After the ease of…well everything in Hong Kong we assumed Beijing would be the same. This turned out to be a rookie mistake. At the airport there were no city maps, hotel reservation desks or wifi availability. We had not booked a room ahead but had an idea of the area of town we wanted to stay. We jumped on the Airport Express Train into town.
As we stepped onto the streets from the underground we were engulfed in throngs of people and decrepit sepia colored smog. We wandered around and tried to book a room at several places but they were all full. We stopped at McDonald’s to try to use the wifi but it would not work. We asked or I should say attempted to ask several people where we could find a room. We could not for the life of us locate a city map.
We attempted to flag down a taxi but soon learned that cabbies discriminate against foreigners with big back packs. At least 100 zoomed by. Finally someone was dropped off where we stood. I jogged over to the driver’s side and he rolled up his window in my face. I tried to open the back door and he locked the door before I could. Then he peeled out and barely missed my toes. WTF!! We were soaked in sweat and desperate. Several hours had gone by.
We soon learned that Chinese hotels allow people to make reservations and charge nothing if they don’t show up to take the room. As it was a Friday most places were reserved for the weekend. To make it worse (for us) they would not release the rooms of the no shows until 8pm and it was only 4pm. We were on the verge of lying under a bridge with the bums and sucking our thumbs.
People began to take an interest in us and tried to offer help over the next hour or so. Most had a story of how they were helped while overseas. We had been walking for 3 hours at this point. A kid who we learned is working on a PhD at Northwestern took us under his wing. He found a place with availability but when we walked in they shook their heads. He informed us that they could only accept Chinese tourists. Dammit! He led us through several back alleys and to several more full hotels but finally one had a computer that we could use. We booked a place at Hai Inn. He had to go so we again tried to get a cab. 15 minutes went by as we frantically tried to flag one down. Someone else came over to help us. It was an older woman who spoke no English. We tried our best to communicate and she took the slip of paper with our hotel name (written in Chinese thank God). A teenage girl was getting in a cab but the woman ran over and forcefully pulled her out while waving us over. She lectured the cab driver and patted me on the head as I got in and with a huge smile said, “Buh-bye!” We checked into our room 5 hours after landing in China and fell right to sleep.