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Friday, March 3, 2006

Once we arrived in Beijing, our tour guide, Leon, whisked us into a chartered bus and we were on the way to the hotel.  Leon is Chinese, but he must have been educated in England.  He has a bit of a British accent, and told us to “queue up to get onto the lift” to get us to the right level in the airport.

 As we drove through the congested streets of Beijing, Leon gave us a little tour and an introduction to the city.  The number of people living in Beijing is huge, and obviously overcrowding is a problem.  The government is preventing the construction of more high rises, in an attempt to cut the population density in the city. 

 Bicycles and rickshaws are everywhere, since it’s so hard to get around by car.  Leon warned us that traffic laws in Beijing are much different from what we are used to in the States.  In China, traffic signals are merely a “suggestion.”  He warned us not to assume that it was safe to cross on a green light.  “If other people are crossing, you cross.  If no one else moves, you don’t move,” he advised.

 Our hotel is beautiful – five star all the way.  When we arrived, tea and snacks were prepared for us in the Executive Lounge on the tenth floor.  We have unlimited access to the lounge, including daily happy hours with food and drink, as well as free use of the business center’s computers, fax, copy machine, and wifi access.  Nice!

 After we got settled, we ventured out to see the city.  Our hotel is located in the heart of Beijing.  It’s a very clean, safe area.  The streets are so clean you could practically eat off of them.  There is a cop on almost any corner – the slightly military-looking kind of cop that carries a semi-automatic weapon.

 The area of the city around our hotel reminds me a little of New Orleans and a little of Las Vegas.  Since it was Friday night, there were throngs of people walking the street.  There were lots of little souvenir-type shops and restaurants.  There were also high-end retailers:  Lancome, Rolex, and little boutique stores I hadn’t heard of.  And of course, the ubiquitous KFC.  There is a KFC every few blocks in this town.  The Chinese are obsessed with KFC.

 We stumbled upon a little area of street vendors, selling everything from food to souvenirs.  All of the food was in stick form.  We saw chicken on a stick, corn on the cob on a stick, squid on a stick.  One unique vendor was selling fruit on a stick that had been coated in a crunchy sugary candy shell.  Those were pretty good.  We also saw one guy selling scorpions on a stick.  The scorpions were still alive and wriggling, though they had been impaled with the wooden skewer.  I did not stick around to find out if they were going to be cooked before someone ate them.

 As we walked through the narrow street lined with vendors, the sellers (mostly women) called out to us, “Hey, lady, lookie lookie!  Lookie what I have!”  And then she’d thrust some trinket under our noses.  This got to be a little annoying, since I didn’t think we were planning to buy anything.  However, Mitesh became enamored with a fake Rolex.  Of course, the woman selling it claimed it was real.  She wanted 750 RMB for it.  Mitesh talked her down to 60 RMB – about $8.  Yep, Mitesh got a “real” Rolex for $8! 

We ended up back at the hotel around 9 pm, which is 7 am Chicago time.  So I have now been up since 7 am the previous day.  Hopefully I’ll sleep tonight and be adjusted to Beijing time when I wake up tomorrow!

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