Going Solo in China: Day 1 – Arrival
May 26-29 I embarked on my first solo traveling mission in Asia, without a working Kindle, watch, or phone. I suppose that’s where the crazy comes in, with the added issue of not having an accurate map during my entire stay in Beijing. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself, I still have to mention I’ve never taken the bus to Incheon Airport before. I knew I had to catch the blue airport shuttle that comes once every half hour, other than that, I had no idea what to expect. I met a couple of other EFL teachers at the bus stop on their way to Japan, and we ended up having what must have been an hour’s long conversation. Shameless promoting for their blogs: Chris and Briana. They live in Jukjeon, which is about a 15 minute walk from Suji. Small world.
One last thing before I take you through my Beijing adventure; I love the Incheon airport. LOVE IT. Security is a breeze, it’s ridiculously clean and shiny, free wifi with available computers and free printing (life saver right there), and just a very nice place. I think the last time I had any strong, positive feelings about an airport was when I was a child. I had this love affair with the Frankfurt airport because of the McDonald’s playground in one of the terminals.
As soon as you enter the Beijing airport, you’re body temperature is scanned in case you’re fighting off anything infectious. Aside from that, I was surprised how easy it was to get through customs. There were no pat downs, no baggage x-rays, no intimidating questions in a darkened room. (Yes, my impression of communist China was very skewed.) All you needed was an up to date visa and passport.
Scam Alert: There are “taxi drivers” patrolling the terminal looking for bewildered and unsuspecting visitors. I ended up being one of those. He asked if I was looking for a taxi. I raised an eyebrow and said yes. “Follow me”. He takes my bag and I follow him past the legit queue line for taxis into the parking garage. I know, this sounds horrendously sketchy. It felt the same way, but in my mind, I kept saying, “It’ll make a GREAT story!” So I went with it. The guy didn’t have a meter, but he worked for a company that offered a flat rate for customers going into the city. (It was drastically over priced, obviously.) He said he knew where my hostel was. He didn’t. The entire ride to the city I was thinking two things:
- He’s going to take me to an abandoned warehouse or factory and try to ransom me or worse!
- He’ll take me to my hostel.
Things turned out fine compared to how they could have. We ended up finding my hostel, in a back alley that was also sketchy, just not advertised that way. I gave him 500 Yuan ($78) for the 480 ride and he didn’t even give me change. Fine. Whatever. It’ll be a good story.
I had booked Beijing Jade International Youth Hostel through my Great Wall hiking tour. I’m going to warn you now, do not book with them. I have stayed at several YHA hostels throughout my travels, and I’ve come to identify the company with a particular cleanliness and professional quality. Do not expect YHA quality from this hostel. Suffice to say my main complaints were that the staff were uninformative and rude, there were no towels or an alarm clock in my room, and the hostel was generally not how it had been advertised. It does sit next to the Forbidden City, but it does not mention you need to walk 20-30 minutes to get to the actual entrance. I was not offered or given an accurate map of the city, so I spent my first evening walking around the block to familiarize myself with the area.
My Great Wall hiking trip would begin bright and early the following day, so I made sure to let the desk know. The attendant didn’t know what to do with my information, or didn’t care, so I emailed my tour correspondent my room number in case she needed to call me. I asked for a wake up call and tried to get some sleep. Since I didn’t have an alarm clock, I spent the whole night fretting about missing my tour, which had me awake at 5:00 in the morning to wait for the pick-up.
When traveling solo, I tend to not go out and explore my food options. I’m not brave enough to sit with the locals, point to something I can’t pronounce, and eat it. I also tend to be fine without usual amenities. I’m responsible for myself, so I’m not as much of a mother bear as when I’m traveling with others. This means I didn’t eat dinner my first night in Beijing, and since breakfast began at 7:00 and my tour departed at 7:00, well, no breakfast either. That’s why I believe in packing snacks. Also, I am pretty proud of the fact that I managed Beijing without a working phone, watch, or map. Had I been with someone else, I probably wouldn’t have been as adventurous, or perhaps stupid depending on your point of view.