Beijing – 北京

To Hunan!

Again, with the 6AM start. Breakfast was similar to what we had yesterday. Nah, it was exactly the same. Again, the spinach was best. Yes, I do think it is strange that spinach was offered for breakfast. These are the type of things one must become accustomed to when traveling.

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Dinner, Indecent Proposals Beijing Style

Turning a corner we saw five policemen on motorbikes slowly cruise past. We passed many more bars, and were propositioned many more times.

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Confucius Institute, Great Wall of China

oday we were woken up at six. Breakfast wasn’t until six-thirty, so I uploaded photos. For breakfast I had tasteless buns and spinach. Spinach was best.

After boarding the bus I realised I had forgotten my dictionary, so I ran back to get it. The bus was still there when I got back.

Our first stop was the Hanban and Confucius headquarters. When we arrived, we were told that they weren’t ready, so we drove into town to have a look around. When we arrived in town, we were told that they were ready, so we turned around and drove back. While driving we saw people folding up A4 advertising material and shoving it into the gap between the doorhandle and door of modern cars.

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Off to China!

I’m going back to China! What for? I don’t really know. So far as I’ve been told, I’m going to support the Chinese speech competition finalists, and though it seems a little weird to spend so much money sending people to clap, but I’m really happy to have been selected. By “selected” I mean performed well enough in our national speech competition to be thought worthy. Or whatever.

The trip has been organised and paid for by 汉班 and the Confucius Institute, both organisations focused on encouraging learners of Chinese as a second language, and involved in the planning and implementation of Chinese language education. The speech competition was about a month and a half ago. I had practiced a lot, and spoke well. We were also required to prepare some sort of cultural performance. This is a vague and somewhat confusing request. Many competitors sang karaoke, some sang well. One played some famous Chinese song on the guitar, another on the violin. I did Kung fu.

It wasn’t until I was halfway to Auckland the day before we were due to leave that I received word my visa was ready. This was a relief.

We stayed the night at my aunties, so we wouldn’t have to get up at 4 AM and drive for two hours on the day of my flight.

We met Carl (fellow student) at the airport. He had a document/cash protector hanging around his neck, which made us jealous immediately. The nearest store sold them, so we bought one. It is awesome.

When I checked in, I thought everything went well. That is, until I noticed that my traveling companions had two boarding passes, and I had only one. I went straight back to the check in counter to find out why. At first the guy at the counter told me that he couldn’t print anything and that I’d have to get my boarding pass in Seoul where we are stopping over. I didn’t like this idea, as we were supposed to have only an hour stopover in Seoul before boarding our flight to Beijing. He then tried to access my details using my name instead of the flight number, and it worked. He printed my boarding pass, then told me that he had to check something with his boss because of something to do with my passport. I didn’t like this either. After about 5 minutes he and his boss returned, and told me that someone with a similar name had been banned from flying with Korea Air. I assured them that this man was not me. They agreed and allowed me to complete my check in.

Some time after that I said goodbye to Yvonne and Mum, and boarded the plane. Unlike last time I went to China, this plane is almost empty. This means that people have been able to fold the armrests up and use the middle rows as beds. There were also no screaming babies, or arrogant arses. Or headrest-mounted televisions, but I came prepared with my laptop and DS.

About an hour after takeoff lunch was served. We were given the choice of Fish or “Korean”. I had “Korean”. I should have had the fish. Not that the “Korean” was bad, it just wasn’t filling [I doubt the fish would have been much better, but it did come with a bun]. Seaweed soup was good though, and there was rockmelon and honeydew. I think I’ve eaten 10 bags of peanuts as well. It’s not that I’m hungry, it’s just something to do.

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And that brings us to the present. six hours left of our 11 1/2 hour flight. None of us really know what will happen when we arrive in Beijing. Apparently someone will pick us up from the airport. We don’t know who they are. I forgot what is supposed to be written on the sign. I’m hoping that we’re the only westerners on the flight, so they can identify us easily.

They do have televisions, about 5 per segment of the plane. Right now an incredibly bad movie is playing. For the first 20 minutes I watched it with a Korean voice over. Then I realized they also had the original English. Not that it made the movie better. It would be lucky be categorized as B grade film. The basic plot is: Nazis experimented on psychics, attempting to mould them into some kind of super weapon. They failed (lost the war) and America picked up the research. I forget the stupid name they gave the section of the government that controls this research. Something dumb like “unit” or “section”. Whatever. I guess the psychics will win in the end, because anything else would be clever. That guy from 4400 made a cameo appearance – to give you an idea of the budget.

Bah.

About five hours now. I think my laptop battery lasts much longer now, since getting the SSD. Oh look! Uncle Bully is in the movie! Ha ha! It just gets better.

Carl keeps getting me to ask the flight attendants how many hours left in the flight. I’m sure they’re getting annoyed. The male flight attendant looks surly, but that might just be because he’s Korean. One of the attendants took ages to work out how much longer we had, her maths wasn’t very good.

Man: I looked for you!
Woman: You didn’t find me.

Whoa, deep dialogue.

Woman: I can’t remember.
Man: You must have had yourself wiped. Erased memories make it harder for division [that's the stupid name] to track you.
Woman: Not the ones of you.

Oooo now there is an actress who looks like a cross-eyed cat. She’s Chinese, her English is pretty good. She pauses in all the wrong places though. It would be funny if she wasn’t so wrong looking.

Now the actress playing a thirteen year old girl is pretending to be drunk. So bad.

I think the stewardesses are preparing another meal. Yay, food is something to do!

The cross-eyed cat has two sidekicks. Their power is – get this – they pull faces and yell at locks, which then fly off the door. OMG.

I was seated near the toilets. For the entire flight I thought someone had a coughing problem, until I realised what the sound really was. It was the sound of vomiting. Someone had been vomiting (or attempting to do so) every 20 minutes or so – for he whole 11 hour flight!

Note to self: select chicken next time, the beef is a pile of fatty gristly fat.

Two New Zealand women were sitting in front of us, it wasn’t until we were 40 minutes from landing that we realised they were going to the same place…

Couldn’t ring Yvonne from Korea because global roaming didn’t work. HEAR THAT TELECOM?

This time, there were three Japanese women sitting behind us. It wasn’t until we landed that we realised that they, also, were going to the same place.

Arrival and customs went smoothly – China doesn’t care as much as New Zealand. Again, I gave the customs official the biggest smiley-face rating. This time though, he deserved it.

We waited at the airport for some other people in our group to arrive. I had a coffee at Starbucks. Starbucks seems really expensive here, but I worked it out and actually it’s the same price as New Zealand. This is what makes it seem expensive, as everything else is so much cheaper.

It is much different for me this time, as I actually understand people sort of. And they sort of understand me. I’ve never had a free trip like this, even if we turned around and went home now I’d be happy – it’s been awesome (and we just arrived). I have no idea what we’re doing after tomorrow – I guess I’ll find out on the day.

After the group was complete, we boarded a bus and drove to the hotel. On the way I attempted to do the “一是一,四十四“ tongue twister. I failed. The Paddon hotel is very flash, see photos (up later). Sharing a hotel with Carl, who I know quite well.

Had to get up at six today, breakfast at seven. First we’re going to the Confucius Institute, I guess the headquarters. Then I think we’re going to the great wall, but I wasn’t paying much attention when the organiser was talking about it.

China is fun.

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Empress’ House, Ruins, Return to Shanghai

By now I had become somewhat immune to the allure of Chinese historical architecture, and for this reason I have little to say about this area.

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