from emails sent on march 15th.
we are in our nice and simple accommodations at the hutong inn in beijing. it’s not very fancy but it is very interesting. needless to say it is enough for the time being. it’s cold here – there’s even snow covering the ground, and the roofs. Quynh is not impressed because we also have “white sand” in Da Nang. 😛
the train ride up from Guangzhou was long, but comfortable; we both managed to get a good sleep, despite our doorless, six-up bunk bed accommodations. the landscape was bleak and industrial for most of the time—not quite the China we’ve been accustomed to seeing in pictures.
[… later …]
First day in Beijing is done; we went out to a hot pot restaurant, which Quynh recognized from having been to one in Malacca. It was pretty amazing. I thought it was filling, but Quynh insisted on going to pick up instant noodles afterwards. She jokes that she’s pregnant but I think she’s just Malaysian. […]
We spent some time walking around through the hutongs (alleys) in the area of our hotel; it really is a neat place. We walked down one that was much like a pedestrian mall, lined with chic, eclectic cafés and shops, and they weren’t (all) pretentious. […we explored] a Tibet-themed shop, much like the “3 Trees” shop on Main St. back in Ottawa. In a strange coincidence, we stopped in a place called Three Trees Coffee—we found out from their wifi. Most people can’t speak much English here, but we end up communicating well enough with our few words of broken Mandarin and the new Chinese-English dictionary on my iPhone.
We signed up for a trip to the Great Wall at Simatai tomorrow, so we’ll be gone the whole day. Simatai is the “Old West” of the Great Wall, although it’s to the northeast of Beijing. It’s billed as one of the most “unspoiled” parts of the Wall, probably because next to none of it has been restored or reconstructed. I don’t think “unspoiled” means “free from hawkers selling overpriced goods” though, since we were warned by our tour guide to stock up on cheap water and snacks here in Beijing before going. It’ll be a whole day trip, with a three-hour bus ride there and back. We leave at 6:20 AM from our hotel and return at around 5:30 PM. Phew. The rest of our stay here we’ll probably be visiting on our own, via the subway—which goes just about everywhere, except, oddly enough, for the train station we arrived from…