The bad part of flying Northwest Airline to China is that it is EXTRA LONG. First we flew to Minneapolis (Day 1 9:00 am), then to Tokyo, then to Beijing. By the time we got to Beijing (Day 2 9:00pm), we already spent more than 24 hours either at the airports or on the planes. It was a long and painful journey, the worst part of the whole trip.
There is no doubt about it that Beijing is a lot cleaner than before, but the pollution and the traffic are still terrible. You have to pray that it is a windy day so the wind can blow the pollution off, and you can actually see 100 yards away. The Olympic stadiums' construction is almost done, but is the city ready for the Olympics? Everyone has their own opinion.
We went to the train station to buy train tickets to Nanjing. There were many ticket windows open. Each had about 10 people in line. We waited for ~10 minutes. It came to our turn, and here was how it went:
I said: "Hello! I want to buy three soft sleeper tickets to Nanjing on the 15th."
The ticket seller said: "Three tickets, Z49 on the 15th, two lower berth, one upper berth, 1,234 RMB."
I gave her 1,300 RMB through the little opening on the window.
She threw my tickets and change out through the opening and yelled "next".
I grabbed my stuff, said "Thank you" and quickly moved aside.
The ticket seller was so stone faced, never bothered to say "hello", "thank you", or "please". In fact, she didn't bother to say any word unnecessary at all. This strucked me so hard on my first day back in China, I thought: "man, the service industry really needs to be improved." Later, after many bad service experiences, I don't know if I would be so sensitive anymore.
FYI: Soft sleepers have 4-berth compartments with full bedding provided. Lower berth cost 417 RMB for Beijing->Nanjing one-way per person, upper berth cost 400 RMB. Pray you can get a lower berth, cause you have to be pretty agile to climb to the upper berth. There is no ladder. All you get is a folding stepping pad, 4" x 4" in size, mounted between the upper and lower beds.
1. Beijing Train Station.
From the train station, I called Yuan, my high school classmate. She worked at Jian Wai SOHO, an office park very close to the train station. We decided to meet at her office for lunch. Dave and I took a taxi, what a mistake. The office building is literally 2 miles down the road, but because of the traffic restriction for taxis (according to the driver), the taxi took the 2nd Ring Road, going south, U-turned, go north, then U-turned again, finally got back on Chang An Street. It took over 30 minutes to get there. It would have been much quicker if we had taken the bus, or the subway.
Yuan looked exactly the same as I saw her 5 years ago. We were best friends in high school. She is slightly older than me. She used to take care of me like a sister, and she still does. When the city you grew up with have changed so much that you feel like an stranger in your own city, one thing that helps to make the city still feel like a hometown is, you know there are families and friends there who care about you.
2. Our lunch: Dry hot pot (麻辣鍋). It's kind of a new thing in Beijing, at least new to us. You order a bunch of stuff like you order for traditional hot pot. In stead of cooking them yourself in a boiling soup on your own table, the kitchen cook them together to the spicy level you want, and serve in a gigantic dish. It not only looked pretty, but also tasted fantastic. Highly recommend.
(To be continued)