Friday, June 19, 2009

Beijing - Day 1

Arrived in Beijing around mid-day. The place has improved a lot since I was last here - more than 20 years ago. The airport is big and modern. People are wearing better clothes. Instead of lots of bicycles and a few cars, now it's the reverse. There's a light smog over the city, but nothing to be worried about. All in all, I'm pretty impressed with the city's transformation.

We booked ourselves into the Howard Johnson Paragon Hotel (北京宝辰饭店) because it's right across the Beijing Railway Station, which is going to be quite convenient if we want to go around using trains. What we didn't know is that the train station marks the time with an hourly chime. Even with all the windows closed you can hear the bells counting down the hours well into the night. Bah! So we started unpacking and I used the sink to freshen up. I heard a clanging sound and my feet felt wet. What?! The pipe assembly underneath the sink fell off by itself. A quick call to room service and a plumber came to fix it within the hour. Aside from that, everything else looks good. There's airconditioning, flat-screen TV, and free Internet access. What more can you ask for?

After a short rest, we left the hotel to check out the area. Right beside the hotel is the upscale Henderson Centre shopping mall and a few restaurants - Japanese, American, Thai, and Chinese. After a late lunch at KFC, we went to see the railway station. The size of the the station and the plaza in front of it is quite impressive. There's a few people loitering around shouting "Fa biao, fa biao." We were later told that these people buy invoices or receipts, and resell them to other people who wants tax deductions. If you're good at bargaining, you can get as much as 10% back from the value of the receipt. The weather started to become hot, so we went back to the hotel and spent the rest of the day at the Henderson Centre. Dinner consisted of Japanese beef noddle and chicken congee via room service.

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