Well my fortune has turned around: I’m in Beijing, my body has assimilated to the malaria medicine with no further side effects, I’m in the wonderful apartment in a hotel of my host (an exec at Apple Computer), thanks to Tom Cole of Trinity Ventures, and I had two productive days exploring the city.
When I arrived in the afternoon yesterday Beijing was ugly: loud, polluted, tons of people, havoc on the streets, BMWs next to bikes next to rickshaws. Business suits next to disheveled old men carrying rice. But the situation got nicer, quick.
The hotel my host lives in is top tier and includes a variety of restaurants, a CitiBank ATM, fluent English staff, full size gym, and other amenities.
I started my day with a warm breakfast in the hotel and then did a two hour workout. It had been several days since I worked out and I felt the difference almost immediately, despite my strained tendon behind my left knee which I hurt in the Japan alps. Then I had lunch at the Italian restaurant in the hotel where I had garlic bread and pizza (yum). At 12:45 my guide showed up — through the hotel I hired a private guide for $25 who would lead me through Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City. Hiring a private guide is highly recommend by just about everyone and I know that in Beijing and Shanghai I will do this.
My guide just graduated from college so could offer a nice youthful perspective on things. In addition to asking her questions, she had plenty of questions about America, and her dream has always been to visit California "and see Clint Eaststood and Desperate Housewives and 24" (she’s a big 24 fan – season 1 just aired in China).
Tianemen Square was "good not great". It’s just plain massive. Well kept. But it’s really just…a square. Of course, what most of us think of when we think of Tienanmen Square is not what my guide thinks of! The Forbidden City was better: tons of cool red buildings, ornate architecture, interesting emperor history. My guide did a good job adding color to the scene.
As we walked through the Forbidden City my guide asked me, "Is Chairman Mao famous in America?" I said people who knew he was, but he wasn’t famous. I asked her if he’s famous in China. She said, "Oh yeah, definitely, we learn his book early on. We get tested on his book."
We sat on a bench in the Forbidden City to rest and we chatted. Among other tidbits, she told me 1 billion out of the 1.3 billion people in China are farmers. She asked if I liked Kelly Clarkson (I do). Then, we taxied back to my hotel and I paid her a handsome tip (but still ridiculously cheap by dollar standards).
Today I joined a small tour group to the Great Wall of China. It’s about 1.5 hours out of Beijing by car. The area around the wall is full of people trying to sell you souvenirs. It goes something like this: "Hello! Banana! Hello! Strawberry! Hello!" or "One shirt one dollar! Hello! Hello! One shirt one dollar!"
I rode the gondola — or as they call it, "cable cars," which confuses a San Francicasn like me — up the mountain to the top of the wall. A guy from Zurich, my home away from home, was in the gondola next to me. The gondolas don’t step when you get on and don’t stop when you get off and they scream "move! Move!" as you get on and off.
The Wall is spectacular. No surprises there. I walked along it, up and down, up and down, for two hours. Fresh air. I happened to walk next to two young women. I’m pretty sure they were Lesbian and they told me they were studying Eastern medicine before heading back to the States. Where else? San Francisco. Near Golden Gate Park.
In the car ride I chatted with a nice couple from Hong Kong. They talked about how they’re worried China’s culture and past will dissapear in all the modernization. They asked what Americans thought of China’s rise. I said it’s hard to speak for Americans, but me personally, I think a richer and better China is good for the world.
On our way back to Beijing proper we stopped in a silk factory — where you can buy silk, the tourist operator gets a cut I’m sure — but it will still pretty interesting. We saw how they make silk clothes and sheets and manhandle the worms.