Postcard from Beijing

What do we really know about China? Unfortunately, not very much. A lot of the Chinese food we eat in America is clearly westernized, including those Chinese cookies that are only a thing in America. We don’t realize that many of the products that we buy are made in China. And back during our school years, we mainly learned about Europe, Russia, and Latin America, while Asia was mostly mentioned in relation to some sort of political conflict —often seen under a negative light.

We grew up being completely ignorant about one of the world’s first civilizations, often generalizing everything and everyone that came from Asia as Chinese, as in some sort of misunderstood blob of things that have little to do with us. Even today, when we’re so dependent on Chinese technology and goods, we understand very little about the current tariff war and the technology war, not to mention the differences between mainland China vs. Hong Kong and Taiwan.

As we embark on this new adventure in China, we don’t expect to find all the answers, but at the very least, we’re very curious to see and experience China without all the Western filters that we grew up with.

Last February, we found a $444-dollar ticket with Hainan Airlines and decided to go for it. Although, if you know a bit of Chinese numerology, you probably know that the number 4 is considered a very unlucky number. But who can resist that kind of deal, right?!

A few visits to the Chinese Consulate and $280 dollars on visas later, we were ready for our 13-hour and 45-minute flight to Beijing. Luckily, it was a pretty uneventful one and the service was excellent. For starters, we were moved to a two-seater at the back of the airplane, which was perfect because we wouldn’t want to drive anybody crazy with our vlogging. (Although we try to keep it to a minimum.) 

The two meals — one 2 hours after take-off and one 2 hours before landing —were also very tasty and quite filling for airline food. (We had the option of Chinese or Western food in every meal.) The seats were also comfortable and there were plenty of entertainment options, including recently released blockbusters. The plane even had dimmable windows, which allowed us to sleep for a few hours even when we were going in the direction of the sun.

We landed at the Beijing Capital International Airport on Sunday, September 1st. Immigration was a breeze and signs at the airport were clearly labeled in English so we found our way around easily. And because we’re balling thanks to everything we saved on those tickets, we treated ourselves to a driver that picked us up from the hotel. He was waiting for us with a sign and greeted us very kindly.

Even with a bit of traffic, we made it to our hotel in 45 minutes. Roads were very modern, well-labeled in Chinese and English, and drivers were no different than those in the city of Chicago. It was funny to see our driver entering the alley leading to our hotel and trying not to curse out of frustration with all the incoming drivers and people making their way in such a cramped space. He was too polite. 

We chose to stay at The Orchid hotel in the Baochao hutong area. And by we, I mean me, Maria. Nabol was so skeptical about coming to China in the first place, that I wanted to make this experience as painless as possible, and that meant staying at a decent hotel. And yes, The Orchid is a very nice and modern hotel. But the best part is that it is also located in a hutong, an old alley formed by lines of sihueyuan, traditional courtyard residences. It’s the best setting for Nabol and I to embrace the real Beijing.

Our front desk person sat down with us to go over a local map and gave us a crash course on how to make the most of the city: Do’s and don’ts, where to eat, useful Chinese words and essential information about attractions and tickets. The hotel even gave us a local phone with navigation and translating apps. They are available 24/7 so you can literally contact them for everything. 

The only wall that we hit was in terms of the VPN and Sim Cards. We haven’t been able to get anything to work. We’re not sure how we’re going to connect with everybody back home, but If we can’t it’s not a big deal either. We can live without social media for a few days.

Our plans for tomorrow are very loose. We want to take in our neighborhood and maybe visit some of the retro game and toy stores in the area. Eat some street food and people watch. In the afternoon, we’re excited to join a hutong food tour with Lost Plate. We’ve heard is a great one. 

Expect lots of pictures and footage in the near future. Until then, goodnight from Beijing.

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