Traveling in Beijing, China

I've returned to Beijing, for two weeks. While on the subway en route from the airport, I got to test my Chinese language skills in the wild, for the first time. I said, "Excuse me, may I ask you a question? I speak a little Chinese, but I don't speak Chinese well. Do you speak English?" When he answered my question with, "A little," in Chinese, and I understood him, it felt pretty cool.

I arrived the day after the National Day of the People's Republic of China. The National Day celebration lasts a full week, so even now it's still a bit wild in the city, crowded even by Chinese standards. It's one of the rare times where Chinese people receive paid holiday.

I arrived at my hotel to find that my reservation was not honored, at least not initially. It was growing dark, and having been up all night I was growing tired, and cranky. So I camped out at the hotel where I'd reserved a room, and I did my best impersonation of Tank Man, basically refusing to leave the hotel lobby until they gave me a room.

It took about two hours, but it worked. I'm not exactly sure how the room became available, but I think maybe they booted someone who didn't have a reservation. It wouldn't have been easy to find alternate accommodations; because of the holiday, nearly all of the hotels in Beijing were full. Exacerbating that problem is the fact that some hotels in China won't accept foreigners.

By the time I got settled, it was getting late, and fully dark, so I didn't stray too far from my new home near Gulou and Zhonglou (i.e. Drum Tower, Bell Tower). The two towers were built originally for musical purposes, and were later used to announce the time. The Drum Tower was built about 750 years ago, with 24 drums, of which only one remains. The area is surrounded by ancient Beijing hutongs (alleys), and there is ample opportunity to lose yourself in the maze.

While wandering through the hutongs, I came across a few men trying to move a massive log, maybe seven meters in length and easily weighing hundreds of pounds or maybe a thousand. Like many things in China, manual lab or is truly manual. There is no forklift, no hydraulic help, just elbow grease and strong rope. The men were surprised when out of the blue a white man offered to help. Fortunately we had to move the log only a few feet, and even that was not easy.

Beijing hutong at night.