I realise as I arrive into China that I am (for the first time on my travels) a little nervous...but excited!
I have booked into a hostel called “Fly by Knight” which at 13 pounds for a dorm is steep by Chinese standards – i'm hoping that it makes up for it with quality. Its in a Hutong (an old traditional Chinese alleyway and courtyard) about 20mins away on the subway from the Forbidden City in the Doncheng District.
Although Ivy has taken great pains to write down instructions on how to get from the airport to the hostel – I arrive in at 5am into 30 degree humid heat and a monstrously overweight backpack. I decide to get a cab and make the rookie error of getting in one from a man that approaches me before I get to the queue. The fare should be around 100 yuan (or 10 quid) I have – albeit after much negotation - agreed to pay 200. I later learn that some unsuspecting tourists have agreed to pay up to 550 yuan from these con artists - its such a blatant traveller error – one that I know about full well – I am furious with myself for falling for it.
But – I get to the door of the hostel in about 20 mins and the driver carries my bag through. I later find out that the others have been dumped by cab drivers and had to spend half an hour wandering around the dirty back streets and alleys trying to find the place – fresh or not so fresh off their flight. On balance its almost worth paying an extra 10 quid to have had the quick and painless arrival that i've had. And the hostel is difficult to spot - hidden as it is -without any signage down a tiny little cramped street which cars barely fit down into next to a public lavatory. There is a huge wooden door with lion headed knocker and red lanterns hanging outside. I press on the doorbell – and as ever I am blessed with my travelling luck – it is opened quickly and I'm shown to reception.
I can't get to my room yet as check out isn't til 12 – i'm not sure how im going to fight off the jet lag but they have a common room area in reception whereyou can use the internet (they have a facebook proxy) facebook access is banned in china. They also have drinks and coffee so I get out my netbook and try and stay awake.
I am still internally beating myself up about being ripped off by another cab driver. What is wrong with me – it doesn't matter where you go in the world I think...you can't escape yourself – or that horrible negative critic voice in your head.
I decide to give myself a break – i've had four hours sleep, jet lag and am in an entirely new continent where even the typescript is different – sure I fell for an old con – but I got there quickly in one piece and if being ripped off by cabs is the worst thing that happens to me on my journey i'll feel very grateful.
Anyway its good practice in being assertive...all these bastard cab drivers...
I decide – as is my way on arrival somewhere big and new. To do a main touristy sight first to break myself in gently.
I go to the Forbidden City on the subway (which is very easy to navigate.) The sky is blue, the sun is shining and in the gardens of the grounds a man is playing a whistle - some gentle Chinese music. Its sunday and the parks are filled with Chinese famlies and tourists wandering around with their silk parasols shading themselves from the sun. Although the summer heat is at its worst in July and August – around 35- 40 degrees...Its peak tourist season.
I feel a whole lot better about everything suddenly. Hey the sun is shining and i'm in China!!!
I find Tiannamen Square ( a rather boring mass of concrete) and watch as army cadets march through it singing at the top of their voices. Then I queue with all the other tourists and their parasols to leave.
There are very few Westerners here so I get stares wherever I go and Chinese men shouting "Hi" to me.
I arrive back at the hostel via a restaurant for steamed pork dumplings served with a side dish of vinegar. One of my very favourite dishes.
The sociable set up of the hostel is such that I soon get talking to an American – Dave with a long beaky nose, and beakier Adam's apple, slate coloured eyes and an incredibly monotone voice and seemingly inexhaustible knowledge about world trade.
Dom, a fresh faced blonde blue eyed 20 year old that looks and sounds like he's come straight out of the play Another Country. I also meet Lee – a Korean guy in dapper trilby hat, fancy shades and naturally gregarious nature who tells me he has decided to give himself the nickname “Unique Lee” and that is how he would like to be referred to. I like his style!