Where We Be
|Many Beijing workers travel to and from work by bicycle -- they even get their own separate lane
|A few young Chinese women (top right) decide to join our photo shoot even though they aren't part of our group!
After a long sleep and a delicious breakfast in
bed at Marriott's Airport Hotel in San Francisco,
we feel as ready as we'll ever be for the 12-
hour flight to Beijing. We practice our very
limited number of Chinese phrases during the
flight. "Hi, how are you? I’m very well, thank
you, and you? I’m fine too, thanks. Good-bye!"
This trip we're doing something unusual for us:
taking a guided group tour. We're on China
Focus group's "Trip of a Lifetime" tour, a three-
week extravaganza of China's top-tier sights.
We meet our guide, who goes by Tony, at the
Beijing Airport. He speaks excellent English
and is one of those instantly likable fellows
you're immensely relieved to discover is going
to be your tour guide for the next three weeks.
As we ride the bus into the city center, our first
impression of Beijing is that it feels amazingly
Western. The highways, buildings, lights, and
neon signs make it feel like any major American
city except the signs are in Chinese. Beijing is
a city of 20 million people (registered: no one
knows how many unregistered people live
here), so it suffers with traffic jams, smog, and
urban sprawl. No less than six ring roads circle
the city, with more in the works. Our hotel, the
Central Garden Hotel, is located near the third
ring road in northwest-central Beijing.
It's 9 pm when we arrive, but internally it feels
like 3 am. It’s a relief to get to our rooms and
see double beds with clean linens awaiting us.
We get a laugh out of the posted signs. “Please
do not take the watermelon into your room”
one says. Another is placed on top of a bowl of
lotions and bath oils saying “Uncomplimentary.”
We spend a few minutes flipping channels on
Chinese TV. One is in English, the other 64 in
Chinese. A contestant runs lightly over a row of
eight basketballs without touching the ground.
We flip past soap operas set in historic times,
Chinese operas with clanging cymbals, and two
MTV-like channels before calling it a night.
|Beijing's six ring roads and 20 million people make for some serious traffic jams
|View towards central Beijing from the 16th floor of our hotel, located near the third ring road
|This street vendor is selling what look like yams or sweet potatoes
|Our first meal of the trip, served family style on a rotating Lazy Susan
|Just starting to get the hang of chopsticks!
|Thank goodness we get a top-notch tour guide
|The hotel's unintentionally funny way of saying "Not Free"
|Our tour bus is thoroughly modern and comfy