian’anmen Square. Only, I couldn’t find it right away. Even though it’s huge! I got lost in translation again and I guess he must have noticed.
“Where are you from?” a voice from behind me asked.
I made a little pirouette to see who was asking and replied enthusiastically: “Belgium!”
English speaking Chinese guy: “Oh Brussels. Chocolate! French fries!”
This guy was already my mate. He was the first foreigner I walked into that was smart enough to know that French fries aren’t French.
Me: “Say you’re probably gonna think I’m a stupid tourist, and maybe I am, but do you know where the square is?”
English speaking Chinese guy: “Oh yeah, it is that way. You can walk with me, I was going that way myself. There is a ceremony planned today. But it’s not supposed to start in two hours or so.”
Me: “Aw, okay cool. A ceremony, nice surprise!”
English speaking Chinese guy: “What’s your name?”
English speaking Chinese guy: “Oh nice to meet you Evelien, my name is Collin. And this is my sister Lily.”
All of a sudden a girl pops up, I hadn’t noticed her standing behind him.
Lily: “Nice to meet you. Wow that’s a pretty scarf. Very Chinese style. I like”
Me: “Thank you I bought it in Australia actually.”
Lily: “Oh, when were you in Australia?”
You get it, we got to talking very easily. As we made our way to the Tian’anmen Square and squeezed ourselves between the people, Collin suggested we had more than enough time to grab a cup of coffee first.
Me: “So Collin and Lily, those are very English names.”
Collin: “Yes, we’re English students and this is our English name. You didn’t struck me as Belgian, Evelien. I thought you were from Italy since you’re so pretty! So do you have a boyfriend?”
I lied and told him I did. Things are just much easier when you mention you have a boyfriend. It eliminates the pathetic attempt of being picked up. I already had a Chinese guy serenade me the first day I arrived at the hostel.
After a walk through little streets, dodging the busy Beijing traffic, we went inside a little coffee shop. The waitress directed us to a cute corner in the back. It was kind of special since it had a sliding door and everything and looked completely separate from the rest of the bar. The waitress was also very hands on. She immediately wanted to take our order and cater to us. As if we were here prior guests.
Lily: “So Evelien, do you want coffee or tea?”
I stared at her face for the whole two seconds…
Me: “Sorry (faint laugh)… What did you say?”
Lily: “Do you want to drink coffee or tea?”
I looked at my reflection in Lily’s pitch black fake Dior sunglasses that were still sitting on her nose and all of a sudden it was as if lightening struck in my head and Frankenstein was brought to life. My mind flashbacked to a pamflet hanging on the wall in the hostel:
FUCK A BEIJING DUCK!
This is textbook tea house scam! How could I have not see this coming?!
While all alarms were going off in my head, the threesome was gazing at me, wondering why I looked like I had just suffered a stroke.
Me: “Err, actually… I really need to go to the toilet first.” (This came out surprisingly sincere and calm, there was no breach in the way I had been talking to these people for the past 22 minutes. I don’t want to brag but this was proper Oscar winning acting.)
Lily: “O-okay (…) (addresses herself to the waitress who then takes me outside where the toilet seemed to be.)
This was my cue to run for it. I went into the little premise to make sure the waitress would go back inside. When I checked she was gone, I pauzed for 15 seconds. “Wait, just take a deep breath for a second. Am I really going to be this paranoid bitch that ditches on two people that could potentially be filled with good intentions??”
“Fuck it. Imma be this bitch!”
I ran out of there Kung Fu style.
I was stuck in a maze of little streets. Proper scam streets. I was worried I would run right into another gang. When I turned a couple of corners I just decided to stop running and go for confident walking instead. You know, act cool and try to blend in. As far as that’s even possible with a bright blond bun on the top of my head. Collin and Lily would recognize me out of a thousand people. When I finally got back on the big streets I tried to hail a cab but they were all taken. I decided to save myself the cab fare and keep walking. I was probably in the clear now, anyway.
While I was walking I pressed the replay button in my head and started going through the chronology of events. How the first thing Collin had said was already kinda ‘off’. “Where are you from?” Usually the Chinese are too shy to be this straight forward. And if they aren’t it is likely the only sentence they know and won’t bother to continue talking to you from there. But he did. And he asked A LOT of questions. Why? To distract me from where we were going, supposedly. To be honest, my orientation isn’t everything but I kind of had the feeling we were walking away from the Tian’anmen Square instead of going right to it. But even then, I just walked with them without asking questions. Without noticing where we were actually going. I suddenly realized how much I had told this guy on the way. I even told him where I’m going right after Beijing. Fuck, I should really stop giving away valuable information to strangers. He also knew I was staying at a hostel in the Hutongs. Luckily I didn’t mention which hostel and the Hutongs are spread all over Beijing city.
It suddenly made sense why they were called Collin and Lily, they were fake names of course. And brother and sister? Please. They didn’t look anything like each other. She was half his size and double his width.
It all seemed so clear now. But at the time it went incredibly fast. Now I knew why he asked if I had a boyfriend. He was just making sure if I was by myself or not. And here I was thinking he was hitting on me since he looked like he walked straight out of a Clearasil ad -the before pictures, of course- and seemed desperate for female attention. (..)
Props to them. They really pulled their A game. Complementing me on my hair color, my ‘Italian’ looks. Then again, I practically begged them to scam me since I mentioned at the beginning of our conversation I was a stupid tourist. Not stupid enough, though. They will have to go with an even more clueless backpacker next time!
While the encounter with Lily en Collin kept rolling in front of my eyes like a loop movie, I burst out into laughs in the middle of the street. I felt freaking lucky to have gotten out of there before shit would have hit the fan.
The only obstacle right now was getting back to the hostel. Then I realized something: I have that map! THAT map I ended up paying the 5 Yen for! Maybe my lucky break was related to the Lucky Family Hostel and the fact I didn’t steal that map, but came back to pay for it fair and square. I was really glad I cashed in some karma points with that. What’s 5 Yen compared to the 5000 Yen I could have lost in that scam.
AND! While I walked to the hostel, I came across 3 (!) Banks of China. And an Apple store. The two things I needed to go to asap. On my way back I even walked through a nice park (Ritan Park, close to the embassy) where people were exercising and enjoying their Sunday.
Locals, families and basically just good people that don’t mean any wrong with tourists like me. I refused to write off Beijing based on a bad encounter with two a-holes. In China’s defense: this could have easily happened to me in Australia as well, since there were also tourist scams circulating. I was just lucky I didn’t encounter one there. So no hard feelings Beijing. You were mostly good to me. But I am glad I can continue from here now and explore the rest China has to offer me. With an extra lesson in my pocket. And I will be (even) more careful next time.
The next day I was back to enjoying wonderful Beijing. By bike this time. I figured that would give me a head start to anyone trying to scam me. Beijing traffic is craayzaay! But then again, so am I!
To all new readers I gained through the article on HLN.be : Welcome! And thank you for visiting my blog, Facebook page and following me on Instagram! I hope I can keep you guys entertained for some time to come!